Are The Children Our Future?

I read on Facebook about an incident at a football game in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School system. The incident was serious enough that it was poised to be a catalyst for racial division even among the staff in the schools. That’s when a hero emerged. A school administrator decided it was time to abandon debate and create the change they wanted to see. Students from the two schools on opposite sides of town were brought together to “demystify identity, break down stereotypes, and build relationships with one another.” They talked about what each school had heard about the other and then they began a dialogue about divisions, educational experiences and the similarities and differences each side saw.

The result has been that the students involved are investing in building a more equitable community and the teachers see this flowing out into their city. Two sides of an adversarial img_0145relationship got together and discussed what they thought and why they felt that way. They then talked about how they could bridge their differences. They didn’t argue about who was right and wrong. They found common ground, acknowledged their differences and tried to understand each other’s perspectives. I think they may be on to something here.

What if we sought to promote more equitable communities? Instead of ranting and pontificating when we come across points of view that are different from our own; what if we tried to find out what is behind other points of view. When did our adversaries begin thinking the way they do and why do they believe that? How do they think people who disagree with them feel? Are we prepared to discuss why we feel the way we do?

Going off on social media or having conversations with like minded friends is beneficial maybe only to blow off a little steam. It does nothing to bring about the better world all of us hope for. Call me an idiot, stupid, or brainwashed and I will likely tune you out. Call me Chris and I’ll try to hear what you have to say. From whichever side you want to say you’re from, we can no longer wait until the other side takes the first step. One thing everyone agreed upon during the recent Alabama Senate race was that our divisions are unbearable.

One side of the country complains about Soros owned politicians and feels like the opportunity to raise their financial status is being taken away. They seem to blame immigrants and minorities, gays and Muslims, anybody different, for their lot in life. The other half of the country believes corporations and billionaires are crushing the poor and middle class and the Koch brother owned politicians are to blame. They feel like the opportunity to raise their financial status is being taken away. They blame corporate greed and institutionalized oppression for their lot in life.

The fact is most Americans feel like the opportunity to raise their financial status is being taken away. Our discontent is the same. Only where we find fault is different. Is finding fault going to fix our problems? Can we all agree most Americans are facing the same challenges? We talk about doubting that things will ever get better. They won’t. Things won’t get better unless we follow the example of those kids from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and start talking about how we can bridge our differences and start acting like the change we want to see.

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Christmas Traditions

My mom grew up in a family with three brothers and three sisters. My brother, sister and I were among the 18 cousins who all converged at Grandpa and Grandma’s house each and every year at Christmas time. Or should I say, Tamale Time? Oh my God! It was such a big deal for us that our family even had a song we would sing in the car on our way to the Caballero Christmas festivities. My grandparents lived in Oelwein, Iowa. We took some liberty with the pronunciation of “Oelwein” to sing, “It’s tamale time… in Ol-le-wein…” Ok… we weren’t real musical and that was the entire song but we would sing it over and over, louder and louder and mile after mile. Parenting was hard before the advent of smart phones and earbuds I’m sure.

We never dreamed of a white Christmas. It always snowed for Christmas in Iowa. I have fond memories pulling into my grandparent’s driveway on Christmas morning. The snow had a way of crunching under the tires as we came to a stop. It seemed to always take about half of the time spent traveling over the river and img_5787through the woods for our car to warm up. Maybe that’s why we sang so much, to distract ourselves from the fact that we were freezing until we had crossed the river and entered the proverbial woods. Upon arrival the frigid Iowa air always bit hard as we stepped from the comfort of the built-up heat in our old family car. We would run for the back stoop always to be rewarded with magical kitchen aromas as soon as we opened the door. Is there anything better than the memories of stepping into your grandma’s home when she was preparing a special meal?

Instantly the fragrant smell of the cooking pork and the moist redolence from various boiling pots would fill our senses. The harsh glare from the blinding snow never slowed us from finding our way into the softly lit comfort of Grandma’s kitchen. We would simply follow our nose. You’d think with 18 cousins, 7 brothers and sisters and their spouses that the little house would be chaotic. It never was. I wonder if that’s because everyone there felt like they were grandpa and grandma’s favorite.  Or maybe it was because, to make 30 dozen tamales like we did at Christmas time, all hands on deck was the rule of the day. The younger cousins would spread masa on the corn husks. The older cousins would repair the work of the young ones. The husbands and wives would stuff and fold the tamales and tend to their steaming and stand guard from my sampling. They had to be on their A game.

It’s funny. I don’t remember a single gift I ever received at one of those Oelwein Christmas’s. I do recall the laughter, the hugs and the group hikes to Zulu Land which was really just a 10 acre wood at the end of the block. Back in those days I couldn’t imagine that Christmas would be any other way. Now, some 25 years after my grandparents have passed away I know we could never repeat that. The aunts and uncles became the grandparents and in many cases the cousins are now the grandparents. Each generation is making their own memories of traditions that they hope will never end. But those traditions will end. Even if you aren’t ready. Who are we kidding? You’ll never be ready. Perhaps if you have a Christmas invitation that you haven’t responded to yet and you haven’t committed to be somewhere else; you should just go. Go and be a part of whatever tradition you can and hope, while you are there, that it will never end.

 

There Is No War On Christmas.

Getting wrapped up in “The War On Christmas” seems to be the most un-Christmas like thing we could ever do. Galatians 5:22-23 reads, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” For those of us who claim to be Christians we are assured that once we accept Jesus as our personal savior then the Holy Spirit will dwell within us. That, to me, means that if I fully embrace all that means I should feel love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. None of that is what I feel when confronted by the cable news created division that there is a war on Christmas.AF69D6F6-9402-43E5-99C8-FBC339137614

Look, if you say, “Merry Christmas” to me I’m going to reply the same and mean it. If you say Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, or Happy Festivus I’m going to be glad you are sharing happy wishes attributed to your season and truly wish you likewise. That’s the broader true meaning of the holiday. It’s a time of coming together, appreciating our blessings and sharing glad tidings. To think otherwise only makes us feel defensive, victimized and petty. Yes petty. We should be embarrassed taking offense when someone offers us a holiday greeting. I truly have never met a soul who took offense at my wishing them a Merry Christmas and I am sure I have done that to people who don’t share my faith thousands of times.

That’s the rub. If non-Christians aren’t offended by being wished a Merry Christmas it would seem taking offense in the reverse really cheapens the beauty behind that true meaning of Christmas. Are the words we speak a shining star like the one over Bethlehem or are they a cheap tin star atop a plastic tree put up year after year? Truth be told, my biggest complaint with the war on Christmas is that every time it’s brought up I am sucked right out of any feelings I have of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I’m working on that. If I truly believe the Holy Spirit dwells within me I’m not being a very good host when I get mad at people who get mad at people over how the wish warm greetings to one another. I would hope that those who don’t share my view might recognize their true feelings when taking offense by their perceived war on Christmas.

One of the great promises of Christianity is heaven. In heaven there will be no bitter divisions or inconsiderate responses. Remember those words, “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven?” How about we all work on ending divisions and inconsiderate responses this holiday season and focus on creating a little heaven on earth instead.
Happy Holidays!

Remember Christmas… When you were 10 years old?

My favorite Christmas song is the theme song from “Bewitched.” I’ll explain. It was one of those Norman Rockwell scene evenings as I trudged down the street. I was returning homeimg_5764 from cub scouting or sledding or playing hockey and snow was falling lightly in the air. I don’t remember where I was coming from. It was a typical Iowa winter evening, frigid and dark and the snow was crunching under my feet. The streetlights had halos around them because the light didn’t even want to penetrate out into the cold night air. The snow was piled high along our sidewalk and driveway but I could manage to see in our front windows. A soft yellow glow from the lights inside the house promised warmth not only from heat but also love. The Christmas tree was lit in the back corner of our living room and projected all of the welcoming joy that the season represents.

I stomped the snow off my boots at our back door landing and proceeded to hang my hat, gloves and coat on the hooks screwed into a board and nailed to the wall over the steps leading to our basement. Something from the kitchen smelled warm and delicious. My mom was good at that; cooking up vittles that were at once welcoming and welcome. I could hear the soft sound of Spanish polka Christmas records playing. That meant my mom was likely feeling nostalgic for her mother. I was sure to give her a little more of a hug when I made my way into the kitchen.

After dinner I went to the living room to settle in and watch some of our favorite shows. We all had a favorite chair and it was the same one. A gold swivel rocker that sat next to the freshly cut Christmas tree. Our tree was lit with those big primary color bulbs of red, green, blue and yellow. A little bit of tinsel reflected the explosion of colors when you turned off all of the other lights. It was my version of a high tech light show. I turned off the lights, turned on the TV and got comfortable.

And here was my moment. We all have those memories that stand out and always give us a warm feeling when they cross our mind. The Bewitched theme song came on and for one reason or another I had my first and perhaps most poignant feeling of contentedness. To this day I recall the soft glow of the television, the colorful lights in my peripheral vision and my parents, brother and sister making their way in to join me. My tummy was full and the chill of the outdoors was now only a memory. The theme song, light and airy, is whimsical and I suppose that’s not unlike the life I enjoyed in those days. For evermore I would attribute the Bewitched theme with a Christmas memory.

I don’t remember how old I was. Bewitched first aired in 1964 and went to being broadcast in color in 1966. We didn’t have a color TV until 1972 so that distinction was lost on me. I’m guessing I was elementary school age. My kids today are of an age where it is rare that we all gather around a program on TV. That and with the multiple media options available and the three high definition televisions spread out through our house; I can’t remember the last time all of us watched a show together. Maybe I’ll ask for that from them for Christmas this year.

Holiday Shopping Survival Tip.

Our Christmas tree garland was beginning to show some age. It would be a simple thing I imagined; slipping into AC Moore unattended by my wife. Typically I would never stop in a craft store except as a husbandly duty in support of maintaining my 33 year marriage. I have to admit, fight or flight adrenalin coursed through my veins as soon as soon as the automatic doors slammed shut tight behind me. I was instantly assaulted by merchandise displays that attacked my senses and had me double checking for my wallet. I wanted to ensure my wallet would not be absconded by the thousand upon thousands of items marked down fifty percent for trinkets that held one tenth of that value.

Mother’s and daughters as far as the eye could see. Young daughters though. It was as if by 14 all hope of getting a post-prepubescent teen to share a love of crafting was lost. I get it. I found my garland fairly quickly and made my way to the holiday Eager Retailers Greet Crowds Of Shoppers On season check-outs. The store was under staffed which I found amazing given that it was a weekend in holiday season. I chose my line carefully selecting a line that didn’t have ladies with more than one overflowing shopping cart filled with gifts doomed to be met with an awkward expression of gratitude on Christmas morning.

The line I chose had two women ahead of me. One with a conventional shopping cart that was filled over the top of its capacity. The next lady, sporting a Duke Mom cap, had this cute little basket tote on wheels that is maybe unique to craft stores. It was overflowing too. I had three lengths of garland and cash and secretly hoped the woman in front of me would have pity on me and let me move ahead of her. I engaged in light banter and holiday greetings and was quickly rewarded for my efforts. The Duke Mom cap wearing lady in front of me told me she had a complicated transaction and I was welcome to step ahead of her if I wished.

We managed to have fun as I explained my need to replace tired garland and the fact that shaping our artificial tree was something that my family had accepted as being my and my alone reasonability. She teasingly feigned understanding and then exclaimed, “everybody has something.” referring to my obsession of a perfectly shaped plastic tree. It only now occurs to me this lady may have felt trapped in line by a chatty man who’s wife had broken some code and let her husband enter a domain reserved for moms and prepubescent daughters. Maybe that’s why she offered to let me cut in line.

After a full 10 minutes of comparing every last items to sale flyers and phone apps the lady in front of us finally appeared to be preparing to pay. But no. That transaction would take another five minutes as the order was recalculated and double checked. I mentioned to the Duke Mom cap wearing lady that perhaps all transactions here are complicated. We continued talking of holiday travel plans and kids and holiday preparations until it was my turn to check out. I had found a store flyer in the checkout line and asked the cashier if there were any coupons in it for me. She somewhat curtly said no and the Duke Mom cap wearing lady said she had a 25% off one item she wasn’t planning to use.

At that point my gratitude for the Duke Mom hat wearing lady prompted me to reach for three point of sale holiday candies. One for her, one for the over worked cashier and one for me. The cashier lit up and smiled as she explained she had a better coupon for me which saved me fifty percent of my entire purchase. I wished my new friends a very Merry Christmas and made my exit. This hadn’t been so bad. A dreaded stop into holiday retail hell had ended up heavenly and for a moment I had engaged with strangers who ended up feeling like friends. Life is what we make it. Instead of brooding over the long lines and harried shoppers the next few weeks it’s nice to slow down and understand we are all in this together. Merry Christmas.

The Kids Will Be Ok.

Back before video games and internet and oh hell, before push button phones and color TV; life was much… how should I say this… slower. Yeah. That works. Life was much slower. I grew up in Iowa on California Street in a sleepy little town called Cedar Falls. Pretty much every summer evening the kids of California Street would 9252FC11-7F46-4D0A-94F5-B40E12E057F7gather for nightly rounds of Four Square. I don’t recall that we played a particularly competitive brand of Four Square. We played a more social version. The rule was we played until the streetlights came on or the girl from up around the corner’s dad would step out on their front porch and blow his whistle. It was a source of embarrassment for her and I never knew why.
To summon us home my Dad did a cool single note tweet loud and shrill. The tone would rise and fall a bit then rise again before a staccato stop. There was no mistaking his call. He could also make a pretty cool noise blowing past a single blade of switch grass. I suppose these are skills that were needed before everyone’s kids carried cell phones. I can whistle but I never mastered a loud whistle that would have been useful to call the kids home from a block away. I would have had to use one of those referee whistles like the girl’s dad from up around the corner. I wonder if my kids would have been embarrassed by that?
Kids today can engage with their friends instantly 24-7 and their friends can be from anywhere on the planet. We were pretty much limited to the kids on our block, maybe one over and until the streetlights came on. The dynamics of that difference is pretty remarkable if you think about it. I’ll not be casting judgements on the quality of connections and relationships between then and now. No judgements other than, our life was, as mentioned before, slower.
Every generation recalls their youth as the best path to virtue. I recall when my kids were young I’d often hear people talk about “kids these days” in a way that was rarely complimentary. I’d sometimes hear that in gymnasiums or auditoriums filled with hundreds of peewee wrestlers or high stepping show choir competitions. I’d point to all the determined performers faces and say, “the kids are going to be ok.” My youngest is now a senior in high school. A friend recently posted on Facebook that she worries about kids these days. Her post wasn’t so much about the previous complaints I’ve referenced but rather the state of the world they are facing.

I recall when I was growing up we were witness to civil rights battles, assassinations and the Viet Nam war. When my twins were growing up in the 90’s there was 9/11, Genocide in Rwanda and the gulf war. Today we see, well you know why people would worry about kids these days. The thing is, every generation faces their challenges and the great thing about God is that he wired us to be resilient. If we focus on helping each new generation and those among us that need a hand up things are going to be ok. It’s always been that way and by the grace of God it always will be.

This holiday season don’t get too wrapped up in the things going on in the world. Slow things down a little bit and engage kids where they are. Hug those close to you and let them tell you about the awesome victory they had on their favorite Xbox game. Know that you are doing the best you can to lift up the people you can and encourage them to value the same. The kids are going to be ok. My days playing Four Square on California Street taught me that.

Me Too.

As industry icons drop like flies from the recent sexual harassment awakening one can’t help but wonder how we let this go on so long. As a daughter’s father and as a husband I should have been more aware, more proactive and less complicit. I don’t know a man who hasn’t made inappropriate comments about women, who hasn’t engaged in untoward banter with women or conceded that there was nothing we could do about unequal pay, glass ceilings and double standards regarding women in the workplace. The latter is a form of sexual harassment in its own right. I wonder how women put up with all of this for so long. I wonder how men ignored the situation that has led us to this point in time. Is it fair that men were allowed to behave in a way for so long and suddenly find themselves accountable for deplorable actions? Yes.

Men need to accept this wake up call. We are hearing 74C6DD69-BC8D-403B-8A12-BD2DD39F8F53about men abusing power but I wonder how many of us are guilty to a degree but lacked the power or the vulnerable victim that could have been just as predatory? The fact that we think we never did anything so horrible as those in the news should not be comforting. Inappropriate comments, untoward banter and conceding inequality in the workplace are the same behavior. Imagine that in the victims mind, they have to wonder, is he kidding? Is this really happening? The fact that our daughters and significant others just endure this should sicken us all. The battle is in our mind. Maybe our actions seem exemplary to us but if we are honest our thoughts and desires are where this problem begins. As a society we seem to be awakening to all sorts of bullying, racism and discrimination. We are taking a good talk but it is beyond time to put words to action.

This is finally a job only men can fix. We are getting some encouragement from some brave women who have said, “Enough!” This isn’t about Garrison Keillor, Matt Laur, Roy Moore or even the president. This is about every man. All of those institutionalized principles about a real mans role in life should give us a head start on facing the underlying misogyny that is a cancer in our world. What better mindset can we foster this holiday season than to stand with our sisters and change the world? That’s how we do it you know… change the world. We fix ourselves. The world will follow.

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