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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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.

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.

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.

 

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.

Little Lessons.

After a seemingly long work week I stopped by my favorite store. I won’t say which store but if you were to guess I can tell you it would be as simple as ABC. (wink) As I entered the parking lot an elderly lady, using a walker, fell down as she was stepping off the curb. The car in front of me was loaded with kids who looked horrified but didn’t really know what to do. The oncoming car, also loaded with teenagers chose to point and burst into laughter while yelling comments out the window I’m glad I couldn’t discern exactly what they were saying… And there we sat. From one car back and partially blocking the intersection I put on my emergency flashers and jumped out to give a hand.
By the time I got to her it was obvious she had resigned herself to sitting there, on the curb, contemplating what she might do. She was the sweetest of ladies who was obviously a little shaken up by her predicament. I told her I was there to help and asked the best way to do that. With the confidence of someone who has been there before she instructed, “Place your feet in front of mine and help me up, thank you.” I did as instructed and was amazed at how little effort my assistance required. She smiled and said, “OK now, where the hell did the ABC store go?” That took all of the tension out of the moment and I told her she was in luck. I proceeded to escort her to her destination and then went to retrieve my car. By the time I got in the store she was at IMG_0117the counter with a half gallon bottle of 15 year old Glenlivet. I bantered that “Bourbon is better for you.” and she spun on her heel and scolded me like she’d never seen me before and exclaimed, “I don’t like bourbon I like scotch.” I couldn’t argue with that.
As I made my exit I noticed the car of mocking teenagers was pulling out of the neighboring Wendy’s drive through. It just so happened that they had to wait for me to cross the street before they could be on their way. I took the opportunity to suggest that, in the future, if they witness an old lady falling down they might choose to offer assistance rather than be cruel. Their previous frivolity suddenly seemed abated and one of them offered, “Yes sir.” That was good enough for me. I asked them to have a good weekend and went about my way. I had wished that those kids would have instinctively known what to do. I’m sure, had it been their grandmother, they would have reacted differently. Then I thought back to the dumb things I had done as a kid and was reminded that maybe kids haven’t changed all that much and hope that a lesson was learned.
When I got home, I poured my sip of bourbon, sat down on the back porch and offered a toast to little old ladies and rambunctious kids everywhere. It takes all kinds of people to make this world go round.

My Problem With Christians.

I used to begin every day praying that God would help me be the kind of man He wanted me to be. I prayed that people might see something different in me which that perhaps might cause them to contemplate their own relationship with God. I didn’t want to have to be the one to talk about it, mind you. I merely hoped to be some sort of subliminal messenger. And that seemed to work well for me for quite a few years. I used that prayer to hold myself accountable many times.
It’s not working anymore.
I don’t mean that I’ve quit talking with God or that I don’t hold IMG_0073myself accountable. I’m just not sure I’m interested in being a recruiter for Christianity anymore. There’s the age old “horrible things man does in the name of religion” thing but that never bothered me so much. At least not so much in that I couldn’t deflect the notion with evidence of the evolvement of man and civilization. It’s just that the current co-branding of Christianity and the conservative right have caused me to not really like Christians anymore. They aren’t nice and that’s a problem. Oh sure they’re great if you venture into their arena on their terms but let’s be honest. If you are gay, atheist, Muslim, even black or Hispanic the message of inclusion isn’t exactly the first thing you’d notice.
I’m not condemning Christians as having lost their way. Maybe it’s me. My embrace of progressive values has earned me numerous back channel messages quoting scriptures and imploring me to repent. They like that old “iron sharpens iron” quote but can’t seem to consider the Beatitudes. Christianity has a big problem right now. As long as they focus on building walls, denying sanctuary, feeling persecuted for baking gay wedding cakes and denying health-care to people who can’t afford it they can’t be my people. And I guess people never really had anything to do with my original prayer anyway. Dear God, help me to be the kind of man that You want me to be. I’ll leave the rest up to You.

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