Christmas: The End of Scorekeeping

by Tom Rowley, A Rocha USA Executive Director

If you’ve never read “The Snake” by Anne Herbert, you should. In this humorous yet poignant revisit of Eden, Herbert likens original sin to keeping score.

“At first we did have fun just like [God] expected. We played all the time. We rolled down the hills, waded in the streams, climbed the trees, swung on the vines, ran in the meadows, frolicked in the woods, hid in the forest, and acted silly. We laughed a lot. Then one day this snake told us that we weren’t having real fun because we weren’t keeping score. Back then we didn’t know what score was. When he explained it, we still couldn’t see the fun. But he said that we should give an apple to the person who was best at playing and we’d never know who was best unless we kept score. We could all see the fun of that. We were all sure we were the best.”

The rest, as they say, is history: We’ve been keeping score ever since. I know I have. Money. Looks. Education. You name it. If a comparison can be made, it will be. Not surprisingly, to great damage.

To ourselves. Theodore Roosevelt rightly said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” (An interesting aside: he was known as our “Conservationist President” for protecting some 230,000,000 acres of public land—not that I’m keeping score here!)

And to the planet. Our relentless drive for “more” that is strangling the life out of the Earth is fueled (in the US and other developed countries) less by need than by desire for more than our friends and neighbors. Research shows that absolute income is less important in self-assessed wellbeing than relative income—how much I make compared to what other people make. If I make more money than the people I see regularly, I’m more likely to be satisfied. If I make less, well…

“Keeping up with the Jones,” we call it.

Ironically, Christmas is another opportunity to keep score. More gifts to make both receiver and giver feel better about themselves—if only fleetingly. Followed soon by more debt. More anxiety. More striving to…make more. (Not to mention the whole “naughty or nice” thing.)

But that’s antithetical to what we claim to celebrate. In the coming of Christ, his death and resurrection, the ultimate score is settled, the need for scorekeeping is eliminated and the damage it causes begins to heal.

If we allow it.

If not, well…

“It was different after that. We yelled a lot. We had to make up new scoring rules for most of the games we played. Other games, like frolicking, we stopped playing because they were too hard to score. By the time God found out about our new fun, we were spending about forty-five minutes a day in actual playing and the rest of the time working out the score. God was wroth about that—very, very wroth….

“He kicked us out and said we couldn’t come back until we stopped keeping score. To rub it in (to get our attention, he said), he told us we were all going to die anyway and our scores wouldn’t mean anything.

“He was wrong. My cumulative all-game score is now 16,548 and that means a lot to me. If I can raise it to 20,000 before I die I’ll know I’ve accomplished something. Even if I can’t, my life has a great deal of meaning because I’ve taught my children to score high and they’ll all be able to reach 20,000 or even 30,000 I know… 

“We’re all very grateful to the snake.”

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