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!

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How To Beat The Holiday Blues.

Now that Thanksgiving is over and we say goodbye to loved ones it’s not uncommon to feel a bit forlorn. It’s time to get back to work and add the grind of Christmas shopping, office parties, pageants and preparations. Even the mostly avid of Christmas aficionados acknowledge some anguish associated with the Yuletide season. We BB0A349D-498C-4B14-93B7-314F6D9AA6A4long for lost loved ones and languish for the carefree days of our youth. Many of our most magical memories of Christmas are remnants of childhood. It’s not hard to understand how some people struggle with the holidays and it’s not unexpected that most of us experience occasional bouts of sadness this time of year. That’s ok. Our humanity mandates that we cherish the connections of our past.

As our kids pass through our doorways heading back to their lives at school or work and as we recall the loved ones who have passed before us it’s normal to sense a piece of us is missing. To ease your stress this holiday season I recommend you read, “The Book of Joy: Lasting 3C447346-6FF2-4F23-BCB0-1D6A587CB309Happiness in a Changing World” by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carlton Abrams. You can add it to your shopping list for those hard to buy for family members as well. (You’re welcome!) Maybe share it as a book club with those you gift it to and enhance its value immeasurably. The book mentions “the concept of Ubuntu. It says: A person is a person through other persons.” That makes sense. A large part of our humanity is made up in our instinctual need for community.

What better example of community do we witness than our family? That being said, all families aren’t perfect and I would add they aren’t enough. In these days we spread ourselves around the world and getting together is sometimes a major undertaking. Cherish those times together. In the mean time we can grow relationships in our neighborhoods, our markets, our jobs, pretty much anywhere other people gather throughout our day.

In “The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World” Archbishop Tutu says, “I could not speak as I am speaking without having learned it from other human beings. I could not walk as a human being. I could not think as a human being, except through learning it from other human beings. I learned to be a human being from other human beings. We belong in this delicate network.” It states, “So the best way to fulfill your wishes, to reach your goals, is to help others, to make more friends. “How do we create more friends?” he now asked rhetorically. “Trust. How do you develop trust? It’s simple: You show your genuine sense of concern for their well-being. Then trust will come.”

Our next job, a new car, or next pay raise or even the passing of a debilitating ailment will never bring us happiness. It might for a minute but always looking ahead or looking backward for better times is not how we are meant to live. When we do that we are focused on ourselves and our current condition. Appreciate when times are good but know that science and all of the great religions agree that our most fulfilled life comes from serving others. If the holidays get you down this year take a moment and find a way to help someone near you. When you focus on others that forlorn feeling you’re having will recede and you might just experience again that magical feeling of Christmas you are longing for.

 

Love Knows No Bounds

I noticed a missed call as I left work yesterday. I knew it was going to be bad. The voicemail was left in a low, almost hushed tone. “Chris, we’ve completed our diagnosis and we think it would be best if you come in to see us.” I jumped in my car and hit redial to tell them I was on my way. As I was navigating the DC drive-time nightmare my mind ran wild with what they may have found. What were my options; Replacement; Retirement; Deferral? Or was this more serious? Was the prognosis terminal? We had enjoyed a good run. We created so many warm memories; Memories that embraced some of the most beautiful things in life. We had shared memories that embodied a lifetime of thrills and laughter, frustrations and joy. I was getting ahead of myself. “Breathe deep Chris. Breathe deep.”

There comes that time in life where you question if you had done all you could to extend longevity. Had I done my due diligence and engaged in the right maintenance or had I taken too many convenient shortcuts? That’s the thing in life. So many times we go about doing the minimum, doing what has to be done and putting the really hard work off to a more convenient day. I started to justify the tradeoffs. The time and money I had saved putting hard choices off until another day had seemed like the best option at the time. The quality of life in that moment had held some value, hadn’t it? I would find out soon enough. I hate that daylight savings time had ended recently. As I pulled into the parking lot the sun was already setting. It seemed to me, to my internal clock, that this moment should have been the prime of days; late afternoon but not yet night.

“Mr. Wilcox?” asked the same voice from my voicemail. Somehow the voice seemed stronger now, more confident. I suppose if you are conditioned to giving bad news it becomes second nature at some point to understand the nuances of tone, inflection and volume. I recognized the tactics. As a trainer of adult learners I employ the same tools to keep my charges engaged. He had my full attention as we rounded the corner to his work station where he punched in what he needed to have the computer help relay his report. I didn’t fault him for this. I needed the whole truth. I needed him to give it to me straight. He hit print. Five pages of diagnostics came spitting out of the printer. If working off of a list would ensure he was thorough then I prefer he worked from a list.

I told him, “Give it to me straight. We’ve been together since 2004 and I know there are no others like her.”

“She’s been yours all along? He asked.

“Yes, it was love at first sight.”AAE222A7-3D3B-4FB3-AAAA-33E121CE1C4B

I knew taking my Harley in for her 50,000 mile check was the right thing to do. Normally I do most of the maintenance myself. The problem with that is the bike isn’t seen by a qualified factory trained technician and I don’t necessarily know what to look for when it comes to some of the more subtle routine maintenances. Some of the stuff I knew. I knew my cables had stretched, some of my oil lines had dry rotted and were beginning to seep oil. A few gaskets and bearings were hinting that they were tired and even more obvious things like tires and brakes could no longer be ignored. I listened and then listened some more. Most of it seemed reasonable and nothing he said seemed outrageous. Nothing until he told me the total of his estimate. $3,743 would be needed to bring my baby back to like new condition. “Make it so Doc.” Really; the service writers name is Doc. Now I just need to figure out what to tell the wife and kids about the void in my Christmas account this year. I’m sure they will understand. They all want me to be happy… most of all… deep down… probably.

 

Losing My Religion.

On Sunday my church began a new series on the book of James. Our pastor emphasized that the book of James is a message to church going folks and that the message would make us uncomfortable. In fact he advised us to pray that our faith would be challenged in the series. I’ve been around church all my life and if there is one thing I know. Never pray for tests or anything like patience, courage and strength – pray for those and you are just begging for an episode in life where you will need all kinds of patience, courage and strength. I would have to think about it before actually making that prayer.

On the same Sunday our church launched fall community groups. Community groups are little breakout groups where you can meet with other folks and discuss each weeks sermons. The hope is for gleaning deeper understanding of the weekly message. My wife and I hadn’t IMG_5548participated in a community group in quite some time so we decided to sign up for this fall session. In that first meeting there was a fired up Christian who admonished us to confront everyone we meet with the good news of Jesus, a woman who was certain God uses hurricanes to get our attention and another person who believes Christians are under attack in America. I wanted to attack her for that but my wife kept deliberately making eye contact with me as a way to plead with me to keep my cool. After 35 years she kinda knows me like that.

If my faith were to be tested it really couldn’t be tested much more than it has been lately. I recently prayed and told God I don’t want to be a Christian anymore. Nobody could be more surprised hearing those words come out of my mouth than I was. My mind instantly flashed to my youth and Sister Mary Monica, the convent mother at our local parish. I was in a religion education class for public school kids and the Pastor came by to check on us. While visiting he kindly showed us a card trick and for some reason I thought it would be cute to remind him that cards are the tool of the devil. He IMG_5549laughed. Not because he thought it was funny. He laughed, I imagine, because he could see Sister Mary Monica swooping down from her perch with an eagle eye on the back of my head.

I’m not sure what hurt the most. The smack on the back of the head, the simultaneous grabbing of my earlobe and pulling me to my feet in one motion, or the fact that I was helpless and I was drug out of the room into the hall by an angry little Irish Nun in front of all of my buddies. They could do stuff like that to kids back in the 60’s. Then we got beat when we got home. When I hear kids today cry they will call services if they have privileges restricted I have to laugh. But I digress. The point was I sometimes am rather clumsy with proper reverence. God knew I didn’t want to break up with Him. He’s cool. I just don’t know that I want to be associated with “Christians” anymore. I kind of think they do more harm to His message than good. That was my point. I just wasn’t very eloquent expressing that in my prayers.

As my wife and I left our small group the unspoken understanding between us was palatable. My wife is much more tolerant than I am and I imagine she was waiting to see if she’d ever get the opportunity to go back and be a part of this group. At least she maybe wondered if she’d get an opportunity to go back and be a part of that group with me. I could tell it was something she wanted us to do together. I’m not stupid… All of the time… Sometimes. Before I said too much it came over me that this group might in fact be my faith test. I’ve been pretty angry with conservative Christians since, well forever, but most acutely since this last presidential election. Maybe it’s time I sit down and listen to them for a little bit. That God of mine, He’s a funny guy.

Pray for me.

 

The Dignity Of Labor Through A Son’s Eyes

As I mowed my lawn in the ninety degree heat Saturday I watched the lawn service trucks moving through my neighborhood. With sweat getting in my eyes I fantasized about the luxury of allowing a crew to do my work. There are three reasons I dismissed the notion. First, I actually like mowing my lawn. Second, I was raised to do the work in capable of doing and finally I find great comfort in the reminder that I come from working class roots.
I do love to mow. The combination of the smell of fresh cut grass, the sun shining on my shoulders and the instant gratification of seeing my lawn transform with each pass is, in its own way, intoxicating. There is an almost spiritual element IMG_0152associated with tending God’s green earth, the proverbial hands in the earth thing. I grew up in Iowa and there is a great respect for farmers born in the gratitude of their hard work and bountiful harvests. In some small way the attention I show my landscaping brings me closer to my agrarian heritage.
My parents were raised feeling the economic hardships of the depression. They never stated as such but I sense they thought it foolish to pay someone else to do what one was capable of doing themselves. There’s nothing wrong with providing opportunities for others as a means to defer tasks one might not enjoy. My opinion is that a man’s character can in part be measured by his willingness to do what needs to be done. As much as I love to mow; would I prefer to be out on my Harley or purusing the local farmers market? Yes. Yet somehow those activities are a little sweeter after I’ve completed my chores. A side benefit is that mowing my lawn racks up over 7,000 of the standard 10,000 steps fitness standard.
The final reason I may never pay anyone to mow my lawn comes from respect for my father. My dad was the CEO of IMG_0153Clayton’s DX, a two bay neighborhood gas station where my grandpa and I, after my older brother, served as his only employees once I was old enough and outside of school hours. Anyone who has spent time around an auto shop knows there are few professions more physically challenging. It’s heavy dirty work that is hot in the summer and cold in the winter. My dad did that ten hours a day, six days a week and then would come home, do his books and attend anything and everything that was required to maintain our home. He never complained. He never required down time or alone time. For him, life’s value was found in being with those he loved and attending to their wants and needs.
I think in my dad’s best year he cleared $18,000 and yet somehow I don’t recall ever wanting for anything. I have the luxury of a job I love and the freedom from any real money concerns. I think my dad never questioned his state in life AD02B0D8-179D-4900-97D7-A0A53AC9003Bbecause he was driven by duty and found honor in providing a safe, joyful and loving home. I think of him often when I mow. I remember the silly straw hat with the red bandana he wore when he worked in the yard. I still have that hat. I don’t wear it because if I breath deeply enough I imagine I can still smell the sweet aroma of his hard work.

Your Hidden Gifts.

My parents met post World War II while big band, dance halls and supper clubs were still the rage. I don’t have many stories of those times but the band names they referred to were the likes of Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, the Glen Miller Band, minus Glen Miller by that time, and the like. I think they actually met at an up and coming band leader Lawrence Welk gig. My dad claimed to not care for Lawrence Welk very much but you’d never know it from the hours of Saturday night time our television was dedicated to his TV program. My dad, while not a musician, shared his love of music with his kids. He encouraged us all to play an instrument but forgot to provide the gene pool. That’s OK. We are all proficient at volume control and tone settings on our music playback machines and my kids would tell you it’s rare to not hear music in our home if I’m in the house. I’m grateful for his gift of music appreciation. It provides a richness to my life I can’t imagine doing without.
Both of my parents are gone now. My main Pandora station is img_4813lightly mixed with music from their era. Every time a Sinatra, Miller or Dorsey song graces my playlist I have fond memories of growing up. Music transcends time and space in a special heartwarming way some times. I was born in 1960 and in the early years of my life a few dinner clubs were still around. The Colony Club sat high on a wooded hill in central Waterloo, Iowa. On special occasions I remember getting dressed up and joining my parents on “date night.” That’s how they did it. I could maybe count on one hand the times my parents went out and left us with a baby sitter. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to get rid of me to this day. I never learned what it was like to be excluded. I always just assume I belong wherever I happen to be.
The Colony Club was a candle lit fine dining establishment with tables surrounding a large hardwood dance floor that was edged by a large stage capable of holding twenty-five or better musicians. By the time I got to hear the bands play at The Colony Club I would imagine few had ever played with the great leaders bearing their name. I don’t suppose that mattered much to my parents much because they always seemed to get lost in the music. And that’s the funny thing. I always thought of my parents as the straight and narrow Ward and June Cleaver types. They were modest, practical and reverent… Until they hit the dance floor. Clayton and Anita would transform into something unrecognizable. Upon taking the floor they bestowed an elegance and grace that could only be capable if gravity did not apply to them. I’m talking Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers grace. In the event you think I exaggerate I’ll tell you, I thought long and hard and decided that is the best way to describe what I saw. I was always in awe of them, of the love they had for one another. What I wouldn’t give to see them dance once more.
We all have hidden little surprises stored away in our gifts and talents. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could go through our lives in such a way that people would share that with us. Wouldn’t it be grand if we felt safe enough to share our gifts with others. What’s your hidden talent? Would you care to share?

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