News stories blending the miraculous with Christmas aren't difficult to find: families reunited, poor children receiving presents, the homeless fed. A common denominator, though, is usually a denomination, most likely a Christian one. After all, it's the Christians who connected charity to the whole thing to begin with, right? Well, things apparently are different in Chickasha, Oklahoma. While I fear to step onto the home turf of Sooner GetReligion duo Bobby and Tamie Ross, tread I must.
The Chickasha Express-News reported a"Christmas miracle" story, but this time, it was area atheists who saved the day, as opposed to reprising what others often view as their "Grinch" role:
CHICKASHA -- A group of local atheists saved Christmas for a Chickasha woman after she and her baby were allegedly put through the ringer [sic] at a church's toy give away.
Tiffany Wait said she, her husband and their 7-month-old baby went to Bible Baptist Church's Toy Shop Christmas morning to get gifts for their child, but were met with animosity because Wait did not want to give her baby to the volunteers.
"I am poor and would not be able to celebrate Christmas this year without their charity," she said. "I went last year and it was a life saver. This year however, I was treated shockingly bad."
Wait said her baby doesn't like strangers and she'd prefer to be with him. She said the volunteer said it has to be done this way, or the family wouldn't be able to participate.
"I stood there, fighting back tears and asked, 'You would turn a baby away on Christmas,'" said Wait.
Two initial questions: (1) Was it a look-alike of some sort ("ringer") Wait had to somehow be "put through" or was it the metaphorical "wringer" (or clothes press or what the British call a "mangle") to which the reporter was referring? Also, what's up with the alleged demand for Wait to "give her baby to the volunteers" at the toy distribution? The church folks could only hand presents directly to the child? Say what?
Anyway, this being the Year of Our Lord 2013, Wait -- whose Twitter account describes her as an Avon representative and one of whose Facebook photos show her with her husband and two children -- did what anyone would do, these digital days.
She sought solace online:
Wait took to the internet [sic], posting her story on various social media sites, which is where Oklahoma Atheists' Director Red McCall and members of his group set out to save Christmas.
"We had several people donate things and send her money through a PayPal," said McCall.
Christmas is a secular holiday now, according to McCall. He said everyone deserves to have a happy holiday.
"Her Christmas was ruined," he said. "The big message here is Tiffany was discriminated against, and if someone needs help we are going to help them. It doesn't matter what their beliefs are."
Wait said the actions of McCall and Oklahoma Atheists saved the holiday.
"The Christians turned my baby and I away, and a group of atheists showed us compassion, kindness, and charity," she said. "They brought us toys, dinner, gift cards, donated money and really saved our holiday."
Well, I'm glad that Red McCall has decided the meaning of Christmas for America, if not the entire world: it's now "a secular holiday." I'm less happy the paper didn't have anyone challenging McCall's assertion. When the paper's managing editor, who reported the story, got around to speaking with an on-the-record type from the Bible Baptist Church, the question of what that pastor believes Christmas is may not have come up:
Bible Baptist Head Pastor Kim Hayes said he and his attempted to go to Wait's house five times Christmas night, but were never able to get ahold of her. He said he intends to continue his efforts to contact her.
"I'm sure she has a very legitimate reason for feeling the way she does," said Hayes. "I regret what happened. We are certainly not in the business of creating that type of atmosphere on Christmas for any individual."
Hayes said he plans [to] investigate the incident further.
The story has gained some traction, getting picked up in various outlets, including the "Friendly Atheist" blog on Patheos. But the gaping holes in the story remain:
* Why did the paper quote Wait as having gone to the same charity last year and not mention her other child? As it reads, one wonders why a (seemingly) then-childless woman would be scouting toys at a church. If someone hundreds of miles from Chickasha could puzzle out some apparent details of Wait's life and family within a few minutes online, what about the on-the-scene reporter/editor?
* Among the many commenters on the Express-Star's website, one notes the church "passed out over $2000.00 worth of toys to children, and fed people for free for 4 hours." Why didn't the original article mention this?
* All the time elements seem strange to me. I'm puzzled by a toy distribution on Christmas morning. I'm not saying it's impossible, and perhaps it's even a tradition there. But having been a church member of The Salvation Army for 17 years, and having seen its Yuletide operations up close, I know the Army concludes its giveaway before Christmas Eve, so that the children wouldn't awake to nothing at home on Christmas Day.
* And, just how did this band of marauding atheists manage to assemble a cache of toys and other goodies in record time on the 25th of December, when just about every major and not-so-major retailer in the United States -- save for the flagship L.L. Bean outlet in Freeport, Maine -- is closed?
All these questions are, I believe, legitimate. Unless I am missing something, they are unanswered in the Express-Star account.