Dear Jesus

Dear Jesus,

Happy Birthday and Happy Holidays to you, Sir!

I know that today is not your actual birthday, but it’s the day chosen by the Roman Emperor Constantine 300 years after you died. I hope you’ve taken that change in the spirit which it was intended, which was to make the date of your birth near the time of the winter solstice and coincide with as many existing Pagan traditions as possible. This fake date has held up quite well, however, as most of the decorations I’ve seen around here are modern versions of those pagan, solstice-related traditions. So thanks for your acceptance of this multicultural mishmash. Also, thanks for being OK with Santa dominating the holiday.

Since it’s kind of hard to tell whether you’ve been paying attention to us down here or not, (I know you’re busy) I’d like to take this opportunity to give you an update on some things that have been happening. If you already know this stuff, then please forgive me my trespasses.

First, I would like you to know that I’ve read the books about you that people tell me were dictated by your dad. But the fact that they weren’t written down until several generations after you lived makes me wonder a bit about their authenticity. Also, since they contain exact quotes from you, and given all the different translations they’ve been through since they were originally written in Greek (which was, at best, your second language), I’m more than a little skeptical about all of the quotes being accurate. But I do my best to try to extract the general messages, or main ideas, from these writings — mostly because so many people I know say they base their whole outlook on life and death (and beyond) from your words.

So here’s the thing. I’m sure you’ve heard about our election in 2016. And of course you’re also aware that a LOT of people who voted for this president invoke your name, as well as the book of your stories I mentioned earlier, as being reasons for their support for him. As I said, I’ve read quite a bit about you, and to be frank, the things this president has done and said over the past couple of years don’t seem to match up very well with the the things you did and said and tried to teach us to do. (Just yesterday, he tried to talk a 7 year old kid out of believing in Santa Claus, for Chrissake!!!)

This president (and his followers) seem to think that you’ve indicated that America is your favorite country. I’m pretty sure that’s not in your book. In fact, I don’t remember reading much about your thoughts on different countries or particular governments at all, other than telling people they should pay their taxes to Caesar. But this president seems to think that Americans are better than everybody else, and that you have his back on this. He also doesn’t seem to have a lot of compassion for poor people. What the H – E – double – hockey – sticks was your “good Samaritan” story all about, anyway? Have you heard about how this guy feels about poor people from other countries?

There are a lot things he does and says that make it hard for me to believe he’s trying to live his life in a way that you would approve of. But some preachers on TV are even saying that this president has your endorsement and that you and your dad put him in office to represent you!  WTF!?!?

Even though the “bearing false witness” (i.e. lying) commandment is from the older books that weren’t about you — (and which I’m often told to ignore parts of, like directives for us to kill gay people and people who eat shrimp or cheeseburgers or screw around on their spouses and stuff like that . . . . . but I digress.) — it does seem to me that you might think that lying, as a way of life, is probably not the ideal path.

There are many more examples of the appearance of a lack of connection between the president’s words and actions and your words and actions. Sometimes I think he’s never even read your books. (“So, two Corinthians walk into a bar . . . . .”) But I digress again. Forgive me my digressions, too, please.

By the way, a couple of things I haven’t mentioned is that he’s also a mean man and very self-centered and wealth-centered. I’m not going to be the judge on those, but he seems more naughty than nice, if you know what I’m sayin’.

I’m sure I’ve bored you enough by now, and you probably have a lot of people hoping to talk to you at your birthday party up there. Give Tammy Faye a hug and Pat Robertson a knuckle tap for me. (Oh wait, he hasn’t flown up quite yet, right?) So I’ll wind up my birthday card now. But I’m just not understanding it, Jesus. I can see how one person might be kind of screwed up in the head and think that he’s the smartest person in the world and knows what’s best for everybody and only wants people around him who worship him. (Just to be clear, I’m talking about the President, not you.) But what I can’t figure out is why the people who are the strongest followers and supporters of you, are also the strongest supporters of this other guy. They have the same information about you as I do. I’m not aware of a different book about you than the one I’ve read.

But I just . . . don’t . . . get it.

So my question for you is this (and I’d like an honest answer, please):

Is this stuff that’s going on right now REALLY what you were trying to teach us do?

Happy Holidays and have a fun birthday! Hope to talk with you again on Easter, if not sooner. Stay in touch!



(Oh, and P.S. At the risk of sounding like a tattle-tale, I hope you know he doesn’t give a shit about the environment. OK thanks. Bye.)

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An ice Christmas is a nice Christmas

A while back, when we all used to all try to get together for Christmas, one person announced that his family wouldn’t be attending any more because they were “starting their own tradition”. At the time, I thought “what a jerk — you can’t even drive a couple of miles and spend an hour or two with the rest of us?” I actually pretty much still think that, but his statement did get me thinking. You can start a tradition? Very cool. I hadn’t realized that. Now, a few years later, I’ve come to embrace his philosophy.

Rochester, Minnesota is having an ice Christmas this year

This time of year is rough for a lot of people. Sometimes it has to do with things either not being the “way they used to be” or not being the way they “should be”. If a lot of energy is put into wanting a holiday to play out exactly the same way each year, or to match some mythical standard of a perfect Christmas of our youth, it’s a set-up for disappointment. First of all the math doesn’t work. Over the years there will be people added and people subtracted from the equation. Then there’s the issue of morphing, evolving families. Kids grow up and have in-laws. People can’t be in two places at one time, even when both sets of parents live in the same town. Add in a divorce here, separation there and you’ve got a recipe for unhappiness — unless your “traditions” have some flexibility.

Since our daughter Emily married Kyle a little before Christmas last year, the tradition landscape has changed at our house. Kyle’s family lives 1200 miles away, so it’s probably going to be different every year. E & K were flying to the east coast a couple of evenings ago, so Emily invited us to have Christmas at their house in Rochester during the day before their flight left. I know that families do this kind of thing all the time, but this was a first for us — and you know what? It was pretty nice.

The day even included a miracle. When I was dispatched to the grocery store for a missing hot pepper, I saw something I thought I’d never see. Driving in front of me down Civic Center Drive in Rochester was a copy of the first NEW car I ever owned — a Dodge Omni! We bought one of the first ones the year they came out — 1978. I had only owned old beaters before that and this little $2,500 beauty was a dream come true.

I'm dreaming of a Dodge Omni. Just like the one I used to own . . . Ours was gray, but this sighting in Rochester sure brought back some memories

. . . . and the winner is -- this handsome 15-foot kid-destoyer in Rochester. Makes for an ice Christmas indeed.

After a few years, the car turned out to be a piece of crap, but it was my first new-car feeling and I still remember the day we bought it. I hadn’t seen one on the road for at least a dozen years and thought I’d never see one again — until this December 23rd miracle.

Still reeling from the Omni sighting, I took an icicle-viewing walk with Lauren through Emily’s neighborhood. We had seen some impressive stalactites on the way into town and wanted to capture some of them with our cameras.

Then Kyle came home from work at noon and it was time for the Christmas lunch. Sandy had brought a delicious tomatillo chicken soup and Emily made tacos al pastor that were equally tasty.

Emily was enjoying the meal -- finger gesture directed at the photographer notwithstanding.

We opened gifts. Peet enjoyed his very much. I think he’s solidly on board with celebrating Christmas.

Two Jersey boys have now adopted Minnesota sports teams.

Soon it was time to take the “Datermarks” to the airport. It made me very happy that they would be able to spend Christmas with Kyle’s family. Kyle’s parents and brothers have hardly seen him since he and Emily moved to Minnesota six months ago. It’s tough (and will continue to be) for them to have Kyle so far away and I hope they can at least have a lot of holiday family gatherings during the years they live in Minnesota as well as a few other visits now and then.

Emily and Kyle do their best to deal with the holiday rush to check in at the Rochester airport. They landed safely in Scranton later that night for their Christmas in the Poconos.

So we still have Lauren and Peet. Who could ask for more than that?

Visions of sugar plums -- Lauren tells Peet that Santa's coming soon.

On Christmas Eve the three of us (Peet had a little down time) went to see True Grit and then had a very nice dinner at a Thai restaurant. This afternoon we’re doing the second go-round of a tradition we started last year — going bowling with the Powells, who are our neighbors and good friends (and happen to be Jewish). Now that’s one Christmas tradition I’d like to see continue.

This was taken on Christmas day last year. Here' a fun activity for you. See if you can pick out the Jews!

So that’s how we’re celebrating this year. It’s very nice and I’m extremely thankful for it. One of the things I like most about Christmas is that it’s different every year.

Peet wishes you all the best in this holiday season!

Whatever you’re doing today, I hope your day is merry and bright. I hope your traditions are happy, light-hearted and flexible — and don’t be afraid to start a new one.

Merry Christmas!

Have a Holly Jolly Solstice – a Christmas wish from a heathen

This is an important time of the year for most of us. But what’s the true reason for the season? It depends on who you ask.

Whether you happen to be gearing up to celebrate the the birth of Jesus or not, remember that many cultures around the world — particularly those with indigenous or ancient ties — mark the days around the longest night of the year with some sort of observance. There is evidence that neolithic cultures noted and celebrated the solstice at least 10,000 years ago. (my apologies to “young earthers”, but this is the first of several sacrilegious statements in this post, so be warned)

I think even most Christians understand that there’s very little chance that Jesus was actually born on December 25th — or even in December at all. Go ahead and give me some heat on this if you’d like, but even biblical references point to a spring or autumn date, with the fall harvest time (September – October) being the most likely.

Christians began celebrating the current date of December 25th in the 4th century A.D. There are a lot of theories about why this date was chosen, but it’s pretty likely that it had something to do with the solstice. More specifically, it had to do with using an existing Roman holiday, called Saturnalia, as a recruiting tool for converting people to Christianity. Saturnalia was a raucous, drunken, event that began as a one-day celebration on December 17, but over the years evolved into a week-long (think spring break without a warm beach) kind of orgy of excessive eating, drinking and debauchery — even involving role-reversal of slaves and owners. Early Christians saw the end of this week as the perfect time to piggy-back with their message of the birth of the savior — so they decided that Jesus was born during the massive hangover right after this Roman celebration.

What does bringing a tree into my house have to do with the birth of Jesus? Nothing, as far as I can tell.

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on ancient religious practices and there are tons of books and websites out there that provide the background for the Solstice / Pagan / Christmas connections. I do know that many, if not most current Christmas customs have ties to solstice-related celebrations dating back to the time before Jesus. The Christmas tree, holly, mistletoe, ivy, the yule log, the hanging of wreaths, feasting, even gift-giving and the lighting of candles were all well established solstice-related customs before the date for the birth of the the messiah was changed to the same week. I also know that while some (but relatively very few) modern-day Christians eschew these symbols and practices, the vast majority of Christmas celebrators hang on to at least some of them. How many Christian households don’t have a tree, light some candles (or hang outdoor lights) or have a little holly around the house? Pagan, pagan and more pagan!

Because solstice celebrations go back thousands of years, Christians are relative newcomers to celebrating this time of year with lights, candles, gift-giving and good cheer — and they’ve pretty much stolen these traditions and claimed them as their own. If you’ve been to a shopping mall or watched TV ads recently, you may not like what they’ve done with all of it.

The Christmas holiday is celebrated differently by people everywhere and it has evolved greatly through the centuries. In Europe, it was a considered a time to party to excess, mirroring the Saturnalia festival — nothing like the quiet, family time we now espouse — until the mid 1600s, when Oliver Cromwell came to power with his puritan beliefs in England and put a stop to all the craziness. In the new world, the Pilgrims did not celebrate Christmas at all. Even after Boston became a city, celebrating Christmas was against the law from 1659 to 1681.

A hundred years later during the revolution, English customs were falling out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Congress was in session on Christmas day of 1789. And it was ANOTHER 81 years before Christmas was declared a national holiday in 1870. So much for nostalgia about Christmas in early America.

Christmas in America began to gain importance in the late 1800s. As a writer on the History Channel website puts it,

“As Americans began to embrace Christmas as a perfect family holiday, old customs were unearthed. People looked toward recent immigrants and Catholic and Episcopalian churches to see how the day should be celebrated. In the next 100 years, Americans built a Christmas tradition all their own that included pieces of many other customs, including decorating trees, sending holiday cards, and gift-giving. Although most families quickly bought into the idea that they were celebrating Christmas how it had been done for centuries, Americans had really re-invented a holiday to fill the cultural needs of a growing nation.”

PeeWee Herman has as much business atop the tree as anything or anyone. Have you seen his Christmas Special? -- a classic.

I happen to think this time of year has a spiritual quality all its own. It doesn’t need commercial embellishing, manipulated date changes, mythological overlays or the belief that God will make the sun go away if we don’t pray enough.

We live in an age when science explains why the days are short. We know exactly when the northern hemisphere is tipped away from the sun’s rays the most — this year it’s 5:38 PM on December 21. But that doesn’t take anything away from its importance. It’s still a profound event and a metaphor for the rhythms of our lives. As the days get short, cold, and quiet, it’s a great time to slow down, think, appreciate, reflect, pray — whatever it is you do. It’s a time to contemplate the year that’s ending and anticipate the new one coming. Many people have some time off work this week. How many will spend it quietly and peacefully? How many will be frantic and frustrated?

This is what it looks like at 4:30 PM where I live. I hope the sun comes back.

The season means something different to all of us, but for most of us it does have meaning.

For me, (after I get my shopping and wrapping and some house cleaning done) I hope to find a little time to slow down and think. To appreciate and be grateful. To spend a little time with my family and friends. Life can be a treadmill, and cold, short, days are a good time to stop running and hop off for a few hours here and there.

The darkness helps us appreciate the light. As our ancestors knew, the sun is a good thing. We notice when it goes away and we’re thankful when it comes back.

I’m thankful for another day, another year, another cycle in the rhythm of life.

And for you?

I hope you take time to appreciate the light this week and I hope all is calm, all is bright.

I hope you take time to be quiet.

I hope you take time to do something kind for somebody.

I hope you can spend some time with the people who are important to you.

I hope you find peace and joy.