Toys for Tots-or-The Dance of the Christian Toys

By: Savannah Thorne 

I arrived at my designated Toys For Tots location a little after 7 PM, my scheduled time. It was dark out, and the huge converted mini-mall that was now a church was lit up. Turn signal making its clicking noise, I turned into the parking lot.

Over 7,000 families were attending this one event, which explained the need to separate people into groups and times; due to the high levels of unemployment and today’s terrible economy, we were vying for spots and the crush of humanity was dense. After turning my key in the ignition and hearing my car die, I hopped out of the driver’s-side door and headed toward the warehouse-like building. On the way I passed a woman screeching at the top of her lungs about being cut off in the line of traffic waiting for parking spots.

Really? I asked myself silently. You just received free toys from a church out of the charity of someone’s heart, and you feel you need to cuss someone out about parking?

I stood literally hat-in-hand as I came into the hall, embarrassed and ashamed of my need, but grateful to be receiving presents for my children, the wonderful bright stars that light up even the darkest times in my life. We were pressed into a giant concrete-floored hall. Signs hung above to help direct the bumpy roll of foot traffic. Children cried, screamed, or played, people talked, and somewhere far ahead a microphone blared.

Little did I know, this was the start of an evening of torture.

First, a pre-holiday show in front of what looked to be strung-up garbage bags. Trivia questions resulted in extra prizes being given to children, which was sweet, but in all the flow of noise, the exhaustion, the hunger of the late hour, faces looked more annoyed than grateful. This pre-holiday jitter went on for at least a half an hour.

Then we were shepherded into an auditorium, where at least we could sit down. I rested my aching back in the hard fold-out chair, admiring the amount of time, money, and attention that had gone into this production: even while we were waiting for the event to start, cartoon numbers counted down the moments to the show on large flat-screens, and camera crews were scattered everywhere.

Then…

The Jesus Tap Dance.

I realized, of course, that part and parcel of receiving gifts for my children would be listening to what the church had to say. After all, in their minds, if they could bring over even one hungry soul to Jesus, they had done a good thing. I understand that. I grasped that my repayment for people’s kind charity was to listen to The True Meaning of Christmas. I have no problem with that–after all, if you celebrate Christ’s Mass (which I don’t), then you believe it is about the birth of Jesus, and this is your time to celebrate a wonderful miracle.

Bu this was so much more than I had reckoned for.

First, a blaring rap declared the chorus’ belief. This pounded into my head and down my spine for longer than I’d like to count. Then a skit that lasted at least 20 minutes was about nothing but a snowball fight that resulted….in the very long, drawn-out end…in the kids declaring peace and becoming friends. I cannot even remember–perhaps I have repressed the memories–of all the Jesus Tap Dance scenarios, but I do remember the children being rather frighteningly separated out from the parents more than once: first, to listen to preachers speak, and second, to go to their designated waiting areas completely away from their parents. I suddenly became glad, for the first time that night, that a volunteer had messed up and told me not to bring my children.

At long last two separate preachers came out, each of which had to speak to us for at least 15 minutes. At this point I had not eaten in twelve hours, and a terrible migraine was kicking in. I looked at the parents all around me, many of whom had tiny babies falling asleep over their shoulders, and I wondered how they felt about being kept prisoner long past their children’s bedtimes.

The first preacher spoke about the miracles of Jesus, and I have to tell you that at this point the Jim-Jones-style showmanship was getting on my nerves. When he declared that “no one before, ever, in all the history of time, has ever risen from the dead but Jesus,” I really had to wonder if he’d never heard of comparative religions, read Joseph Campbell, or heard of Osiris. Lots of gods were killed and came back from the dead. It’s a standard of religious mysteries.

He also declared that Jesus said “a lot of crazy things” such as “I am the way and the life” and “the way to heaven is through me,” and he was killed for these things. Well, so did Caligula, and he was killed for exactly the same demagoguery. The difference is in the PR.

To my mind you see, it wasn’t a “miracle” that three days later the tomb was empty: either someone did a little grave robbing, or the disciples, who knew the jig was up, hid the corpse. They claimed he had appeared to them, despite the fact he appeared to none of the government officials who could exonerate him or give testimony to the truth of this miracle.

You get a sense of the mood I was in by now.

And just as I wondered who on earth could fall for such ridiculous schmaltz, voices in the audience screeched, AMEN!

Wow.

The power of groupthink at work.

Next, to make things worse, the second preacher came forward and began talking of sin, claiming that we parents should know all children are born sinners.

EXCUSE ME?

Tell me that to my face, and you’ll walk away with a black eye.

I have spent 2 years with my daughter and 10 with my son, and have yet to see them commit a single sin. This preacher claimed that children’s urge to say “me, me, me.” is a sin. Are you kidding me? Children are born needing care, and don’t know how to ask. We adults must provide it. It is our duty, but also our privilege. I am honored to take care of my innocent, sin-free, natural, curious, wonderful, selfless children.

And even though I was starved by the end of the Tap Dance Show and they at last offered Kool Aid and popcorn, I dared not touch their snacks. I was afraid Jim Jones served on the refreshment committee.

But, at long last, the time came to be ushered into the gift room, and I must admit that the gifts were tremendously nice. Parents were allowed to choose gifts, thus allowing for the most likely present to please the individual children, which I thought was very kind. I was pleased by the choices, and happy to see some of the “trivia winners” carrying off brand-new bicycles.

In the end, to ME, Christmas is about children. It is about their innocence. One of the things the Christians really did right was focus on the “Baby Jesus”–after all, who can hate a baby? Everyone loves an innocent child, and a nativity story. It is sweet, absent of all affectation.

For me, Christmas is all about my children. It is a time to tell them I love them, care for them and appreciate their small troubles and hardships. And I do love that the charity of good hearts offered gifts to children in need. In the end, despite the two-hour program that thudded pain through my head, gut and spine, I continued to feel the gratitude I had when I began. The people thronging the halls with nametags were volunteers, every bit as exhausted as the rest of us, unpaid, and doing what they could to help others. This spirit, I do appreciate. Genuine belief, held deep inside of oneself that makes one do the right thing for one’s fellow man–and children–is something I will always value.

10 Comments on “Toys for Tots-or-The Dance of the Christian Toys”

  1. Whether Jim Jones is on the refreshment committee or not, everyone at one of these events drinks the Kool-Aid.

    There’s nothing like religion, and it doesn’t get any better for religion or its minions than around the end of the year – at least, here in America, where war-on-Christmas or no, the day belongs to the Christians just like March 17th belongs to the Irish.

    Even more so.

    Personally, while my mother was a Christian and was all about Christmas, my Dad was an atheist, and only participated out of a sense of familial bonding. He put together complex toys with a game smile – but I learned the truth of it around age 12, and by the time I was in junior-high school, I’d decided to opt out of the whole thing.

    Mom was disappointed. Dad breathed a sigh of relief, no doubt, and life went on.

    I’ve learned that the end of the year, with the passage of time and the distance acquired by not having kids of my own and not being a celebrant can be a great time to unwind.

    –Will (“Astra”)

  2. I can understand all the annoying apologetics from the first preacher (that’s par for the course from those lunatics), but the second guy trying to convince you that you have “bad” kids in need of a “savior” (from what? their “bad-ness” I suppose…) – at that point the fucker better be ready to argue with a Glock pointed at his head! I’m surprised the event didn’t turn violent after that!

    And about the “me, me, me” mentallity – what’s so “bad” about that? I don’t know about those clowns, but I see such a mentallity as normal and healthy: people are naturally selfish and act in their own best interests – it’s how we evolved! It’s the so-called “selfless” people (those who are all-too-willing to give everything up for the “greater good”) that are sick in the head: such people are easily manipulated into serving causes no rational person would touch with a ten-foot pole.

  3. I’m a bit of a traditionalist. There is something about maintaining family traditions that keeps you closely bonded to your roots. For this reason, i maintain all family traditions of Christmas; which are actually a bit elaborate; although only as costly as affordable. My parents were very religious and their religious teachings do influence my life, but i don’t view this negatively. The teachings of Jesus satisfied their moral compass. They didn’t worry about such phenomena as virgin birth or resurrection. Ancient history is replete with amazing stories, which they were well aware of and felt there could be numerous reasons for their origins, including incorrect translations, interpretations or the presence of a technology that had become lost by the time it was recorded.

    It was because the teachings of Jesus were so much like the teachings of their own revered prophets that the Native Americans ultimately accepted Christianity. Gift giving and sharing were already very much a part of their culture, so Christmas became a natural tradition to incorporate. It is for them, as it is for me, all about family. The miracle occurs, when in the midst of doing one of the things your parents have done, your grandparents before and your children are now lovingly and eagerly going through, you feel that unity of generations in your hands, hear them in your mind, and see them with your eyes. This is the moment of great joy that self-involvement can never deliver.

  4. There are some who say christian faith is losing ground to other religions and atheism in many countries because its priests are no longer going toward people and are not expressive (some would say agressive) enough in their speaches. Clearly this was not the case here… .

    Times certainly change but the more I read this article, the more I felt there was a nauseating mix between true acts of faith by some and pure commercial spirit by others.

    In any case, calling childs sinners, and moving so much away from true messages of love deeply shocked me.
    To me, childs are innocent beings who deserve all our love. By their presence, their joy, their innocence they bring a fresh and pure view to our world.
    They helps us see wonderful things we have long forgotten to look at with our adult eyes.
    They awake the best in ourselves and their innocence is an anchor for our sanity in a world that seems to bring only the worst for so many of us.

    They deserve we fight for them and sometime swallow our pride to go at such places where some have clearly forgotten the messages of their religion.

    Sinners? No, never, pure joy and a wonderful luck

    This beautiful article reminded me of that, thank you. Happy new year to all!

    B.

  5. I, like Karla am a traditionalist, while I eschew the ideal of shopping for Jesus, I am at heart a sucker for family time, baking and a warm fire with presents for those I love.

    As my family grows older watching them take up the torch of doing good (and secret) things for others both within and without the family warms me. It is I think what is at the base of this thing we like to call Christmas.

    I get the sense that a lot of the workers there had that spirit, which is good, the good intentions are never bad things, somehow people need to get to a place where they are doing it without the carrot and stick approach that was apparently displayed in the grande show however.

    It is worth noting that Toys for Tots was started by a retired Marine who saw a need and set up a foundation. You can find more information about it here: http://www.toysfortots.org/. It is from necessity distributed in different communities through church and other orgainization some of them naughty some of them nice. It would be nice to have more oversight over the implementation of it but I can see where that would be hard.

    I do have a problem with a church ministry deciding to “juice up” an orgainization with their own brand of preaching/torture it seems opportunistic and entirely out of the spirit of the ideal.

    It is too bad and it is insidious and seems to be creeping into more and more areas of our social service areas thanks to the Bush administration and their great idea that churches should do all the caring for their areas.

    All this being said, even without presents and feasts like the Who’s in Who-ville we have so much more to give to the world at this time and always and this, in my opinion should be the focus. The traditions of togetherness, sharing and love are the most important thing. In fact when I was a child I secretly wished for a tin cup (and a Pa that would get one) just like Laura and Mary got in “Little House on the Praire” so simple, so needful and picked with real thought and completely appreciated.

  6. I say shut up and by me a plasma tv. Jesus isn’t happy unless the credit card is maxed. You want Jesus to be happy, don’t you?

    Jesus also demands the NFL package.

  7. The action taken to local and national disasters is noble but it’s a real shame that so many citizens take advantage of the sad situations.

    I mean everytime there is an earthquake, a flood, an oil spill – there’s always a group of heartless people who rip off tax payers.

    This is in response to reading that 4 of Oprah Winfreys “angels” got busted ripping off the system. Shame on them!
    http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/08/19/crimesider/entry5251471.shtml

  8. It’s said that Giving is receiving. There are so many people who need help, but how much do we as people really contribute to eachother?

    The Cancer Society of America requires volunteer & financial help

    Please consider a donation to
    http://www.cancer.org

  9. The response level to national disaster is awesome but it’s a damn shame that so many citizens take advantage of the negative situations.

    I mean everytime there is an earthquake, a flood, an oil spill – there’s always a group of heartless people who rip off tax payers.

    This is in response to reading that 4 of Oprah Winfreys “angels” got busted ripping off the system. Shame on them!
    http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/08/19/crimesider/entry5251471.shtml

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