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.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

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.

 

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Torn Between Two Memes

Yes, I’m a couple days late with this. I’ve had a topic in mind for a while, but could never quite make sense of it. Finally, things got sorted out the other night.

In the run up to my leap, I had a great deal of self doubt. Actually, self doubt is a pretty deep seated trait for me, regardless of leaping or sitting safely on my living room couch. So, the memes people post on Facebook often having me re-examining myself to see if I measure up. It can get pretty tough when the memes start contradicting themselves.

For instance, there I was, happily contemplating perhaps the biggest change in my life – a whole new part of the country I’d never lived in before, a new job, and new friends – when what meme comes along? This one:

Destination-addiction

I was imagining so much happiness in my new life. I saw myself taking long walks in my suburban neighborhood. There was a job without stress and worry. Being part of a team.  I saw slow days writing in front of a fire. There were good friends to share laughter with who were minutes away. There would be thunder storms and fall leaves. It all seemed so wonderful until I read that quote. After all, I knew my flaws and bad habits weren’t going to get left behind in California. I would still be me. So, was I falling into destination addiction?

Not long after that, somebody posted this:

il_570xN.717512541_41sc

So which wise internet meme was I to follow? I had remarked to a friend that perhaps I needed to stay so I could learn to be happy even when I was in miserable conditions. She pointed out I’d been there a long time and tried many methods. It was time to move on.

Ultimately I agreed and chose to leap my chasm, however the doubt has never left me. It should have faded when I arrived at my new destination and found life was as good, or better, than I had been imagining all those months. My walks don’t exactly take me through a suburban neighborhood, but they do take me through a more beautiful greenways trail. The open field I saw in my imagination was to the south of my south-facing house, and instead it’s to the east of my east-facing house. My job has a little more responsibility than I had envisioned, but I enjoy it so much that I actually sort of wish I was going in on my days off. Sort of. It is an environment that is providing physical and emotional healing. The friendships are lovely. And the thunderstorms… just wonderful. I’ll give you a report on the fall leaves in a few months. It truly is everything my soul was looking for that I couldn’t seem to find in LA.

Still, I worried I had become a destination addict. Would these feelings of joy and contentment wear off once the newness of the place wore off.

But the other night, the right analogy hit me. LA and Hollywood were like shoes. At some point in my life I saw these gorgeous shoes and just knew they were for me. I wanted those shoes more than anything I’d ever wanted. I risked everything I knew, left family and friends behind, in order to get those shoes. Once I had them, they were even more amazing and I loved how I looked in them. I was never taking those shoes off!

Then I started to walk in those shoes. Sure, they pinched here and there. Sure they caused blisters. But they were gorgeous and I could take it. It was worth it to be wearing those shoes, because I believed there would be a payoff for the pain.

However, the longer I lived in those shoes, and realized there was no payoff, the harder it became to ignore the pain they were causing. There were more and more raw spots. There were blisters on blisters. Every step became excruciating and made me angry. Finally i wanted to take the shoes off but didn’t, because I was worried I had nothing else to wear. Now not only was I in terrible pain, but I began to resent those shoes I had once loved.

What to do in that situation? Stay and learn to love the shoes causing so much pain or take them off and find another pair that fit better. It seems quite obvious, and thankfully I chose option two. And oh, the blessed relief of taking off shoes that don’t fit after wearing them all day. (imagine 20 years of wear!) That freeing-of-the-tootsies relief is exactly how my move to Missouri has felt. Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

So I’ve found my peace with the memes, because sometimes if you are in an over-crowded, loud, hyper-competitive, stress-inducing environment, in a job that limits your future and your potential, and with equally stressed-out friends so scattered across a large city that you have to use a day planner to schedule “play dates,” maybe then it really is a new destination, a new job, and new relationships that will make you happy. Maybe all you really need is change.

Maybe you just need to find a pair of shoes that fit and not worry about internet memes.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather