Saturday, December 10, 2011

A "traditional" Christmas

Every year I seem to find myself less and less in the "Christmas Spirit". At least, less in the Christmas Spirit as others might see it to be. This year, retailers seem to be pushing the commercial end of the "holiday" with advertising before Halloween. The big push for Black Friday. The annoying Walmart and Target Black Friday ads. All this has seemed to drive out of me any desire to "celebrate" this particular Holiday. I don't even feel excited about decorating or shopping for gifts!

So, when I get in this state of mind, I fall upon two very reliable means of getting me back into the "true" Spirit of Christmas: reading Dicken's "A Christmas Carol", and listening to very specific Christmas music.

There's something about Dicken's story that intrigues me more each time I read it. I find that more and more I wish for a "Dickensian" Christmas, one where Advent (the Christian preparation for the coming of the Christ Child) is important. A Christmas where the gifts are NOT the focus, but the entire "season", which lasts from Christmas Day to Epiphany on the 6th of January. Where the tree goes up and the decorating is done ON Christmas Eve, not 4 weeks or more in advance. A Christmas where you attend church on that day because, well, because it IS Christmas. And you celebrate each "Day of Christmas" with joy and gifts. That actually IS the "traditional" Christmas that we see in Dicken's story. And when Scrooge is redeemed of his old ways, he recognizes that Christmas is about the Spirit of the day, not the commercialism that even then was rampant. So, today, rather than decorate, I'd prefer to read "A Christmas Carol", or watch a Christmas movie, to help get the true Spirit of Christmas going.

For me, having sung for so many years in church and professional choirs, music and Christmas are powerfully linked, to the point that I MUST listen to certain pieces of music that echo that true Spirit of Christmas. So, now, at work, at home, and in my car, music is playing, and I am humming or singing or just listening to the joyous sounds, or the contemplative reminders, of what Christmas is about.

So, Merry Christmas!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

What would Lewis say?

Today, as I was reading my daily C.S. Lewis readings, I came across a phrase “some people believe in God, but not in a personal God.” Of course, Lewis was writing this many decades ago, long before the Jesus Movement of the ‘70’s put the phrase “personal relationship with Christ/Jesus/God” on everyone’s tongue.

But it made me wonder what Lewis would say if he were around today, with many individuals stating that they are “spiritual but not religious”? What would he say to the explosive growth of the Mormon church, and the megachurch? Or how would he address the growing voices of the Skeptics and Atheists? I confess to have not read that much of Lewis’ writings to offer up an idea, but I would like to ponder it with those who are Lewis scholars, such as my brother and some of his friends.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

A Moderate's Manifesto....

Lately, with all the political rhetoric bombarding us as the 2012 elections come closer, I find myself thinking about my “position”. Where am I politically? When I answer that question, I find that I am a moderate. I look at several points in the areas of financial, social and environmental to determine where I stand on issues.

Financial: as the economy has tanked, and our own personal household economy is no longer based on credit, but solely on cash, I find that not only have I personally become more fiscally conservative, but I believe that as a country we MUST also become fiscally conservative. However, the areas that I see the needs for cuts in are neither conservative nor liberal. We could save BILLIONS of dollars by ending two extremely costly wars; we could restructure the tax code to make it more fair; we could do away with some entitlement programs that were offspring of the Depression and Johnson’s Great Society of the ‘60’s; we can cut back on the salaries and perks of the nation’s largest employer, the US Government, starting with the fat cat salaries of our Senators and Congressional representatives. However, I feel we still need to take care of those here that cannot help themselves: the chronically unemployed; the disabled who cannot work; the old and infirm who have no way to support themselves. So, in fiscal responsibility comes also a social responsibility.

Social: I find that there are two social hot-buttons right now in this country – same-sex marriage and abortion. Sure, teaching Creationism in our schools is also a hot-button issue when you have certain Presidential candidates that bring it to the forefront. But those other issues are ones that engage more Americans than any other. When I was a single man I was fully supportive of abortion, very pro-choice. Now having had two kids of my own, with their uniqueness of who they are, I cannot support abortion as much as I used to. But I find that I still support a woman’s right to HAVE an abortion, within reason (only a 1st trimester abortion), and I still support the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Roe vs. Wade. I believe too that if we were to reverse that decision, women would still attempt to have abortions, but now they’d have to do it in some clandestine way, without the safeguards that are afforded them by trained physicians and nurses performing those abortions. So, while I don’t LIKE abortion, I believe that legalized abortion is a right and a safeguard. As far as same-sex marriage, well, I’m not QUITE comfortable with the idea of two same-sex individuals deciding to “marry” – it just doesn’t “feel” right to me. Yet I believe that if two individuals, whether male and female, or male and male, or female and female, are in a LOVING and COMMITTED relationship, why should they not LEGALLY marry? Why can they not have the same legal rights as other heterosexual married couples have? I am not sold yet on same-sex marriages being performed in houses of worship, and that may take some time before I land on one side of that issue or not. But the Right’s argument that gay marriage is a threat to traditional marriage I find to be laughable. What really IS a threat to traditional marriage: rocky finances that drive couples apart; infidelity; domestic abuse; substance abuse. Why not make THESE things illegal before we concentrate on making same-sex marriage illegal.

Finally, the environment. I am NOT a tree-hugging environmentalist. I used to be a member of the Sierra Club, but left because it became a “let’s save the environment to the extent that no one can use or even truly enjoy it” type of an organization. The Sierra Club was so anti-development, anti-oil exploration and drilling, anti-mining, that it has crippled our economic ability to sustain our country. While environmental tragedies such as the massive Gulf oil spill in 2010, or the Exxon Valdez in the 80’s are of concern, I think that our government has done an acceptable job in regulating those industries, and we do not need to further regulate without impeding economic progress. I see it this way: we have natural resources that are not abundant, but are ready for “harvesting”, yet we prevent those resources from being tapped by requiring environmental impact reports and studies, permits, etc. I see us as being good stewards of what we have been blessed with. We need to be responsible in using our natural resources, yet at the same time continue to develop renewable sources, like solar and wind energy. But we need to recognize that our poor stewardship over the last 150 or so years has affected our climate (and I do NOT believe that we have affected our climate as much as Al Gore says we have), we have lost many species due to our endeavor to get ahead, and we have lost many wonderful natural sights due to our need to have progress (like the Glen Canyon dam that inundated a wonderful set of canyons in the southern part of Utah).

So there, a moderate’s manifesto

Friday, April 22, 2011

The character of Jesus

Last night we attended a play at a local church. The play was about the life of Jesus, covering his 3 year time of ministry in Judea, culminating in the final time of His arrest, torture, crucifixion and resurrection. It was a typical church play, with cast members unable to "deliver" lines, with a few exceptions that knew how to act. But what struck me this morning, in retrospect, was the man they cast as Jesus. He was very wooden: his lines were spoken with no inflection or enthusiasm, no change in tone or speed, no excitement or joy. He was a dull and boring Jesus. But it made me start to think about the character of Jesus.

I was raised with stained glass windows and pictures in the Bible showing a dour and morose Jesus, devoid of passion and life. And the famous Franco Zefferelli "Jesus of Nazareth" released in the late 70's only forwarded that image, casting a somber, somewhat feminine person as Jesus. Then, many years ago, some artist created the image "the Laughing Jesus", and for the first time I truly SAW Jesus.

We look at the Gospels, and are given wonderful Words of Jesus, but very little action. The authors of the Gospels were not script writers, or novel writers, who could easily convey through actual words Jesus' attitude at the time. We have His anger in the Temple. We have the few times recorded that He wept. And we CAN hear in His "voice" his indignation at the Pharisees. But that's it. But what WAS the character of Jesus like? I can think of 3 things from my readings of the Gospels: Joy; compassion; approachability.

Jesus was a Man of Joy - He WAS and IS Joy. How can so many thousands of folk follow Him as they did (other than to see miracles) if He wasn't Joyful? I'm sure you have friends, or coworkers, that you just like being around because they are always funny, or always laughing, or always in a good mood. They are like light - you are attracted to them. And I'm sure that Jesus was Joyful, spreading Joy all around, like light in a dark room. I am sure too that we don't have ALL the Words of Jesus written down - he spoke very little in 3 years if that was the case. There must of been times of laughter and clapping, and fishermen's jokes, and carpenter jokes, possibly even the good "dig" every once in a while. There WAS Joy!

Jesus was a Man of Compassion - a Man of Love. He loved not just His chosen few, but all who approached Him. He was loving to the adulterous woman, the woman at the well, the blind, the family who lost their child, and to His friend, Lazarus, who He called to come forth from the grave. I am sure that He touched folk a lot, gentle touches on the shoulder and back, loving embraces, kisses, cupping the chins of the children, and possibly even giving children piggy-back rides (Jesus wasn't Kosher). How could He not have a following if He were NOT like that?

Finally, Jesus was a man who could be approached - "suffer the little children to come to me, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven". This Joy, His compassion, was a magnet that drew people, and He allowed that AND encouraged that. How else could children gravitate towards Him? How else could so many follow Him. They could approach Him, freely and easily. He was never "I'll get to you in a minute" or "Not NOW!!!!" He was always and STILL is "Come to me".

Jesus was a Man of dynamic character, loving, laughing, affectionate, angry, sad, crying, but in all, a Man of full emotion, and full of Character. Oh, if we could only be like Him in that respect.....

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Details, details, details....

Someone once said "life is in the details".

I must confess that I had the goal at the beginning of the year to work more on my fine-art landscape photography. However, one of my "stumbling blocks" is that I felt I needed to travel to not-so-distant places such as Utah or Colorado to do my work. This self-imposed “stumbling block” has prevented me from just going out and doing photography, when there are - even in the confines of Orange County -places that can be photographed. But, for some reason, trying to capture landscapes here didn’t seem to motivate me to go out and just shoot. Then, I realized, maybe it is not necessary to photograph great vistas and landscapes. Maybe I should focus on the details.

Arguably, Ansel Adams was one of the greatest landscape photographers of the 20th century, if not of all time. His vision was truly unique, and his methodology was precise and well-disciplined. But Adams also captured great beauty and subtlety in his work, which draws folk in on many levels, both emotional and esoteric. I recall seeing a show of his work after I’d spent the summer working in my dad’s darkroom, and I had a new appreciation for the work that Adams did, and his technique. But what truly inspired me about Adams was not only his vision of the grand landscape, but the details.

And so I realized that my self-assigned project for the year is to work on details, not grand landscapes. Find the smallest details in leaves, doors, whatever is out there. I like to do detail shots, so this would be a pleasant assignment. I have procrastinated on that assignment, but plan to start soon.

So, here’s to the details….