Coming back from Television Centre after the Alan Titchmarsh Show yesterday, the taxi driver got talking. After a while he asked me if he could ask an embarrassing question. I agreed and he said: ‘What does “hallowed” mean in the Lord’s Prayer?’ He went on to say that he had said it since childhood, but never thought about what it meant. Talking with a friend a couple of days earlier, he had mentioned this and the friend had said there were lots of things he didn’t understand but was now (as an adult) too embarrassed to follow up. He had seen my ‘interview’ on the telly in the foyer at the BBC and thought he could try asking me.
It was the perfect illustration of what lies behind the Why Wish You a Merry Christmas? book and made me reflect (in the cool light of today) about the child/adult issue at the heart of this week’s debate.
As children grow into adulthood their questions about God (does he exists – and if so, how and where?), the world (why is it the way it is and could it be different?) and us (why do I matter and is there any purpose to my life beyond accumulation of things? Also, how do I live in relationship with other people, deal with conflict, etc…?) grow with them – or should do. It seems to me that for many people the questions about God stay back as childish ones when in every other respect people grow up. So, we have adults thinking about (or, usually, rejecting) Christian faith in a form from childhood that has not been allowed to grow into the adult world.
Some of the ‘magic of Christmas’ stuff that has been flying around the last few days illustrates this. We want to keep Christmas as a childhood nostalgia that makes us feel warm and fuzzy. Fair enough, if that is what you want. But don’t then complain that the Christian Church is selling out if it fails to point out the obvious problems with this response.
I wonder if the reluctance to address the questions I raise in my book is simply a refusal on the part of some adults to grow up and ask adult questions of the faith. What many of my questioners have been saying is that we shouldn’t spoil it for the children – as if we always remain children. Vanessa Feltz put it to me (loudly) that the singing of a children’s carol might be a point of ‘entree’ for someone to the meaning of Christmas – maybe, but if we are still at the ‘point of entree’ thirty years later, surely something hasn’t gone quite right? It seems that the same people who want us to think hard (in the light of Dawkins et al) and be confident in the modern world then want us to turn our brains to blancmange when it comes to the content of Christmas. You can’t have it both ways.
Perhaps we ought to start by challenging (if encouragement doesn’t work) adults to recognise that the baby Jesus grew out of his manger, challenged the world and got himself crucified for being offensive – not for being a cuddly baby who challenges nothing and no one.
So, I will still sing the carols and tell the story and celebrate with everyone else. But Christmas is the beginning of a journey, not the end.
(The taxi driver was surprised to find that ‘hallowed’ meant ‘holy’ and that ‘your name’ refers not to a title/label, but to the character/nature of God. The conversation lasted along time.)