Most of the responses I quite enjoy - both hurrahs from supporters and shaddups from opponents (many of whom are friends anyway). All in the spirit of healthy debate.
But - confession time - there is one riposte that does bother me a little.
It is the accusation of being a killjoy. Of course, it came up in the Christmas post (that is, my blog entry - no reference to cards depicting softly glowing feeding-troughs). "You have managed to take the fun out of Christmas faster than the Queen doing her annual speech naked" mourned one commenter. And some felt I should lighten up abut the Shack. After all, "it's just a novel", just for fun.
My contention is that while things - from Christmas pressies to Christian novels - may be "for fun" they do have a serious side and we shouldn't shy away from facing them down and, when necessary, making some radical changes to life as a result of the convictions we unearth.
Or... is that all rather, well - over-earnest? Therein lies my fear. The last person I want to become is some kind of moralising thought-policeman, determined to stop all enjoyment of anything. Frankly, enough people labour under that mistaken view of God, without me or anyone else adding to it.
It came home to me today when I read a thoughtful and serious Christian comment on Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series. (See blog.kyria.com.) I could see the point the writer was making. But I found myself having the same response I know some others have had to me: "Oh come on, it's just a story - lighten up..."
I ought, further, to confess my own secret relationship with the Twilight series. Please only read on if you promise not to tell. When my wife borrowed all four books from a friend I was initially scornful ("Mills and Boone meets Hammer Horror"). But she left the first book by the loo; I picked it up... Four books later, I admit: I was hooked. Actually, I've always liked a good yarn - mythical creatures? So much the better. I filtered out the rather embarrassing formulaic romance style and enjoyed Stephanie Meyer's imaginative ideas. Rather like Harry Potter - don't look for literary genius, but it's a good page-turner.
You might expect some Christians to be twitchy about a vampire story - just as they might a witches and wizards story. Personally, I've always taken something more like the C. S. Lewis line - "faith is imagination grown up" and all that. A good story is a good thing. Enjoy them, talk about them - sometimes with your children. (Incidentally, that was, broadly, the line taken in the blog on Twilight I referred to above: the writer there was making a different point, worried about a harmful model of romantic love as all-consuming.)
Come on. Life is to live! Lighten up! Enjoy a few innocent joys!
Oops. What about The Shack then? What about the holly and the ivy? Hoist by my own petard? Found out in my hypocrisy?
Possibly. Or is the point that one can be both? Serious and fun-loving, I mean. And, that loving fun doesn't mean abandoning all discernment.
I - seriously - believe that Christmas is pretty much unredeemable, too mired as it is in materialism and sentimentalised religion. And I submit that as my considered and, yes, somewhat heavy conclusion. But - please God - I intend to enjoy a few days off and make sure my children enjoy them, too. It'll be a far cry from the ridiculous depiction of Scroogelike gloom written by an opponent of the Jesus Army on a web forum the other day:
A 7-year-old in the Jesus Army on Xmas day? ...it will be a complete non-event. There will be no Santa and no stockings, no mince pie left out (if you did some strange person would eat it). No decorations, no tree, no cards or any reminder that normal people are having fun. The day will start the same as any other day eating stale bread and cold leftovers from the night before, then it will be on with the chores the sisters cleaning and the brothers cleaning cars. Lunchtime will arrive and all the freaks will gather and bang their tambourines and pray against the forces of evil which are making normal people have fun at this time of year, then will come the same old food (stale bread and mouldy cheese with cold soup). Dinner will end and the brothers will slope off to the kitchen to wash up while the women drag their weary carcasses to do knitting or some other mundane job.
Apart from my amusement at the Dickensian language, I found this sad - and alarming. Man, I thought, is that what people think is the only alternative to a "Sainsbury's and Coca-Cola Christmas"? Worse still, has my tub-thumping contributed to the polarization?
Of course, I did try to express positively what my family and I - and our community - would be doing at Christmas (I wrote about love and - shock! - fun). And I tried to convey some of the good I saw in The Shack. But the danger is still there: people can dismiss me as a crackpot religious killjoy, parodying what I say into morose sourness.
So be it. I cannot just swing into festive forgetfulness of the world's poor and those who drown in sorrows at Christmas. Nor can I not think hard about some of the things I read. I could, of course, not write about them here. But I think I will. Because, on the whole, I like the debate, the thinking, the wrestling.
But - I hope - that this post stands as a brief testimonial that I (yes, I, dour and repressed old me) like to have fun, intend to have fun and will enjoy having fun - whenever I can.
Cheers (without a humbug in sight).