Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Problem with Christmas - Losing sight of Jesus' Message

I will be honest I have a problem with Christmas. A major problem with Christmas.

I started thinking about this when I was driving through Ohio last week and flipping through the radio channels. I happened upon an Christian radio station hosting a talk program. The topic being discussed was the so-called "War on Christmas". One of the people suggested that Christians should walk around giving out items saying "Merry Christmas" while they shop this Christmas season to win "the war".

Here is my problem: Christmas shopping, which is the bigger than whether or not one can say Christmas in a public space. (I will not call it a war.)

In two days, 138 million Americans will set out to shop on so-called Black Friday in search of Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa) gifts for loved ones. They will wait in line to buy stuff, that was probably made in the third-world by someone working for a fraction of the wage that would be paid in the US. A person might even be trampled to death again, like what happened a couple years ago, in the panic to buy the perfect gift at a super low price. I used to believe in this tradition of buying gifts for Christmas, but after working in areas of extreme poverty over the years, buying stuff has slowly lost its appeal to me. Then a couple years ago my immediate family decided to play games and do activities as a family, instead of giving each other gifts, on Christmas Day.

So, now with this new family tradition, I do not give gifts on Christmas. Because how does this whole commercial frenzy honor Jesus' ministry? How does giving a big screen TV convey God's love for the world that he gave his only son? I still believe in gift-giving and I love to give and receive gifts, but this practice does not revolve around Christmas for me anymore.

In Quakerism, there is a belief that every day is holy. Sadly this belief is losing traction among Friends. About ten years ago, I read somewhere that Olney Friends School in Barnesville, Ohio, didn't start giving their students a Christmas break until around 1930. At the time, as a high school student on Winter break from a public school, I thought that idea of having no Christmas break was ridiculous (I loved my breaks from school), but now I see the logic of upholding this important principle. Every day is another chance to live into Jesus' message to love and care for each other, especially the least among us, in God's name.

Jesus advocated a different way of life, of following him down a difficult path. In Matthew 19:21, He said, "If you want to be perfect, sell what you own. Give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then follow me!" He didn't say: "OK, go buy a lot of stuff in my honor once a year. Oh yeah, drop your leftover change in the Salvation Army can on your way out of the store and feel good about yourself." I am not advocating for perfection or saying I am perfect, but instead I want to advocate being more conscience about the true meaning of Christmas and honoring Jesus' message, in the midst of the Christmas shopping season. If people buy gifts, please try to buy from sources that uphold God's creation and workers' rights and dignity, for they are children of God too.

On Black Friday I am spending the day with family and friends. In a month, I plan on spending Christmas Day spending time with my family, enjoying their company by playing games, instead of giving gifts.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Caring About Others

For the past two and half weeks, I have been traveling around the Midwest, Ontario, and Eastern US. Along my way I saw friends in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Ontario, Vermont and New York. Also I attended a consultation on crossbranch intervisitation for Young Adult Friends in Richmond, Indiana, a friend's birthday party in rural Ontario, and hung out with half of the Young Friends in Residence community in New York Yearly Meeting.

The road trip ended up to be more of a journey and I had amazing conversations around life, love, clearness, next steps, uncertainties, as well as time to share food, drinks, and laughter with longtime and new friends.

Every night I had a roof over my head, but as I drove to each new destination, I had a lot of alone time to think, process and hold people in the lights, so in the next week, I will update my blog regularly with new posts.

Something that has been on my mind a lot as I have been driving around and listening to NPR is the new TSA body scanners. I think I first encountered these scanners in the Indianapolis airport back in August, but I am not totally sure. I thought they were cool in the futuristic way. I don't want to make any other comment for or against these scanners and the pat-downs, because I don't have all the information and I don't really have an opinion.

What has stood out for me is that this is another sign of how individualistic the US population has become. Within days the "Don't-touch-my-junk" guy became famous and a movement started against the pat-downs and the scanners. People are enraged, because they don't want this to happen to them.


Why isn't there more outage and movements about the 16,000 children who die each day due to hunger around the world?

Or for the three million people in the US who will experience homelessness this coming year?

...and I could go on

When I was in Ithaca, New York last week, I attended a talk about a new book, Consuming Mexican Labor. During the discussion portion, one of the authors, Alica Swords, talked about when Mexican laborers were bought to the US in the 1950s during the Bracero Program, the laborers were forced to strip and stand naked amid thousands of other men in an arena while doctors looked over them to see if they would be fit enough to be a good worker, like they would a farm animal. Talk about an invasive procedure. Mexican workers are still being mistreated and we, as US citizens, benefit from their labor in many ways.

I am not saying people shouldn't be outraged about the new TSA guidelines, but lets start also caring about the treatment of other people besides ourselves, because if we can work together, we can actually change conditions that would benefit other people than just ourselves.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Slowing down my life

Two and an half weeks ago, I moved from Washington DC to rural northeast Missouri. I traded in living in a row house with three great housemates in a busy city of over 600,000 residents for living in a mobile home alone on 80 acres five miles south of a town of 2,000 residents.

In many ways I knew it was time for a change in life. I had been living in DC for two and half years and I was ready for more adventures before I have to settle down and be focused on a career. Moving back to Missouri wasn't my first idea. I had other ideas, that included traveling or working on an organic farm, but those ideas never panned out, so I ended up moving to a farm that has been in the family since the Civil War.

Currently I am living in Scotland County near Memphis, Missouri. My dad's family has been in this area since the 1830s, but I grew up myself more than two hours south in Columbia and Jefferson City.

I do not have a clear idea of how long I will be here or what I will do while I am here. I have ideas of writing and helping with ongoing projects on Pine Ridge Reservation. The number one goal is to live a slower life. So far I have done little, except for joining the local 24 hour gym and obtaining a Scotland County Library card, so I figure that my plan for my time here does include losing some weight and reading a lot of books.

At first I thought I would not like living alone, since I have lived with people all my life, once I lived with 40 other people when I was living in a Co-Op in Ann Arbor. (I have lived with over 100 people in different housing situations throughout my life.) But I have realized that I LOVE living alone. I love having my own space to be in whenever I want and to be as loud or quiet as I want. Also my mother lives only a couple miles away and I have been spending a lot of time with her. She has a list of projects that she wants me to help with and I look forward to helping these projects, like building a root cellar and a chicken coop.

Already I am making friends in the area with two local intentional communities, Dancing Rabbit Eco-Village and Sandhill. Last night I attended a potluck at Dancing Rabbit and last week I helped Sandhill finished their Sorghum harvest.

Hopefully I will use this blog to write about my adventures living alone in rural Missouri, my thoughts about a range of topics from dating to Quakerism, and interesting and random tidbits that I find humorous. But I have the habit of starting blogs and never updating them.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Tonight I met the "enemy"

“The question we Americans need to address, before it is answered for us, is: Does this First World nation wish to become a Third World country? Because that is our destiny if we do not build a sea wall against the waves of immigration rolling over our shores…Who speaks for the Euro-Americans, who founded the USA?…Is it not time to take back America?” - Pat Buchanan

Tonight I went to teach ESL classes in northern Virginia with a friend. I love this kind of volunteering, because the students proves all of the anti-immigrant activists wrong, especially the lovely Pat Buchanan. They are slowly trying to learn English, in order to make their lives and the lives of their families better, like the scores of immigrants before them. These students are the supposedly enemy. People who are working low wage jobs, cleaning houses, clothes, cars, and much more for low wages, are supposedly harming America.

During the class tonight, I wondered how each of these students came to the country. Did they have to hide in car trunks, wade across the Rio Grande, or did they just overstay a visa?

During my last year of college, I studied the immigration debate for several classes. Slowly I began engrossed in the topic that I ended up being a tutor for the local ESL classes. As part of my research, I spoke with several recent illegal immigrants, who talked about being taken advantage by people they paid to bring them over and then their employers. These stories showed America at its worst.

My view on immigration changed in high school, during my first trip to Mexico. Before college, I spent some time in rural northern Mexico with descendants of Confederate soldiers, who left after the South lost the Civil War (Their distant relatives still in the US could be anti-immigration activists). In this tiny town of sixty people, one of their sons went to the US for a better job and a better way of life. The son could have never entered the US legally. He was born in the little town at the end of a 20 mile dirt road. His father was a small farmer, so they don't have the proper documents to be able to apply for any kind of visa.

Before I visited this town, I wondered, why didn't the illegal immigrant come here legally? On my trip I found the answer.

On other trips to Mexico I have met many Mexicans who had lived in the US for a while. They went to be able to make money for their families and they returned to be able to be with their families. These immigrants do not want to be here, but what are you going to do, when they aren't any jobs in your country? Especially when the jobs are working in United States-owned factories for really low wages? How do you feed your family?

This year millions of Americans will be able to hop on a plane and fly to Mexico with the same ease of traveling to any other state (except there is the need for a passport for a fee). There most of these Americans will be walking around not knowing the language (and not caring), speaking loudly in English, drinking Coronas on the beach, taking advantage of the hospitality of the Mexicans, and then they will come home sunburned with a bottle of tequila and have the audacity to be outrage about immigrants not learning English or coming here illegally.

This is the real sin of the situation is Americans' ignorance. Our desire for cheap stuff and larger profits are making people's dreams of providing a good life for their families impossible.

Another fault with Pat Buchanan's quote is that these lands had three million people living here before any Europeans landed at Jamestown or Plymouth. Now the descendants of these people are living in poverty with little or no help from the government after centuries of being hunted, discriminatory policies, and being removed from their lands. If the anti-immigration activists truly love the US, they should give back to the descendants of the first caretakers of this land. I will write more on this topic later.

Next time you see an immigrant, try to imagine your own immigrant ancestor who came here, and the dreams that s/he may have had for a better life, because the new immigrations are looking for the same thing as previous generations of immigrants.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Finding a new home

Currently I am in a search for a new living situation. For me it doesn't matter to me where I live. I mean where I physically live, because I have lived in a lot of different places. I have lived in a tent, a studio apartment, a 40 person co op, a historic house, a house in a gated community, and everything in between.

I am not searching just for a house or an apartment, but I am searching for a home, for a community that tests me while loving me.

Please notice that I didn't title this blog entry as finding a new house. This is really easy to do nowadays, thanks to the wondrous website called Craigslist.

I went to a Quaker college and I had a close community for four years. For two of those years I lived in campus houses with groups of friends that helped me to grow in so many ways. I am still very grateful to all those housemates.

Since graduating from college last May, I have searched for that sense of community in the places that I have lived and in the jobs I looked for. In the past year I have lived in my parents' basement, a two bedroom house, a 40 person co op, and currently in the basement of a hostel. I have enjoyed all of these situations, but I am wary about my next living situation, because I am tired of moving now. I hope that I can find a place to live happily for the next year.