Friday, December 16, 2011

Re-reading the Grinch

Artwork for "Forgotten Joy 2011
Advent Guide" by Helms Jarrell
 by Jason Williams

I have always been a bit confused by the Grinch's elaborate lie to little Cindy Lou Who. In my imagination, the Grinch plays the part a little too well. The fact that he was so smooth with his lie suggests that he was thoroughly formed by the trappings of Christmas as much as, if not more than, the child. The Grinch's belief that removing the trimmings would stop Christmas illustrates the extent to which he bought into the materialism of Christmas.

Through his observation of the Whos, down in Who-ville, the Grinch understands only the lie of Christmas told by the material things he sees. His experience begs the question: How do the trappings of Christmas lie to us as we observe and celebrate Christmas?

We know from the end of the story that the Whos represent those whose Christmas joy has not been obscured by materialism and consumerism. Their celebration continues in spite of the Grinch's efforts to stop Christmas. For most of my life I have identified primarily with the Whos. I suspect that I learned this identification from the people and societal practices around me. And I imagine that this is true for most of us.

We read the story of the Grinch in such a way that it reinforces our own perceived virtue. It reminds us that despite the trappings around us, we, like the Whos, are not fooled by them. It is through our true understanding of Christmas that we help change the Grinches around us. We all want to see ourselves this way and I imagine that desire directs us away from a more self-critical analysis of the story.

If we allow the story to reflect our practices and habits back to us as a mirror, I believe a different picture emerges. The Whos do not represent the virtue within us. Rather, they represent the virtue to which we aspire. The Grinch, then, becomes the character with which we most identify. This reading allows us to look deeply into ourselves to discover the ways that our Christmas traditions deceive us.

How might the anxiety, dread and fatigue produced by our material and consumer Christmastime traditions contribute to a spiritual amnesia? Might we, like the Grinch, need to extract the Christmas trappings around us from our vision in order to grow our understanding of the true joy of Christmas?

In the end, a story like the Grinch can serve to underwrite our perceived virtue or it can challenge us to live more faithfully. If we truly desire to follow the life and teachings of the One we seek to celebrate at Christmas, then the latter will guide our Christmas reflection.

Jason Williams is a graduate of the Baptist Theological Seminary of Richmond and a member of Hyaets, an intentional Christian community in the heart of the Enderly Park neighborhood of Charlotte, NC. A verson of this article is taken from their Advent Guide, Forgotten Joy, which can be found on their website:

1 comment:

  1. Thanks to Jason for the article! Thanks to Hyaets for the LIFE you put into your mission and ministry and may you all be blessed in this season of the Supreme Gift and may we, who know not hunger, thirst, or need not well attended to reach out from our perch of bounty to those in real need! That alone will solve many of our problems/needs!