OFF CENTRE: And the child became a man
I don’t celebrate my birthday. If my friends and family don’t say “Happy Birthday” in person or by phone, greeting card or email, I suspect I might even forget it.
I have this weird idea that the day on which I was born – the particular date of a particular month – has no special significance. And that there is not a good enough basis for celebrating my having been born then.
However, if I have played many of my cards right – if I am indeed a jolly good fellow – you could celebrate my living: my virtues, my values, my contributions, how I deal with people, the example I set, the significant positive ways in which I am good for this world.
That may be worth remembering, commemorating, whatever. And I think the best way you could do it would be by how you live – not by some vague focus on me or, at worst, bacchanalian gaieties.
But that’s just me. Off-centre me. You carry on smartly.
All the same, it does seem that we pay more attention to pursuing the pleasure-centred aspects of dates and days than to honouring the nitty-gritty, the substance, the heart of the matter (both of which are defined as elements of celebration).
Case in point: our celebration of Independence. We get up to all this fuss. Lights, bunting, parties, “cultural presentations”, the dotish “patriotism” of the schizophrenic and punishment-gluttonous The Pledge and Bim, parading our folkways and artefacts and folk songs and such.
And after all the hoopla of “Happy Independence”, we go and litter, crassly mistreat fellow Barbadians, make easy peace with low productivity, fracture communities by noise and other assaults on togetherness and take a slow boat to good governance. All because we focus on enjoying the birthday.
Which brings me to Christmas. My fellow Barbadians . . . . Scratch that. I en de Prime Minister, nor de Leader of the Opposition, nor de Bishop delivering an official Christmas message.
But I will say this on Christmas Day: It is obvious that we have to get more into “the reason for the season”, which we say is the coming of Jesus the Christ. Here I am not on about any pagan origins of our Christmas rites, or the commercialism or the lotta eating and drinking. Not even about the gift-giving or the sprucing-up or the incursion of secular strains and strands into the thing.
My concern is this celebration of a baby boy – 2 000 years down the road. We dealing with somebody that grow up. Our best celebration should therefore be an emulation of his grown-up life.
The grown-up Jesus went about doing good. He redemptively engaged others.
He was not just a preacher. Preaching was an adjunct to a life lived exemplarily. Instead of simply focusing on his ideas, we should look a lot more closely at how he interacted with others. That is so often where we fail, even as we earnestly celebrate his birthday. His life was the sermon.
He was no crusader, harrying and harassing people to his side of things.
“What good things must I do to get eternal life?” a rich young fellow asked him one time. His reply knocked the man oneside: “Sell all you have and give to de poor.” The fellow could not handle that and walked away sad. And Jesus didn’t run after him and plead with him.
He reserved his most caustic attacks for the sanctimonious, wannabe moral guardians known as the Pharisees and the Scribes. So how could we be self-righteous when the baby that we celebrating grew up to be a man like that?
Jesus the man was always prompting people to self-judgement, to a deeper understanding of their own fallibility: “You have heard that it was said that . . . but I tell you . . .”; “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone . . . .”
But he could be demanding: “If you love me, keep my commandments.”
And a hard-mout’ man, too, once telling his disciple Peter: “Get behind me, Satan.”
From all reports, that grown-up was something else. He could straighten out yuh Christmas.
Anyway, celebrate if you like. Let your hair down. I would, too, if I could – he said, sliding his hand over his smooth dome.
I gotta tell you though: this celebrating a birthday baby gnawing at me.
I guess it is easier to celebrate an innocent, undemanding infant than a kick-in-the-seat-of-your-pants fellow who tells you to deal with that “beam” in your own eye as you get ready to do the dog ’bout somebody else’s failings.
Christmas-wise, I think we are making a manger mistake. A major one too.
• Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor.