light-the-worldDuring our recent stake conference we were introduced to the LDS church’s new Christmas initiative, #LIGHTtheWORLD (in 25 ways over 25 days), and which we were told is set to go live on mormon.org 25 November. Now, I’m something of a jaded cynic when it comes to initiatives of this kind, and the introductory video we were shown had me gazing in horror at the screen. Was it just me? Those introducing it seemed to love it, and those who apparently know assured me that the film would go down very well in the US, though perhaps not so much in Britain. Or maybe I am just too jaded after a lifetime of seeing folk excited by such initiatives, but which generally leave me cold or rolling my eyes. Perhaps I have more in common with the Grinch than I’d like to believe.

It was with some relief that I discovered this document on mormon.org (yes before 25 November), that spells out the concept rather better than the video had, and with considerably better taste for the most part. Phew! It takes the form of a calendar which identifies different attributes or actions of Jesus for each of the 25 days, and gives suggestions of things we can do for each. It’s not set in stone, nothing to stop you shifting the days around. Participants can include the things they usually do as part of their Christmas. So, I guess I don’t mind getting on board so much. With caveats. I always have those. It all kicks of with December 1 designated as a worldwide day of service. I don’t know about elsewhere in the world, here Dec 1 is a standard school and working day, and it seems that missionaries will be providing the bulk of persons required. The video for the day of service is available now.

What was my problem with the introductory video we were shown? What we saw were clips depicting Christ performing various acts of service, miracles in the main: healing the sick, the blind, feeding the 5000. These were interleaved with clips of people today performing acts of service: visiting the sick in hospital, assisting a blind man reading braille, serving in a soup kitchen. I found this incredibly jarring. Firstly, where were the miracles for the sick in hospital, the blind man? These are not equivalent and I found the juxtaposition with no other explanation to be both tasteless and patronising. Secondly, in this country it is local churches who generally work together to run soup kitchens year round, providing teams from the different congregations on a rota basis, and guess what – the LDS church is not involved in this local ecumenical community service (I discuss some of the possible reasons in this post, and the Hanns talk about what happened when they tried in this podcast).

The red flags for me in the calendar are not unrelated. They would be those ideas that involve doing something for someone (a person identified as hungry, lonely, disabled etc.), and risks objectifying them. In and of themselves the suggestions may not be bad things to do, but they shouldn’t be part of a check list to be ticked off and forgotten. They need to be part of building a relationship with the person. Anything else and we are at worst going to be using people to achieve a goal, or at best patronising them, and that simply isn’t good enough.

  • What do you make of the annual Christmas initiatives?
  • Do you find them helpful?
  • Do you appreciate the emphasis on service?
  • Are there ways in which you serve regularly every Christmas?
  • Am I just being oversensitive to what I perceive as an objectifying or patronising tone?

Discuss.

Edited 25/11/16, once the video was made available on line. In the original post I had recalled a blind woman reading braille.