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!

Sincerely,

Steve

(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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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!

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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.

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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.