Sunday, December 31, 2017

sticks, stones and arrows of life...





Back in the fifth grade, I had the teacher from hell. He would stop at nothing to berate the children in his care and I was no exception. There was one particular student named Art who always was the class clown. He would do anything to rankle the teacher and the teacher always obliged by sending Art to see the principal. I never knew what Art's background at home was like that caused the consternation, but I do know (now) that many children come to school with some sad baggage. Perhaps Art was one of those kids.

There was a particular day when Art really ticked off the teacher. Instead of sending him to the principal's office, the teacher instead had each of the kids in this class write something about Art and why they did not like him. At the time, I remember myself gleefully writing some two paragraph "thing" and then, reading it out loud to him, as did we all. I was only eleven years old, but I can still remember him squirming uncomfortably in his seat, a pained expression on his face. As I watched him, I no longer felt gleeful. In fact, I thought, "what if that were ME?"

He never was the class clown after that. In fact, he became sullen...withdrawn for the rest of that school year.

I moved away shortly after that, so I have no idea how Art turned out as he grew up.

I look back on this now...and I shudder. What that teacher did was just plain wrong. To point out a person's perceived "flaws" by having other kids-his peers-mock him, was a very low blow. It was no different, I am sure, than the judgment cast upon a woman who was being prepared for stoning. Jesus admonished them all by asking, "he who is without sin, cast the first stone." And...everyone left. "Has no one condemned you?" He asked the woman. "No one," she replied (probably greatly relieved). "Then neither do I. Go...and sin no more!"

I was only eleven years old...too young and ignorant to understand then that what we all did may have had serious implications. I feel so ashamed now. For a trusted adult to castigate a child in that way --by public humiliation--is wrong. A better way would have been to look deeper...to try and understand the "what behind the why" of the child's misbehavior. Many times, a child misbehaves to cover up something more insidious and sad. It could be the only way they know how to cope with the arrows that life hurls at them. And we go and complicate that even further by our own words, actions and deeds. This doesn't just apply to children, either. We adults can be pretty mean towards other adults as well.

 In today's' world, we all are guilty of casting blame and then, inducing harm in some way. Don't believe me? Just be a little more attentive of what and how you comment on social media. Or how about your response, be it private or public...on what you see on the TV news...or hear on the radio. We judge...oh yes...we judge and pretty harshly at that!

 As the New Year rings in tonight, how about if our resolution for 2018 be that we guard what comes out of our mouths...guard what we say in print...and be a true neighbor...one who loves everyone regardless of whatever sins they have. Condemn no one, but show true compassion as well as humility towards all.

I have no clue how Art is today. I have no clue if he was able to get over the hurdles of his younger years or if those barriers made it harder to be an adult. But to all the OTHER Arts in this world...may we be more accepting of their circumstances, whatever they may be.

May God bless you all.
Amen.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

what IS Christmas about?






Recently I read comments from others that having Christ in Christmas is too much to ask for. They look around and see nothing but greed, commercialism, hate, sorrow and more. Some have said that Santa is actually an anagram for Satan because the holiday we celebrate was actually once a pagan feast.

I read these comments and felt physically ill. Ill because on one hand, Satan IS in control...but it isn't as these people think. Satan today IS in control of the greed, the pain, the sorrow. Christmas, in reality, was a take-off of the pagan feast of Saturnalia. The early Church, feeling a need to convert people, took many of the facets of Saturnalia and tidied them up to bring people to God. Christmas is actually a derivative of the Mass held on the night of the winter solstice, known as Christ's Mass...Christmas! It was the Druids who later brought trees into the tradition, with it's candles and lights and decorations. Gift giving came from a true saint, Saint Nicholas, who brought gifts to poor families. Saint Francis of Assisi had the idea to re-create the Nativity scene and thus, the creche was born.









There are those who argue that Jesus was not born in winter, as the sheep were in the fields with their shepherds. There are people who argue that certain coffee shops have reindeer on their cups instead of actual scenes of the Nativity. There are people who argue...it seems...about anything that can be argued about.
Friend, if this is you, you are sadly missing the whole point.

Jesus came to us, a King, yes, but as a helpless babe first...so as to not shock the masses, I'm sure. Yet the masses were shocked anyway. King Herod, on hearing of the birth of a "King," sought to have him killed by killing off many other innocent babies as well. Such tyranny in what should have been the promise of Hope! A grown man, afraid of an Infant? Say it wasn't so!

But it was.

During the time of Jesus' ministry, all the while He healed many and performed other miracles, once again, He was a threat to the Establishment, who sought...again! to kill him off...and succeeded...by convincing all who would hear, that He was nothing more than a charlatan. And thus, an Innocent who was born to save us, instead, died for OUR sins of let's face it--ignorance. Basically, the same fear that caused King Herod to kill off all of the male babies also caused the Jewish people to also kill off Jesus--ignorance. Is it that same fear today that cause many to X out the reason for Christmas--Jesus-- by having celebrations that have nothing to do with Him at all? I do believe we are back at Square One! Pagan feasting that took what was a reverent idea and made it irreverent.

Ah yes, Christmas is almost here. And you, I'm sure, are busy making plans...but how have you made plans for Him?

Do you see Him in the homeless, the helpless, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, the persecuted?  (Matthew 25:44) Or do you rather see Him in diamond rings, new cars, new techie gadgets, new...new...new...? The point I am making is that you cannot have Christmas without Christ. I know how much Madison Avenue wants you to believe that, but the seduction of distracting us from the real reason of Christmas by having anything you can buy is just not what this season is all about! Jesus came to show us pure, unconditional Love. His Love was so strong, He admonished us all to love one another, even as HE loved US! How much did He love us? Enough to die for us. ("Greater Love no man hath this, that one lay down his life for his friends..." John 15:13)

Honestly, how did you lay down your life for someone today? You don't have to step in front of a moving train to do it! You also do it by loving another so much you would do anything to seek out their better comfort level, and not just for a friend, but for a stranger as well.

We spend the holidays buying gifts for others, but truly, are you happy for the one you have bought a gift for? Or is it more compulsory...you HAVE to provide a gift for the office Christmas party for someone you just do not like, yet you do it...half-heartedly, hoping all the while they choke on it, am I right? You invite relatives to your house for Christmas dinner, all the while seething that they even are breathing in your presence. My, my, my...what a humble holiday we have going on here!

Christmas is about Love...it's about Hope that was born in a mangy, dirty stable. It's about the promise of Peace. To have any of these, we must Love one another even as Jesus loved us. We wish one another nothing but the best. The. Best. To do that, we put aside all manners of greed, of sorrow, of pain, of revenge, of hate. Love is the reason for the season. The Love of God who saw that humanity had lost it's mind and so, came down as a helpless babe, grew up in a society so full of hate (note the Roman empire, in control during his life) and sought to make it better by being an example for us all.

How can we do any less than to offer Him praise and being His example today--in a world that has never gotten it right, is still mad and out of control? We do it one day at a time, one person at a time...until there is so much love, so much joy...

When was Jesus born? He is born into the hearts of those who need Him- every. single. day.

Monday, December 4, 2017

a time for giving and forgiving...




Christmas. A time for giving and maybe...forgiving...?

A story I witnessed last week: I was at a local thrift store and, while I was waiting in line to check out my purchases, I overheard a woman ask the cashier why they don't have Depression era glassware any longer. While the cashier attempted to explain the whole concept of it being a donation thing, the other woman interrupted her by spitting out, "I know there is someone who works here who also collects that and thus, there will never be any more set out while she is here because she just buys it for herself!"

My eyes widened at that response. That whole entitlement feeling this woman displayed surprised me. There are many other sources in which to procure collector's items, the internet being one of them.

The reason that I was there was to purchase some doilies for a special event that our local museum was having; a Christmas Open House. They needed the doilies for a brunch table display and I was happy to provide that. Such a small token, I thought, as I paid for my purchase and then, dropped off the doilies at the museum, where I was greeted with hugs and gratitude. I smiled shyly and continued on my errands that day.

The day of the open house, I was stunned by the turnout of so many people. The atmosphere was festive and friendly as I perused the many baked goods that had been made, as well as the many "white elephant" items that were on display for purchase. What stunned me most was what was also for sale on several glass shelves along the wall: Depression era glassware, many sitting on the doilies that I had donated.

Someone else had donated that glassware. Immediately I felt a feeling of remorse. Yes, remorse. As I recalled that conversation from the thrift store, I felt humbled. Had that woman attended this event, would she have been able to appreciate what I witnessed...or would there have been more grousing?

Jesus told stories also of how, throughout time, things given in generosity were not accepted with humility but rather, with remarks of derision, taunts and retorts. Think back to the Israelites...leaving a place that had caused untold generations of Hebrews pain-Egypt- and there they were, in the desert, complaining, because they had little Faith in the One who'd rescued them from the very pits of hell. Now, compare that to the scene of Mary and Joseph...no room at the inn and she had just given birth in a dirty stable. Did she complain at all about the lack of accommodations? It certainly wasn't the Hilton Hotel, yet her heart was filled with love at the miracle that had just taken place.

We are only human, after all, yet we need to stop and think about the reason we feel entitled to having it all, having it now and having the best of everything. We need to step back and understand that in life, there are winners and there are losers, but we can bridge that gap by our being filled with an attitude of gratitude and sharing what we have with those who have less, or nothing at all. Jesus admonished us to look for the need and to share, even as His greatest example proved: feeding 5000 people the loaves and fishes. Even if you are poor, it costs nothing to do a good deed to ease the burden of another.





Soon it will be Christmas. How will you show your gratitude about the reason for the season? It is more about giving from the heart (think "Little Drummer Boy") and less about just accepting a gift with no thought of "what can I do for YOU?"
Have a wonderful day!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

who will you meet in heaven?




I just watched the movie, "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" last night. I had read the book about ten years ago, but never made time to see the movie. In it, we meet a man named Eddie who has worked on Ruby Pier, a small, beach side carnival, all of his life. I mean, from young boyhood, on. His father is an abusive alcoholic who also worked there, taking his miseries out on his family for as long as Eddie can remember.  In fact, Eddie says at one point, "I hated him. I always hated him!" Eddie's life, to him, seems insignificant. He loves kids, adored his wife and his last act while living was his efforts to save a young girl from a horrific accident, which then takes his own life. He meets up with five people who are very instrumental in the reason he is on earth. Five people who show him what life would have been like had he not been there.

Cue the brain...we've visited this theme already, am I right?

Yes, if you are a fan of "It's a Wonderful Life," you have.

But this movie, as "It's a Wonderful Life" did, made me think. Every life touches so many other lives!

How often do you ponder over your life? Does it seem tedious? Lacking luster?What is your reaction towards others? Do they bore you? Wouldn't you rather do something else if you were asked to help someone else?

That is the point here. In both movies, Eddie and George Bailey from "Wonderful Life" made darn sure that others' needs came BEFORE their own comforts. In George's case, his house was once a ramshackle dwelling that would always be in need of repair. In Eddie's tiny home, all he kept were the basics and a small box that held his mementos. Nothing more. In each movie, the character stood for the little guy, for what was truly important, all the while hating his own life.

It is said that after the passing of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, letters were found. In these letters were emotions poured forth that perhaps, she wasn't doing enough to alleviate the suffering there. She was always looking for that cue from God that what she was doing was enough. She never looked for the limelight, feeling that this-helping those less fortunate- is what we all should be doing. Even when she won the Nobel prize, she was humble enough to accept it wearing her sari and a simple blue sweater. No glitz, no glamour. And she never looked more beautiful.







Her own memorable line was, "find your own Calcutta!" Look around you. Who needs your help? You don't have to lead a huge corporation of helpers, just by your own example and purity of heart will you be in the place that God meant for you to be. Never doubt that. Let me repeat: "if your soul and heart are in this to genuinely help another, then you are exactly where God has placed you to be!"

We all have that "dark night of the soul." Why did I marry so and so if all he does is drink?" "Why did I take that job if all it brings is sorrow?" "Why am I hurting because a loved one left me?" Look back over that scenario. What happened during that time to make you think, for even a moment, that perhaps it was all wasted? We may never find out the true reasons for many of the things that we do until are time on earth has expired. Then all of these things will be revealed unto you...


"But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. "Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops." Daniel 2:22.



Today and everyday, begin it with the attitude that nothing is ever a wasted moment. Look for the opportunities to be Jesus in a world that right now, is so lacking in love!