Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Defying the Odds

The Christmas season is my very favorite time of year -- the lights, the lush garlands and trees, the great food, and more cheerful people. I love everything about it and could probably live in a Christmas environment for the majority of the year, especially if there is snow. I know most people enjoy snow on Christmas, but I enjoy it ALL the time. I can never get enough of it, perhaps with the exception of driving to the UP of Michigan in a blizzard in the dark. There is something about the preparation and anticipation of this season that comforts me and makes me feel incredibly joyful, forgetting some of my usual stress and worry. It is the waiting for Christmas that I enjoy, much more than I do the actual day. Once the actual day arrives I start to feel the blues tapping on my door, fully settling in with a bowl of popcorn and their feet on the coffee table the next day.

For some reason, this year, I am feeling the blues arrogantly inching toward my doorstep a little earlier. I find that I am living more within the world of Lent, rather than Advent. I have been reflecting on all my mistakes the last several weeks -- kicking myself over stupid decisions and guilting myself over the things I haven't yet done that I know I should. I have been stupid, selfish, lazy, and cranky. I have put off responsibilities that should've received attention, because I was either too scared or too lazy to deal with them.

It frustrates me that I am allowing myself to be deterred from fully enjoying my favorite time of year, but I suppose it makes sense. The end of the year is a natural time to be reflective -- to evaluate what I've done, what I need to do, what I need to change. This last year was already a year of big and important changes for me. And I think that the next requires changes even bigger and even more transformative. I must become more than what I am, more of what I need to be. More than what I feel capable of.

Jesus came into this world superceding what anyone would have thought possible. I am sure Mary and Joseph probably both experienced their shares of doubts and disbelief. It's impossible to know what they thought, but it is human nature to doubt oneself and be hesitant to believe in something so incredible. I can imagine that Joseph most likely doubted in his abilities to take care of a wife and child, let alone the child of God. I am sure there were times when he considered backing out. It would have been much easier. But he didn't. I wonder what tremendous pressure he must have felt, and how heavily it must have weighed upon his spirit. He could've turned back at any moment -- when he found out about a pregnancy that he knew couldn't be his, when he found out they were in danger politically, when they were left with nowhere to go but a stable. But he didn't.

I can imagine that Mary must have feared how she would be able to face Joseph, her family, and her community, knowing full well that her situation would elicit much judgment and possibly even danger. And I am sure she also would have doubted her own abilities in being the vessel of God. Can you fathom how unworthy she must have felt? I know how unworthy I sometimes feel just to have minor positive things happen to me, let alone being chosen to carry the savior of the world. What must that have felt like? Flattering? Confusing? Terrifying? Exhausting? Perhaps, a little of them all? If it were me, I think that in the moment I received the overwhelming and terrifying news from Gabriel I would have pleaded with God to choose someone else. I would have moaned and complained that I couldn't possibly be the right person for the job. But Mary didn't. She could have given up at any time, and moved on with her life as if none of it had ever happened. But she didn't.

Mary and Joseph not only dealt with what was handed to them, but treated it as an honor and a gift. No matter how many doubts and how much fear infaltrated their thoughts, they graciously accepted their duty without animosity. They never retreated from the purpose that they had been given.

The last few years have been difficult ones for me in many ways. I have been constantly pushed and prodded to keep changing and growing, leaving my soul and spirit stretched and a little bruised. I feel exhausted. I have transformed so much already, but know that I have so much further yet to go. I am not fully convinced that I want to keep getting pushed right now. I often wonder why I can't get just a little break -- to be okay staying just as I am for a little while. I sometimes feel so overwhelmed with where I need to go and how far away it seems to be from where I am. Sometimes I really want to give up. And sometimes . . . I do.

Mary and Joseph didn't give up, even if they had wanted to. They were pushed and prodded, and kept transforming as often as they breathed. With each movement of air in and out of their lungs they were changing -- as a living, breathing work of God's art. Transformation IS life and breath. It is what makes us "live," rather than simply "survive." And as much as it sometimes hurts, I'd rather "live." I "survived" for a long time . . . and I am not quite ready to go back there.

I honestly don't know just how I will make the necessary changes that are long overdue. I suspect Mary and Joseph weren't quite sure themselves of how they would handle the struggles that lain in their futures. They kept walking -- walking into scary and unknown territory, hoping that the grace of God would help them find their way. I suppose that is all I can do, all any of us can do. I pray that God's grace will lead me to where I need to go. And that it will provide all the air my lungs need . . . just breathe. May God's grace find you all, and may you feel peace wherever you are in your own transformation. May we all become more than we ever thought possible.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

It's Not What You Think

"Well, there’s a war on Christmas, it’s under attack
But this year America’s taking it back."

These are some lyrics from one of my most favorite shows in the whole world: Stephen Colbert's Christmas special from 2008, titled "The Greatest Gift of All."

If you're not familiar with Stephen Colbert and his daily comedy show on Comedy Central, he does a fake news show, a la "Daily Show" and does so in his manufactured Bill O'Reilley-esque, pseudo-conservative persona. He plays a character in which he satirizes the conservative media. In my opinion, he is one of the funniest people around. And one of the smartest.

The lyrics above ring incredibly true for me. Not true in the sense that there is actually a war on Christmas. But true in that some people really seem to believe that liberals are out to destroy Christmas, and in turn, Christianity.

Now, I can't deny that there probably are some crazy, extreme left-wingers that would indeed love to see the demise of both Christmas and Christianity. But those such individuals are in a vastly small minority. This evil plot wouldn't even be on the radar for most liberals. And as challenging as it may be to believe, many liberals ARE Christians. I am one of them.

I remember several years ago when I first heard the phrase, "War on Christmas," and listened as some media types asserted that there was a swelling threat to the dear, old traditions of our beloved Christmas. I distinctly remember saying, "Huh?!"

I had never heard anything like this before and felt an intense level of befuddlement over the notion that people were "out to get" Christmas. Call me naive, but I don't get it. Call me even more naive, but I actually thought that this paranoia had died down in the last couple years. When to my surprise, I heard Bill O'Reilley and Glen Beck talking about it again this year.

I don't know how many people are actually in line with this concern. It may mostly just be some of the people that I see on tv. I doubt most Christians would be that fearful over a systematic overthrow of this important holiday. I hope so at least.

Now, if there were real and deliberate actions taken to eliminate a private citizen's choice to celebrate the birth of Jesus and/or to believe in the Christian faith, I would be first in line to oppose. And I would feel the same if it was another religion's beliefs and holidays. If I am going to demand that MY beliefs be accepted, I MUST demand the same rights for those of differing beliefs. But the fact is, this threat does not exist.

It is that same fear that drives this that causes people to feel like their country is being taken away. Who is it that is really and truly taking away all of these things from people? Honestly, I would like to hear what people think about that, because I just don't understand it. I don't understand why people feel that parts of themselves are so easy to apprehend. I don't want to simply dismiss people that feel this way (I'm not sure that I always succeed). But I would like for one of them to calmly give me a specific answer as to how this thievery is being accomplished.

There are no laws stating that a person cannot believe or celebrate as they choose in their own private homes. The one way in which I can see a change is in the public arena, such as schools. It is true that some schools no longer allow any holiday celebrations that are exclusively Christmas-centric. Some have abolished carols and nativities. This is different even from when I was in grade school. I admit that I could feel a little sadness over this, but I do not feel any animosity. I have to accept that things are different now. Things cannot stay the same forever. Nor should they.

I have had to adapt to these changes in my own personal life. I married a Jewish man. He is not religiously Jewish, but does like to get in touch with his cultural roots. I never in a million years expected to marry outside of my religion. It was not something I was ever against. I just simply never thought about it. I expected to be like everyone else in my family and in my small town, and marry someone that came from a very similar background.

As things many times go, life took an unexpected turn, and I fell in love with someone that grew up oppositely from me in many ways. He was Jewish; I was Christian. He was from the Bronx; I was from a small town. But we are much more alike than we are different. We are the same at our cores. And surprisingly, manage to hold most of the same beliefs, though I am "religious" and he is not.

Being with Kevin forced me to open up to new perspectives and to realize that no matter where you are or who you are with, you are still you and still hold your own beliefs. No one can take that away. While I never want to lose the core of who I am, I also don't ever want to stay the same forever. Things change, and so must I.

America is more and more moving further away from the homogenous WASP world most of us grew up with. There are more families of other cultures and religions than ever before. And in order to provide true equality we must all adapt to the shifting nature. And sometimes that means not getting to have public organizations and settings be the same as we have been used to. This sometimes means that OUR beliefs do not get to control the ways of all. Other beliefs must now be treated as equals to our own.

I know it's not an easy adjustment. It is difficult to say good-bye to the things we have known since childhood. And it's quite natural to feel some melancholy over the changes. But it is inevitable. What about the people that believe in a different God, or no God at all? What about the things they have been used to? Do you think that they want exactly what we want -- to find contentment knowing that they have the freedom to believe and live as they choose, to find comfort in seeing their beliefs reflected equally in government, schools, etc.? They are just as deserving as we are to receive all that.