'Tis the season: GetReligionista work slows a bit, but we will still be paying attention


So it is Thursday afternoon. And next Monday is Christmas Eve, which will be a holiday for gazillions of people.

In front of that Monday, we have an ordinary weekend. #DUH

That means that lots of folks can skip work on Friday, as in tomorrow, and end up with how many days off in a row? Five or six — for the cost of one vacation day — depending how their office managers handle The Holidays?

So that sound you keep hearing outside your window, this afternoon, may be car doors slamming as people toss packages (or their suitcases, if headed to the airport) in the back of cars as they prepare to head hither and thither and yon. Some of us older folks, of course, will be joyfully preparing for cars to pull into our driveways containing loved ones — some wearing tiny shoes, in which to dash around the house.

So, what’s the point of this meditation?

Some of your GetReligionistas are already on the road and others will soon depart. Work here at the website will slow down, but our cyber-doors will not be locked tight. You can expect, as usual, a post a day, or maybe two, during the Christmas-New Year’s Day season.

I will be at home near a keyboard most of the days between now and, oh, Jan. 2 or thereabouts — but will have a chance, as always, to flee to the mountains of North Carolina, where Wifi and strong cellphone signals are often a matter of theory, rather than reality.

Let me stress, that we still want to hear from readers!

This is, after all, a time of year in which even the most cynical editor/producer has been known to gaze at the newsroom and mutter, “Somebody get out there and do a story about Christmas. I hear that has something to do with religion, maybe.”

The results are can be glorious or fallen. We are interested in both. Please keep sending us URLs for news that caught your eye.

How about stories that mangle the liturgical calendar and basic biblical facts? Yes, please. They can flash into news content at Christmas, as well at Easter. I am especially fond of twisted takes on the 12 days of Christmas (which, as every reporter knows, BEGIN on Dec.  25, as opposed to ending on that date). I have also seen fabulous seasonal features about inspiring people, stories with valid Christmas hooks. Send those? Yes, please. Stories about unique worship services in this season? Yes, please.

A note to editors or reporter to hand notes to editors: The late, great church-management guru Lyle Schaller used to note that, for many seekers, Christmas is the season in which forces in their personal life may push them through sanctuary doors and into pews.

Here is a flashback to an “On Religion” column I did about that element of his work:

Rather than worrying about that Easter crowd, [Schaller] urged church leaders to look for new faces at Christmas.

The research he was reading said Christmas was when "people are in pain and may walk through your doors after years on the outside," he said, in a mid-1980s interview. Maybe they don't know, after a divorce, what to do with their kids on Christmas Eve. Maybe Christmas once had great meaning, but that got lost somehow. The big question: Would church regulars welcome these people?

"Most congregations say they want to reach out to new people, but don't act like it," said Schaller. Instead, church people see days like Easter and Christmas as "intimate, family affairs … for the folks who are already" there, he said, sadly. "They don't want to dilute the mood with strangers."

It was classic Schaller advice, the kind he offered to thousands of congregations during his decades as a physician willing to work with bodies of believers – if they were willing to admit they had problems. Ask him about Easter and he would talk about Christmas, if his research pointed him in that direction.

There are stories in there.

Here at GetReligion, we will also be looking for End of the Year features about religion-beat news (The Religion News Association list is already out; look for commentary on that — as well as my own list — in the upcoming “Crossroads” podcast). However, please look for yearenders about big news, in general, since they are often haunted by religion ghosts.

Like the late George Cornell of the Associated Press used to say, there is rarely a year in which half of the world’s Top 10 stories don’t have a religion tie in there somewhere, for those with the eyes to see. Here’s what he told me in 1982:

"… Look at every major flash point in the world. There's almost always a religious element involved — and it's almost always a powerful one," Cornell said. "The same thing is going on in the human-rights struggles around the world. That's why the religious forces get into so much trouble with authoritarian regimes. ...

"People just don't see where the hammer is falling — where the vital brew is brewing. Religion is usually mixed up in it."

Keep in touch, and drive carefully.

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