Thursday, December 5, 2013

a holiday parable

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't.” 
- Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

On the first day of November I looked out my front window and saw my neighbor stringing LED lights over every inch of his shrubs. If you’re thinking November 1 is a little early for Christmas lights, you’re exactly right. My neighbor is Hindu, and as I later discovered, the lights were being strung in celebration of Diwali, the five-day Hindu festival of lights.

For the next week and a half, every time we passed each other on the way to get the newspaper, he greeted me with a loud “Happy Diwali!” This was bewildering. Not wanting to offend, I replied “Happy Holidays!” the first several times, but after awhile I honestly didn’t know what to say. Was he trying to make a point? I was pretty sure he knew I was a Christian.

Then came the afternoon I bumped into him outside our neighborhood coffee shop. We exchanged greetings (“Happy Diwali!” “Ummm…yeah, you too.”), and then I asked him what coffee drink he liked to order. He glanced toward the store.

“It turns out I’m not ordering anything after all.”

“Really? Why not?”

He pointed at the words “Happy Holidays” painted across the storefront windows. “What a cop-out. This place is not getting my business.”

Now I was really confused. Did my neighbor expect a store that did business with people of all backgrounds to hang a “Happy Diwali” sign in its window? Just what kind of holiday was Diwali? It must be a pretty mean-spirited one if you can’t patronize stores that don’t specifically acknowledge its occurrence. I went home and looked it up online: “Diwali is a five-day celebration of brotherhood, involving firecrackers, lights, the wearing of new clothes and the exchanging of gifts and sweets.” What did any of that have to do with boycotting businesses? It didn’t sound mean-spirited at all.

During the five days of Diwali, my neighbor did indeed wear new clothes – tee shirts with different messages about the true meaning of Diwali and its rightful place on the calendar. There were yard signs to let us all know what times his temple would be holding services. And the twinkle lights? Think Vegas.

Here’s the weirdest part: for eleven months out of the year you’d never know a nice guy like him could be so oblivious to other peoples’ beliefs. I wanted to gently sit him down and read him the parable of the Good Samaritan – I wanted him to see that being a good neighbor involves treating others with respectful care, even if their beliefs are not yours.

But I don’t think he’d get it – after all, he’s not a Christian.

All parables have a message. Can you guess the message of mine? Click {here} if you need a bit of help. To my Christian brothers and sisters, a very Merry Christmas. To my neighbors of every persuasion, the happiest of holiday seasons.


  1. Jen, I have really enjoyed you blog the past couple years and have been really challenged to think through things you've presented. I have never commented; however, I am going to have to call you on this one. The "parable" breaks down badly here... in your illustration, the Hindu man's holiday is not being mocked or changed or edited: it's simply being grouped together with a bunch of other holidays. Given that only .5% of Americans identify as Hindu, Diwali could easily be overlooked. There tend to be a lot of holidays this time of year and I have no problem lumping them all together in everyday speech... keeps life simpler. But Christmas, in particular, is censored; give me a break - a "family tree?!?!" simply because they don't want to use the word "Christmas"? (from the article) It's a direct attack on Christianity. You know they would never try to do a "family menorah" or a "family breaking of the fast" party. Now I fully understand that you do not try to make non-Christians behave as if they have the Holy Spirit and that depraved people are supposed to act depraved. I also get that American Christians tend to get a little hung up on their "rights" and can get a skewed perspective, forgetting their citizenship is in heaven. However, you need to be very, very careful and prayerful on the advice and tone you give to other believers on what battles to chose and which to let slide. Your arguement that love and respect of others' beliefs trumps truth is fine when dealing with vocab words - "Christmas" or "holiday;" but is very dangerous when dealing with issues of homosexuality or eccumenicalism. Some believers can tell the difference; to others, your message just says to keep their mouths shut and go with the flow of public opinion.

    1. Hi Em,

      Thanks for your thoughtful and civil response to the post. And I appreciate that you’re someone who thinks before she comments – the world needs more of you :)

      I hear your concern, and I understand that when a conversation about tolerance is introduced it can lead to concern about the slippery slope. But slippery slopes go two directions, and we’d be hard pressed to find a blog post that didn’t lean one way or the other. The extremes on either side of this particular discussion aren’t pretty, but it’s still worth having the conversation about where the middle ground should be. And I don’t think this post makes an extreme statement. I chose Diwali precisely because of its small number of observers to heighten the sense of hyperbole. It seems odd to chastise retailers for choosing language that recognizes a diversity of belief among their customers. Retailers definitely have an agenda, but I don’t think it’s to bring about the end of Christianity.

      Warmly, Jen