The Rev. Clyde Ellis is conflicted this time of year.
He loves the displays of generosity during the Christmas season: meals and coats for the homeless, presents for needy children and general good cheer.
Seeing so many good things conjures warm childhood memories for Ellis, including his parents scrapping together their pennies to buy him and his siblings presents. This year his church, Mount Olive Baptist in Woodbridge, donated gifts for 100 children of inmates at the Prince William County Jail.
But something doesn’t feel quite right.
“This season is the height of hypocrisy,” he said. “The best of humanity comes out. But the other side of that story is that your motivation is the season and not the (individual being helped.) On Christmas, you offer me a turkey dinner and the day after you run me off your property.”
Our society is full of contradictions. Politicians heading into the 2012 election season will promise to work together, to stop the partisan bickering only to do the same thing they criticize others for doing. Big institutions promise to put people above all else but then fail to follow through. Think the Catholic Church and Penn State, where allegations of abusewere allowed to go unchecked for years.
On the surface, the institutions appeared pristine. But beneath, something sinister lurked.
Which brings us back to the holiday season. Extra tips for the people who park the cars at the garage and deliver the papers and for the men and women who beg on our street corners. No matter how we have treated them the rest of the year.
I called Rev. Ellis — ‘Pastor Ellis’ to his flock of 450 — this week because it was a topic he touched upon when I visited his church this past summer. His name may be familiar to some. He’s been the leader of a crusade by Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE) to help homeowners in Prince William County and nationwide who he thinks have been unfairly chased from their homes during the foreclosure crisis.
On the Sunday I visited, the 8 a.m. service had been underway for a few minutes when he entered the pulpit. A retired Marine, Ellis has fun at his services.
At this one, he mimicked Beyonce, sang a few notes from the Shirelles and even mocked how his wife looks when she wakes up the morning. Ellis told members how pretty his soon-to-be-wife was while they were courting in college. Once married, he said, the veneer came off. “Ugly,” he said, to shrieks of laughter from the congregation.
“He’s too silly,” said one member. “He’s gonna get it when he gets home,” said another.
Ellis was joking but his point was this: many people in the pews show up and look nice and proper and Christian on Sunday. But Monday and throughout the week, they hide behind fancy government and private industry titles, acting nothing like the people they pretend to be in church. Many of us do the same pretending during the holiday season.
The one place we can’t hide, Ellis said, is when we look in the mirror.
“Mine says “Clyde, you are a liar and ain’t no truth in you,” Ellis said.
Truth-telling means being honest. For those who plan to lose weight in the new year, why spend the better part of two months gorging? “The diet and exercise industry know that people want to continue doing the same thing but getting a different result,” Ellis said. “The answer is the eat right and exercise.”
Don’t mistake this as a call for everyone to turn into Scrooges.
“I enjoy the season,” Ellis said. “I have a ball watching the smiles on the faces. The bad part is that it comes to an end.”
So here’s a challenge to us all: let’s try to be the people we become during the holiday season year round.
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