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.