Yes, it Really Is About Giving Presents

So many Christians are real Scrooges about Christmas…expressing a great deal of rancor and nastiness because Christmas is not celebrated in the way they think it ought to be.  Well, guess what…they are wrong to do so.

“Christmas is not about a tree! or strings of lights!”

Well, actually, yes it is, partly.  The Christmas tree has several ‘roots’ in Christian tradition, one of which is how “the temptation that brought sin into the world hung on a tree (the forbidden fruit), and the act that resulted in salvation from sin (Christ on the cross) hung on a tree. Furthermore, once sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, and all mankind, were no longer permitted to eat of the tree of life. However, in eternity, Christ’s work on the cross will give us ‘the right to eat of the tree of life’ once again (Revelation 2:7).”  (from Traditional Christmas Symbols – Christmas Trees.)

“Well, it’s not about presents, then!”

It most certainly is.  While the giving of gifts has obvious roots in Christian tradition, i.e., God’s gift of His Son to the world, I believe there is a much more important reason to preserve the tradition of gift giving:  Christ NEVER commanded us to celebrate His birthday; He DID, however, command us to love our neighbor.

(Who is our neighbor?  Every one else.  EVERY ONE ELSE.  Yes, them, too.)

No one quibbles about Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, or Flag Day.  They are important days because without such designated days, most Americans would go their entire lives without pausing to acknowledge their friends, family members, neighbors, much less strangers who have dedicated their careers, limbs, and lives to protect us and sometimes the world, from harm.  Having a designated day is a good thing.

By the same token, having a designated day to give to others is also a good thing.

It is often debated as to whether Christ actually said that “it is better to give than to receive,” so I will not use that as an argument…although it would be an easy one.  I will say that in order to follow Christ’s command to love others, one would be hard pressed to find a better or simpler way to start doing that, than by giving gifts.  Sure, there are flawed motives, resentments, financial burdens that often result but Christ never said “Love your neighbor only if their are no problems or complications involved.”  In fact, those problems and complications actually introduce additional opportunities to obey His command:  One may readily give gifts to those one appreciates…but what about those one doesn’t particularly like.  The process of giving to someone you don’t want to give to is a huge opportunity for healing.  Let’s say you resent having to buy a gift for your sister-in-law.  Were there no designated day to Do It ANYWAY, you could live out your entire life without having to face the fact that you resent a member of your own family.  As it is, your resentment raises its ugly finger once each year…presenting you with the designated day to DEAL WITH IT.  Christmas…the designated day to deal with your issues; what a gift from God!

Christmas has become crass and commericalized

Has Christmas become crass and commercialized…and we, materialistic?  You bet it has…and we have.   But that’s easy enough for each of us to step around and over-come.  Do not throw the Christ Child out with the sullied bath water.

Christmas as a gift giving occasion is a good thing…a God thing.  It forces us to think about each other…what the other person values and appreciates…and gets us in a position to love that person and express that love.   Without Christmas, such efforts would be rare, indeed.

So, Christmas:  Bah! Humbug?

No.  Baa…as in a little lamb.  The Lamb of God, that showed us that in stripping away the material obsessions, reactions, judgements, greed,..we can be pure Christ-ness on earth the way He did.  God’s gift to the world.  Take Him and give Him as a gift to others this Christmas.  Pray over your gifts before delivering them or putting them under the tree…praying that the Holy Spirit of Christ go with the gift.  Or when you hand someone your gift, point out to them that Jesus showed you how to love and that in celebration of His birth, you want to give them a gift.  Feel moved to share your joy.

The giving of gifts at Christmas is a way to obey Christ’s second commandment.  Just celebrating His birth is not.  Getting grumpy and chastising others for putting up trees, giving gifts, hanging lights, etc. is definitely NOT.

Everything about Christmas has become so hate-filled and crazy!”

Hey, it’s all good; even the long lines and traffic snarls are ‘God sends.’ Talk about teachable moments!  If you were a good Boy Scout, you would thank God for Black Friday because Main Streets and shopping malls during Christmas present abundant opportunities to do many many ‘good turns’…all in one day.

Do you need to feel better about Christmas?  Need to feel better about the world and about life?  Christmas is Here to the Rescue!  Look no further for opportunities to practice love, patience, and kindness:  Go shopping!

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“Like the miracle of Hanukkah, all over again”

Two years ago, in January of 2016, I dictated the following into my cell phone.  I was in the process of moving from North Carolina, where I had lost my job and was having to vacate my house, walking away from the mortgage, to South Carolina where my brother was letting me move into a vacant 60-year-old house trailer of his:

I’m driving through Travelers Rest, closely watching my gas gauge because I am just about out of gas…the orange empty-tank light is on.  I have about a dollar seventy five to my name and I’m making plans.  There’s a gas station at the Green River exit on 25 and I’m thinking of offering to clean the bathroom in exchange for two gallons of gas.  I’m recording this because I’m thinking about what it’s like to live like this…for the people who live like this every day of their lives, and can’t get out of the downward spiral.

All of my life, when I have come across people who live this way, hand to mouth, I have been skeptical; I have thought that they somehow had a choice and chose to live this way,  either because they were lazy, wasteful, and stupid or because they had an entitlement mentality…used to someone bailing them out…so used to social programs that they knew no other way to live. They didn’t seem to know how to take care of themselves.

God was I wrong. I find no satisfaction in this.  Yes, I have been wasteful and at times, stupid.  But, lately I have exhausted myself in trying to survive, wrestled with ways of working things around to make it through the month, the day, the next hour.  And I almost made it.  But now I need just a little bit of help.  And that is so hard.  I believe it takes more strength to hold my head up and survive this…and to ask for help…than it did to work my 9-to-5 government job for 22 years.

I will make it through this. I know I will. I’m having to convince my daughter that she, too, will survive this because she, too, is overdrawn and facing rent day. But I’m also having to teach her that this is a God lesson in humility. This whole scenario is destroying my pride. And that is a good thing…a God thing.  To live on the same level with the people who live on the streets or in their cars or in 60 year old house trailers with the floors falling in… it’s a good place to be.

God, forgive me for all those times when I have felt superior to people who have nothing. Forgive me for making them feel bad by looking the other way or not smiling, for not looking them in the eyes, and not offering to help.  And for all those empty-headed idiots who say people who live on the street do so because they want to…it makes me…well, it makes me mad enough to cry.

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Well, I did it.  I stopped at the Green River exit and asked the attendant if I could clean the bathrooms for two gallons of gas.  He deferred to the manager.  First, she takes her calculator out to figure how much two gallons is going to cost her, asks me where I’m going (Weaverville, NC, is 61 miles from Travelers Rest), and how many miles I get to a gallon (Honda Fit, 34 mpg.).  She looks up and tells me she’s already cleaned up and they close in 10 minutes, so, “no.”    I wait.     She waits back.       So I leave, with no gas.

I drove 61 miles on an empty tank, like the miracle of Hanukkah, all over again.

I’m now at my daughter’s apartment in Weaverville where it’s warm.  But, outside, it is 19 degrees and I’m thinking about the people broken down by the side of the road, or ‘sleeping’ under bridges, or in their cars, or even in shelters.  I beg God to bless them, if not in this life then in the next one.  And, please, God, if they sleep, let them know in their dreams that someone is sorry–very sorry–that someone cares for them even if there is nothing she can do to help, and that she loves them.

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That was two years ago.  My life still hovers quite close to the ground but, thanks to my brother, my home is warm and snug…even snuggier than before becasue my daughter now lives with me in this 60-year-old house trailer.  Try as I might, it remains a constant battle to stay afloat financially.  But we are fine; we are doing okay…okay enough to pay a small token forward.  I have put a small amount of money…enough to buy two gallons of gas…in a red envelope with instructions for the gas station attendant to hold onto this envelope until someone comes in, needing just a little bit of gas to get home.

God bless them.

Our ‘Two Parent’ Government

In any household or country, it is important that there be two perspectives (more, if required*).  In a country like ours, one perspective is needed to be mindful of the needs of business and growth; one is needed to be mindful of the needs of the disadvantaged and the environment.
The best governance comes from conversations involving both perspectives.  Neither should strive for the destruction or even the weakening of the other.  Both are necessary.  If one is destroyed, the other is left with the responsibility of tending to all of it…the ‘Single Parent’ government.
If you’ve been a single parent, you know what I’m talking about.  The strongest families have two parents, one mission, two perspectives.  Would you ever advise a father to discredit or beat down the mother?  What happens to the security of the children when they hear their mother constantly insulting and blaming the father?  Constant bickering is what drives the children to turn inward and feel bad about themselves… and act out.
Democrats should be grateful that the Republicans are shouldering their responsibility to represent business and those who have money to build.  Likewise, Republicans should be glad that the Democrats are keeping an eye on the needs of the disadvantaged and the environment because they can’t do all of it; the scope is too big and the responsibility must be shared.
Thank you both…Republicans and Democrats.  Now…let’s talk…
*   If a third party gains significant support, it means one of the two ‘parents’ needs to widen the margins of its concern and should be willing to do so because those are voters/contributers hanging out, looking for a suitable home.
(I borrowed the image from the web.)

Get It Done

 

Forgive everyone for everything…including yourself.

Detach from of all of your issues.*

Reacquaint yourself with God.

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*What I find helpful is to envision Jesus with a wicker hamper at his feet. As issues come up, I put them in the hamper, say Thank You, and back away. If I find I’m carrying that same issue around with me again, I put it back in the hamper and back away…again. I do it as often as it comes up…seventy times seven times…plus 1, if necessary.

When I find myself carrying on an argument in my head with my boss from 15 years ago, it goes in the hamper and I back away.

If you are being bullied, put it in the hamper and back away.

If you are fearful of tomorrow, put it in the hamper and back away.

If your obsession is to be an actress, put it in the hamper and back away.

If you hate Trump, put it in the hamper and back away.

Tired of being ‘Politically Correct?’ Put it in the hamper and back away.

Seeing a white man with a black woman together makes you angry? Put it in the hamper and back away.

Sick of hearing about billionaires and their tax cuts? Put it in the hamper and back away.

You are Bipolar? Put it in the hamper and back away.

You fear your boss has Bipolar Disorder? Put it in the hamper and back away.

Ashamed that your daughter is pregnant? Put it in the hamper and back away.

Feeling guilty that you are spending money you really don’t have? Put it in the hamper and back away.

Feeling good about meeting your budget and giving to the church? Put it in the hamper and back away.

Want to kill your father for groping you? Put it in the hamper and back away.

Grateful you’re not fat? Put it in the hamper and back away.

Wish you were skinny? Put it in the hamper and back away.

Always thinking about consciousness? Put it in the hamper and back away.

Love that your house is so beautiful? Put it in the hamper and back away.

Hate Coach K? Put it in the hamper and back away.

Afraid you are pregnant and you don’t know whether to be happy or scared? Put it in the hamper and back away.

In constant pain? Put it in the hamper and back away.

Hate the Jews?  Put it in the hamper and back away.

In need of forgiveness?  Put it in the hamper and back away.

Can’t tell fake news from real news? Put it in the hamper and back away.

Counting on them getting theirs on Judgement Day? Put it in the hamper and back away.

Afraid for your children? Put it in the hamper and back away.

Proud of your accomplishments? Put it in the hamper and back away.

Lost your faith?  Put it in the hamper and back away.

Your wife is leaving you?  Put it in the hamper and back away.

Dying of cancer? Put it in the hamper and back away.

Wish you had said then what you have been practicing and rehearsing in your mind for the past 10 years? Put it in the hamper and back away.

Obsessed with posting memes that insult Liberals? Put it in the hamper and back away.

Wishing you had a laser to blow the tires out on that damned truck that just cut you off in traffic while the driver flipped you the bird and all you can do is glare because you’re driving a Gremlin and the horn doesn’t work……put it in the hamper and back away.

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This does not mean you do not work toward your dreams, stop someone from abusing you, be an activist for the disabled, build your business, or save money for the future.  You do the work but you release the anger, the fear, the regret, the urgency, the resentment, the pride, the arrogance,…    You detach from the need, the desire, the obsession.

All these emotional attachments are covering over the God Part of you that wants to breathe and have expression in the world.  We all have identities we cling to:  I am a single mom. I am bipolar.  She is clairvoyant.  He is a Republican.  They are Hispanic.  You are wealthy.  He is a Trump supporter.  I am a Christian.  I am a recovering racist.  You are a Humanist.  I am old.  She is smarter than you.  I am an adultress.  She is crippled.  He is a Yankee.  She is a cocaine addict.  They are Holocaust survivors.   He is a Vietnam Veteran.  I am a Tiger Fan.   If we can lay our identities to one side just a bit and let our God Part be what we present to the world, peace will come.

Let it go

You will let go of your attachments. You will…sooner or later. Why wait until your body wears out and you take your last breath to do it? It is only with the release our attachments that all the benefits of having an infinite existence are revealed and made available. Why would you put it off? It’s like the difference between retiring with infinite wealth at 40 and dying with infinite wealth. Your choice.

By the way, you don’t have to sell all you have, renounce all your beliefs, leave all your loved ones, or stop pursuing your dreams. (The rich young ruler would not have understood this.) It is the attachment to those things you must release…the importance of them…your focus on them…your obsessions with and addictions to them that you must release.

Personally, just like the rich young ruler, I did not understand that. I wanted the end result but was afraid to let go of my identities, aspirations, labels, and agendas. Fine. However, my want of the end result won out and all those things were taken from me without my being prepared for it. Oh, I had given my consent but had no idea that it was going to be done in that way…ready or not. I don’t recommend this approach; I suggest you do it willingly in a sensible manner.* There’s much less blood and mess that way.

But whether you give your consent or not, it will happen. It is God’s will. God’s will is that you get your shit out of the way. You are a manifestation of God on this earth and God wants your ‘God Part’ to be what functions here. You don’t want that? You’d rather it be Your agenda and not God’s agenda? How’s that working for you?

*An excellent and sensible way to release your attachments is through the practice of Centering Prayer.

The Gift of Hard Times

Trauma raises consciousness; darkness reveals the presence of God; Loss removes the stuff that has kept God hidden all along.

Children who have been abused, neglected, or tormented learn to watch the signs to know when to move and when to duck. That skill serves them for the rest of their lives. That sight enables them to find their way by noticing hints and clues.

Ii is only when we are in the dark, that we search for light. If we run in terror, searching for a way out of the darkness, we hit walls and break toes. It is when we are still and our eyes adjust that we can see the shapes of our own making and know that all else is what is eternal.

In that darkness, when the shapes of our own making are most clearly defined, removing them one by one or all at once, reveals more of the eternal. It isn’t the job or the relationship or the dream that takes up the space, it is our terrified clinging…our attachment to those things. It is our hoarding of attachments that take up all the space.

If we don’t toss this stuff, life will. We can release our attachments now or do it when our bodies wear out; either way, it is going to happen…and the benefits of eternal life start once we do. If you are blessed (and we all are) these attachments can be tossed for us, ready or not. Our choice is whether to immediately fill that space in with another attachment or whether to pause and breathe and allow our eyes to adjust further to see God standing there. We have been God all along.

I am, you are, he she it is manifestation of God…covered over with stuff. All of us. (Yes, them too.) We are not separate from God. We’re just God covered over with tarnish, scars, scales, agendas, paperwork, … attachments.

If only just for a moment, peel that stuff away and let the God part of you breathe.

(I write this prompted by the injury of Deshaun Watson. Deshaun has very little ‘stuff of his own making’…very few attachments. He was not raised with abuse or neglect but with love; his faith has been nurtured through hard times, however. He will demonstrate this faith as he heals and reveals the presence of God he holds up for all to see. Watch him and learn. See how faith reveals God.)

The Promised Land

Yesterday’s devotional mentioned the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It reminded me of a time during my darkest days of bipolar despair when I had to force myself to even consider making an effort; I managed to get myself out of the house and walk. It was more like plodding but I recited the Jesus Prayer under my breath like a mantra. I remember inhaling “Lord Jesus Christ” exhaling “Son of God” inhaling “have mercy on me” exhaling “a sinner.”

This was during the time when family came to visit; the rabbits ran loose in the house unfed and fending for themselves; there was no clear floor space; I could barely get myself to work….or was I still working? I don’t remember those years clearly but I do remember quite clearly my sister’s exclamation, “You’re out of control!” I also remember my un-vocalized reply, “no shit; you think?” I had no one helping me. I was on the wrong medication, my therapist was bored with me and of no help, and I was in such deep despair, I had no clue what to do, and no desire to do anything. Getting my shoes on to walk was huge. Reciting the prayer was like small drops of cool water to a parched throat.

This walking prayer was one of several efforts of mine through those years to reconnect with God and to find divine help. Thinking about this, I became aware of an interesting bit of trivia: 40 years had passed between my giving in to an adulterous affair in November of 1976, (I was tired of being good) to a year ago when I consented to my spiritual growth “no matter the cost.” 40 years had passed…almost to the day. Those 40 years were hard, and I believe all of it (hard times and efforts to reconnect) have played into my being where I am now…but during those years, I felt completely abandoned if not rejected by God.

Truly, I spent 40 years in darkness, but I kept trying. There were times I wanted to give up and take the short cut home, but I never gave myself over to retaliating or being a mean or spiteful person. I continued to always try to do the right thing whether or not it was being rewarded or my despair relieved.
It took 40 years, but I finally figured out the benefits of completely giving up everything…everything from possessions, resentments, anger, agendas, aspirations, reputations, pride, vanity, even feeling good about my writing and my efforts to help others.

Then I found out that there is a word for that: Kenosis. It is a Greek word describing the process of giving up the stuff of one’s life…everything that a person identifies with or clings to. Jesus talked about this process all the time. In fact, his consenting to die on the cross was the ultimate giving up. I eventually saw that to follow Jesus means to do the same…to let go of all of it to remove all distractions and shades from having clear awareness of God. And it works.

When I was a teenager, I prayed fervently for the Wisdom so highly prized in Scripture and for a mastery of words with which to help and heal others. I have wanted the satisfaction of being a healer. Well, I am a healer now…and more; I am all of it. I am God…at least that is what remains when I get rid of all of my attachments…including my attachment to being a healer. I may not be able to fully and completely enter the Kingdom of Heaven because of my transgressions 40 years ago, but like Moses, God has repeatedly “used me as a channel of divine grace, guidance and power.”

(I have borrowed the image and wisdom from beloved friend, Fr Austin Rios: The Promised Land

Thy Kingdom come…but in the meantime…

A message worth hearing from some ‘religious leaders’…

The story of creation presents us with a panoramic view of the world. Scripture reveals that, “in the beginning”, God intended humanity to cooperate in the preservation and protection of the natural environment. At first, as we read in Genesis, “no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up – for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground” (2:5). The earth was entrusted to us as a sublime gift and legacy, for which all of us share responsibility until, “in the end”, all things in heaven and on earth will be restored in Christ (cf. Eph 1:10). Our human dignity and welfare are deeply connected to our care for the whole of creation.

However, “in the meantime”, the history of the world presents a very different context. It reveals a morally decaying scenario where our attitude and behaviour towards creation obscures our calling as God’s co-operators. Our propensity to interrupt the world’s delicate and balanced ecosystems, our insatiable desire to manipulate and control the planet’s limited resources, and our greed for limitless profit in markets – all these have alienated us from the original purpose of creation. We no longer respect nature as a shared gift; instead, we regard it as a private possession. We no longer associate with nature in order to sustain it; instead, we lord over it to support our own constructs.

The consequences of this alternative worldview are tragic and lasting. The human environment and the natural environment are deteriorating together, and this deterioration of the planet weighs upon the most vulnerable of its people. The impact of climate change affects, first and foremost, those who live in poverty in every corner of the globe. Our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly implies the recognition of and respect for all people and all living creatures. The urgent call and challenge to care for creation are an invitation for all of humanity to work towards sustainable and integral development.

Therefore, united by the same concern for God’s creation and acknowledging the earth as a shared good, we fervently invite all people of goodwill to dedicate a time of prayer for the environment on 1 September.  On this occasion, we wish to offer thanks to the loving Creator for the noble gift of creation and to pledge commitment to its care and preservation for the sake of future generations. After all, we know that we labour in vain if the Lord is not by our side (cf. Ps 126-127), if prayer is not at the centre of our reflection and celebration. Indeed, an objective of our prayer is to change the way we perceive the world in order to change the way we relate to the world. The goal of our promise is to be courageous in embracing greater simplicity and solidarity in our lives.

We urgently appeal to those in positions of social and economic, as well as political and cultural, responsibility to hear the cry of the earth and to attend to the needs of the marginalized, but above all to respond to the plea of millions and support the consensus of the world for the healing of our wounded creation. We are convinced that there can be no sincere and enduring resolution to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service.

From the Vatican and from the Phanar, 1 September 2017

The Christmas Condom (Reprise)

Okay, yes, that is a crude title…

…but no more harsh than what we sometimes say to friends and family over the holidays.  Therefore, I suggest that, as part of our morning ritual, we slip on an extra layer of skin, this one well lubricated with the Holy Spirit.

Yes, I’m serious.  Despite our best efforts to rid our psyches of past traumas and wounds, people…particularly those we grew up with…have an amazing ability to push well-hidden buttons.

Shirley MacLaine once said that she had life all figured out…her life and everyone else’s lives…and then she went home for Thanksgiving.

We all have our infections…some more deadly than others…and just like practicing safe sex, we all should do the right thing and keep our infections to ourselves.  Practice protected interactions.

And, just like with safe sex, it may not feel the same; it may not be as much fun; but that nasty barb or snide remark will infect and cause as much harm as syphilis.  (By the way, syphilis causes blindness; did you know that?  Nasty remarks that keep old wounds full of germs and pus will blind ‘loved ones’ to your virtues…and vice versa; did you know that, too?)

Remember, condoms protect both parties.  Before you press the doorbell, if you ask Jesus for the blessing of a Holy Spirit ‘condom’…and make sure it is on you, snug and secure…then you will be protected and protecting.

Happy Holidays