There are times that I'm embarrassed to connect myself with the Christian community and this is one of those times.
I was raised Christian, even though both of my parents had bad experiences at churches in their youth -- segregation, judgement, money... these things are not what worship is about. Unfortunately, to some it was and they chased my parents away from organized religion.
Over my life I've attended several different Christian denominations. I was baptized Apostolic, I was married United Methodist, and have attended service with friends in several others. I remember long, late night discussions with my cousin about God and who he really is to humanity. Deep conversations for teenagers for sure.
I've always been one to question and search for answers. I've always been open to new experiences.
The one tenant that I have always lived by is "judge not, least ye be judged." Of course, "do unto others as you want them to do until you" is important as well. I strongly believe that if the world would keep these two ideas in mind, regardless of religious affiliation, we would be a more empathetic and compassionate species.
Religious Freedom - Not Dictatorship
I think this quote from Wikipedia states the American religious history well:
From early colonial days, when some English and German settlers came in search of religious freedom, America has been profoundly influenced by religion. That influence continues in American culture, social life, and politics. Several of the original Thirteen Colonies were established by settlers who wished to practice their own religion within a community of like-minded people: the Massachusetts Bay Colony was established by English Puritans (Congregationalists), Pennsylvania by British Quakers, Maryland by English Catholics, and Virginia by English Anglicans. Despite these, and as a result of intervening religious strife and preference in England the Plantation Act 1740 would set official policy for new immigrants coming to British America until the American Revolution.
The text of the First Amendment to the country's Constitution states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." It guarantees the free exercise of religion while also preventing the government from establishing a state religion. However the states were not bound by the provision and as late as the 1830s Massachusetts provided tax money to local Congregational churches. The Supreme Court since the 1940s has interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment as applying the First Amendment to the state and local governments.
Three Commonly Celebrated Holidays
This festival was instituted by Judas Maccabaeus in 165 B.C. to celebrate the purification of the Temple of Jerusalem. It had been desecrated three years earlier by Antiochus Epiphanes, who set up a pagan altar and offered sacrifices to Zeus Olympius. In Jewish homes, a lamp or candle is lighted on each night of the eight-day festival.
Christmas (Feast of the Nativity) (Fri., Dec. 25, 2015)
The most widely celebrated holiday of the Christian year, Christmas is observed as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus. Christmas customs are centuries old. The mistletoe, for example, comes from the Druids, who, in hanging the mistletoe, hoped for peace and good fortune. Comparatively recent is the Christmas tree, first set up in Germany in the 17th century. Colonial Manhattan Islanders introduced the name Santa Claus, a corruption of the Dutch name St. Nicholas, who lived in fourth-century Asia Minor.
Kwanzaa (Sat., Dec. 26, 2015)
This secular seven-day holiday was created by Black Studies professor Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966 in the U.S., to reaffirm African values and serve as a communal celebration among African peoples in the diaspora. Modeled on first-fruits celebrations, it reflects seven principles, the Nguzo Saba: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
Get Over the "X" Already
It turns out, “Xmas” is not a non-religious version of “Christmas”. The “X” is actually indicating the Greek letter “Chi”, which is short for the Greek, meaning “Christ”. So “Xmas” and “Christmas” are equivalent in every way except their lettering.
In addition, the “-mas” part at the end of Christmas and Xmas comes from the Old English word for “mass”. Therefore, the literal translation is "Christ's Mass."
I wish you all freedom to feel and believe whatever you want. I wish you peace and joy.