Once upon a time, we raised our children in the quintessential Midwestern town of Atwood Illinois.
Just as you would imagine, mom and pop businesses lined Main Street, which of course ran through the center of the town. Only the local bars rivaled the number of neighborhood churches. Even the police department closes up shop on Sunday nights. To this day, it’s still a close-knit community. But it’s been fighting a slow death of poverty for years.
Just a few years ago, the one-and-only grocery store within 15 miles closed its doors. Just this year the community said farewell to their high school with its last Homecoming game–a devastating blow to the spirit of a small town.
When an outside company wanted to help, by bringing in their grocery store, renovating some empty buildings and generating some high-paying jobs the town leadership rejected it flatly. The fat, white good old boys started a letter writing campaign. They whined that this store carried too many ethnic foods–it would not serve a primarily white population. The predominately lower middle-class neighborhoods might see a more diverse, or affluent people move into town. Most of all, it would increase the desirability of the neighborhood, and who wants that?
Apparently these racists would rather buy their milk at the gas station.
Actually, that’s a lie.
That would never happen in Atwood. The town is in trouble. But there is no hope on the horizon, no offer of something as wonderful as a Trader Joe’s offering to be their new neighborhood grocer.
That honor went to a community in Portland. Unfortunately for them, my fairy-tale is their reality. Only the colors have been changed.
According to the AP it all started here:
“The Portland Development Commission had offered a steep discount to the [Trader Joe's] grocer on a parcel of nearly two acres that was appraised at up to $2.9 million: a purchase price of slightly more than $500,000. The lot is at Northeast Alberta Street and Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and has been vacant for years.”
The Portland African American Leadership Forum ran them off saying it would “perpetuate income inequality” and ”increase the desirability of the neighborhood.” Exactly.
How is this a bad thing?
Of course Trader Joe’s had the good sense to not go where they’re not welcome. So the California-based company took their discount health foods and products along with their $10-20/hr clerk jobs elsewhere. Did I mention that their supervisors make $45k-75k and reportedly the store managers bring in six-figures?
The Portland African American Leadership Forum would much rather see empty decaying buildings in their neighborhood than give up their victim card.
In the meantime, farming communities are fading away, left alone to suffer the same fate as coal-mining towns.
In spite of the fact that the new WWII flick The Monuments Men is peppered with Hollywood royalty like George Clooney, Bill Murray and Matt Damon, its idealism and patriotic tone has induced mental vomiting among the cultural elite.
Case in point is Philip Kennicott’s scathing criticism of the film in the Washington Post titled “George Clooney saves Puppies from Nazis.“ Ironically, Kennicott misses the point of the movie and then uses the same point to argue his case against it.
In yet another twist of fate, our new series exploring the works of Ernest Becker beginning with The Birth and Death of Meaning sheds a different light on the movie, Kennicott, the Allied Forces and Hitler.
Let’s start with Kennicott, who writes:
“If you care about art, you are obliged to loathe the film “The Monuments Men,” a star-studded history drama that purports to tell the story of American efforts to rescue and repatriate art stolen by the Nazis in World War II…“Monuments Men” is so bad I will save you the trouble and expense of seeing it with the following summary. To make the film a bit more coherent, I’ve substituted the word “puppies” for art.
Over in Europe, the Second World War is raging, and Clooney is very worried about the puppies. He takes this concern directly to Franklin Delano Roosevelt… He explains to the President of the United States the basics of the allied invasion of Germany. He uses a big map with arrows on it, with the Russians coming in from the east, and the allies moving in from France and Italy. Caught in the middle of these armies are a whole lot of puppies. Clooney says he doesn’t want to live in a world without puppies.
Roosevelt tells Clooney to go save the puppies and there ensue several derivative scenes in which Clooney rounds up a rag-tag gang of misfit puppy lovers who all agree to help him return the puppies to their rightful owners.”
His opening with, “If you love art you are obligated to loathe the film” should give you your first whiff of a fermented ideology. The basis of his argument begins by informing us of our obligation to accept his emotions and condescension as the standard of righteousness, and our allegiance to art. Then Kennicott proceeds to obscure the gravity of the facts by replacing it with warm fuzzies–then ridiculing the absurdity.
Like a fresh gulp of air in a stale room of smoke and mirrors, this film is based on American history not yet rewritten–even in Hollywood.
And that alone makes it worth a closer look.
Have you ever gazed into the eyes of a newborn? Could you feel the pull of your soul into hers?
Hold your answer. We’ll get back to that.
At the sincere behest of a respected reader, I’ve begun a new series; the exploration into the works of Ernest Becker. Our introduction to Becker begins with Birth and Death of Meaning: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Problem of Man.
At first blush his point seems overly simplistic.
“[D]ualism of experience–the fact that all objects have both an inside and an outside…It is one of the great mysteries of the universe, that has intrigued man since remotest times. It is the basis of the belief in souls and spirits. Man discovered it and elaborated it because of his own self-reflexivity, the real and apparent contradiction between the inside of his body–his thoughts and feelings, and the outside…These are hardly new or startling thoughts, but they help us to introduce the problem of man’s distinctive interiority…”
Becker goes on to explain that this reality “presents a poignant problem that dogs us all our life.” I would suggest that not only does it “dog us” it also imprisons or sets us free. How we view the “inside” of man, is directly related not only to our own value and happiness but our right to pursue that happiness.
I met Norman Rockwell in Nashville last week.
Throughout my life, I’ve brushed by his artwork and admired it just like countless other Americans. However, his delightful mixture of realism and caricature are nothing short of captivating on their original massive canvases. I don’t think I could have appreciated him more as a person or as an artist if he were alive and standing in the midst of that exhibit. His lifetime of artwork left behind footprints pooled with deep, reflective waters.
Our trip to the Norman Rockwell Exhibit at the Frist Center started out to be this week’s “Artist Date” as prescribed weekly by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. It turned out to be more than just looking at the work of a master illustrator; it caused me to consider what it means to love your work, and what impact our creativity has on the world around us.
The dragon ate my week. It’s gone, along with my left sock. There’s not a trace of artwork and very little actual writing to be found; nothing was left behind but a few crumbs of productivity scattered around my office.
In the very first chapter of The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron details two indispensable tools for creative recovery: morning pages and the artist date. I am happy to report that together with my daughter, Emily, we have managed to integrate both practices into our daily lives over the last couple weeks. That’s how I discovered the dragon.
Every morning I’ve gotten up, poured my coffee and sat down with pen and paper to produce the assigned three pages of “stream of consciousness writing.” The theory is that by doing so, you drain off the daily debris of life, thereby clearing the pipeline into the deep resources of your creativity, even spirituality. (There’s also the added benefit of improving your penmanship.)
My morning pages have been nothing short of life changing. From them have emerged the critical missing element in a book I’ve been developing for years. With several major projects nipping at my heals, I’ve been productively immobilized–the literary version of a deer-caught-in-the-headlights. Over a three-day spread of pages, the answer and clear direction surfaced.
Most shocking however, was the unexpected creature that also came crawling out into the light and found its way onto my pages –the aforementioned dragon living in my house. Skeptical? Evil is real.
This dragon follows me. The creature obscures my vision, eats my time and steals my productivity. In the War of Art Steven Pressfield calls him “Resistance.”
“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”
Although I can’t kill him, as he is reborn with every sunrise, I did learn how to render him toothless.
Once upon a time Disney captured my heart. As an artistic little girl, Disney stirred my creative spirit. Sadly, Disney didn’t do that for my children. Then along came Pixar, and picked up the torch–now it’s time to give it back.
Disney has reclaimed my heart with their newest animation Frozen. It’s well on its way into the hearts of an entire generation.
Simply put, Frozen got it right.
Not because it’s nominated for 2 Oscars. In fact, its already scored 18 wins with a running total of 32 nominations. Honestly, that’s nice and I’m thrilled for the creatives behind it. They deserve the recognition. But for us parents, that really doesn’t matter in the least.
Frozen won a place in my family’s Hall of Fame because it does what fairy tales are supposed to do. It reveals real life truths to children through the safety and beauty of a well-crafted story. In Frozen, Disney goes one better by telling it in brilliant animation laced with innocent humor and perfect timing.
Here’s what Rotten Tomatoes will tell you about the film:
Featuring the voices of Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel, “Frozen” is the coolest comedy-adventure ever to hit the big screen. When a prophecy traps a kingdom in eternal winter, Anna, a fearless optimist, teams up with extreme mountain man Kristoff and his sidekick reindeer Sven on an epic journey to find Anna’s sister Elsa, the Snow Queen, and put an end to her icy spell. Encountering mystical trolls, a funny snowman named Olaf, Everest-like extremes and magic at every turn, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom from destruction. (c) Disney
Personally, had I read that summary, I most likely wouldn’t have given the film a chance. That description is not the story I saw. While that might be the official summary it looks like it was crafted by someone that only watched movie trailers.
Here’s what I saw.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Now, adults are hoping for answers like, ‘I want to be an astronaut or I want to be a neurosurgeon’… Kids, they’re most likely to answer with, ‘pro-skate boarder, surfer, Mindcraft player’…us kids are going to answer what we are stoked on, what we think is cool…that’s typically not what adults want to hear.
…When I grow up, I want to be happy.
Young Logan stands out for several obvious reasons. Not only because of his outstanding performance on stage giving a TEDx Talk, a feat that would make most adults’ stomach turn, and not because he dispels the myth that homeschoolers are social misfits. It’s more than that; Logan cracked open the door and allowed the world to peek into home education at its finest.
Educators and parents, many perhaps for the first time, got a glimpse of what an adolescent boy looks like when he’s thriving in an environment that nurtures and values his unique potential.
The type of schooling that Logan is experiencing is actually second-generation “Delight-Directed” learning.
Gregg Harris introduced this philosophy of education to the homeschooling community in the 1980s, around the time I brought our oldest children home. The Delight-Directed theory rests on the idea that children learn best when academics center on their interests and talents.
The thrust of a child’s education is around real world situations in which they have an interest. In our family that meant my eldest daughter spent the bulk of her junior year in high school shadowing a veterinarian in her clinic, which equipped her to land a job in the Necropsy Lab at the University of Illinois, where she spent the majority of her senior year. For my son, it meant working on home construction sites from the age of 12, which equipped him to launch his own crew and become an employer just barely into his twenties.
Most doors were closed to homeschoolers then, and dial-up Internet was the height of technology. We just scratched the surface of what this young man called, “hack schooling.” In essence it’s really Delight-Directed 3.0.
Today there is a universe of knowledge to draw from, right at their fingertips. Creativity and innovation coupled with the ability to work without a foreman looking over their shoulder, will be the most valuable skill sets to master for this generation. I’ll wager the market will demand it, but few will be able to supply it.
Logan has a great shot at achieving his goal of health, happiness and the career of his choice. Although his message needs to be heard he’s talking to the wrong audience. A government-controlled educational system is incompatible and incapable of producing the kind of education that will put students on the same path. It’s fatally flawed at one critical point: its view of humanity.
“Artist” is one of those words that can mean one thing by the speaker and then transform mid-air into something completely different for the person hearing it. For example, in my corner of the world, around Nashville, when one speaks of being an “artist” they seldom mean it in the traditional sense of drawing, painting or sculpting. It’s usually a safe bet to assume they are talking about a recording artist.
In the book The Artist’s Way the author Julia Cameron is referring to all art forms but her specialty is the blocked writer. The heart and soul of writing, as it is in the creation of all artwork and music, is creativity. The point of conception of a brainchild is deep within the human spirit.
If we are made in the image of God, the creator of the universe, then creativity is part of our DNA–our spiritual DNA.
“For most of us, the idea that the creator encourages creativity is a radical thought. We tend to think, or at least fear, that creative dreams are egotistical, something that God wouldn’t approve of for us. After all, our creative artist is an inner youngster and prone to childish thinking. If our mom or dad expressed doubt or disapproval for our creative dreams, we may project that same attitude onto a parental god. This thinking must be undone.
What we are talking about is an induced–or invited– spiritual experience… We undertake certain spiritual exercises to achieve alignment with the creative energy of the universe.”
We are all gifted with it. The problem is that many of us became creatively paralyzed at some point in our formative years by harsh criticism or discouragement. Then again, many of us simply succumb to the demands of adult life, and our creative spirit becomes crippled under its weight, its voice becomes too weak for us to hear.
The author offers two essential tools to begin your “creative recovery.” This week my daughter Emily and I began using both; they have become a vital part of our lives.
Every parent has heard it — that dreadful lament of “I’m bored!”
Although it’s usually accompanied by dramatizations of actual pain, few parents have patience for it. Even fewer view it as something to be concerned about. That could be a deadly mistake.
I certainly didn’t view it as more than an annoyance. My children learned very quickly and early on that to complain of boredom was a bad idea. At least expressing it to me, that is. The first time those words would come out of a child’s mouth, I simply replied, “Oh that’s great. I have plenty of work for you to do. If you don’t know how to fill your time wisely, I will happily fill it for you.”
You would be amazed at how fast a child can figure out something else to do besides extra chores. One full dose of work instantly cures childhood boredom.
What about children who are never taught what to do with boredom? What do they grow into?
This week’s reading of Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning brought to light what could be the answer to a problem not yet conceived of at the time of its writing. Frankl explains,
The existential vacuum is a widespread phenomenon of the twentieth century…man has suffered another loss in his more recent development inasmuch as the traditions which buttressed his behavior are now rapidly diminishing. No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do. Instead, he either wishes to do what other people wish him to do (conformism) or he does what other people wish him to do (totalitarianism). ….
The existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom.
In most cases, when children announce their boredom, parents give them placebos rather than cures. They think it is not really a problem at all. By dismissing the issue as unimportant, the parent takes the path of least resistance and too often offers entertainment as a cure. (This is evidenced by the large sums of money willingly paid for gaming systems.)
However, if Frankl is correct, and it is a real issue, then we are in essence training our children to seek amusement rather than meaning. This could have deadly consequences.
Growing up in California just minutes away from Disneyland left an indelible mark on my life.
Each week Walt Disney himself sat in our living room, on primetime television, introducing us to The Wonderful World of Disney. He always captivated me. Then of course there was the Mickey Mouse Club, to which, in my imagination–I belonged. To this day what strikes me so deeply, is not the Disney empire itself, but the creativity that oozes out of every crevasse and permeates the air. It made me long to be a creator.
Although I was born with a pencil in my hand, it was Disney that made me want to be an artist–their artist.
That’s it. That is all I ever wanted to be while growing up. I had little use for anything that did not further that ambition (such as math or spelling). My parents fed that monster by using me for party entertainment. They would have me sit and draw a characterization of their guests, just like the street artists in Disneyland.
Becoming a Disney cartoonist faded long ago with my childhood.
Then once again in the early eighties I found my creativity. Photorealism portraits in graphite and charcoal rekindled my desire to create. Who needs Disney now? I had beautiful children to draw.
My first (and last) art show was in 1983. That date is etched in my memory because of two significant events that came to light during that show.
First, there was the brief encounter with a woman that set the bar for what I wanted my art to achieve. This unnamed woman, meticulously groomed and tailored, with a briefcase in one hand and a clipboard in the other, whisked by me and my display. Her stride was long and as swift as her spike heals would allow. It took her about two extra steps past me before she could come to a complete stop. Then she pivoted, took those two steps back and stopped. For just one moment she gazed at one of my drawings. Her face softened as a quiet “Awe” slipped out. Then off again she went.
It didn’t matter that she didn’t buy my work. What she gave me for it was priceless; the highest compliment I could receive as an artist–it stopped her in her tracks. The demands of the day bowed for just a few seconds to enjoy a moment–it touched her.
From that day forward, I wanted to give all of my art that same “Awe” quality.
The second thing that came out of that art show ended my art career, and set a new course for my life.
When my kids were young, I developed a game. I called it the “three-to-five-year game.”
It’s simple. Just imagine your child as three years older. Then do it again as five years older. Each time I would play this little game with myself, I would see the stage of life my child was in at the time in a totally different light. The toddler would transform in my mind to a second grader; the boy asking for a new bike would turn into the young man with his hand out waiting for the car keys. Even the sassy teenager would bring flashes of a young adult packing her room to leave home.
Then I would ask myself, “What do I want to instill in them, or do with them, before that happens?” It’s amazing what just a little perspective can do.
Tragedy also has that effect on us.
When given a terminal diagnosis, in essence you are given information that most of us don’t have. A more exact accounting for the number of days you have left. You are forced to play the three-to-five-year game, but someone else set the parameters, and you’re now playing for keeps.
Viktor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, recounts the story of two women. To the first, he asked her age. To which she answered, “Thirty.” “No, you are not thirty but instead eighty and lying on your deathbed. And now you are looking back on your life, a life which was childless but full of financial success and social prestige.” He then invited her to imagine what it would feel like in that situation.
We began this series, some months back, following Shmuley Boteach’s Kosher Jesus. You might remember the first installment Restoring Our Judeo-Christian Culture where, in earnest, I was inspired by the author’s introduction to his work with these words:
“Christianity, too has much to gain from a rediscovery of the authentic Jewishness of Jesus. American culture is less in accordance with Christian theology than many would think. Bringing a bit more Jewish influence to bear would make a great deal of sense for American Christians.
By discovering the Jewish Jesus and the Jewish understanding behind the bedrock premises of Christianity, Christians’ understanding of their own faith will be enriched and riddles will be resolved. Modern American and Judeo-Christian values will be strengthened to the benefit of both Jewish and Christian communities and our society as a whole.”
It’s hard not read the headlines and not shake my head in disbelief, if not disgust, at how far we have fallen as a society. Who doesn’t want both communities strengthened along with society as a whole? However, Boteach misses the mark–at least within the Christian community. His attempt at unity between the faiths rested in presenting Jesus as a fully Jewish man–fully Jewish but fully man.
However, there is a common thread running throughout both Kosher Jesus and Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel. That is the misinterpretations of Jewish culture that has led to much of the antisemitism and Jewish suffering throughout history done in the name of Christianity.
Although Boteach’s intention is to bring the two faiths to a better understanding, one thing I learned from him was that there is a deep, deep wound inflicted on the Jewish people over centuries of Christianity that for many, has yet to heal.
As we finish the last of this series with David H. Stern, Ph.D’s book, Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel: A Message For Christians, I noticed that Stern uses many of the same scripture passages that Boteach does. Although he takes it one step further. Rather than blaming unnamed antisemitic editors that have purposely (for political reasons) turned Christ and the New Testament against the Jewish people, he explains the subtle yet profound misinterpretations.
One other noticeable point, while Boteach (and myself) were focused on restoring values to the culture, Stern is focused on returning the Christian to answering the call of the Great Commission.
As we pray for our nation we often quote, 2 Chronicles 7:14:
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” New International Version.
“My people” that are called “by my name” is that Jewish, Christian or both? Whose land?
The answers shouldn’t surprise you.
Sometimes Christmas just doesn’t turn out looking like we think it should.
In spite of thirteen weeks of planning, and even getting my Christmas cards out for the first time in about ten years, this Christmas was hard.
It wasn’t because of money; God provided plenty of work. It wasn’t because of unfulfilled Christmas wishes; I didn’t have any. In fact, in many ways it was a very sweet Christmas, filled with some of the most inexpensive, yet profoundly thoughtful, gifts I’ve ever received.
However, that’s seeing it in retrospect. After spending the bulk of Christmas Eve on the verge of tears, I finally realized what was really wrong.
Everything has changed — everything.
The Christmas stockings hanging on the mantle that I love so dearly remained empty. The little girls whose Christmas dresses they were made of were not here. All but two out of the six were miles away, busy creating Christmas for their own families. My little boys are both men now. There were no Brio Mec building sets under the tree for them, no wooden trains or slingshots.
Although we were blessed with a house full of friends and some family on Christmas Eve, and woke to the grins of six grandchildren and one thoroughly excited teenager, the house still felt empty. There were just too many faces missing. I wasn’t the only one that felt it.
I know. Children grow up.
This year, I made a decision. I’m changing everything. If I can’t have it the way it was, then fine. I’ll create a new normal.
“Are you a believer?”
If you asked me that question, my immediate response would be a resounding “yes.” I’ve been a “believer” since age 16. Although, I would have automatically assumed you were talking about believing in Christ.
But when a teacher recently asked her class of six year olds about their beliefs, she was definitely not talking about Christianity. It all started while reading a Christmas book aloud ; she posed the question of “believing” to the class.
Unfortunately, six-year-old Joy answered honestly: ”No.”
She explained that in her family they celebrate Jesus — Santa’s not real. The teacher immediately summoned the first grader for a private conference at her desk (in front of the entire class). There Joy was reprimanded and told it didn’t matter what was taught at home; there they believed in Santa.
Later that day Joy went home and told her mother, “I felt like I was going to cry. But it’s OK, I kept my smile on.”
An email soon went out to parents, presumably of both “believers and non-believers.”
Set aside any feelings of offense at this video for just a moment.
Now imagine with me. Instead of gay men in their underwear, we have the Marlboro Man out on the open prairie. With the Star of Bethlehem twinkling in the night sky, the Marlboro Man passes out cartons of cigarettes to his young cattle hands. In the background we hear a gruff old voice singing, ”Before the doctor brings a lump of coal, get enrolled, get enrolled, get enrolled…”
Then again we could have a chorus line of Biggest Loser contestants all stuffing triple-stacker hamburgers in their faces, dripping catsup down their ugly Christmas sweaters. Everyone juggling and gulping to the chorus of doctors singing, “Pre-existing conditions won’t stop ‘em…whether silver, bronze or gold… get enrolled, get enrolled, get enrolled…”
Or would you prefer prancing women, scantily clad, seducing men while their pimps holds up the mistletoe?
Out2Enroll is stereotyping gay men, stripping them down to nothing more than their sexuality in this video. A promiscuous gay lifestyle can be deadly. Most of us don’t encourage unhealthy behavior in the people we love, whether it’s risky sexual behavior or smoking. Who gives their favorite diabetic aunt a pound of chocolate and coupon for insulin for Christmas?
Then again, that’s exactly what cultural Marxism does; it destroys the very people it claims to help.
Month after month we sat in the doctor’s office, hoping he would give us our life back.
After suffering a pulmonary embolism his doctor could not in good conscience allow my husband to return to work as a police officer. She believed it too dangerous to be on blood thinners in law enforcement, citing the need to avoid blunt trauma at all cost. In her opinion, a profession that required a bulletproof vest as part of the daily uniform was no longer in his best interest.
Regardless, law enforcement was all he knew. After almost two years of recovery, the days seemed to run together and Mike began to spend more and more time in bed.
Concerned his condition had started to return, I mentioned my observation at the next office visit. With a sincere concern, the doctor asked if Mike needed a prescription. Noticing our puzzled expressions, she clarified, and offered an antidepressant.
We both desperately wanted her to write something on that little pad of hers that would make all of our troubles go away. All she had to write was, “Released to return to duty.” He would have been overjoyed.
Returning to the work in which he found meaning and provided for his own family–that is what he desperately needed. That is what the entire family needed.
Would a pill make the situation acceptable?
Does it seem odd to you that the hottest debate within the early Church was whether or not a Gentile could become a Christian without a complete conversion to Judaism?
This week’s reading of David H. Stern’s Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel A Message for Christians has brought to mind the obvious, yet seldom acknowledged as important: Christianity is Jewish at its very core.
Stern reminds us that the atonement of sin, the need for a sacrifice to God, is rooted in the Jewish sacrificial system. He goes on to point out how other aspects we typically consider uniquely Christian are rooted in Judaism. For example, the Lord’s Supper is rooted in the Jewish Passover.
Did you know that baptism is a Jewish practice? When it comes down to it the entire New Testament is built on the Hebrew Bible’s prophecies and promises of a New Covenant.
None of this may be new or shocking revelations to most Christians. We understand on a cursory level that these are our roots in general but we have little interest in understanding the culture and heritage of the one we call our Savior.
It has cost us.
My daughter hung our Christmas stockings on the mantle this week.
Sitting in the living room, watching the fire and enjoying its beauty made me rethink Christmas.
What is Christmas really about?
I know the right answer. The right answer is that it is about Luke 2:11, the birth of Christ.
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
And yet, most will agree that December 25th is not the day of Jesus’ actual birth. When you take into consideration that it holds many pagan traditions, it draws lawsuits like bees to honey, and was almost trampled to death on Black Friday — it leaves precious little to embrace.
In spite of it all, it is a holiday that still holds deep meaning.
Years ago a Jewish girlfriend told me that they celebrated Christmas. Although they were capable of buying their children the best of everything this family had a strong work ethic and taught their children to work and save for what they wanted. “Christmas,” she confided “is the one day of the year I can spoil them. I can buy them the things I want to give them.” For their family, it had absolutely nothing to do with Christianity. However, they embraced the holiday to celebrate one another.
Before you head to the comments to accuse them of only using Christmas to indulge materialism, that’s not it at all. Face it, good parents want to give good gifts to their children. It’s just built into us. However, good parents don’t routinely indulge their own need to give. They understand the harm overindulgence brings. Christmas allows us to celebrate those we love through gifts both material and giving of ourselves.
When my daughters were little, and money was tight, I would buy them each a “Christmas dress.” They were usually collected throughout the year at garage sales. We would spend hours the night before putting their hair in curls. Then on Christmas Eve dress up in their pretty new dresses. Later that night they could unwrap “one” gift. The rule being, Mom picked which gift they could open. It was always a new pair of pajamas.
Truth is that both the Christmas dresses and new pajamas was all a set up. I was staging them for pictures then and in the morning. Don’t get me wrong, they loved getting all dressed up, and looked forward to the new PJs. But, for me it was all about creating and capturing the memories of their childhood.
It wasn’t long until they outgrew velvet and bows. So one day I tore all their Christmas dresses into shreds.
It was my daughter who first noticed it.
“You have a moral reason behind everything you do, Mom,” she said flatly.
To this day, I’m not sure if that was an accusation or a compliment. Considering she was in her early 20s at the time, it could have gone either way.
Until she made that statement, however, I never really thought of it like that. But she was right.
What she was referring to was not my piety or any virtue at all. It was the fact that I’m always on the hunt for “teachable” moments for my children. I’m the mom that turned a Disney vacation into a 10-day homeschool field trip.
It’s a good parent’s natural instinct to shield her child from harsh, cruel, and immoral influences. But it’s a wise parent that can discern the maturity level of a child and then expose these elements from the safety of observation.
Living in a culture steeped in evil and deception gives us plenty of opportunities to provoke conversations with our teenagers. Teaching kids to navigate popular culture by using it is an extremely powerful and influential tool for explaining destructive ideologies.
If you have impressionable teens, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a great place to start. Before we get into some examples, let’s clear something up first.
Catching Fire is not for young children. Nor is it another Twilight with an audience full of fantasizing adolescents.
There is an element of violence. While not particularly graphic by today’s standards, the reason for the cruelty is beyond the comprehension of the under-10 crowd. My advice here is to wait until the movie comes to DVD, watch it first, and then decide if your child can handle the issues presented.
If a child is old enough to read the books, it’s always best to start there.
Understanding the reason behind the violence takes the movie to another level. Which is exactly what makes this movie an excellent place to start.
In spite of getting a 13-week jump-start on Christmas with this series, my shopping just began this week. Not because of procrastination in the usual sense, there’s just not enough Christmas spirit in me to shop before Thanksgiving no matter how hard I try.
So far, I’ve done all my best shopping online–on Black Friday. (FYI- There is no such thing as Cyber Monday sales. Stick to Black Friday online if you really want to save money.)
But I digress.
This week, I’m spending the bulk of my shopping time making my Christmas list. For a lot of parents and grandparents, this is where things go terribly wrong.
Before we get into that, did you take a minute to watch the above video? If not, go ahead–take a look.
What’s wrong with this picture?
In Kosher Jesus, author Shmuley Boteach writes to both Jews and Christians alike. However, as I mentioned before in What Has Christianity Lost?, his complete dismissal of the New Testament (while understandable) leaves his argument for unity of the faiths a bit one-sided and more than a little disheartening. At least, it does on the Christian side of the family tree.
In our new series Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel: A Message For Christians, the author David H. Stern, Ph.D is Jewish. He is also a follower of Christ or a Messianic Jew. If your first thought to that statement is, “Doesn’t that make him a Christian?” you might find his book a worthwhile read as we explore this, and many other aspects of our Judeo-Christian heritage.
It’s important to emphasize Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel: A Message For Christians is intended, as the name implies, primarily for non-Jewish Christians and for Jewish believers in Yeshua (Jesus). The author begins with three presuppositions:
- Christianity is Jewish
- Antisemitism is un-Christian
- Refusing or neglecting to evangelize Jews is antisemitic
The author further assumes,”Yeshua is indeed Israel’s Messiah, and that the New Testament and the Tanakh (Old Testament) constitute God’s word to humanity.”
“Yeshua’s “Great Commission” to the Church was to make disciples from every nation. But as soon as the early Messianic Jews began reaching out to Gentiles, it was necessary to separate the Gospel from its cultural context, so that its essential message would not be encumbered with cultural baggage unnecessary for salvation.
Learning that the New Covenant did not require Gentiles to become Jews in order to be saved was a traumatic process for the Jewish believers in Yeshua.”
Paul spent much of his ministry bringing Gentile believers into the faith, without compelling them to adopt Jewish culture. Doesn’t it seem odd, or just plain wrong, that now that we Gentile believers/Christians are the majority within the church, that we have insisted that Jewish believers do the very same that Paul preached against–adopting Christian culture and leaving Judaism as a condition of salvation?
No wonder, it doesn’t look like God’s plan to either side.
So what is?
That all of Israel be saved.
My fingernails still carry splashes of color.
The nail polish, once so meticulously applied by six-year-old Pearl, is now worn and chipped. I hope the memory stays as vivid as this awful color. Note to self: Before agreeing to a free manicure always have plenty of nail polish remover on hand.
When I finally do get around to scrubbing the polish off, it will be the last physical reminders of our dress-up tea party and our short time together.
Pearl requested, immediately upon arrival, that we have a tea party. Although she was only three at the time, apparently we had one the last time she came for a visit, which she remembers astonishingly well. So we spent a few hours painting nails, rolling hair and trying on gowns and dresses.
Yes gowns– little girl tea parties are a formal affair, in case you didn’t know.
Without realizing it I created a tradition. Apparently, in my granddaughter’s mind, going to my house is synonymous with going to a tea party. Traditions can crop up without realizing it when you’re dealing with children. The kid that can’t remember to brush his teeth every night will remember that hot chocolate you made three years ago. Moms may hate that, but that really works in grandparents’ favor.
This week I was reminded of a tradition that I started when my children were young, then, somewhere along the way I lost it. It was really just as much for me, as it was for the children.
Every year (at least for several years) I would hunt down the best Children’s Christmas book I could find. It had to have a great story, and even better artwork. Not your usual Santa stuff. I always found something that I enjoyed reading as much as the kids loved listening to. The idea was to collect these treasures over the years. Then, when my children are grown I would have a wonderful collection of Christmas stories to pull out each year and share with the grandchildren.
Somewhere along the line, I dropped the ball. All but a few books are left. So this year, I’m starting over.
So, I thought I would share a few of my old favorites.
Remember my oldest son, the one that nailed his Christmas tree to the floor? A few years ago I received a victorious phone call from him the day after Thanksgiving.
He was so proud of himself, he had to call the entire family to brag. He just won the Superbowl. The Superbowl of Christmas shopping, that is — Black Friday.
Mom! I conquered Christmas. We are off to eat breakfast. All of our shopping is done and we saved a ton of money. I’m telling you, I got this Christmas thing down.
That phone call inspired a new tradition that his sisters have perfected over the years.
Here’s how it’s done Robinson style.
Traces of pain were embedded in his voice.
I instantly recognized the man as one of my long-time favorite recording artists, Steven Curtis Chapman. The woman sitting next to him was obviously his wife. Although I’d never seen her before, I knew the look on her face as well as my own. It was the blank stare of a grieving mother.
Then I heard her say to Robin Roberts on Good Morning America,
“I’ve said, you know, somewhat coldly, ‘I don’t care whose lives are touched by this story and whose lives are changed or what good comes of it.’ As the heart of a mom, I want Maria back.”
“And that’s — you know, that’s what I want people to know is I want Maria back.”
There’s just not enough good that can be done, to ease the pain of losing a child.
The Chapmans’ five-year-old daughter had died just a few months before that interview in 2008– the pain was still visibly raw. Little Maria died after being hit by a car in her own driveway. It was a tragic accident to say the least.
People often try to comfort grieving parents by trying to show them some good. Their attempts usually compound the pain rather than relieve it.
In the Chapmans’ case the “lives touched,” by their daughter’s death, are real not just a Hallmark sentiment. The Chapmans expanded their charity to add Maria’s Big House of Hope for special needs orphans. They have carved an immense amount of good out of their sorrow.
However, there are people who commit crimes of destruction and violence in the name of injustice on a daily basis. We’ve all seen them captured on film. What about rioting in the streets over issues as trivial as a lost sporting event? There seems to be an air of justification in too many of those instances.
If circumstances such as these can be justified in the least, what of the liberated prisoners of Auschwitz?
“We have to consider that a man who has been under such enormous mental pressure for such a long time is naturally in some danger after his liberation, especially since the pressure was released quite suddenly…the psychological counterpart of the bends.”
They now had a choice on how they would use their new freedom.