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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Hearthbreakers”

This is one of my favorite episodes, and readily applicable for kids or adults. Applejack learns a lesson about other people’s traditions when her family stays with a family with a cultural background different from theirs for the holidays. The episode picks a good time of year to do this sort of story (even if it’s just a satire of the real holiday it corresponds to), and has a nice resolution that I feel anyone can appreciate. In the end, it wasn’t saying that either the “Apple Way” or the “Pie Way” was necessarily better. The important thing was to understand why there was an Apple Way or a Pie Way before automatically saying one was better or worse than the other one, and that traditions aren’t just “things people do” but ultimately have some importance to them and by dismissing them blindly a person, in turn, dismisses people.

It made me think of the modern world, and (with good timing for this devotional) Christmastime. Many people nowadays think we as a society have a problem with being “politically correct”, but, ironically enough, what goes hand in hand with this is that the same people might have a problem with being “politically incorrect”. When I say that, I mean that some people are so outraged and offended at the idea of needing to “censor” themselves or some aspect of society so as not to offend other groups that they get fed up and go to the opposite extreme; intentionally trying to make people mad by doing things they know will upset them. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a number of Christians and atheists alike guilty of the second one, but the former offender upsets me more of the two because I know full well that knowing someone hates a certain something and then doing it intentionally with the knowledge it will make them angry (in some cases, purposely doing it with that intent) and doing so simply out of spite or a sense of smugness is not very conducive and not very Christian.

To me, going to either extreme is bad. Historically I sympathize more with those who feel angry at being “politically correct”…namely because politically correct has gone from trying to be respectful of others by not making casual comments or jokes that denigrates a people, sex, religion, or creed to now meaning: “if I happen to be in a certain group of people who doesn’t like certain things, you have to sanitize society to accommodate me”.  To me, that misses the whole point of political correctness in the first place and ends up hitting on the theme of this episode: just as allowing certain types of behavior can end up making a group of people feel marginalized or “less” in society, so can omitting certain types of behavior.

Christmas is a great example of this. American Christians get a lot of flak for their defending of Christmas. Some people point out the holiday was moved onto a traditionally pagan holiday in order to win over more pagans to Christianity years ago., and hence “doesn’t really belong to Christians anyway”. Other people like pointing out how Christians are defensive of that holiday and then point out all the other times they haven’t acted “Christ-like” to illustrate hypocrisy. And, of course, in the majority of the cases there is simply the “secularization” of Christmas; in which people call it Xmas, the Holidays, Commercial Christmas, Winter Break, or even (ridiculously enough) Festivus…a holiday created as a joke on a TV show. And through all of this, non-Christians seem most upset at Christians getting defensive of the holiday since calling it Christmas and making it a Christian tradition makes them feel excluded.

Well, the reason American Christians (at least) get upset about this is because the only reason that holiday is a holiday now is because the United States was once predominantly Christian and so most people celebrated Christmas, most people “expected” everyone to celebrate it, most people marketed to it as a result, and so it grew into what it is today. By trying to take “Christ” out of it, Christians feel not only is the origin of the holiday being negated, but the role of Christianity in making an American tradition is also being omitted from history.

Just like Applejack did in this episode, someone is taking a tradition that is important to one’s beliefs and identity, replacing the parts they don’t personally like with parts they think everyone should like because they think most people are like them, all without understanding why it’s so important to the beliefs and identity of others, and then expect no reprisal. The same thing with banning prayer in public places, removing religious symbols, and defacing the Ichthys (a Christian symbol) with a Darwin fish. All of those mean something to Christians.

Yet that’s not to say that Christians can’t “give as good as they get”. Christians can be so defensive of their own beliefs that they don’t logically consider anyone else’s, and that can lead them to make some rather stupid errors and mistakes as well as cause them to make umbrella judgments about other people without ever understanding them either. It seems to me most modern Christians feel like they are such “victims” of political correctness they don’t see themselves doing much of the same behavior, and that can truly hinder the Gospel more than anyone censoring Christianity can.

Considering a non-Christmas example of this, some Christians believe all that they have to do to get you to convert is to scream at you that Jesus died for your sins and if you don’t accept Him as Lord and Savior then you’re going to Hell, because the Bible says so.

Now all Christians believe that, but the problem is that some Christians leave it at that. The likely response from someone who received a “hellfire and damnation” speech such as above is scoffing followed by walking away to do something else, and some Christians might believe that’s just fine because they figure if you were destined for salvation you would have automatically accepted that and converted on the spot. Since you didn’t you must be doomed to destruction.

For those people, I offer a very simple scenario.

A complete stranger walks up to you on the street and tells you that God told him to tell you to give him $5,000. Would you do it?

If you said no, why? He just told you that God told him that you had to. If you don’t believe him, let’s say he brings out a note that reads that God said you had to give him $5,000 dollars. He says God inspired his friend to write that down so you’d believe him. Are you still saying no? The note also says that you can trust that the command to give the money is the word of God, and since the note is the word of God you can trust that the message is true. Still not forking it over? What more do you want? He says God told him that. His friend says God told him that. The note says God told him that. Aren’t you doubting God’s power at this point?

This example is to illustrate that a Christian just can’t walk up to someone one day and tell them to convert and to believe them because the Bible tells them so and you can trust it because the Bible says the Bible is real and all other religious words are lies. I’m sure the Koran says that you can trust the Koran because the Koran says the Koran is real and all other religious words are lies. I’m sure the same goes for any religious work or book in the world. People become so rooted in their faith that they seem to forget what it was like when they didn’t have faith, or stop to think that what might be natural for them does not come to easily to others.

This demonstrates the other half of the mistake that Applejack made. She assumed that as soon as the Pies saw the way she did up Hearth’s Warming Eve they would instantly love it and change to her tradition, even though she didn’t even understand why they were doing things different to begin with. As a result, rather than make them happy or connect better, she drove an unnecessary wedge in between the two families. What more was that the end of the episode showed that the Pies would have actually accepted some of Applejack’s traditions, but only if she presented them with respect to their own first.

do believe the Bible is powerful and it has the power to change lives, and so do many others. But they don’t because people said that to them. They do because they took the time to read the Bible, meditated on it, prayed on it, and began to realize it was speaking to them. In other words, they took time to understand it. And when they accepted the Bible was real or, at least, that the people who professed the Bible were practicing what they preached or genuinely had their lives changed, then they understood it and then they could accept it and why it was important to them.

I believe in calling “a spade a spade” and that there are some things in this world worth being politically incorrect over, but while the Gospel may be a core, valuable message it is not a one-size-fits-all message, because it connects to people and people are not one-size-fits-all. Whether it be traditions, beliefs, or life situations, you aren’t going to get a person to change by simply smacking them over the head with something you say is better than what they’re doing. Connecting with people means getting to know them, understand them, appreciate them with where they are at right now, and most importantly (with not compromising your own beliefs) not going out of your way to spite them or vent your own frustration at cultural censorship to make yourself feel smug or good.

The Apostle Paul demonstrated this in his own work.”Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. He wasn’t doing this to “water down” the Gospel or compromise his beliefs, but rather to connect with people better and have them listen to him more easily and readily.

Lord Jesus Himself demonstrated this in His own ministry (Luke 15:1-2, John 4:7-9), but in truth He demonstrated it with His very person. Possessing all power and authority, there was nothing stopping Jesus from simply appearing in a cloud of fire and thunder and booming out to mankind what to do right. Yet God did that many times back in the Old Testament, and yet the Israelites he spoke to were always quick to forget and disobey. By comparison, Jesus was able to reach the unreachable because He took the time to connect with them where they were and, as a result, they wished to change themselves on encountering Him. Even if His society had branded an individual an untouchable or an outcast, the fact that He paid attention to them and gave them a measure of respect was enough to draw people to Him and want Him for themselves.

May we all as Christians do likewise.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you that all people are your creations, and are beautiful and loved in your eyes regardless of where they are in life. In keeping with your command, ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’ (Luke 6:31), help me to always treat everyone with the same respect I wish to be treated with, including in my own customs and traditions. And grant that I always treat others and their backgrounds with respect and dignity, so that I will never do evil by dismissing such a large part of who they are. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”