Sunday, November 27, 2011

War on Christmas

As the snows of winter come we can be certain of a few things, driving to and from work in the dark, sudden cold wet days when we expected clear and cool and of course the Fox News hype about the War on Christmas. For the last several years we hear about how secular progressives are battling Christmas in an attempt to destroy it. I have come to expect this at this time of year as much as Rudolph and A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Of course the only war I see Christmas in is one where Christmas fired the first shot. The war is with other seasonal holidays. It used to be that the Christmas season started after Thanksgiving but in the weeks leading up to a holiday where we are suppose to be thankful for all we have, we are bombarded with visions of things we must go out and buy. I mean I understand it makes sense that a holiday weekend a month before a major gift giving holiday could be the kick off of the shopping season, but lately the so called Black Friday has pretty much taken over the entire month of Thanksgiving and with shopping starting as early as 10pm on Thanksgiving night the family meal for the holiday has become an elaborate carb load for the hours of shopping to come. One seriously has to ask if the savings can truly replace the time spent with family and friends enjoying a little bit of down time to take stock of all we have and all mean to each other.

But this year Christmas went on a larger offensive, having conquered Thanksgiving in the past, Christmas has decided to take on Halloween. This year in October stores seemed to have more red and green than black and orange. At one point it seemed easier to find a candy cane than a pumpkin.

But when we dissect the war on Christmas what we find is a group of people who seem to want to control the language and application of this holiday in the larger society. It seems to stem from retail stores and public schools acknowledging that not everyone who is in their buildings in December celebrates Christmas. In fact other traditions have holidays and many simply want to enjoy the fact that they too can take advantage of retailer’s attempts to enhance the consumer aspects of this holiday. It appears however that phrases like Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays are considered fighting words to some. It appears that trying to appeal to a diverse population that has been part of our culture for its entire existence is somehow seen as an attack on our culture. This has always baffled me but it appears those who see Happy Holidays as not an embracing of diversity but an attempt to stop American culture to remain as it was when they were kids. A time when we didn’t acknowledge those that might not follow the majority cultural practice and they were left out of many things Christians enjoyed. What these people seem to me worried about is losing not their religion or their culture but not having an exclusive hold on what it means to be an American. It is what leads to anti-immigration stances, English only laws and more recently statements like it should be legal to block Muslims from building mosques and that we should kick them out of the military. There is a real fear among the people who for 200 years seemed to be able to keep many people out of fully experiencing the American dream. Today, as a country people are freer than they ever were and that seems to scare people.

But what the people ginning up the war on Christmas don’t seem to see is freedom for non-Christians to fully express their faith or lack thereof allows them to know their ability to celebrate their own faith will remain intact. As a culture we should embrace this diversity and understand that wrapped in the words Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays are an expression of Christmas but so much more. Our founders understood for their time that we are a nation of diverse religious traditions and our history has been series of attempts both by law and practice to be inclusive of all. We must continue to grow as a nation and our strength comes from expanding the ability for all those who honor our values to participate fully in this wonderful experiment called America. If those who feel Happy Holidays is an assault on a 2000 year old religious holiday and can destroy our culture as some have said then I pity their lack of faith in our system, our people and our country. Perhaps it is they that need to find a way to get their own house in order.

To all have a Happy Holiday season, enjoy whatever you practice and play at, and in the end find a time to enjoy the freedom that makes us all great.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

We are all responsible

Recently I was emailed a video of some of the most developed cities on the African Continent.  The attached language suggested that if the country have the kind of wealth to build up the luxury towers of Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Cairo, Johannesburg, etc then why should we send money to help the starving children there.  It struck me as not only crass but so ignorant.  There are many reasons why the wealth, concentrated in a handful of people, many with ties to the west does not trickle down to the people in the rural villages of countries where HIV has devastated the population, where famine has destroyed the crops that sustained life for centuries and where colonization not only destroyed the tribal life that gave protection to all, but brought decades of racism that destroyed an ability for some to express their own social contracts.  But even if none of this was true and it was simply pure greed, why should we not reach out and help?  It is interesting to me that someone could think we should not be, "taken in", by images of hungry children in Africa as if it is a large scam to steal our money.

The disparity is real and powerful.  It is stunning to me that as we see city after city in our own country struggle with the Occupy movement raising the awareness of similar concentration of wealth here someone could be so unthinking.  As if because the Plaza Hotel exists, we should ignore the poverty that is endemic in places like the Bronx.  But in the video's analogy it seemed like if our country could build Las Vegas, they how could we possible have an Appalachia?  Yet somehow we should ignore the plight of the poor of Africa because of Western investment and towering buildings in a few cities.

There is a line that makes a powerful statement in the Jewish tradition and similar lines of text and commentary permeate many other faith traditions.  We should not stand idly by the blood of our brother.  It means we can't simply look the other way.  It doesn't matter why the person is poor or in trouble it is our duty to help.  Everyone is made in the image of God.  Why should we not try to find an excuse not to help, in fact I think we should look for an excuse to help.  We should be honored with the opportunity to reach across town, country or globe to feed the hungry, clothe the naked or heal the sick.

I was in a wacky play called It Takes a Wizard when I was a kid.  The 70s really was a boom for surreal theatre for children.  In this play an escaped prisoner and Robin Hood appear.  Robin Hood robs the King and gives the money to the prisoner.  The prisoner exclaims upon receive the treasure "I'm rich", so Robin robs her. I was reminded of that scene when I saw this.  The person, apparently angry with the fact that there are real 1st world cities in Africa feels duped by the poverty that is so much more prevalent there because the Cairo Hilton screams to him "I'm rich".  Perhaps we should take a bit of what the Occupy movement is trying to say and think about not where is the poverty but why is the poverty.  But still, when you see a truly hungry person offer food, someone who is sick, provide healing and the most important thing is that given them the skills and resources so they no longer live in that situation and then they can help their neighbors and the guy in the Penthouse becomes less relevant.

There are many ways to do this, regardless of where you are, hit me up if you want more information.  In the meantime, as we move into what it the most giving time of the year remember, you can always make a difference and you don't have to worry so much that someone else isn't.


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