25 Songs of Christmas (and Star Wars) – Believe
Here in the Spangler house Christmas is a big deal. And on an only slightly lesser scale, so is Star Wars. So, this year we are counting down to two holidays. I know that many of you who find me to be a model of Christian faith (look again) probably find this blog topic sacrilegious, but please bear with me. This is a blog about the capacity for belief.
As we prepare for Christmas and Star Wars Day, I find myself fighting the same quiet concerns for both my wife and my son. You see, Jackson still believes in Santa and elves and reindeer. Every morning he runs downstairs to look for Chippy, his elf. He is constantly amused and impressed. He writes letters to Santa. He finds magic and miracles everywhere. I know this isn’t part of our primary belief system, but I want to nurture it for so many reasons. I want to keep him young and hopeful as long as I can, even if it’s just something silly like Santa, because I know this won’t last forever. He is the child of sarcastic academics. We value reason, thought, and overanalyzing. And once he begins to doubt and suspect and look for logic instead of magic, it will change him. Maybe for the better. Perhaps we need more logic, but belief, true belief, takes a kind of skill and even discipline we might all benefit from. I know it’s a little thing, for a little boy, but want it to last a little longer.
I think this is a common emotion for a lot of parents. The less common but completely related impulse this year has to do with my oft jaded wife. Somewhat out of character for her, Susie is so excited for Star Wars she is practically rocking and beeping like R2-D2. I am excited too. Sometimes I even get a shiver of anticipation, but she is constantly buzzing. And I’ve come to realize she is more excited than I am. Which doesn’t seem right. I am the obsessive in this family; she is the stoic one. She is a fan, and I am a freak. We lovingly call her the “dream killer” because she brings caution and logic to every wild idea I have. We balance each other out, usually. So why should she bring an almost childlike joy to the table about Star Wars while I am more analytical? And then I remembered: The prequels.
I awaited them for years. I counted down. I drank the Kool-Aid. I saw Episode I opening night. And at first I thought, “Yay! That was Star Wars,” but then I had to deal with the slow discontent and silent dissatisfaction as though I’d waited my whole life for ice cream and gotten frozen yogurt. The prequel was similar at first glance, and I guess in some ways good, but not really what I wanted. What could I do? Take the frozen yogurt and be happy I had anything at all, or hold out, clinging to my memories of my first love? Susie never had that experience. She watched the prequels later under the guise of “These aren’t real Star Wars, but you should at least know the story.” She didn’t feel the betrayal of being promised one thing and getting another. In this way, she is the younger, more purely believing of us. She can just completely give herself over to the mania, while a small part of me whispers, “Remember Episode II,” every time I get too worked up.
I wish I didn’t. I want to believe, too. Aside from The Force being an allegory for the Holy Spirit (that’s another blog) it’s just fun to believe, to hope, to anticipate. I love watching my normally skeptical wife grow giddy at the prospect of something purely joyful. It’s contagious and it builds on itself and it taps into a deeper desire or human need to believe. To Hope. To have faith.
The world destroys faith slowly. It’s rarely the big blows like war or famine that undo us. It’s the little things like learning Santa isn’t real, at least not in the way we wanted him to be. It’s revealing our childhood heroes to be human creations. It’s being disappointed in so many small ways we start to view Syrian refugees the same way we view prequels. We look for the worst. We make caustic comments to hide our fears. We view the world through jaded lenses because we think that if we don’t set our expectations too high we might not be so let down. Those little losses chip away at our ability to believe fully in anything any more, and it’s easy to think that once we start down the path to the dark side, forever will it dominate our destiny.
But does it have to? What if belief is like a muscle? What if we can rebuild it in the same way we allowed it to atrophy, slowly, in small, gradual steps. What if we could start this Christmas with Elves on shelves? What if Santa could be real for one more year? What if JJ Abrams doesn’t screw this up? Then, from there, might we hope for the best in our neighbors or even, with more practice, look for the good in human nature. It may still be a long way from there to the belief in a loving God, but when trying to climb a ladder of that magnitude, might every rung matter?
I find myself hoping for Susie’s capability to believe almost as much as I wish for Jackson’s to continue. I know that it probably sounds like a silly wish with so many other, bigger problems in the world right now, but I truly believe my ability to still hope for something silly is tied to my ability to believe in something serious.
So if you are still struggling with those larger concepts, what if you started small this season? What if you let yourself listen for sleigh bells? Could you play Santa yourself for a few hours? Could you just go into something with unguarded hope? Even something as small as a movie?
Go ahead, give it a try, and then another, and then another.
And may the force be with you.