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SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

I’ve written a lot of Christmas columns – two dozen, give or take. Every now and then I like to reprint one that means something to me because, let’s face it, there are only so many ways you can say “Merry Christmas”. Also because too much eggnog ruins my typing skills. This one was first published about four years ago; I thought it might put things into perspective a bit for people who, like me, have been having a bit of trouble getting into the spirit this year.



I’ve always related to the cartoon character Charlie Brown.

I was the odd shaped kid, naïve, a little strange, unpopular. If I’d dared to manage a baseball team, it would have been the worst team on the planet. The little red haired girl was very nice, but clearly had no interest in me. I even had a white dog, although he slept inside the dog house.

So it’s not surprising that, like Charlie Brown, I can be a little cynical about Christmas. In today’s society, what’s Christmas all about?

Not long ago, another newspaper gave a “hiss” to people who put huge inflatable Christmas figures in their front yards. I have always agreed (said the guy with the huge inflatable Santa in his front yard). But can’t you overdo it just as much with more traditional Christmas decorations? If you fire up so many lights around the outside of your house that it sets off NORAD’s missile launch alarm, isn’t that just a bit gaudy? Is it entirely within the realm of good taste to replace the livestock in your nativity scene with reindeer and snowmen?

I love Christmas lights, but we can go way overboard, and it makes us start thinking Christmas is all about keeping up with the decorating Jones’s. When your decorations drain the North American power grid; when your electric meter flies off the side of the house and decapitates the courthouse clock tower; when Jennifer Lopez shows up in a limo, thinking your home is the spotlit premier of her new movie; it’s time to think about cutting back.

The holidays have become make or break time for almost all of America’s retail establishments. If they don’t do well at Christmastime, you can forget the rest of the year. Is this the economic model we want to follow? Is this what Christmas is all about?

When the National Guard tries to break up a riot over the new X-Box, but is driven off by a rabid crowd; when the first Christmas displays of the year melt in the August heat; when the after-Thanksgiving sales begin at 4 a.m. the Friday before Thanksgiving; it’s time to rethink our priorities.

Meanwhile, at this time when people get as much as a whole week off to celebrate the birth of Jesus (You remember … Jesus?), more and more of us aren’t doing that at all. The majority of people in this world believe in God, but the minority has taken control and are telling the rest – the majority – what they can and can’t do. There’s a new lawsuit, seeking to take “In God We Trust” off our nation’s coins. Let me ask again – why should an atheist care? If there is no God, what possible difference does it make to have the word on our dollar bills? And if there is, we’re in big, big trouble, because turning your back on God is similar to standing on the railroad tracks to moon an oncoming train.

When athiests take full advantage of a religious holiday, and don’t feel the slightest bit hypocritical about it; when your definition of faith means you’re confident you’ll get the new “Blood Splatter 3” game in your stocking; when you hear a baby laugh, or smell a flower, or see a sunset, and honestly believe they weren’t created by something greater than ourselves – you’re in a very lonely place, indeed.

But so many people are in that place. Thinking about who has the better stuff, worried about nothing more than today, believing in nothing. Today’s cynicism eats into my feeble attempts at optimism, this cold, gray time of year. I wonder what it’s all about. Can anyone tell me what Christmas is really all about?

But, deep down, I believe the world is more good than bad. And so, of course, the little boy Linus walks up with his blanket, as he has in that Charlie Brown special for forty years. Kids are honest; that’s both their blessing and their curse. They may not have the maturity or education of adults, but they also don’t have all that baggage that keeps some things from being black and white.

“Sure, Mark,” he says. “I can tell you what Christmas is all about:”

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not, for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born in the City of Bethlehem, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.”

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Mark.”

Oh. Well, that makes a lot more sense than lights, toys, and shopping.

And then Linus goes off, to abide for another year in the hopes that, this time, we’ll take that Christmas spirit with us all year long.

Me? Like Charlie Brown, I may kill my little tree, or screw up directing the play. But, no matter what bad thing happens, I can’t help having an innate sense of optimism. This world can be a better place, if the good people of the world refuse to give up. We can still have peace and good will toward men, someday. We just have to keep the faith.

That’s what Christmas is all about.

Comments

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
skeeterbug00
Dec. 20th, 2007 03:25 pm (UTC)
Good grief, Charlie Brown.
Huh.

I shouldn't like this, but it's just a bit endearing. And the message, of course, is a very good one and one that I can appreciate since I grope constantly about how commercial Christmas has become.

However, I have to disagree with what you say that Christmas is all about. I don't think the holiday has to be so religious. I think Christmas is about giving money to the Salvation Army guy even though it means you can't buy QUITE as big and expensive present for your friends who already have cars at sixteen. I think it's about seeing your family and feeling just a little closer to them because of the time of the year it is. And having them all in one place, no matter how busy the young police couple is and reminiscing about the older generation and the year. I think it's about everything being softer and EVERYONE. And you know what? I think Jesus would like that.

As someone who is Jewish by choice from a Christian family, the holidays CAN'T be about that for me. Likewise, I can't make them completely about my faith. But there's something all of the holidays and the season in general have in common: love and peace. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Anyway, I liked this. It made me feel like a kid again with its references to Charlie Brown, whom I was in love with as a child and watched with unholy devotion on every single holiday, my favorite being "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown". Thank you for sharing this. :)
synaptikchaos
Dec. 21st, 2007 12:28 am (UTC)
Re: Good grief, Charlie Brown.
fwiw the salvation army is notoriously anti-gay. i'm only sharing because i noticed you said you're a liberal in your profile.
skeeterbug00
Dec. 21st, 2007 01:34 am (UTC)
Re: Good grief, Charlie Brown.
Do you deny that they do good work providing for the poor? They have helped my family numerous times and the one in my area has never commented on anyone's personal decisions. You can't make generalizations about a huge organization like that. There are plenty of people in the organization who genuinely care about EVERYONE.
synaptikchaos
Dec. 21st, 2007 01:51 am (UTC)
Re: Good grief, Charlie Brown.
not all slave owners treated their slaves badly, so we can't make a generalization that slavery was truly inhumane.

some of the worst things have been done with the best intentions.

it's hardly a generalization, however, when the evidence is so abundant. would you feel the same if their discrimination was aimed at jewish people?

i don't care what they do as a charity. my concern is that they receive government money (i.e. my taxes) and consciously discriminate against a group of people. i don't care how "good" they supposedly are; there are plenty of other charities doing equally good work who don't discriminate.

i don't mean to twist your words, but if donating to the salvation army is what you feel christmas is about, i just wanted to make it known that that organization hardly stands for "good will toward men" so to speak.

anyway. i'm sure you referenced the SA in terms of the concepts of giving and helping those in need being what the holidays are about, and i can certainly agree with that.
skeeterbug00
Dec. 21st, 2007 03:10 am (UTC)
Re: Good grief, Charlie Brown.
*smirks* You're comparing owning a human being to providing clothes and furniture and food to the poor? Maybe it went over my head . . . or maybe it was just a poor analogy. Owning a human is wrong no matter what way you look at it, but I can't see how charity work can be turned ill.

I'd feel much the same and I don't think that connection was necessary since I am bisexual. Opps, there's those assumptions again. I don't consider a google search 'abundant evidence'. And it's a CHRISTIAN organization. Of course they are going to have anti-gay attitudes. Do you think people who aren't gay are less worthy to receive help? Are you so cynical that you honestly think there aren't charities that cater specifically to the GLBT population? Or were you too busy being outraged to be logical?

The Salvation Army was an example of giving. Honestly, that's where I give a lot of my money because they are so public, but I do Toys for Tots and Goodfellows and food drives. Charity is what the holiday is about, and I'm glad we can find equal ground on that.


^ Er, don't take me too personally. I get worked up when someone disagrees with me.

synaptikchaos
Dec. 21st, 2007 03:40 am (UTC)
Re: Good grief, Charlie Brown.
no offense taken.

the point in my initial slavery analogy was that just because an organization does some good doesn't mean that it's okay for them to do some bad.

a google search is not the evidence. it's simply a way to find the evidence and provides a snapshot of information available should one choose to go digging. the evidence is documented monetary donations and lobbying to anti-gay politicians and for anti-gay legislation (such as partner benefits).

the SA even outlines their view of homosexuality on their website.

here's another interesting read. there are many, many more incidents out there if you want to discover them.

i think many christians would take offense at your comment that all christian organizations are automatically anti-gay. there are many christian denominations who are gay friendly. even in the one's who aren't gay-friendly as an official whole, there are many people within those denominations who are. for the most part it's the radical religious right that is so publicly anti-gay and gives many christians a bad rap. (fyi, the AFA and SA have strong ties.)

the issue isn't about gay people not receiving help from the SA. it's about the steps the SA takes to actively discriminate against lgbt people to ensure they remain second class citizens. they also turn on their own and refuse benefits for their employees and even fire their own employees because of their sexual orientations.

i'm not saying it's wrong or right to donate to the SA. i'm just saying they shouldn't be receiving government (tax) dollars to fund legislation that discriminates against a group of people. i also choose to withhold my personal dollars from them for the same reason.

octaviabelle
Dec. 21st, 2007 05:11 am (UTC)
Re: Good grief, Charlie Brown.
Their views of homosexuality seem pretty standard to me and even a little more welcoming than some of the religions I have seen. They make no stand about denying their aide to homosexuals or anyone else. Even in the following, more objective article, I saw no evidence that they were turning away homosexuals at their doors. They disapprove. Well, that's because their doctrine disapproves.

I said Christianity has a negative stance on homosexuality. They do. I stand by what I said. However, I'm aware that there are many lovely Christians who support homosexuality and view it as natural. I applaud them. However, find me a doctrinial statement from a denomination that supports homosexuality. I'd bet a fair amount that you cannot. They all go off the same bible and it has a clear stance therein.

It's perfectly right for them to do so if they believe there should be anti-gay legislation. They can hold whatever political beliefs they want to and pursue them, too. Now, do I think their beliefs are right-minded? No, of course not. But I don't believe it's the type of thing that would ever get wide acceptance in the political arena, especially with the younger generation.

Should they get tax dollars? No. No religious organization should because they ALL inadvertantly discriminate. It's your right not to donate, but I personally take solace in the fact that I'm helping SOMEONE. Isn't it hypocritical NOT to think that way?
ozma914
Dec. 21st, 2007 06:18 am (UTC)
Re: Good grief, Charlie Brown.
Okay ... stepping carefully across the minefield, here ...

I find comparing slavery to homosexuality interesting. It's important to put this kind of thing into historical context. There were good, decent people who held slaves 200 years ago and had absolutely no clue there was anything wrong with it. There were wonderful, giving people 30 years ago who felt women were not suited to many traditionally male jobs, not because they didn't like women but because it just seemed *obvious* to them. And there are caring, giving people today who would invite gays into their church in an instant and even have gay friends, but who oppose gay marriage for reasons that seem perfectly logical -- to them.

It's one of the reasons why I'm such a firm supporter of the war on terrorist organizations: Those people are quite vocal in their insistance that they will spread their extremism over the world, and at that point homosexuality will be outlawed, women will lose all rights, and race relations will be thrown back hundreds of years. I submit that what brings us together as reasonable people -- Christians, Jews, athiests, straights, gays, whatever -- is much stronger than anything that separates us, in the face of that threat.

So no, religious organizations shouldn't get tax dollars -- a lot of things shouldn't get tax dollars. Assuming they don't get those dollars, they have the right to take whatever view they want, as long as they don't try to force those views on others. On the other hand, even organizations with crappy discrimination records sometimes do great things for people. There's so little black and white anymore -- it's all gray. Gives me a headache.

Can't we all just get along?
(Anonymous)
Dec. 21st, 2007 06:40 am (UTC)
Re: Good grief, Charlie Brown.
*blows up, hence ruining Mark's careful navigation*

. . . Just kidding . . .

In terms of ideas, the two can be compared. However, the Salvation Army is not out fire bombing the homes of homosexuals or doing anything that can be considered wrong. In a way, their exclusion of homosexuals can be seen as a kind of apathy, but they are not doing anything wrong. Ownership of human beings was wrong, even some people of the day saw that. You even said that you thought that they should be able to hold their beliefs, sans tax dollars. You cannot legislate acceptance. It doesn't work. That has been proven time after time in history.

That's an interesting concept . . . hm . . . perceived atrocities being overlooked to fight real ones . . . I like that.

I WAS getting along. . . *pouts* You have a problem with the way I play with the other boys and girls?
ozma914
Dec. 21st, 2007 11:03 am (UTC)
historical context
I read the Salvation Army's post about homosexuality, and I also thought it was relatively good when compared to the attitude of a lot of Christian organizations.

My point is that, even though in 1776 there was already a core of people agitating to end slavery, most people in the US at the time didn't think much about it at all, and when they did didn't see what the fuss was about. Of *course* people down in the south held slaves. Surely you wouldn't suggest taking their property away from them?

Fast forward to just a few years ago, when the same casual attitude was taken toward homosexuality. The Salvation Army wouldn't consider tossing Molotov cocktails, but then neither would most whites in 18th Century America. A hundred years from now people might be stunned that some Christian groups acted that way, because they don't put the events of our day into historical context. That's my point. Sure took me awhile to get there.

Meanwhile, you're absolutely right, you can't legislate acceptance. No one, regardless of race, religion, or sexuality, should be treated differently -- they shouldn't discriminated against, or discriminated for. You don't have to accept a black man in your home, but if he moves in next door be a good neighbor. That's personal liberty.

Oh, you were getting along just fine ... but I did detect just a bit of an edge in the conversation.
ozma914
Dec. 21st, 2007 06:29 am (UTC)
Re: Good grief, Charlie Brown.
Seriously, am I the only moderate on my entire flist? :->
ozma914
Dec. 21st, 2007 05:45 am (UTC)
Re: Good grief, Charlie Brown.
You're welcome -- I love Charlie Brown, too. He reminds me a lot of me!

I see no reason why the Christmas season and celebration can't be shared and enjoyed by everyone, and I didn't mean to make it sound otherwise. My point, however, is that Christmas, at its root, is *about* the birth of Christ -- it's even in the name. Of course, historians and scholars believe that actually happened in the spring -- I'm sure you know the story of how it came to be this time of year, and how so many of our traditions aren't Christmas related at all. None of that changes the fact that the point of the holiday is to celebrate the birth of Jesus, which was my point, too. I'm not big on pushing my religion on other people -- in fact, a lot of Christians would insist I'm not one of them -- but I feel strongly that everyone (including Christians!) has gotten away from that point.

I felt that should be acknowledged, but *any* brightness this time of year is appreciated. After all, I'm the guy with the huge inflatable Santa in his yeard, so -- Merry Christmas! (And happy Chanukah! -- I meant to tell you that last week, but I got busy and forgot.)
skeeterbug00
Dec. 21st, 2007 06:49 am (UTC)
Re: Good grief, Charlie Brown.
Christianity is pushed at every turn. There are Christmas specials on television and Christmas trees in the stores and Santa Claus on the news. Honestly, it's easier for a lot of people to say that they celebrate Christmas even though the holiday is just an excuse to get together with family and drink and talk and exchange gifts. Have you ever tried to explain to someone that your family doesn't celebrate Christmas but IS having a party around that time of the year for the extended family? Awkward looks and invitations to church abound.

Thank you. Happy holidays to you, as well. ^ - ^
ozma914
Dec. 21st, 2007 11:16 am (UTC)
Christianity pushed
Oh, sure it is, we were founded as a nation on Christian principles. A surprising number of people still don't understand that; almost all our founding fathers were Christians of one kind or another. Although they made sure no state religion would be established, as happened in England, they also assumed we'd remain a predominantly Christian nation. It's like the conversation about slavery -- to a lot of people slavery was just a given, and they never imagined it ever changing. they were smart people, but they couldn't see everything that far into the future. Frankly, they'd be horrified at how much Christianity is being shoved aside today. Still, so many people have turned Christmas into secular holiday that it remains pervasive.

I'd imagine I'd have an experience similar to yours if I lived in Isreal, and tried to explain to people why I wasn't following Jewish celebrations. Or for that matter if I lived in one of the many Muslim states, where you have to pay a special tax in addition to being discriminated against, if you aren't a Muslim.

I'll make an extra effort to wish you well on Jewish holidays next year! :-)
adriana_is
Dec. 20th, 2007 03:54 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting this.

:D
ozma914
Dec. 21st, 2007 05:46 am (UTC)
You're welcome!
lmzjewel
Dec. 20th, 2007 11:00 pm (UTC)
Oh! You have no idea how much I enjoyed this. (: I was raised in a very religious Baptist household. Reading your little article here got me to thinking about past Christmases growing up. I grew up in Michigan till I was sixteen when me, my dad, and my stepmom moved to the South. My mom died when I was fourteen.

Anyway, every year at Christmas my mom and dad and some other folks would get together and go out and find a big Christmas tree to put in the church and they'd decorate the church. I always really enjoyed that too. I remember one year my dad ripped the seat out of his pants while he was on a ladder trying to get the big tree up. I tell ya Ozma, You could have had some really good material for your commentary writing about some of the mishaps those poor guys had through the years putting up the church christmas tree. I also remember every year my mom would pick a family in our neighborhood, or at my shcool, or at the church with kids, who were having a tough time...you know... who weren't thinking they could afford Christmas that year and she would find out what they needed and what the kids wanted and she would get it for them and she'd always find a way to give it to them without them knowing who did it. And let me tell you something, it was fun! It was fun seeing the kids tickled at getting something they didn't think they would get for Christmas and it was fun seeing the reactions of the parents too. I've forgotten alot of the stuff that I've gotten over the years for christmas but those memories of my parents volunteering their time and giving to others and everything they did for us at Christmas time. Well, when I think of Christmas I think of that. So, yeah, to me Christmas is very religious. To me it's a religious holiday, the birth of Jesus Christ, hence religious.

But I also think it's a holiday that can be enjoyed by everyone whether their religious or not because to me Christmas is about the spirit of giving and looking forward to something new and better in the world. And thats a wonderful thing for anyone to celebrate regardless of their religious beliefs. So, I say Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! And have an awesome New Year! (:

LMZ
ozma914
Dec. 21st, 2007 06:04 am (UTC)
Augh! I wrote a big long reply to this, then got an error message and lost the whole thing! *thinks Grinchy thoughts* Grr...

Okay, I'm over it. I'm glad you enjoyed my column! My family wasn't heavily religious, although we did come from a southern Baptist background. We were very poor, but I never knew it: Every year my parents would set up the cellophane tree that I loved so much and the cardboard fireplace, and on Christmas morning there'd be bicycles for my brother and me, or a train set or HotWheels track set up, plus lots of presents to unwrap. I can't begin to imagine how much they sacrificed to give us that one wonderful morning.

The irony is, it was all that *getting* back then that, later in life, led me to realize how great *giving* can be. And if that's not the spirit of Christmas, I can't imagine what is.

Merry Christmas right back to you! I've got my hopes up for the New Year. :-)
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

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