Thursday, December 8, 2011

Ebenezer Christian and the Three Christmas Spirits, Chapter 2

     At this writing, Christmas is only seventeen days away. In 2002, a few weeks after Christmas, I wrote this novella as a reaction against the way Christmas has become a racket. Many of the worst offenders are professing Christians who have bought into the Christmas racket and are contributing to the world's problems by participating in the Christmas racket.
     Being busy for the church is not the same thing as being active for the Lord. We need to reconnect with the world, and we need to rethink Christmas.
     Over the next two weeks, I intend to post each of the fourteen chapters and addendum to Ebenezer Christian and the Three Christmas Spirits. The following is Chapter Two.  For the Table of Contents to Ebenezer Christian and the Three Christmas Spirits, click here.

Chapter Two
An Uncomfortable Encounter
     Though it was no more than a twenty-five-minute walk from his home to Stewart's Department Store downtown, Ebenezer Christian preferred to drive. Oh, no, it's not that he was lazy—far from it. It's just that he preferred not to pass—and verbally encounter—certain people who made him feel uneasy.
     On Christmas Eve morning, however, Martha Christian's car was in the shop for repairs, and Ebenezer had graciously allowed her to use his own. Poor Ebenezer had to walk, at the risk of encountering "those people.”
     The first was a Salvation Army volunteer who had positioned herself in just such a spot that anyone crossing the street to Stewart's Department Store had to pass her way. Ebenezer Christian didn't have anything against the Salvation Army; in fact, it was quite the opposite. He deeply admired the Salvation Army and its volunteers.
     His mother had been a sharecropper's daughter during the Great Depression; and Ebenezer’s father, several uncles and even an aunt had served in the Second World War. Others in his family, including Ebenezer himself, had served in other wars. When news of a loved one's fate was elusive, they would contact the Salvation Army. The family knew that they could depend on the Salvation Army—more than anyone else—to help.
     Ebenezer Christian had known people who had lost everything they'd owned in fires, hurricanes or other calamities. In every instance, the Salvation Army was there—often when no one else was there to help. He remembered that, after Hurricane Camille had devastated homes and lives along the Gulf Coast, a certain other well-known organization of Christian origins (with a much larger advertising budget, hence, better publicity) was there selling sandwiches. The Salvation Army was giving sandwiches away.
     When Ebenezer Christian was a college student, he had served as a Salvation Army volunteer during one Christmas vacation and once during the summer. He was struck by the observation that the most generous givers to the Salvation Army seemed to be those who had less to give.
     Quite possibly because they were the ones most acquainted with poverty and hardships, they were the ones most acquainted with the work of the Salvation Army.
     For those reasons, and for reasons too numerous to mention here, it had been a way of life in Ebenezer Christian's family (since long before Ebenezer was born) never to pass a Salvation Army volunteer without dropping some money into the volunteer's donation kettle. He wished, however, that he could encounter them less often. When he could foresee such occasions as this (that is, his inability to avoid Salvation Army volunteers by driving past them), he made it a point to carry enough quarters for him to drop a little something into each kettle he passed.
     On the eve of this particular morning, though, he'd had no way of knowing he'd need the obligatory quarters. So, when he reached the kettle nearest Stewart's Department Store and dug deep into his pocket, past his keys, all he could find was a dime, a nickel and three pennies.
     Ebenezer Christian stood there looking at his paltry eighteen cents. The careworn yet benign-looking Salvation Army volunteer looked blankly past him courteously pretending not to notice.  Surely, she must have noticed him, and this thought caused him some discomfort. He was torn between feeling cheap and reaching in his wallet at handing over a whole dollar. Just this once, he reasoned after what seemed a lengthy self-debate, he could spring for a dollar. That meant, however, that he'd have to be especially careful to avoid Salvation Army volunteers for the rest of the day.
     As he reached for his wallet, he thought he detected a flicker of hope on the woman's face. When he opened his wallet and peeked inside, he didn't see any one-dollar bills: only two fives and four twenties. At the same time his face fell, he sensed that the volunteer's face also seemed to fall a little. At least he was sure that she was more studious in pretending not to notice his deliberations. He had to give five dollars—that’s five dollars, mind you—or feel cheap for the rest of the day.
     In a Herculean feat of will, he angrily snatched a bill from his wallet and stuffed it into the kettle. The Salvation Army volunteer beamed, "Oh, thank you, sir! Merry Christmas!"
     As Ebenezer Christian, stormed in the direction of Stewart's Department Store, he grumbled, "Yeah, yeah, Merry Christmas!"

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