We can tell you’re in the holiday spirit, because you’re sending us Emails, Facebook messages, Tweets and other notes about your holiday favorites in response to our appeal on Tuesday. Keep those notes coming! We want to hear what books, movies and TV specials you enjoy during the year-end holidays.
Today, we’re introducing someone else we’ve admired for a long time—the evangelical author and all-around commentator on American culture: Ace Collins.
Even if you don’t recognize his name, you’ve probably seen one of his books. He’s only 56 years old and he’s written more than 60 books. He averages about 4 per year these days. (If you jump beyond that pace you’re up in the lightening-paced world of Debbie Macomber, who has more than 150 books to her credit and—Psst! Debbie Macomber fans!—we’ve got news tomorrow about a new release you’re not going to want to miss. So, Stay tuned.)
In particular, you might have seen Ace Collins’ best-selling “Stories Behind Christmas” or, among my personal favorites, his “Sticks and Stones: Using Your Words as a Positive Force,” a sort of Netiquette/Etiquette guide for the new-media age.
He’s also got a series of evangelically themed mystery novels unfolding, if you enjoy a Christian edge to your tales of murder and suspense.
Basically, this guy likes to surprise us. And that’s very important when it comes to holiday offerings. I can’t tell you how many Christmas books and videos pass through the Home Office of ReadTheSpirit with predictable, paint-by-numbers concepts. That’s certainly not true of Ace Collins’ work.
Flipping through a review copy of “25 Days, 26 Ways to Make This Your Best Christmas EVER,” I stopped dead in my tracks on page 132. That’s the chapter labeled “Day 18: Embracing the Gift of Commercialization.”
No kidding! That’s 180 degrees from the direction most evangelical writers take these days.
Ace begins by evoking the ghost of St. Perry (who left this world in 2001). That’s Perry Como, of course, who began producing Christmas specials on television in 1948. That’s right—three years after the end of World War II when television sets still were few and far between across America. In particular, Ace celebrates Perry for introducing the hit song, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” Here’s part of what Ace writes:
Because of commercialization, “Christmas is almost everywhere. This gives us a chance to talk about the real meaning of the season with those who have never set foot in a church. We now have a platform to get the word out about Jesus, to tell the true story of Christmas. This is an opportunity we shouldn’t ignore.
“Remember, Christ used weddings and feasts to spread God’s message. We can do the same. We can be sensitive for opportunities to spread the word while shopping, doing charity work, giving out presentations. Through our actions, we can use commercialization to put Jesus back into the season. And we don’t even have to leave our hometowns.“
Here’s more from Ace himself …
And, you can CLICK HERE to order a copy of “25 Days, 26 Ways to Make This Your Best Christmas Ever” from Amazon.
HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR CONVERSATION
WITH ACE COLLINS ON “25 Days 26 Ways”
DAVID: Let’s start with this unique point you make in your new book—celebrating the commercialization of Christmas. I’m not sure I could find another evangelical book on the market urging us to take this particular approach to the holiday. Generally, Christian writers like to rail against popular culture.
So, why did you decide to argue in favor of all the holiday hoopla?
ACE: I think it’s one of the greatest gifts we’ve got as Christians. The holiday is celebrated everywhere you go. I know that commercialization is the big thing that people love to complain about in many churches. But I think this is the most wonderful thing about this season! Christmas is the only Christian holiday we have in which the whole world celebrates with us.
By opening up the doors to commercialism, we’re also opening up the doors to churches. The season began stretching out way back in the 1930s, because President Roosevelt urged people to shop early for Christmas. That opened up the season to a whole month when everybody got to talk about the holiday.
Why complain? This opens a huge window for Christians.
DAVID: Well, if you think about it, most growing churches realized long ago that Christmas Eve is becoming the most important day of the year to welcome first-time guests. That’s why a lot of churches have multiple Christmas Eve services now—they’re throwing open the doors as widely as possible at this time of year.
ACE: Right. Easter is the most important holiday for Christians, but it doesn’t have that outward appeal of Christmas. Easter is three or four days of observances for Christians—and it’s really only Christians who celebrate.
But Christmas? That circles the world. It’s a terrific opportunity. We ought to be thankful for it all!
DAVID: What can you tell us about your own religious affiliation, Ace?
ACE: Basically, I describe myself as a Christian and I don’t like to put more labels on it than that. Too many labels begin to pigeonhole people. I do go to a Baptist church and I’ve been Baptist all my life, but I think of myself as a Christian who just happens to go to a Baptist church.
DAVID: I want to ask you a question about your earlier book, “Sticks and Stones,” which I really enjoyed and still recommend to people. I think it relates to this new book about Christmas, because you’re really calling for a new, positive social engagement in America. You’re not a writer who urges us to get worried, get angry and isolate ourselves in small circles. You’re interested in seeing people enjoy positive relationships throughout the larger community and world, right?
ACE: Yes. We live in a society that to a large degree has embraced negativism. Turn on the radio or cable TV and you’ll find people shouting at each other and attempting to evoke barriers and separation. We’ve forgotten the civility that our grandparents taught us. We’ve forgotten about trying to come together in polite ways and find common ground with other people.
You know, most of us use about 30,000 words a day either vocally or written and I think it’s time to make some of those words actually count for something positive.
I think that’s such a refreshing point of view. I also think we can’t hear enough of it as we head into December. One passage I really enjoyed in your book is where you describe people’s fears of the overwhelming holiday season—as something like Godzilla rising up out of the ocean in a 1950s horror movie!
ACE: I think so! Even if people are looking forward to Christmas, they suddenly become overwhelmed with all the things they have to do by December 25.
As an author, I write about 4 books a year and if I sit down and think: Wow! For this new book, I’m going to have to write 120,000 words. How am I going to do that? But I do. I know how to break it down. I know the parts and I appreciate each step.
Christmas can be like that, too, if we break it down and look at each step as something that can enhance the spirit of the season for us—and for others.
In this book, I’m helping people to break down the stressful elements into day-by-day ideas. The book is a lot like an Advent calendar a lot of families use this time of year. You can read a chapter a day and each one reminds you of something wonderful about the season.
DAVID: Like waiting in lines? I know a lot of people hate that about the holiday season. You say: Enjoy lines.
ACE: Waiting in line can be a wonderful experience. Seriously, think about this: If you’re standing there in a line only thinking about the back of the person’s head in front of you and everything else you’ve got to do later in the day, well, you’re going to start thinking: Go! Go! Go! You get worried and you don’t like it that other people are standing around you, competing for your time.
But just stop! Take a deep breath. Listen. Look around you. You might find yourself enjoying the music playing around you. If not, then you might find some joy and wonder in those people standing around you. Don’t think of them as competing for your time. Look at them.
You can talk to people while you’re standing in lines. Look at what’s in their arms or in their cart. Spot something that interests you and say: “Hey, that’s an interesting thing you’re buying!” Start talking with people.
And, please, remember to thank the clerk who helps you check out! Tell them how much you appreciate their taking care of you. They’re not going to hear that from everyone, I can tell you.
And what about the guard at the door? Do you remember to thank that person? How about the person outside in the cold, ringing the bell at the Salvation Army kettle? Do you stop and thank them?
You have the power to restore the spirit of the season for others. You can simply smile, say a friendly word and help remove some of their stress.
DAVID: Let’s give readers another example from your book: Christmas cards. Now, I’ve seen lots of “reclaiming-Christmas” lists that tell people to quit sending Christmas cards. But not you!
ACE: As a kid, I remember going to Grandmother’s house and I would look at all the Christmas cards she got. I’d wonder where they all came from—and the notes inside those cards told me a lot about how important my grandparents had been in the lives of so many other people. That was a very important lesson to me about character and how to treat other people.
Christmas cards are a sign of love, if you take a moment to add a genuine, personal note inside them.
People don’t send out nearly as many Christmas cards as they once did. That actually adds to the impact of a sincere Christmas card. Listen: Do you really want to have a big impact in someone’s life this season? Take a Christmas card and write a personal note to them, telling them why you appreciate them. How much time does that really take? Maybe a minute a card to write a little note?
We’re talking about remembering the people who have changed our lives, people who have shaped who we are today. Aren’t they worth a moment of our time? Just a minute of our time to send them a bright moment of light and joy?
It’s a tradition just too wonderful for us to let it die. Concerned about the cost of the card and the cost of the stamp? You can cut back on the overall cost. You can buy budget cards, if you want. The point is the note you’ll write on the card, not the expense of the card.
This year, if you’re wavering on the custom—don’t stop sending cards. In fact, I suggest you look for some people who you might have forgotten in the past. Was there a teacher who made a difference in your life? Have you ever sent a card with a personal note to that teacher? Christmas is a great time to do that.
DAVID: And Christmas lights? You say that Christmas lights are deeply connected with centuries of Christian reflection at this time of year.
ACE: Martin Luther gave us Christmas lights, because he was walking through the woods 500 years ago and he saw light filtering through the trees. He thought of it as the light of Christ coming into the world and he wanted to teach this idea to his children. He took candleholders and fixed them to trees.
You know, we can get very upset about Christmas customs if we forget their roots. If we just rediscover our own traditions, we’ll find we have tremendous opportunities to make a difference in the world this season.
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(Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)