Ah, it’s that time of year again, that MOST WONDERFUL TIME when everyone gets all riled up about the “War on Christmas!” and starts complaining about how we can no longer celebrate that holy time of year when people go into debt to buy themselves and their loved ones a bunch of crap they don’t need.
I really can’t believe we’re still dealing with this and I really can’t believe it’s still a problem for some people and I really, REALLY can’t believe that some people still insist that being greeted with a “Happy Holidays” equates religious persecution.
I know this is really small and juvenile of me (but I have never, not ever, claimed to be either “nice” or “mature” as much as I may aspire to be both) but this whole “War on Christmas” thing makes me want to be aggressively “Happy Holiday’s-ish.” I intentionally no longer buy “Merry Christmas” cards because now I feel like I have something to prove. Honestly, if there is a “War on Christmas,” Christians aren’t making it any better by whining about it. They’re making some of us more determined than ever to be more vague around the holidays. I have a great desire to tell someone I’m Jewish or Wiccan or an atheist the next time they tell me “Merry Christmas” but I’m honestly too chicken to do that so I will just gripe about it on my blog because I’m a pathetic, passive-aggressive wimp.
One of my big problems with people complaining about “not being able to say Merry Christmas” is that, guess what? YOU CAN STILL SAY MERRY CHRISTMAS all the damn time if you want! There is no law against saying Merry Christmas. No one will arrest you for saying Merry Christmas. So if you want to say Merry Christmas?? GO RIGHT AHEAD! Say it to your hearts content. Say it to every man, woman, child and pet that you meet. Celebrate the hell out of Christmas because in America, that is entirely your right to do so!! But guess what? It is also entirely the right of someone else or a business to NOT say Merry Christmas. To say “Happy Hanukkah” or whatever or even NOT acknowledge the holiday season at all. That is the beauty of being an American. I overheard someone say “That’s why we need to elect Donald Trump, he’ll let us say Merry Christmas again!” Because what, Obama has legislated the Christmas Police to stop you from saying and/or celebrating the merriness of this lovely capitalist holiday? Because Trump is going to legislate that you and everyone else and every business HAS to wish everyone a Merry Christmas? It’s totally absurd. Say it, don’t say it, but quit your whining about it! No one is stopping you!
Secondly…Christians and others love to claim that they are being “persecuted” because of this “War on Christmas” fallacy. ANYONE who has ANY knowledge about ANYTHING outside of their own living rooms has to know, HAS to know that this is not persecution!! Persecution is real and there are people being persecuted every day all around the world: Christians yes, are being persecuted. But so are Muslims and Jews and other religions. So are people who support women’s equality. So are people who choose to vote against the party in power in certain countries. And this persecution involves death and torture. It involves things like your home being burned down with you and your family inside it. Being imprisoned. Being burned with acid or stoned. Being wished a “Happy Holidays” isn’t persecution, it’s someone being thoughtful, kind and friendly; you should try it. So unless someone is sticking a crochet hook in your privates when you say Merry Christmas (yes, this is a thing. Read “The Fear” by Peter Godwin. Read ANYTHING that expands your world view for heaven’s sake) then you need to zip your pie hole.
Finally, it really makes me grind my teeth that people are getting so riled up about this because honestly, I think if Jesus is real and if he is watching/looking down on us or whatever, then he is just pulling his hair out in frustration because if this is all we’re getting out of Jesus’ ‘birthday’ (which is a joke, really), if the way America does Christmas is THAT important to us? Then we have 100% missed the point of his entire existence. Totally and completely. Look, I love Christmas. I love the decorations and the songs and the idea of family and the feeling that the season gives me. But Christmas is not Jesus, not anymore. Going to church on Christmas doesn’t make Christmas about Jesus. If you and your family make Jesus the focus, then that’s awesome. But the way we do Christmas is so anti-Jesus in so many ways, that it is just insane how agitated and furious Christians get about people wanting to be more inclusive with a “Happy Holidays” instead of a “Merry Christmas.” You know what would make Christmas really meaningful?? Share with the poor. Care about immigrants. Care about someone lonely and alone at the holidays. Don’t buy stuff for yourself that you don’t need. Because, even though I’m not sure how I view the Bible, I’m pretty damn sure that all THAT was the focus of Jesus, the least of these, the left outs, the people on the fringes. I would bet all my money that if Jesus were to say anything at all this time of they year it would be “Love your neighbor as yourself” and he would give you the stink-eye if you tried to wish him Merry Christmas.
Can we stop talking about this now? Please? And actually go out and do something constructive? Now that would be a holiday worth celebrating.
It’s been ages since I’ve blogged…not sure why. Sometimes it feels so futile. I’ll get my head all wrapped up in a particular topic and think about writing and then wonder what’s the point. Do your thoughts and arguments get reabsorbed back into your brain at some point? I know they’re all swirling around in there still, but I tend to just live in my own head rather than put my thoughts out there for the general public. Part of it is my desire to avoid confrontation, knowing full well that much of what I think and believe goes against what a lot of people I know think and believe. I’ve also seen the horrible troll comments on other people’s blogs and have no desire to be a part of that (not that so many people read this but still…). So I’ve been quiet, at least on here. My head is never quiet, though through meditation I am thankfully learning to control the whirlwind of thoughts from pulling me under most of the time.
So why now? Well, this week I’ve been finding myself enmeshed in the whole refugee crisis in Europe, juxtaposed with the ridiculous fight raging in Kentucky over gay marriage. In the past I have identified as Christian, and even though I’m not in a place where I currently support any one religion over another, Christianity still has its roots deep in me, with the capability to make me furiously angry and yet still see sparks of beauty (few and far between as they may be) in the work that some people of faith are doing in the world. I haven’t been able to leave the faith of much of my life entirely behind, I haven’t been able to ignore it like many other people do. It clings to me like a spiderweb when you walk through it, you never feel like you’ve gotten it all off.
Anyway. I spent a lot of time this morning going through web pages on how to help with the refugee crisis…I don’t want to be just one of those people who says “Yes, this is a terrible crime against humanity!” and then does nothing. That picture of Aylan is haunting, as is another viral photo of a dad clinging to his two children and crying out as they are rescued from the sea. I have never known that kind of desperation. Most people I know have not. And yet there are millions in the world who, while they may not be refugees, live in circumstances that most Americans never dream of. I bet most people aren’t even aware of it and if they are, choose not to think about it because it interferes with their neat and tidy lives (or it’s too much to contemplate in the midst of their messy lives…who really has a “neat and tidy” life, regardless of what their Facebook page shows??). I made a donation, signed a petition, emailed the International Rescue Committee’s Baltimore office about volunteer opportunities. I felt like I had to DO something.
And then…I made the bed. I wrote out a grocery list. I got the kids breakfast. I drank my coffee on the deck. And I couldn’t help but think about the absurdity of life going on in the midst of so much death. People are dying for freedom and I’m vacuuming my house. People are being abused and I am folding laundry. It seems insane! It’s something I always have thought (almost obsessively) about…I remember years ago, maybe in my early 20’s…I was driving home from my aunt’s house late at night, after babysitting my cousins. It was a gorgeous moonlit summer night and I was enjoying myself when, out of nowhere I thought “Somewhere on this beautiful night, someone is being raped.” When it’s a beautiful day and I think “Nothing can possibly go wrong today!” my next thought is almost always “9/11 happened on a gorgeous sunny day too.” A couple of weeks ago, a couple I knew from my time in Omaha was killed in a horrific car accident on a highway in South Dakota. It touched many of my old friends in a profound way, as these 2 people had been interwoven in their lives for many years. Last Wednesday was their funeral…and I was at a Motley Crue concert. I kept thinking “I am watching Tommy Lee ride a fricking drum rollercoaster and there is a funeral going on for 2 people who’s lives were tragically cut off.”
It bothers and disturbs me so much! And I think about it every single day. The reality of death, of sorrow, of tragedy, always lurks in the back of my mind at all times, like some sort of twisted photo-bomber, there at the edge of the frame. Rarely does a day go by that I don’t have these kinds of thoughts. I’m sure there are other people like me who do the same thing. If anything, the Internet has taught me that we are rarely alone, in our joy, despair, sickness, confusion, weird little quirks.
Maybe it’s that absurdity though that keeps us from utter and total despair. Maybe there is something in us, some evolutionary predisposition to carry on with the doings of life, even while death follows closely behind. You certainly can’t have one without the other. The whole yin-yang balance thing. Some people lean heavy on the “life” part, working very hard to ignore the possibility, the reality of death…while others I think get stuck in the contemplation of death, of the dark and heavy side of life, and find it hard to see hope or optimism in anything. Is it just our personalities? Our chemical make ups? A strange ability to perform intense mental gymnastics? Whatever it is, I hope I can find a good balance. I don’t want to despair, and yet I don’t want to–I can’t–forget the reality of the darkness that is out there, that is life for so many.
So I will empty the dishwasher. And I will write a letter to my Cambodian god-daughter who has been rescued from the sex trade. I will go grocery shopping. And I will plan my year working with my mentee Jasmine in Baltimore. I will take my kids swimming. And I will remember those, both near and far, who are hurting and desperate and grieving and seeking freedom. At least I will try.
I started teaching myself to crochet this past fall. I wanted to learn something crafty that didn’t involve a lot of money or tools, something I could do sitting on my couch if I felt like it. I started out making a scarf and, well, it was pretty rough. I got about halfway done (about 2 weeks of working on it, here and there) and it looked like I’d been drunk when I made it. While I don’t consider myself a perfectionist, I was definitely not pleased. But I was almost done! And I’d been stitching away at it diligently for 2 weeks, I didn’t want to just start over! I kept adding stitches here and there, trying to make it work, but at the end of one night, as I sat and looked at this wreck of yarn, I just started unraveling it. Just pulled at the loose end and before I knew it I had a ball of wiggly, tired looking yarn on my lap and thought “Well, here’s where we start over.”
I recently read “Faith Shift” by Kathy Escobar. It’s about going through changes in your beliefs…major changes where it feels like the whole world is collapsing beneath you. The last 5 or so years of my life has been a time of huge shifting in my faith, and while it has been uncomfortable and messy, it has also been incredibly freeing and a bit of a relief to let go of so many things. While I have often felt alone, reading books like Kathy’s along with other blogs, articles and posts have helped me feel less alone and less crazy. When no one in your life is going through something remotely similar, you need all the lifelines you can find. She uses the term “unraveling” quite a bit in the book, and as I thought about my crocheting, the analogy really fit.
Like my scarf, my faith was something I’d been working on my whole life, even as a child, even before (as the evangelical world would put it) I got “saved” or “born again.” I pieced together all these things, trying to make a faith that fit. I took things from many different traditions and denominations, from people who I looked up to and admired, added them all in to try and make something that would surround and protect me, to help me make it through this life somewhat unscathed. I was very fearful as a child, and I think I have always been looking for some way out of that fear, to wall me off from the fear of pain, loss, failure, rejection, isolation, from a God that seemed rather capricious and untrustworthy. So I knit together this faith and it sort of worked. It kept me warm at times. It gave me some warm fuzzy feelings and I sometimes felt like I fit in, like God was pleased with me, like I was getting it “right.”
But I couldn’t help noticing that, like an uncomfortable sweater, my faith never quite fit. It was too tight in some places, too loose in others. I was really having to work hard to make it fit. Additionally, it wasn’t keeping the fear out…I’d actually knit that fear right in there along with all the other beliefs, like a black thread that colored everything around it, it was kind of choking me right along with those things, those beliefs that I couldn’t quite make fit comfortably. Life started happening, and there were nicks and tears in my faith, whole chunks started to go missing. I kept pulling at those loose threads, adding new stitches, trying to make it right until eventually I was just left with a pile of loose ends, wiggly, wobbly, worn threads that sat in a sad little heap at my side. And I felt naked and vulnerable and alone.
That’s kind of where I sit right now actually, although I will say alongside of the vulnerable and alone I also feel so much freedom. Sometimes it’s a terrifying kind of freedom. I have no idea what to do next or how I’m going to make sense of the beliefs that I have cast off. Right now I feel like only thing I can say with any confidence is that I still believe in a God. (and trust me, there were days I wasn’t even sure of that!) The fear is still right there with me, but I am hell-bent on NOT bringing it along for the rest of this ride. It’s a sneaky bastard though and it keeps trying to weave its way in there. I have to keep ripping it out.
I started that scarf over again and was much happier with the final result. It is far from perfect; I’m sure my friends who crochet would smile and pat me on the head condescendingly if they looked closely at it. But it keeps me warm when I wear it, and it has a shiny purple thread running through it that sparkles when the sun hits it. And I made it. I think it’s beautiful. I have no idea what my faith will look like as I move through the days and years ahead. I imagine I’ll knit something and then pull it all to pieces many more times. But I finally am coming to accept (sort of kind of most of the time when it’s sunny out) that this is ok, and that the end result is not some perfect, impenetrable shield against life and the world. But something pretty, sparkly (LOVE is the sparkle, people) that brings a tentative, sometimes shaky beauty and warmth to the person wearing it and those they come in contact with.
And with that I’ll stop before I take this metaphor too far
I am tired and
There is no rest
For souls so wicked and harassed
Tired of the drag the bore the snooze the chore of being
Tired of the hate the hurt the run and on and on
They cry and wail and weep and mourn
I gnash my teeth awake, asleep no middle ground
No hope no peace
It goes around and comes around and sun will rise
And so will I but in the dark the light of now
*apologies to actual poets.
Today is the first day of Advent…the Christian period of waiting and anticipating the celebration of the birth of Christ. As a person who grew up Catholic and later Protestant, it was always pretty central to my celebrations of Christmas in the past. As a person who is moving away from the much of the Christian tradition and has not attended church much at all over the past several years, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to mark the season, both as a family and an individual. There was a part of me that wanted to attend church this month between Thanksgiving and Christmas…and a bigger part of me that did not. I spent my advent morning not in a church pew singing carols but on an exhilarating 6 mile run with the likes of Tupac, Beastie Boys and Midnight Oil as my “worship” leaders. Still…there is a part of me, the part that longs for mystery and magic, for beauty that goes beyond gift giving and Christmas lights. Throughout this season of faith shifting (thank you Kathy Escobar!) there has also been a part of me worried about how my changing faith is affecting my children. It is why I sometimes want to go to church–and also why I often do NOT want to go to church. While I don’t want them to inherit my spiritual hangups, I also don’t want them exposed to the very things I no longer believe in. At the same time I do want them to see Christmas as more than just gifts for them and fun times at home and at school.
I was reading Rachel Held Evans’ blog post about Advent ideas this morning and had an epiphany–and I think it just may work for any family who wants to bring more into the Christmas season than just gifts, even if they are not religious at all. I think you could tailor the activities described below however you wanted to. Here’s a description of my not-churchy-advent-observation that I plan on trying out this season. I’ll let you know how it goes…and I hope maybe it will inspire others of you too, particularly other faith shifters like me.
First: I’m going to run to the store this afternoon and pick up 5 candles. I think I’ll use all white, but you can certainly choose whatever you’d like. I looked on Pinterest for some ideas for advent wreaths. I’m going to get some sort of greenery or something to place around them (I’ll post a photo after I’ve created it) and cluster them in a large dish. I may make the 5th candle smaller or a different color, I’ll see what inspires me at the store.
One day each week and then on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning (I’m going to try for Sunday evenings, but also allow for real life, to be flexible) we’ll sit down as a family, we’ll start with one candle the first week, 2 the second, etc. Each candle will represent something that we will talk about, listen to some music about, and then try to come up with a concrete idea for how to implement that in the week ahead. The concepts are:
Week 1: HOPE
Things to discuss:
- What does hope mean? (actual definition)
- What’s the difference between hope and hopelessness? Why might someone feel hopeless?
- Who in our lives or in the world might need hope? (I still believe in prayer, so we will probably pick some people to pray for in this area)
- How can we share hope in our family, in the world around us?
We will light the candle (giving each kid a turn) and then listen to a song that is about hope. My pick: “Hope Now” by Addison Road. Yes, they are a “Christian” band, but this song isn’t overtly religious and it’s one of the only “Christian” songs I can listen to any more without grinding my teeth. I’m sure you can come up with ideas of your own or Google some.
Week 2: PEACE
Things to discuss:
- What is peace?
- How can we be peaceful in our home?
- How can we encourage peace in school/work?
- Where in the world needs peace? (pray here, if you’d like) Use globe or map to talk about places in the world that are experiencing a lack of peace (Ukraine, Middle East, etc.)
- How can we be peacemakers?
Song ideas I have for this are “Imagine” by John Lennon and “Let There Be Peace on Earth” (you know, and let it begin with me…)
Week 3: JOY
Things to discuss:
- What does joy mean? Are joy and happiness the same thing?
- What makes you feel joyful?
- Who are some people who might need joy in their lives? (pray?)
- How can we bring joy to each other? To others we encounter?
Song ideas: Joy to the World (christmas carol!) and Joy to the World (3 Dog Night!)
Week 4: LOVE
Things to discuss:
- What do you think love means? Is it a feeling? An action? Both?
- How does life look with/without love?
- How can we show love to our family/to others?
- Who might need some love? (pray)
Song ideas: What The World Needs Now, Get Together (Youngbloods)
Christmas Eve/Christmas Morning
Again, if Jesus is not a part of your tradition, you could skip this entirely or do something else. How would you culminate your weeks of Advent? Would love to hear your ideas!
Light 5th candle for Jesus. Read Christmas story. Talk about how Jesus came to bring hope, peace, joy, love…NOT fear, conflict, sadness, hate (opposites!). Talk about how this often gets distorted and not done well. How we can change that in our lives, one day at a time, one person, one action at a time. Maybe read a Bible verse that talks about hope, peace, etc. (One with Jesus’ words??)
So. Those are my very basic thoughts ideas…anyone else have anything?? Song ideas? Concrete activities to make these words come to life? (I’m thinking sending cards to sick kids in hospitals, buying mittens/socks/hats for the library mitten tree, donating toys to Toys for Tots, notes to servicemen overseas…there’s unlimited possibilities!)
Hopefully you’ll find something here worthwhile…may your Advent be full of light!!
I’ll keep ya posted on how it goes
I’m not a problem to be solved
The pieces of my puzzle aren’t for you to try and fit
To figure out to make a picture that you like
-Don’t tell me what goes where and what comes next-
I will find my own way.
It will be different from your way
-different not bad not wrong-
I’m comfortable here
In this space where I am this person I am
In spite of the questions, the doubts and the fears.
Don’t tell me to move, it’s the wrong place to be
Spare me your worried brow your heavy sighs
Your muttered prayers.
You can’t see what I see in my head in my heart
Don’t hear what I think when I lie in the dark.
You’ll never be me never know what it’s like
I’m not in a bad place I don’t need a rescue.
I’m swimming and seeking and keeping my head up
My north star is mine its not yours it will guide me.
I may end up somewhere you would never have guessed
So just leave me be let me go save your breath.
I don’t need your books or your words or your help
I’m finding my way in spite of myself.
*Um, so I haven’t written a poem since probably like high school. I’m in the midst of a really frustrating week with a person in my life and this just kind of came out. It may be total crap so I apologize in advance.
It’s a crisp, chilly evening in early November 1990. My friends and I are walking back to the dorms from dinner, crunching through the leaves that have fallen on the path ahead of us. I’m hanging behind the rest, and look up at the dark, starry sky and sigh. My friend Mike hears me and pauses to wait for me. We walk together the rest of the way, not saying anything but when we get to his dorm he says, “Hey, wait here. I have something for you.” I wait out in the cold, hands in my pockets, probably not wearing a warm enough coat. Mike comes out and hands me a cassette. “You seem like you need this. It always makes me feel better, why don’t you borrow it for a while?”
In my hand was the tape “Reading, Writing and Arithmetic” by the Sundays. I’d heard the single “Here’s Where the Story Ends” on the alternative radio station back home and liked it, but had never listened to the whole thing. I had no idea at that moment that 24 years later (whoa) I would still remember that fall so clearly, and it would still be able to conjure up how I was feeling and the effects the music would have on me.
Mike was right. That music did make me feel better. I don’t know what it was-her voice, the music, the lyrics, or all of that put together but it soothed something in me and just made me feel like everything was going to be ok. It was a particularly angsty time for me…although, who am I kidding, most of my life has been angst-ridden. I was thrilled to be at college, loved my new group of friends, but also missed my old friends from home. I was 8 hours away with no car (and no cell phones, no internet) so I relied on infrequent pay-phone conversations to connect me with my best friend. I was now 100% responsible for my studying and learning and classwork. I had to do my own laundry and clean my own room and navigate getting along with a sometimes prickly roommate. I visited New York City for the first time. Stayed out all night. Got drunk for the first time. Kissed a boy who I had a huge crush on–more than once–even though I knew he had a girlfriend. I was happy, sad, confused, excited. Tired. Always seemed to be very tired. The Sundays were like a balm that eased my over-stimulated heart and mind.
At the same time, I was introduce to Orion. The Hunter. 2 summers before, I’d learned what real star-gazing was like, when I spent many nights drifting on my best friends boat in the broads of Lake Winnepesaukee in the middle of the night. I’d seen my first of many shooting stars and satellites, saw the sweep of the Milky Way over our minute selves as we rocked on dark waves. Of course I knew where Orion the constellation was. But that fall of my freshman year, he became another beacon of hope for me in an uncertain world, that would follow me through adulthood.
Another friend-another Mike actually, and the infamous kissing boy-and I would go on long drives in the evenings where we’d “get lost” and just see where we ended up. I would spend a lot of time in college with various friends and boyfriends on sojourns to lonely places to philosophize…this was just the beginning. He’d drive–as a junior, he had his own car–and I would say “Left!” or “Right!” as the spirit moved me. We’d talk about god only knows what, and one night he pointed out Orion to me. I’d probably been upset about something. (I also remember “upset” being a somewhat steady state of mind at the time. Or rather, for years before, during and after this. I have a lot of feelings about things, apparently.) Trying to make me feel better (and not kiss me because, you know, girlfriend) he pointed to Orion and said “Everytime you see Orion, you can know that everything’s going to be alright in the world.” How trite! How stupid! How sentimental! How exactly what I needed to hear! I grabbed onto that and from that moment on, every time I see Orion, something in my soul makes a little, nearly audible “click,” righting me for at least a moment. Ok. Orion. There he is. Everything’s alright with the world.
God, how naive I was. Still am. I still feel that way when I see Orion. When I hear certain songs. When I see certain scenery or read a particular book or poem. Who thinks like that? Well, I guess I do. And I think I’m not alone. Maybe it’s not Orion or the Sundays, but I bet you have your North Stars too, the things that re-calibrate your internal self.
I think about these two stories this same time every year, and remember that happy/sad girl, that confused dreamer, because really, she’s still me, she’s still there. I may be older, wiser (?), more responsible (?), less flighty. But her heart is still in me, believing that if I can just see Orion, or hear just the right song, then it’s all going to be ok.