Let it Begin With Me

The holidays are stressful. No doubt about it. Money flowing out. Time running short. Obligatory gatherings to attend. Food to be made. Charities asking for donations. Dealing with others who explode with stress. Crowds. Rushing. Traffic. On top of that is the pressure to appear full of holiday spirit or be labelled a Scrooge. It’s enough to make anyone want to utter a few choice swear words, crawl in a hole, and perhaps emerge about the time Punxsutawney Phil comes out. Bah humbug.

Whille I’m generally less stressed than I have been other years, I can also feel the gathering holiday storm. The general atmosphere in the country isn’t helping my mood. The ignorance, fear, hatred, and racism that is bubbling to the surface of this nation is alarming. Has it been there all along? I know I’m exacerbating my horror by reading comments of online articles, but is it better to not be aware of what my fellow citizens are thinking?

Last week, Brian D. McLaren posted an open letter addressing guns and Christianity. He spoke with the voice of Christianity that I remembered as a child. You know, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9) And just 30 verses later, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Or another 5 verses after that, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ 44“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven;”

This is the Christianity I was raised with and the article gave me hope… until I made the mistake of reading the comments. With few exceptions, there was nothing but anger returned to the author. Luke 22:36 was the most quoted verse, “He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” All I can say is, “Oy vey.”

Years ago a niece asked me for help with a debate on the death penalty. One piece of advice I gave was not to use the Bible to argue her position, because people can warp and twist the Bible to find just about any meaning they want within its pages. That is exactly what has been done with this one verse – the only one in the entire book they can find to defend their position, I might add. There is not one serious scholar who has read the original text and put it within context of the story who would say that Jesus is advocating for violent defense of oneself.

One of the most disheartening and revealing comments came from someone who said something like, “This author isn’t living in the real world. When the terrorists come for his family, he’ll wish he had a gun.” I see. I didn’t realize that Christ’s message wasn’t for the real world. I actually was foolish enough to think that’s exactly what his message was for – A radical message of peace and love for a chaotic and violent world.

The message I’m getting from the conservative wing of modern American Christianity is – follow Christ and his teachings until it conflicts with the “real” world, then follow your fear. What kind of faith is that? To them, nothing is more important than physical self-preservation even though this also goes against Matthew 10:28 – “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul.” It seems to me, people who feel assured of the rewards of heaven, would be willing to lay down their lives to live their beliefs, rather than put that reward at risk by betraying them.

When I was a kid, our pastor told us a modern parable: In the middle of church, two masked men came in with rifles and held the congregation hostage. They demanded that all those who were born-again Christians line up at the front of the church, and everybody else should leave. About 3/4 of the people left, and once they were gone, the gunmen took off their masks, put down their guns, and said, “Okay, brothers and sisters, now let’s worship for real.” They were weeding out the true believers from the pew-sitters by finding those who were willing to lay down their lives for their beliefs. Those people had found a peace that passes all understanding. They had faith in something greater than their physical lives. They were living the radical message of Jesus.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Let There be Peace on Earth.” It follows that wish with personal responsibility, “and let it begin with me.” It’s not, “let it begin with my enemies surrendering,” or “let it begin with the death of terrorists,” or “let it begin after I kill those who threaten me.”

No, it’s “let it begin with me.”

In this season celebrating peace, the only wish I have is that people begin to take to heart the lyrics they’re singing. Since I can’t change them, I’ll take my own advice – I choose peace.

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Happy Unholy Days

Wading into religious controversy is a foolish thing to do, and not good for building blog readership. I guess I am a fool.

Just like the Christmas decorations being put out earlier and earlier, the supposed war on Christmas is starting earlier and earlier. Ironic, isn’t it? This year’s target is Starbucks for having the audacity to choose a simple red cup for the holiday season. Oh my! How diabolical! This ruins everything! I mean, taking the reindeer, snowmen, and snowflakes off from last year’s cup is such a slap in the face to Christians everywhere. Right?

An oft repeated phrase is, “Today’s Republican party is not my father’s Republican party.” Well, there’s a new one to add to that list. Today’s Christian church is not my father’s Christian church. The evangicals have hijacked it, along with the Republican party. There are plenty of very good Christian people trying very hard to live the example of Christ, but just like moderate Muslims, their voice is often drowned out by the attention seeking evangelicals.

Remember when Bing Crosby sang, “Happy Holiday” and nobody batted an eye? Today they would be boycotting Bing, which perhaps they should have done all those years ago, but for completely different reasons. And the movie “Holiday Inn”… well, until Irving Berlin changed it to “Christmas Inn” no evangelical would have dared pay the price of entry to see it.

I know it’s an uncomfortable truth for evangelicals, but not everyone on the planet is a Christian and not everyone celebrates Christmas. If you do, and you want to say Merry Christmas to everyone, go for it. And if you’re Jewish and want to wish everyone a Happy Hanukkah, go for it. And if you are someone who wants to include all people in your greeting and simply say, Happy Holy Day (where holiday comes from) then say to your heart’s content. A kind greeting to a fellow human being should be our top priority, in whatever form it takes.

One of the arguments from the man who started the Starbucks kerfuffle is that today’s overly PC world, Starbucks is trying to hard not to offend people, which he thinks is dumb. BUT, by doing that they’re offending Christians, which he links to persecution. Okay, so offending others… fine. Offending Christians… persecution. Everyone thinks that the thing they’re offended by should be changed, but when someone else is offended, they should just get over it. Um… yeah… that’s just stupid. Sorry if I’ve offended you. Not. His response that Christians should go to Starbucks, but they should open carry weapons… yeah, because that’s what Christmas and Christ is all about. Weaponry. Sorry, I’ll take the red cup as my Christmas symbol over a weapon designed to kill.

Remember playing with that one kid who insisted all the toys were theirs and if they didn’t get their way all the time they threw a tantrum? I think they all grew up to be evangelicals.

Next year I think Starbucks should choose a Hanukkah blue cup. I highly doubt the Jewish community would complain that the words “Happy Hanukkah” weren’t printed on the cup. There would be an attitude of gratitude that their Holy Day was acknowledged and celebrated.

A faith’s best witness is the behavior of it’s followers. In a season that is supposed to celebrate peace, love, salvation, and compassion, if you’re upset about how someone chooses to greet others, or how multi-national companies attempt to include everyone in the joy and celebration, perhaps the reason for the season hasn’t gone very deep into your heart.

 

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Happy Birthday to Me

Birthdays are only unpleasant if you are aren’t doing in life what you want to be doing. Even though yesterday was my first step into the second half of a century, which could be depressing, this was a very happy birthday. The increasing number means little right now.

The first half century of my life was pretty remarkable. I often think about myself as someone kind of boring. I’m just a middle-aged woman living alone with my cats. Then I think back on all my adventures and realize I have not lived an ordinary life. Running off to Hawaii at 20. A summer in Yellowstone. A winter at the Grand Canyon. Teaching city kids about nature. Showing up in LA with no experience and still managing to have a 25 year career in television – working with the biggest celebrities, sports figures, and government officials on the planet. I’ve gone caving, had the Phantom of the Opera sing to me backstage, seen Renoirs and Van Goghs in person, attended several Super Bowls, gone ghost hunting overnight on an old ship, made John Candy laugh, ridden the London Eye, chatted backstage with the VP of the United States, gone whale watching, and so much more. I’ve done things I never could have imagined I would do when I was young. It has been a remarkable ride, and I’ve said that if I die today, I wouldn’t be eligible for a refund. I’ve gotten my money’s worth.

However, most of those events happened years ago. For the past few years there has been very little adventure in my life. I went to work. I recovered from work. I went back to work. That was life. Daydreams, which were the power behind most of my adventures, stopped completely. Being a square peg in round Hollywood left me more and more insecure. I built higher and thicker walls, sure I would be rejected anyway. I collapsed in on myself, not sure who I was anymore. For the first time in my life, I understood the term, “soul sick.” No dreams, no joy, no me.

Thankfully, the soul is a resilient thing. Since leaving LA and finding myself in a strong community of friends and coworkers, my soul has returned to life. I find myself more comfortable in my skin. Confidence is growing, laughter comes easily, but most importantly, I can dream about my future again. I can imagine all sorts of exciting adventures happening… even falling in love. Anyone who knows me well is probably picking themselves up off the floor after that comment.

I feel like I’ve received so many wonderful gifts this year. My house in LA was beautiful inside, but had no view other than my neighbor’s houses and a sliver of busy street. Right now I look out across an expanse of field bordered by trees that are just starting to change into a beautiful mix of reds, golds, and greens. I’m have the time and mental clarity to be working on a novel. My commute went from an hour and a half battling LA traffic to 10 minutes on side streets of a small city. My dead-end job is dead, and I’m now doing work that matters, is appreciated, and provides new challenges every day. I went from working in a toxic soup, to one of mutual support and encouragment. What might I have accomplished in Hollywood with this support system? I went from worrying I had no future, to being able to dream of fantastic futures. A completely 180. I am so blessed.

Through a bit of planning, hard work, and a great deal of real estate luck, I have recieved the best birthday present I may have ever been given. I’ve gotten myself and my dreams back. Happy birthday to me.

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