Sunday, November 30, 2014

Christmas - it's not just about retail, you know.


I know I'm not the only person who finds the commercial nature of Christmas to be, well, a little pushy. For example, I walked into a Big Lots store in early October (or maybe it was late September), and the Christmas decorations were already up!  And I've been hearing Christmas music at retail locations, and saw that the Main Place shopping mall in Santa Ana already has Santa there, and you can get your photograph taken with him.  And you know what, those things only mildly bothered me. What does really bother me, though, is that last year, Big Lots, amongst other retailers, were shutting down Christmas decorations and other holiday-themed items, and had Valentine's Day cards and other related displays up - EVEN BEFORE DECEMBER 25TH!  For retailers, Christmas is a shopping season that now starts in late September and ends BEFORE Christmas Day!

I know I'm not alone in feeling that Christmas has become too commercial.  And I think that it has even become part of our culture to joke about it.  50 years ago even Charles Schultz and his famous comic strip characters Charlie Brown, Linus and Lucy, were trying to figure out what Christmas was all about.  

For me, and my family, I think we have figured it out, and we celebrate it as two different and distinct seasons. First, there's Advent - the time of preparation.  This is usually marked by the four Sundays preceding Christmas Day, and will start Sunday the 30th of November - the Sunday following Thanksgiving.  In most churches, they observe the First Sunday of Advent by lighting the first candle of the Advent Wreath. We do that too here at home, plus the weekend of Thanksgiving is when we commence decorating. At our house, that means I get the outdoor decorations up, and we retrieve the boxes and boxes and boxes of household decorations from storage.  We also set up the nativity scene, but we follow a tradition of ONLY setting up specific pieces each Sunday of Advent.  The Baby Jesus comes out on Christmas Eve, and then the Three Wise Men are put out.  But with them, there's a tradition as well.  

For you see, traditionally, Christmas actually STARTED on Christmas Day, and continued for 12 days until Epiphany, on January 6th, which is the date when the Three Wise Men are to have appeared to Mary and the Christ Child.  So, each of our Three Wise Men are placed in distant corners of our house, and daily are moved closer to our Nativity scene, until they "arrive" on Epiphany.  And that is when we are "done" with Christmas.  After Epiphany, I shut down the outdoor lights and we begin the long process of de-decorating.

As much as retail would love us to celebrate Christmas starting when the kids go back to school, but stop celebrating even BEFORE Christmas Day, we chose to celebrate it as the two distinct seasons - and we enjoy it more because of that.  

Here's to you and your family, a very Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A lot to be Thankful for this Thanksgiving.

There are a few of you who follow this blog that know that I have a LOT to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
Last year, I came back to work on the Monday following Thanksgiving, and was called into the president's office.  I thought we were going to discuss the marketing plan for 2014 - how we were going to use social media, blog posts, etc. I had submitted the plan a few weeks before, so I went in there with my notepad and a copy of the marketing plan, ready to take notes.  He asked me to close the door.
But when I was told that I was being let go after over 30 years with the company, I must say that I was in a state of disbelief.  I had always thought that I'd either die while at my desk, or retire from there.  It was surreal.  And as I spent the day walking around and packing up my desk and saying goodbye to people I'd known and worked with for decades, many of them were in tears and a state of disbelief as well.
In hindsight, though, it was actually a good thing for me.  For one thing, I was only unemployed for 3 months, which was a time I used to spend time searching for work, hanging out with my kids, and having dates with my wife - something we really needed to do. I got to have a relaxing Christmas. And by mid-January, I had offers, one of which I took.
But that time off also gave me the time to start a print-related blog, which has become both a challenge and a joy for me.  That blog has been picked up and shared by print industry leaders, both individual and corporate, which has given me an almost international reputation.  I became more active in social media, establishing relationships with other print people all over the country, and even overseas.  And while I do not recommend unemployment for everyone, I spent the time wisely, and fruitfully.
So THIS Thanksgiving I am thankful for being let go, for the print friends I've made, and the place where I am able to take my creative print ideas to my clients.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 24, 2014

It's sometimes difficult to truly express what I am thinking....

A couple of months back I wrote a post that received a few comments.  In that post I questioned the nature of worshipping Christ, and even had a somewhat irreverent title to it, which was intentional. As I proceed on this spiritual journey, and as I take you along, I will say things that may concern those who have a strong faith, and I may say things that will actually encourage debate about faith, and allow those who read it to think about their own relationship to God, just as I am now. 

I received one comment from a friend, and it was a comment based on that person's concern for me, and concern that I might be misunderstanding the very nature of Jesus.  I wish to state, unequivocally, that my intent was NEVER to suggest that Jesus was and is anything different than portrayed in the Gospels narratives, or expounded upon by the Apostolic Epistles. A few of you know about my past, when I dated a woman who'd been a former Muslim, and was at that time into metaphysics and New Age Depak Chopra spiritualism.  It put into focus for me a very simple core truth: that Jesus is and was exactly who he said he is and was.  Notice that I use BOTH present and past tense, for you see, to me, Jesus, and therefore, God, are outside of all space and time.  Jesus IS and WAS.  This core truth is what I hold on to today.  And it always will be.  
There is a beauty that I love about being in a Liturgical church, in that the Liturgy is there to remind us, in a very poetic way, about these core truths.  The Liturgy has been there for decades, centuries, and is repetitive.  Some may find that boring or uninteresting.  C.S. Lewis found Liturgy to be alive and vital, as do I.  So, every Sunday, when we recite the Apostles Creed, I say the words with confidence and sincerity, and believe them to be absolutely and utterly true:

I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
       and life everlasting. Amen.  

I believe in the Triune God, and so therefore, while my statements seemed to indicate that I placed Jesus and the worship of Jesus below the worship of God, that was not my intent.  My intent, though, was to comment on the focused and almost exclusive worship of Jesus, to the point where God is not the focus.  Yes, for some, it's theological semantics: God and Jesus are one.  Jesus is God incarnate, God in the form of Man, who came to us as a tiny, helpless baby, to provide for us the Means of Grace to become one with God again, something that The Law could not do, and Man's self-righteousness could not do. Therefore, my statements may have created a belief that I held Jesus as lower than God, as NOT God, and, as my friend stated, I put Him at a level of Angels and Prophets, which was certainly NOT my intent. And Jesus does give statements that, if we do not understand the nature of the Trinity, could be confusing.  "I and the Father are one" can seem to conflict with "No one comes to the Father but through (or by) me".  If one is not theologically sound, one can read those and misunderstand what Jesus said.  I do not.  

And the few comments that I received that were admonishments for the statements I made were themselves made in a spirit of brotherhood and love, and I appreciate that.  But as I take this Journey of Faith I am seeking a simple goal, and it really is one that I've already grasped.  It's just that as I am taking this Journey of Faith I am questioning and doubting some of the stops that I've made in the past, and some of the stops I am making now. I have LOADS of questions about things that would make my evangelical Christian friends cringe, and possibly, even question my faith (which it is MY faith, not theirs).  

But always, to me, is that Core Truth - that Jesus IS and WAS who He said He IS and WAS.  That is what I hold onto with every fiber of my being.

Soli Deo Gloria  

Friday, November 07, 2014

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Wow.  Today would have been my dad's 94th birthday.  

He's been gone since June of 2004, a little over ten years.  I have missed him, mostly because he had become (in the last few years of our relationship) more of a friend, mentor, and counselor.  And as I have tried to be a good husband and father, I often wish I could still have one more talk, one more chat, about how I could be better at those aspects of life.

My dad was good at coaching me on work issues, simply because he'd gone from working on the outdoor P-38 assembly line at Lockheed in 1942, to manager of the graphic arts department when he retired in January of 1976.  He was known, liked, and highly respected by his subordinates, peers and superiors, and he would often impart to me lessons that he'd learned during that long career at Lockheed.  One time, just after I'd been promoted to a more "middle-management" decision-making position, he wrote me a letter, saying that he'd expected this all along: that my employers were grooming me into a management position of some kind.  While I never got into the more senior management levels with that company (and eventually was let go after 30 years), the lessons he gave me flavored the things I did then, and still do to this day.  Lessons of being very clear in communicating expectations, being honest, and taking responsibility for your actions - basically being ethical - were life lessons he taught me by watching his behavior.  

One of our more interesting conversations occurred when my dad was in ICU for psittacosis that he was suffering from in the late 1980's.  He said something to me that all these years later I cannot forget:

"I'm sorry I haven't been much of a good father."  

I was not expecting that: it was a confession that I never would have thought my dad would have said.  But it was just he and I in the ICU at the time - my other family members were not there.  I think my dad felt that there were activities and events that he and I never took part in, like the Scouts, or camping trips like he'd done with my older brothers.  Perhaps he was feeling a sense of guilt for not doing those things with me, and laying in ICU, one tends to allow those deep, recessed feelings to be expressed.  It was a moment between my dad and I that I will never forget.

But I shared with him that I could not have disagreed more.  Granted, he and I had experienced a long and tough relationship as I went through my teen years, not because I was a rebellious kid, but because I was not into school or education, which were things he held as very dear and important.  He saw me then as a lazy kid, not working to my full potential - wasted talent.  It strained our relationship.  It really wasn't until I started to work a full time job and then a part time job on top of that, AND in areas that were of interest in him (print and photography) that we began to actually have conversations.  Finally, there were the years we traveled together, seeing the glorious Southwest and California that he knew so well, photographing it and sharing the unique visions that we had - that was when our relationship changed from father/son to friends.

Dad, you WERE a great father.  I was a pain-in-the-ass son.  I was the one that didn't allow you to be the dad you wanted to be.  And when I finally did, I was rewarded with getting to know a man of high intelligence, great modesty, wicked sense of humor and wit, and a genuine love that was not expressed in words or affection, but by the quiet deeds that spoke loudly.  

So, dad, on your 94th birthday, I just wanna say, you were an AWESOME dad!

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Something about the rain......

We had our first rain early this morning - the first rain in a long time.  It came through quickly, and showered the area in badly needed water.  Unfortunately, it was not enough rain to really do any good - we still are in a major drought.  And all it did was to slick up the freeways and highways so that the not-so-good drivers who still do 80 on a wet roadway become even MORE dangerous.  

I have a love-hate relationship with the rain.  I love it because it makes everything look fresh. I hate it because it wakes me up at night and while some folk find it peaceful and helpful for sleep, it keeps me awake.  I love it because it means I don't have to water, and my now brown lawns might get a slight sheen of green.  I hate it because 6 years ago we were in an accident that totalled my wife's Yukon and broke her wrist, all because a careless driver hit us and pushed us into the concrete median.  
Rain evokes such strong memories for me as well. Pleasant ones of sitting in my dad's studio at the end of my parent's San Clemente house, a fire in the Swedish fireplace, and listening to the rain on the roof. Unpleasant ones of looking out the front of our Glendale house and seeing the street out front several inches deep with muddy water, and some of it going down our driveway and into our backyard.  I was probably just a preschooler then, but I still remember seeing my mom and my brother Donald working in the backyard to keep the water from the house.  

Rain also is one of the "triggers" I have to slow down and enjoy it.  As much as I like to be outdoors, out in nature, when it rains, that's my signal to light a fire and find a book.  That was something ingrained in me by my parents, because that's what they'd do.  Our Glendale house had a huge Palos Verdes rock fireplace in the family room, and my mom would keep a fire going in there and read there.  My dad's studio was a place to be on a rainy day.  And now, with a nice big fireplace in our living room, having a fire in here and enjoying a book while it's raining (and no one's awake yet) is pure bliss for me.