By Tom Ehrich

We decided to call it "the cottage."

Even though I use the outbuilding as my workplace, calling it "the office" seemed a bit narrow and self-centered. Calling it "the pub" seemed an awkward correlation to the "Pub" at my in-laws' farm in New Hampshire.

So "cottage" it is. A cozy word. But as I am learning, the main feature of the cottage is its lack of insulation in walls and thermal panes in windows. To approximate coziness I need to run two electric space heaters continually.

Non-stop heat seems an apt metaphor for more than cottage management. This morning I read a rather snippy essay by a radio commentator who is tuning out of Christmas. Among other complaints, she doesn't like the "obligatory" giving of gifts.

It seems to me gifts are always "obligatory." Like running heaters to fight cold, we are obliged to be kind and generous to those who make up our lives -- from family to strangers. Yes, we have choice, but in a faith sense, we are obliged. Love God, commanded Jesus. Love your neighbor. Not when the mood strikes, or when the neighbor is someone like oneself, but always.

If I turn off the heaters, the cold returns immediately. Being generous is like that. The minute we stop being generous, we cease to be our better selves and we fall into the rejecting of others that has become an ugly hallmark of our times.

If those pursuing a white-power insurgency were remotely connected to the Gospel, they couldn't so easily shout down protesters, burn mosques, pummel blacks, deny women control of their bodies, scapegoat immigrants, or demand that America return to some imaginary state as a white, Christian nation. The minute we stop "heating" the room -- standing for justice, speaking truth to power, calling for tolerance, sharing our nation with the many, insisting that the greedy few turn from their wickedness -- the cold fury of bigotry, hatred and fear will return.

Similarly, luxury spending is driving commerce this season. The wealthy are buying and giving extravagantly within their small circle. But they whine and flounce whenever someone points out the ways their living large springs from others' living poor. They apparently feel no connection to the many whose fortunes they have soured. If the faith community stopped applying the "heat" of the Gospel to this greed and self-serving, it would only get worse.

Non-stop heat is a personal metaphor, as well. At this stage in my life, I could easily retreat into the comforts of country living. No one is pushing me to do anything I don't want to do. So I must push myself. I must run two heaters, as it were, lest my heart grow cold, my mind lose its edge, my political conscience turn bland. I force myself to read the entire New York Times every day. I force myself to stay current on social media, even though I find much of it irritating. I force myself to engage with the religious world, even though I find much of it self-serving. If I stopped applying "heat" to my daily life, I would freeze.

Like the "darkness" that John saw Jesus coming to combat, the "cold" is always out there, waiting to seep into our world. Applying the "heat" of generosity is obligatory. So is applying the "heat" of the Gospel and the "heat" of engagement.

The cold of a heat-less world can freeze our souls.

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