This post is part of the series “Christmas at My House.” Reflections on the wide-diversity of Christmas experiences.
Giving a child a toy gun for Jesus’ Birthday, is kinda like wearing a clown costume to a funeral.
I have nothing against clowns, but not at a funeral, and likewise, we shouldn’t celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace with a piece.
And while I have some reservations about kids playing with toy guns, I’ve been taking care of children long enough to know that you can’t keep them from playing with guns.
Believe me. I’ve tried.
In college, I spent my summers working at a daycare center with a strict no toy weapons policy. No squirt guns, no swords, no pointing fingers and yelling “Bang!” If it had a handle and was meant for hurting someone, it was out.
But inevitably, by the second week of the summer the 1st grade boys would develop a flourishing black market for L shaped sticks and Lego “space-ships.”
Let me explain.
It’s an old black market tactic. Call Cocaine “bugger sugar” or “white pony” so everyday people have no idea what you’re talking about. Well, the 1st grade boys called toy guns: space-ships.
I would stand in the corner of the room watching a handful of girls playing house, a few of the sportier kids throwing a football, and then I’d catch a flash of my three black-market gun traders pointing L-shaped Legos in the shape of a handgun at one another. I’d watch and wait for one of the kids to cry out in imaginary pain before collapsing on the floor. The other boy shaking the Lego gun and shouting in gleeful triumph, “I hit you, your dead!”
Then I’d walk over and ask, “Are you guys playing with guns?”
The boy with the handgun would look down at his Legos. “No Mr. Nathan. I’m ah….” pausing to look down at his dead friend, “Tommy and I are playing with spaceships.”
Spaceships. Always Spaceships.
Tommy nodded furiously. “Yeah, my spaceship hit a comet and then ah…then I crashed and everyone died.”
“Okay, well those ships better not have lazer guns on them.” I said knowing full well I was being lied to. But there was with no real recourse. I couldn’t ban them from playing with Legos. We only had a couple toys that the boys liked playing with. And they were stuck there with me for 8 hours a day.
To be honest, I didn’t really care if they were playing with toy guns.
When I was a kid I played with guns. My brother and I would build forts in our basement and spend hours mercilessly killing thousands of imaginary armies of Storm Troopers with bazookas made from painted paper towel rolls.
I still remember my favorite Christmas of all time was when my brother and I got matching He-Man costumes with Power Swords that were nearly too big for us to hold. In High School, my Bible Study group would murder each other on Nintendo 64 before plowing through Galatians.
I’ve often thought that if I would have turned into a serial killer, there would have been a treasure trove of violence for the biographers to point to as evidence of early on-set sociopathic tendencies.
Now that I’m an adult, I still find myself navigating entertainment violence and my belief that the founder of my faith was born to bring peace to the world.
After my sophomore year of college, I put the guns away and committed my life to non-violent activism. And the older I get, the less I can stomach violence. I don’t go on family hunting and fishing weekends because I hate watching the animals die. But, then again, I still eat meat.
I’ve organized peace rallies in the middle of live war-zones surrounded by AK-47’s. I’ve met with mothers whose sons have been killed. Last year, I stood alongside our neighbors surveying the wreckage of our destroyed garage after a car plowed through it during a drive-by shooting.
But somehow I still find it fun to watch millions of innocent lives crushed under the rubble of Metropolis as Superman fights off General Zod.
We live in a violent world and as much as war horrifies me, it still fascinates and entertains me. It has since I was a child.
Maybe it’s because I watched too much He-Man as a little kid.
Or maybe it’s because I am the decedents of the winners of wars, the survival of the fittest, and all that.
Whatever the reason, kids love violent toys.
And I’m sure this Christmas millions of kids are asking for realistic toy guns, spaceships with Lazer canons, and Superheroes action figures with tiny swords.
But when you look at the Wish list scrawled in crayon from your nieces and nephews, sons and daughters, I hope we all can take a deep breath and remember that at Christmas we celebrate Jesus’ Birthday.
Jesus, the guy who let his enemies nail him to a cross, rather than fighting back.
The guy who refused to call down legions of angels to destroy the Roman army.
The guy people refer to as the Prince of Peace.
So this Christmas let’s try and celebrate his birth in a way fitting of Jesus’ legacy.
And if you’ve already bought little Johnny that Iron Man Nerf gun, you can always re-wrap it and give it to him as an unexpected Fourth of July present.
This article is dedicated to the family of Tamir Rice, a twelve year old African American boy who was killed by a Cleveland police officer while holding a plastic pellet gun.