Merry Christmas

It is, as I sit and write this article, only a couple of days before Thanksgiving. The focus is on turkey, stuffing, rolls, mashed potatoes and gravy and every other good thing to overindulge upon.  Soon the tables will be set, mountains of food will be eaten, and a horde of people will present themselves  at doctors’ offices and emergency departments with gallbladders that have at last thrown in the towel and shouted “I can’t take it anymore!”  We all; consumers, shopkeepers and surgeons alike, love thanksgiving, but underneath it all there is another focus, another, more grand American extravaganza lurking under the radar.  It may be Thanksgiving on the front burner, but bubbling quietly along on the back burner, in the oven, and everywhere else in the metaphorical kitchen, it’s Christmas.

As always we will turn Christmas in America into a circus, and why shouldn’t we?  America is a secular state, or so most of us will tell you.  The fact is, however, we worship everything from money to power to sex to individualism to our local sports team, but we refuse to call those things what they really are, which is religion. So when we say that we are secular we mean that we are not a Christian or Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist, or any other recognized religion-based state.  And if that is the case (and that is a proposition open to a great deal of debate, I am aware), there is no real good reason why we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas any darned way that we please, and I will not be one to raise my voice against that proposition.

What I really do want to do in this article is address the issue of refugees in the context of Christmas. The refugee crisis is very much on the front pages and on the internet news sources in the U.S. and Western world, and I would like to view this crisis through this one Christian’s lens and within the context of the Christmas story. I will be quick to point out that these are my own observations as a Christian American and I do not in any way mean to imply that this is the only opinion that an American Christian can possibly have.  I am certain that I have Christian friends, dear friends all, who will disagree with me.  That is fine.  They may be right, or I may be right.  I love them anyway and I hope that they still love me too, but I have no control over that.  I see what I see, and I will share that with you now.

Christmas, as most of you know, began as a baby born in a stable.  There is actually more to the story to that however.  This kid named Yeshua bar Joseph, or Jesus, was born in that stable because a politician on orders from a foreign and unsympathetic power ordered everybody to return to their ancestral home base so that they could be counted and more efficiently squeezed for tax revenues.  Our President and Congress haven’t tried this yet, but do not count them out!  Joseph and his very pregnant wife Mary were therefore uprooted from their familiar home and occupation in Nazareth and forced to travel to the town of Bethlehem, far away.

Clearly there was little real connection between Joseph and Bethlehem.  There were no relatives offering to take in the weary travelers, one of them due to give birth at any minute.  Forced to go from inn to inn, Joseph could only finally secure lodging in a stable with the animals.  Some historians suggest that this stable was in a cave, and therefore at least protected from the cold wind.  Others stand by the traditional above-ground stable picture while still others locate the stable in the anteroom of a house. To me it makes no difference. Jesus’ company when He was born was Mom and Dad and oxen and donkeys and goats perhaps (have you ever smelled a goat?) and other denizens of the ancient Near East animal quarters.  Suffice it to say, it was not the Marriott.

Some time later, how much later is open to question, another cynical politician got wind of some dumb wise guys going around and spreading rumors about a new king of the Jews being born in Bethlehem.  It’s not like the existing king was a poster child for family values; he murdered his own children.  But the king was not eager for a rival to his throne and his dynasty to be gaining acceptance within his own kingdom, so he sent soldiers to slaughter every baby in Bethlehem.  Being warned of this, the little family shed its persona of economic refugees and took on the mantle of political refugees.  Fleeing ahead of the butchers, the family sought and was granted refugee status in Egypt.  The rest of the story is known to most people in America, and if you are not familiar with it, just about any church in America will fill in the gaps if you visit there between now and December 25.  There is, however, a deeper layer to this story in the holy writings revered by Christians, Jews and to some extent real Muslims, and I propose to write about those today.

In the beginning (important words for those who love the Bible) God told Abram to leave his home and become an immigrant.  Abram was obedient and eventually found himself in a land called Canaan.  While there a famine struck and Abram and his foxy wife, Sarai, became economic refugees and fled to Egypt.  Egypt, fortunately, accepted these refugees, even ones who worshipped a strange God.  Abe was far from honorable in this story however, as he knew that Pharaoh would notice his hottie wife, and so he used the old “she’s really my sister’ trick.  Bad form, Abe!  No huevos, no bueno!” Still, the kindness, or at least tolerance, of the Egyptians saved Abe from the famine, and the chosen line moved on.

Abe’s son Isaac found himself in the same fix a generation later and fled to Philistia where he used the same tired old “She’s my sister” trick.  Like father, like son.  God didn’t let the Philistine Grand Poobah fool around with Rebecca however, and the Philistines granted Isaac a place to weather the famine, even if many of the ruling class were covetous of the flocks and wells and orchards which God blessed Isaac with.  Ultimately Isaac retreated far enough away from anybody who would make a claim on what God had blessed him with, and he made a home there.

Isaac had a couple of sons, and that was a very complicated story.  The upshot is that Jacob came our on top and was the head of a large family that was pretty well settled in Canaan.  Then, a good long while later, Daddy Jacob’s favorite son Joseph got his uppity ass sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Soon after that, the old bugbear famine reared it’s head again and Jake & Co. were applying to Egypt for help to weather the storm.  Well, they would have welcomed a real storm, but let’s not get hung up on semantics.  So Jake says “Boys, we’re dying here.  Take some money, which we have but can’t eat, and go to Egypt and score some grub” or something like that.

So most of the boys go to Egypt to buy food, but Daddy’s real pet, Benjamin,  stays behind.  He was kind of a sissy anyway.  When they got to Egypt however, who do you think they found sitting on the seat as the Secretary of the Interior under Pharaoh but Joseph himself, the son whom they had sold years ago to the slave traders!  Now, Joseph’s life had pretty much sucked most of the time since he had been sold; unfairly accused, stuck in the Gray Bar Hotel, and so on, but Joe had kept his cool and eventually had begun to get some pretty good rolls of the dice.  God blessed him with position and authority in Egypt, and now he sat in front of his clueless brothers.

“So what’s up?” he asked them.  “What’re you boys doing in my neighborhood?  My guess is that you’re a bunch of spies.”  “Uh Uh!” cried Reuben,the oldest.  “Ain’t so.  We’re just hungry, and our daddy and the families are dying of hunger, and we’re here to buy a little food.”  “I doubt it” replied Joseph.  “You look like spies to me.  Might be terrorists too.  Maybe I should just drone your asses right now.”

“No, man, it ain’t so!  We’re just ordinary guys trying to buy some groceries for the fam.  Look at me; I’m so skinny that if I stand sideways and stick my tongue out I’ll look like a zipper.”  You probably didn’t know that they had zippers back then, but they did.  “Ummm, OK.  I’ll give you that one” said Joe.  “But I need some proof.  Are all of you boys present and accounted for?”  Now Joe knew that his brother Bennie from his own mother Rachel was not in the group, and he wanted to twist the knife just a little.  “No boss, said Reuben.  Daddy’s sissy little boy Ben is back home.”  OK then, that’s who I want to see.  Bring me the little punk or go home and starve.”

Joseph gave them enough food to hold the over for a while and sent them on their way.  When they got home they told Daddy Jake the story but he wasn’t ready to roll with it.  Soon, however, the food ran out again and now Jake bowed to the inevitable and sent Bennie along with the Gang of Ten to buy food.  Long story short, Joseph monkeyed with their heads for a while but ultimately obtained Pharaoh’s permission for the whole family to settle in Egypt, even though the possibility that they might have been spies for foreign powers could not be ruled out.  Unless you were Joseph, that is.

Fast forward to Israel a few hundred years later.  A guy named Elimalech and his wife and kids are economic refugees who seek refuge in Moab, the ancient enemy of Israel.  Refuge is granted, but the family’s luck sucks and soon the widowed wife Naomi and her Moabite daughter-in-law Ruth are returning to Bethlehem.  Fine for Naomi, but Ruth is like a Sunni Muslim in Iran, or a Shiite Muslim in Saudi Arabia, or a Tutsi in Hutuland or an Oakland Raider fan just about anywhere other than Oakland or, well, you get the picture.

The thing is, however, that the qualities of this Moabite woman are noticed by the people, who in turn elect to put up with her.  Ruth, the Moabite woman, is loyal to her mother-in-law and willing to do whatever is necessary, even if it means getting raped while gleaning in the fields, or poverty and starvation if no work or help is extended to her and her mother-in-law in this land which views her people as ancient enemies.  Ruth’s purity of heart, aided by Naomi’s understanding of the system and Boaz’s willingness not only to allow this undocumented alien work in his fields but also recognition of her humanity and value, results eventually in King David and ultimately Joseph, the human father of Jesus our Lord.

So where does this all take us in the context of the current refugee issue: one that will be with us long after Christmas of 2015? I suppose that my answer is this: The story that Christians subscribe to is one of dominant powers imposing their wills upon weaker people, and somebody being there when the crunch comes to help those people through the tough times.  The Bible, to me at least, is God modeling through defective and very fallible people (like yours truly and, in fact, like you too, reader) what He wants us to be, and the multiple examples of people being hospitable, for whatever personal reasons, to people in need up to and including God (Jesus) Himself, speak clearly to me about the attitude that we should take towards the alien and the refugee.  And that attitude, for me as a Christian, is acceptance and aid.

The people fleeing ISIS’ terror in Syria and other places come to us just as Abraham and Isaac and Joseph and Jacob and Ruth and Joseph and Mary and Jesus came to us; human, weak, hungry, devious, and perhaps none with a guarantee.  The Jew bleeding along the side of the road may have eventually stabbed the Samaritan who helped him in the back.  The Jews of Bethlehem might have consigned Ruth to a brothel, where she would have sold herself to provide for Naomi and both would have died impoverished, diseased, despised and alone.  Joseph, pissed off at his brothers, could have had them killed or let them starve in the desert.  None of that happened however and it provides a roadmap for those of us who call upon God as our Savior.

Which of those thousands of refugees are emissaries from God?  Which one will bring the world to a greater acceptance of each other and the blessings of peace which flow from such acceptance?  Which one will bring a bomb belt and an AK-47 to a concert or a Super Bowl game or a high school senior prom?  I don’t know the answer to any of those very good questions, and I do not disparage those who place security at the top of the list of things that we must strive for in this dangerous and complicated world.  The thought of a terrorist action taking my son or daughter or grandchild from me makes me nauseous.  Nevertheless, as I read the whole story of God and His interaction with His people on earth, I cannot ignore the fact that he loves us all, and the degree to which we love each other, even when there is risk, reflects the degree to which we love Him.

So this year I will pray that ISIS will either crumble into ruin or will be blown into atoms. I will pray that all of the innocents will escape the demonic claws of the twisted people who serve the worst form of evil in the world today, and I will pray that those of us who live far from the face-to-face confrontation with the very face of Satan itself will not snuggle in our consumerist comfort and say “their problem. Let them deal with it.”

God said “Let Us make man in Our image,” and I say let us be hospitable to all of those made in the image of God.  Perhaps not with the meekness of sheep but definitely with the mercy of God, let us welcome the refugees.

 

Merry Christmas To All

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  That is my wish for everybody whom I know, and for those whom I do not know as well.  It seems like a bit of a cheesy formality, this ritual annual invocation; something one does reflexively with increasing frequency as we finish digesting our enormous Thanksgiving dinner and plow through the last shopping days until we once again stress our biliary systems, and also the bathroom scales, to the max with our equally enormous Christmas repast.  I have been as guilty of mumbling this mantra as has the next person but it is my wish and intention to change that sad fact and trade in my insipid yuletide insincerity for a true and genuine wish for a Merry Christmas and a happy new year to each and all.

But first, what do I mean by these words “Merry Christmas”?  Well, what I do not mean is too many presents, too much shopping, too much food or too much of the adult beverage of choice, followed by too many aspirin the next morning.  My vision of a merry Christmas is born of my Christian faith.  The foundation of my Christmas is the birth, on whatever date that it actually happened, of Jesus of Nazareth, who was/is God come in the flesh to rescue humanity from the separation and hell that we had initiated by screwing things up in the first place.  This act by God was an act of sacrificial love, in which he gave us what we desperately needed but had no chance of obtaining by our own efforts.  God did this out of an abiding love for his children and never thought about what it would cost him.

In the process of doing this God lived together with men and women on Earth, first in his family with his father, Joseph, and his mother, Mary, his brother James and other siblings.  Later, God lived with his twelve disciples and a circle of friends, both men and women whom he treated with an equality that was shocking at the time and which should be a lesson to us today, at least the Christians among us should recognize this and strive to imitate our God.  And in the end God gave us the present that was unobtainable in any other way.  Hung as a bloody, mutilated, and finally stone cold dead ornament on a ghastly Roman Christmas tree on Calvary Hill, God gave us the gift of reconciliation between himself and humankind.  What an amazing gift!

This was an incalculable gift and deserves to be commemorated daily, rather than once each year, but once per year is how we have chosen to recognize it, so at this time I wish my family, friends, acquaintances and in fact the whole world a merry Christmas.  But what do I mean by “Merry Christmas,” and how can I wish it to my family and friends and valued acquaintances who are not Christian, who recognize spiritual paths different than my own, or no spiritual path at all?  Can I wish a Merry Christmas to people who are not Christian?  What does a baby lying in a feed trough in a stable in Bethlehem two thousand years ago have to do with my friend who is Muslim, or my Buddhist or secular materialist friends, and I assure you that those friends of mine are real?  Is my wish for them to enjoy a Merry Christmas just another example of the cheesy ritual that I mentioned in the opening words of this post?

The answer is “No”, and I will be glad to explain why.  Jesus – God – did not come to the world to bless Christians.  When Jesus was born there were no Christians, and when the angels sang “Peace on Earth, good will towards men”, those men were Roman pagans, Judean Hebrews, Persian Zoroastrians, Indian Hindus, Chinese Confucianists, Taoists, and Buddhists, Aztec worshippers of Quetzalcoatl and North American Lakota who worshipped Mother Earth and Father Sky.  The biblical text just says “Peace on Earth, good will towards men”.  That’s it.  I will be happy to say it as God’s angels said it:  Peace on Earth, good will toward men.  All of them.  Merry Christmas.

And how am I going to do this?  First and foremost by wishing that you love your family and friends and others as much as you can.  You may not receive love back in the same measure; that’s how it turned out for God when he was here in the flesh, but love anyway.  You have the choice to love or not love.  Which one is most likely to feed your soul?  Do not wait to be loved first, and then dole out the appropriate amount of love in return.  Love first, love earnestly, and love regardless of something other than love given back to you in return.  And when you do this you should be open to receive the love that may return to you, which might come from the most unexpected sources.  Perhaps love will be returned by your family members or others close to you.  I hope so.  Or maybe, when you least expect it, love will come from people who you never laid eyes upon before in your life, who flit into your line of sight and bless you in ways that you could never predict.  Things like that happen all the time, but we don’t notice it or don’t allow it because it doesn’t fit our busy schedule.

I will also wish you a Merry Christmas by urging you to share your material blessings, which never give you the real joy that they promise anyway, to people who are hurting and doing without the things they need rather than the things that they play with. Those people may be living in villages without a well for drinking water in Honduras or Borneo, or they might be the elderly couple living down the street who have to decide whether to pay the electric bill so that they can keep their medicines cold in the refrigerator or pay the water bill so that they can bathe and flush the toilet.  These folks are known and can be found if you wish to try and find them.  Bless them with your money, or simply your time and friendship.  It will make you a good deal more merry than will giving your nephew Clarence another sweater that he’ll wear at an Ugly Sweater party two years hence.

Therefore, when I wish you a Merry Christmas, regardless of your spiritual persuasion, I wish you the joy of love given and love received, the way it was between God and humankind on that first Christmas morning.  I wish you the joy of sharing what you have in abundance with those who have no hope of obtaining their bare necessities by their own effort.  If none of these wishes for you are likely to be fulfilled in your immediate future, then I wish that you will take comfort from the love I feel for you; the love of one frail and bent, but not broken, brother to another brother or sister on this confusing and sometimes frightening planet.  I wish you joy, love, comfort and peace.  I wish you these things because I want to wish them.  It makes me merry to wish this for you.  Merry Christmas, my friends.

Who’s holiday is Christmas?

It is a couple of days after halloween in America and that means it’s time for Christmas.  I know we still have Thanksgiving to celebrate between now and December 25 but let us be honest; getting together with family and friends to share a meal and be grateful to Yahweh or Allah or the Great Universal Consciousness or Nobody In Particular for the good things that we enjoy has little to do with the next two months.  Christmas, American Style, is the king of holidays, and since Christmas is such a dominating event in our American calendar I think that it is deserving of a great deal of study and discussion.  More astute observers and writers than I will, no doubt, rise to the occasion, but the marketplace of ideas is open for business and I propose to put my wares up for sale on my own table in the corner.

Christmas is first and foremost a religious holiday, but it is not a Christian one.  We have long been told that the birth of Jesus of Nazareth was piggy-backed onto pagan holidays of Greco-Roman and Germanic origin to facilitate the adoption of Christianity by those pagan peoples, and I will not argue one way or the other on that score.  Jesus may or may not have been born on December 25; it really does not matter to me.  Jesus, the twelve disciples, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and every other giant of the Judeo Christian faith could have been born on December 25 and it would still not be a Christian holiday.  To be sure, Christians place great importance on this holiday, and being a Christian myself I greatly enjoy getting together with friends and family and celebrating the Incarnation with food and drink and fellowship and worship, both private and communal.  But again, that has nothing to do with Christmas in America.

Christmas in America is one of the high points of the religion of consumerism.  I call consumerism a religion because it answers some of the same questions that other religions do:  What is wrong with my life?  What must I do to make it right?  What does the restoration of a perfect world look like?  Most other religions are looked at with suspicion in America and excluded, one way or another, from the Great Conversation which takes place in government, academia, the media and elsewhere.  Consumerism however, because it denies its own existence and camouflages its trappings, is given full rein.  But there is a priesthood and a hierarchy, doctrine and dogma, and there is an inquisition to deal with heresy when it rears its ugly head.  I propose to examine briefly that priesthood, its dogma, and the inquisitorial arm of the faith and show how it is in play at Christmastime in America.

The priesthood of Consumerism may be found in every city and town in America where advertising agencies produce commercials for television, radio, newspapers, mailers and even at movie theaters.  The high priesthood however is found on Madison Avenue in New York City.  There, the high priests are concocting the dogma which will sink into the subconscious of the American public and convince many that Mountain Dew is for the edgy and cool, retirement with golf, horses, beautiful homes and eternal sex lives should be the norm, and that all the girls are crazy about a sharp dressed man.  OK, the latter was a ZZ Top song but it fits very neatly with what I am agruing, as anyone who has seen a particular men’s clothing outfitter’s commercials can verify.  Just as a priest, pastor or imam will instruct his or her congregation that certain life and thought patterns and behaviors are the key to happiness and union with the Greater Good, the high priests of consumerism and their lesser acolytes exist to instruct the American consumer that the want of happiness and fulfillment in their lives stems directly from their failure to purchase the right material products in the proper amount.

And that is certainly the dogma of the Church of Consumerism; your life is wanting because you do not possess the latest electronic devices, or highly-processed snack foods, or razor, or whatever.  Highly seductive visual images connect the purchase of these products with the amorous attention of beautiful women and handsome men, or with a group of these almost impossibly perfect people having a wonderful time on a beach or in a bar or on a city street that could be in your own home town.  These priests have pinpointed and magnified our natural feelings of insecurity and inadequacy and tied the correction of these shortcomings to the purchase of the right products, which just happen to be whatever they are selling.  If the priests do their jobs well the consumer will come to identify the act of buying itself with the act of perfecting their lives.  Then, the idols we serve will have a steady stream of worshippers coming to make their sacrificial offerings, and it only will remain for the idols to divide up the pie.

And is there an inquisition?  You can be absolutely certain that there is indeed and inquisition!  Go to a middle or high school and see what the student who is wearing the wrong shoes or clothing can expect from his or her classmates.  Go to the toney Hamptons or to uber hip Portland Oregon, or super cowboy Texas and see how it plays when you don’t live up to expectations.  Or closer to home, go into a living room on Christmas morning and watch the demeanor of the children who did not get the phone, X box, or clothing that would have lifted them out of the relational doldrums in which they find themselves relative to their peers who’s parents clearly love them more.

Christmas is the time when all of these forces which operate all year particularly come together to create a perfect frenzy that would warm the heart of any priest of Cybele.  Conditioned by the priests and their dogma, wives are looking for material proof of the love of their husbands.  Children are looking for their protector to give them the accoutrements that they need to fit into their society, and husbands are looking for a way to navigate this minefield and come out on the other end financially drained but relationally intact.  And all of this is portrayed as fun and something that you can hardly wait to do again next year.

I admit that I have bowed out of this holiday and no longer pay it any mind.  I am comfortable with sharing my life with my family and friends, and I find it vastly more enjoyable to give gifts to people who really need something than it is to give somebody another sweater which will be forgotten by the time the NCAA Championship football game is played.  Finding people who really need gifts is not at all hard to do if one digs a very little.  There are many people in my community who have little, and people in the world who have nearly nothing.  A goat, a few chickens, or a well of clean water means a great deal more to them than a diamond ring would mean to my wife (which is considerably to her credit).  This Christmas, as I have for many Christmases past, I will worship at a church far removed from the Church of the Holy Consumer.

Here Comes Santa Claus

Behold, the holiday season approacheth, and when we say “holiday season” we mean, by and large, Christmas.  Thanksgiving is a big deal to be sure, and grocers and home decor retailers look forward to that day with breath bated and fingers crossed.  Halloween too is a financial bonanza for candy retailers and, a few years down the road, dentists and bariatric surgeons.  But Christmas is the holy grail of the holiday season.  All of the business concerns mentioned above plus a galaxy of other purveyors of toys, clothing, tools, jewelry and every other conceivable commodity up to and including fruitcake lick their chops and compete with each other gladiatorially for their share of the mega billion dollar pie which will be divided up between Thanksgiving night and Christmas Eve.  Even the President’s economic policies will be celebrated or panned according to the holiday fervor that will be expressed at cash registers and internet shopping sites these next two months.  And all of this is to celebrate – – – Christmas?

Many have lamented the commercialization of Christmas before and it is not my intention to harp on that theme now.  Christmas in America is, well, Christmas, Xmas, The Holliday Season, or whatever anyone wants to call it, and I will not presume to lecture anyone about how they should conduct themselves during this time.  My primary sphere of interest as concerns this season is to be found in how I conduct myself at this time, and I now propose to describe the manner of my celebration and the reason why I choose to celebrate in that manner.

To begin with, Christmas is the time when I pay special attention to the fact that Jesus was born.  You know, Jesus.  The Jewish kid born to a homeless couple two thousand years ago who had a short but remarkable career preaching that God loves the little, overlooked folk and pointed out that the authority for His teaching lay in the fact that He was actually God Himself.  Well, part of the Trinity really, but we’ll set that aside for now.  I don’t really know just what day Jesus was born on, and frankly I don’t care.  December 25 is as good a day as any, so it is just fine with me.

The whole concept of gift-giving is an interesting topic all by itself, but again I will limit my comments to why I give and how I chose to do so.  Jesus and His life provide my model.  Somewhere between Christmas day and two years later some really rich guys showed up and gave some very expensive gifts to baby Jesus.  I would bet that Jesus was not like the baby in the commercial that is trading stocks; He no doubt squalled and nursed and pooped in His diapers just like any other kid does.  Jesus’ parents almost certainly converted that gold, frankincense and myrrh into hard currency and used that money to pay the bills and finance their flight to Egypt to avoid the murderous soldiers of the paranoid King Herod.

Later, Jesus was famous for distributing funds to the poor and needy of the province of Judea.  He made a point of the fact that He didn’t have a place of His own to lay His head, but depended on the generosity of others as He passed out the gifts and offerings which came in as a result of His preaching and teaching.  Judas the betrayer even complained that a very expensive vial of perfume that a follower broke over Jesus’ head could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor, although many suspect that Judas had his hand in the till and really didn’t care so much about the poor after all.  Still, Judas’ complaint points out that the usual pattern for Jesus was to eschew luxury and pass on to the needy the things that they needed to survive one more day, and that point brings the whole topic of giving to my own personal doorstep.

My inclination is to celebrate Christmas the way the Three Wise Men did and the way Jesus did Himself.  As regards the Three Kings of Orient, I am as rich as they were in the eyes of poor people living in Africa, Asia, Latin America on reservations in the United States and elsewhere.  One little pot of gold probably didn’t stretch the Wise Man who brought it to Jesus, and a check for one or two or three hundred dollars to brighten the life of a family in Chad or Bolivia wouldn’t really stretch me all that much.  Heck, I spend that much every two weeks for groceries.  More than a new sweater for my wife, a computer game for my granddaughter, or a Made In Washington gift box for my brother, a gift to a family in Africa of rice, millet, some chickens or a goat and a few, and I do mean few, dollars to spend on something just for fun for a change, is a gift that I believe to be worth giving.

At home there are myriad individuals, groups and agencies who are dedicated to making life better for the shadow people living at the margins where I don’t have to see them in my comfortable middle class world.  These individuals, groups and agencies are blessed by every dollar given to them and they, in turn, bless the very people who Jesus came to minster to and hang out with.  Instead of a toy or some other item which will be forgotten by the time that the Super Bowl is played, money given to these recipients will truly fulfill the definition of a gift in my estimation and will be worth the effort of giving.

There will be elements of stress in this holiday season for me.  Many people cannot grasp the point of my gift-giving philosophy, and the label of ‘Scrooge’ will inevitably be invoked.  I do not intend to be the negative manifestation of Scrooge at all.  Rather, I hope to channel the Scrooge who emerged from the ordeal of the three visitations and lived a life of giving generously to those who were truly in need.  Also like Scrooge, I purpose to give to my family, my friends, and my community the gift of myself; my time, my relationship, my friendship, and my genuine interest in their lives.  But then, why should I wait until Christmas to do that?