Mom’s Christmas Legacy


Happy Thanksgiving: the last day of the year not yet fully tainted by the feeding frenzy that the Christmas holiday has become.

People have complained about Christmas spending for years. Yet it seems worse than ever (a lot like education). Fox TV has even conflated Christmas (December 25) with the holiday shopping season, taking offense at people not calling days other than December 25 “Christmas.”  Kirk Cameron, Super Christian, even has a new movie out making explicit the conflation of the religious and commercial holidays. The commercialization of Christmas is complete.

In Spain, Christmas (December 25) is a day for family to gather and to go to religious services. Gift-giving happens in January on a day commemorating the gifts of the Magi, Dia de los Reyes. You’d think American commercial interests would be all over that idea – extending “Christmas” by two weeks? Plus they would get credit for separating the religious from the commercial observance – a win-win. But we continue doing as we’ve long done, happy to buy, happy to complain that stores encourage our behavior.

Mothers always have better ideas. It took a national tragedy to provide my mother with the catalyst for the idea that changed Christmas, in both senses of the word, for our family.

After the attack of September 11, 2001, our 85 year old mother spoke to us about what we were going to do for Christmas that year. She told us that, after the terrorist attack, gift-giving didn’t feel appropriate, and she suggested an alternative.

Mom loved Christmas more than most. She loved baking Christmas cookies, decorating the house, and buying fitting presents for her children and other family members. There was that one lime green sports coat – which fit perfectly, alas – but she was usually almost psychic in her ability to pick just the right thing. She wasn’t anti-consumerist at all, but she kept it in check because she was a devout Catholic and the real reason behind the holiday was never out of view for her.

But after September 11, pretty little things in pretty wrappings just seemed wrong to her. Maybe she intended her suggestion to be taken just for that year, but we all found it so obviously right that it has persisted beyond Mom’s death 6 years ago. It is a simple, unoriginal, idea: instead of buying stuff, let’s give the money  to a charity in each other’s name.

My brother and I have very different priorities: the charities I favor are not in keeping with his priorities, and vice versa. We decided to give to charities on which we could both agree – an exercise with its own merit, as it required a conversation to discover a thing or two on which we agreed.

We also agreed that we still enjoy getting a little something from each other for Christmas. We haven’t set a firm dollar limit on those gifts, but we keep it small.

I recommend Mom’s idea for its many benefits. You may think of other reasons, but this is why it is so appealing to me.

  • It puts the control of the commercialization of Christmas in our own hands, not in the hands of retailers and advertisers who want a commercial Christmas.
  • It focuses gift-buying on quality and expression, not on quantity or expense.
  • It makes “Christmas” purchases tax deductible in most cases. We can double up on year-end donations by sending a favorite charity a bit more.
  • It eliminates the belief that we must accumulate more debt during Christmas if we are to “do it right.”
  • It does away with the awkward questions of Christmas: what do I give to one who has everything? What if someone gives me something but I have not bought anything for them? What if they spent more on me than I spent on them? “I give to charities for Christmas” answers all those questions, and may give others a similar idea – or permission to do what they thought was not socially acceptable.
  • You might feel embarrassed if you can only afford a very small gift; but who would criticize a person for giving some of what little you have to charity? We know from the New Testament story of the widow’s mite, and O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi, that generosity’s virtue is not diminished by coming from those of modest means.
  • It makes it easy to request small things for Christmas, since you don’t have to worry about seeming greedy. For example, one year I asked my brother and my nephew and his new wife for photos of themselves, so I can complete the rogues’ gallery of family portraits on my wall. This lets them know what I want, in case they were stumped, and they can control the minimal cost.
  • It provides a way to open the discussion about which charities we are choosing for each other. And you know it won’t add a burden to their budget since they are only getting you one small thing anyway.
  • Rather than stressing about lines at the mall and getting the latest doohickey before it’s sold out, Christmas became an occasion for giving to the Tiny Tims of the world – and isn’t that what the true meaning of Christmas ought to be? Even for those who are not Christian?
  • It is a simple transition to make. It requires only a conversation with family members, most of whom will be relieved at not having to deal with “Christmas” mall mobs and glad for the chance to do good rather than buy stuff they’re not sure you want anyway.

I have shared this with friends over the years. One decided to buy a living tree each year, others to make sure they shop at local stores, and so on. I would be interested in hearing if you decide to adapt this to your family, and what form it takes when you do. If you need ideas for charities, see the site at Charity Navigator, which will tell you which charity in many different categories is best at spending donations on the cause, rather than on administration.

That is the story of Mom’s greatest Christmas present. She passed away six years ago, at midnight the night of December 2nd, during her favorite time of the year. I share this now, not just because it’s a great idea that deserves wider use, but as a way to honor Mom’s compassionate spirit. I miss her most around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I wish you a very happy, relaxed, contented holiday season, and a very merry Christmas.

What Do Rape and Polio Have in Common?


As it turns out, God would rather have you suffer the effects of both.

In Pakistan, half the children were not vaccinated against polio due to the threats of the Taliban.

And in Indiana, the GOP candidate for US Senate, Richard Mourdock, thinks women who become pregnant as a result of a rape must bear the child, whether they want to or not, because it is a gift from God, and apparently you can’t refuse God’s gifts.

Fundamentalism is Fundamentalism.

GOD of the GOP, and a Dilemma for Indiana


Richard Mourdock is Indiana’s GOP candidate for the US Senate. He’s the one who defeated the relatively moderate Richard Lugar in the GOP primary.

He and his Democratic opponent, Joe Donnelly, are both pro-life, and both believe in allowing abortion when the life of the mother is at stake.

Where they diverge, and where Mourdock enters Todd Akin territory, is with regard to pregnancies resulting from rape. Donnelly would allow abortion in cases of rape, incest, and a threat to the mother’s life, though his view on birth control – he endorses letting employers decide if a woman should have access to contraception – is as 1950’s as any Republican’s. But Mourdock is a different matter altogether. According to an article on Huffington Post,

“The only exception I have to have an abortion is in the case of the life of the mother,” said Mourdock, the Tea Party-backed state treasurer. “I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

If you are a woman in need of an abortion or birth control, Indiana is a tough place to be: even the Democrat seems to take his positions on women’s rights from the Ozzie and Harriet handbook.

Even the Libertarian candidate, Andrew Horning, thinks abortion decisions are best made by the state n a one size fits all manner. (Because these decisions are so cut-and-dried, so simple. But women, the poor dears…)

Mourdock wants to be sure he was not misunderstood. According to the same article,

Mourdock tried to clarify his comments soon after the debate, saying God does not intend sexual assaults.

“God creates life, and that was my point,” Mourdock said in a statement. “God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that He does. Rape is a horrible thing, and for anyone to twist my words otherwise is absurd and sick.”

Well, that’s good to know, sir. But that’s all theology, and interesting as that is to discuss after dinner with cigar and snifter, it’s not the point. It’s the policy that concerns me, and presumably concerns the women of Indiana.

You are a young woman in Indiana. A college student, let’s say. You get raped. You get pregnant. You decide, like most victims of rape, not to report the crime and go through the additional trauma of dealing with the rapist and the event in court. You decide, for whatever reason, to have your rapist’s baby. You give birth. According to an article in Mother Jones, Indiana restricts the parental rights of rapists to custody and visitation . . .

but law requires rape conviction, and only applies if rape victim is a minor and adoptive child or step-child of the rapist.

If you are a minor and the rapist was not your parent or step-parent, they may get shared custody and visitation rights for the next 18 years. Actually, even if the rapist was your father or stepfather, if he was not convicted of rape, he could demand custody and visitation rights. In Indiana. In 2012. This is the law now. It can get worse.

If Mourdock is elected, the unlikely choice to have your rapist’s baby would no longer be a choice. Because you can’t be permitted to turn down a gift from God.

Democrat Donnelly is no knight in shining armor – unless you are raped. Then even a pro-lifer, who at least understands that the thought of bearing your rapist’s child is a horror flick or an Edgar Allen Poe story, will look like a hero.

The day after the election, I would love to see a breakdown by county of women voting for Donnelly or Mourdock, so I could compare it to the following map, which shows the number of abortions per county. I would like to think that more women in counties where more abortions are performed will better understand the importance of leaving that pivotal choice up to the individual woman.

 

Chick-Fil-A-Day Observance


Here’s An Idea . . .

And let’s do it on August 1st, the day Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum have designated as Chick-Fil-A Day.

If you are wondering what the hell I’m talking about, it’s this: the founding family of Chick-Fil-A has regularly spent millions of dollars opposing equal rights to marriage for those who are not heterosexual, reminding us that the biblical view of marriage is far less concerned with love and commitment than it is with the genders of the couple. Mike Huckabee thought they were taking too much heat for it, so he declared August 1st to be Chick-Fil-A Day. On that day, homophobes nationwide will descend on Chick-Fil-A locations (find one near you!) to celebrate their narrow definition of love, and to eat factory-farm-raised, antibiotic-laden, hormone-inflated chicken with like-minded folks. Mmm-mmm!

If you go, remember how ludicrous this is – God is more concerned with your and your partner’s equipment than God is with the fact that you found love in this cruel old world? – and plan to bring the glee. Believe me, they will bring more than the RDA of seriousness of purpose and mien. It is up to us to bring the fun and frivolity. No one can match bigots for brow-knitting seriousness. Consider going with the person you love, introducing yourself to your church-going neighbors, and explaining to them how grateful you are for finding love in a world that has no surplus of it. Or, you know, go with feather boas, a boom box and a flash mob. Whatever works.

If you are a member of a church that is inclusive, that thinks God is less enthralled by the genitals of lovers than by the fact and quality of their love, I particularly encourage you to go to Chick-Fil-A Day. People will be pleased – or challenged – to learn that there are Christians who are not bigots.

(And don’t forget: two days later, on August 3, Friday, National Same-Sex Kiss Day is planned for all Chick-Fil-A locations. Consider August 1 research, so you know where to go on August 3!)

An Open Letter to Christian Pastors and Other Religious Leaders


There’s an issue I’m grappling with. As with many things, the problem is easier to articulate than a solution. Please bear with me as I try to convey what I’m considering.

Here’s the problem, as I see it. Christianity is increasingly known for what it is against (taxes, homosexuals and gay marriage, abortion under any circumstances, acknowledging anthropogenic climate change) and what it is for (public prayer, especially in school, teaching an alternative cosmology [creationism], defining America as a Christian nation), rather than anything that Jesus taught or discussed.

I’m a liberal, and an agnostic. I was raised Catholic, was born again in high school, and have had a long, gradual transition to agnosticism. But I believe the church and other religious organizations can be a force for good and can offer people hope and support in hard times, instead of being a mere collection of position papers. Why? Because almost all of the religious and spiritual people I know are forces for good. I think the church may have a role as a prophetic voice against the status quo (though, as Jaroslav Pelikan said in Jesus Through the Centuries, Jesus has more often been used to prop up, rather than critique, the status quo), but I think its main purpose is more personal, simple, and radical.

I think one of the truths of life is that it is hard, and that we need each other as neighbors and friends if we are to survive, much less thrive. People are best when, whatever their political, religious or philosophical beliefs, they look for ways to unite and support each other, not to impose litmus tests or to define who is in and who is out, who is saved and who is damned. I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Revs. Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King, Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero, and others. They were more interested in being a light to, rather than a power in, the world.

I have many friends who are Christians or believers of various kinds. Whether I agree with their beliefs, I know most of these people to be decent, loving, intelligent people. NONE of them are the type who fill up the airwaves these days, people like the Kansas pastor of “God Hates Fags” fame and that Koran-burner in Florida, or even famous TV preachers who blame gay people for earthquakes or hurricanes or whatnot. What angers me is the assumption that rises from this misrepresentation that all Christians are thus. I know they are not, and I think it is destructive of our communities and of religious institutions of all kinds to be associated with such aberrant, abhorrent behavior.

That’s the problem. What’s the solution?

I’d like to see churches, either individually or as a group – and maybe in cooperation with synagogues and mosques – be more proactive in publicly asserting that they are not about position papers and political power, but about meeting people’s fundamental needs in hard times. We are going to need each other more than ever, and we can’t let abstractions, or even our real differences, become walls between us.

What I’d like to discuss with you is whether this makes sense to you, and what can be done about it. I’ve seen billboards

and people holding posters at rallies

and that seems like a good start. But what else? Radio shows or podcasts? An organization that would protest the media’s use of people like Fred Phelps as representatives of Christianity, or of the 9/11 bombers as representatives of Islam, and provide more representative spokespeople? I don’t know, but I’m hoping that, in talking with those who have a background in the operations of religious organizations large and small, I might get some ideas.

Ann Lamott once said that you can be pretty sure you’ve made God in your image if he hates all the same people you do. I’d like to see the church and religious groups of other stripes, known for good news of a higher order than telling people that they are better, smarter, and more moral than those who are not like them. I think the church and most religious people are better than that, and ought to be known for being better than that.

What do you think? What can we do? Talk to me.

Jesus Appears With the Dalai Lama


Jesus and the Dalai Lama Share a Joke at Jesus’ Beard’s Expense

 

Amazing! Someone captured a photo of the Dalai Lama and Jesus having fun together.
Just goes to show that there is nothing Christians and Buddhists – and the members of other religions – should let come between them if their leaders get along so well.
(Some have claimed, of course, that the man on the left, getting his beard tugged, is not Jesus. Cynics are everywhere. You can tell that he is Jesus because he looks exactly like other pictures of Jesus that have been taken over time. To wit:
        
As you can clearly see, the likeness is uncanny, the evidence incontrovertible. Long hair, long beard, male . . .  hanging out with the Dalai Lama. I ask you – who else could it possibly be?

Mormons and the Rights of Women and Gays


I was just reading Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven because I felt that, given that we now have a Mormon presidential candidate, I should know more about the faith than what I read by Mark Twain on the subject.

On page 24 there is a footnote. It reads as follows, in its entirety:

In 1993, LDS Apostle Boyd K. Packer (currently second in line to become president and prophet of the Mormons) pronounced that the church faces three major threats: “the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement, and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals.” Over the years, the Mormon leadership has made numerous pronouncements about the “dangers” of the feminist movement and has excommunicated several outspoken feminists. But perhaps the greatest rift between Mormon general authorities and advocates for women’s rights occurred when the LDS Church actively and very effectively mobilized Mormons to vote as a bloc against ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (despite the fact that a poll published in the church-owned Deseret News in 1974 showed that 63 percent of Utahans approved of the ERA). Most political analysts believe that had the LDS church not taken such an aggressive position against the ERA, it would have been easily ratified by the required thirty-eight states, and would now be part of the U.S. Constitution.

It is worth noting here that the Mormon Church was also instrumental in supporting Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment that outlawed gay marriage in California in 2008. As the LA Times reported,

…church leaders asked for 30 members from each California congregation to donate four hours a week to the campaign. They also called on young married couples and single Mormons to use the Internet, text messaging, blogging and other forms of computer technology to help pass the initiative, saying the church has created a new Web site — PreservingMarriage.org — with materials they can download and post on their own social networking sites.

Mr. Packer is now President of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles. I am just learning about the Mormon Church’s hierarchy, but if my understanding is correct, Mr. Packer is next in line to succeed Thomas S. Monson, the current President (and Prophet) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Mr. Packer is not a leader of a fringe group of Mormon fundamentalists. If this were the Catholic Church, he would be considered the Pope’s likely successor.

Fewer than 20 years ago, he identified the greatest threats to the Mormon Church as women, gays, and intellectuals. (I wonder what the rest of the Top Ten Threats were.) Governor Romney was a ward bishop in the church, and presumably subscribes to the pronouncements of its leadership.

Governor Romney should be asked if he believes that feminism, women’s equality, gays and intellectuals threaten his church. If he believes that to be the case, how would he balance their perceived threat to his Church with the rights and demands of these constituents if he becomes president?

I’d just like a clear, concise statement that would fit on a bumper sticker. I’d also like to know, given this record of highly effective political action, if the Mormon Church remains tax exempt.

Mormon Temple, Salt Lake City

Real Christians Are Not Bigots


If any Christian churches in Albuquerque or Santa Fe want to put up a billboard something like this one by a church in San Diego (maybe excluding the odd “Christianity for All” coda, as my friend Kevin points out), I will make a contribution to make it happen. I encourage my friends, Christian or not, in other states, to make the same offer.
 There are lots of bigots who clothe their bigotry in Christian  makeup. I know many Christians, and hardly a one of them is bigoted. It seems the only ones we hear about on TV or in the news are of the gay-bashing, Koran-burning, funeral-desecrating variety. If there is a war on Christianity, it is this: that the most despicable people who self-identify as Christians are the only ones who get media attention. Fred Phelps has a church that consists almost exclusively of members of his own family. The Koran burner has a church of, I think, 12 members. They get all the media attention they want.
What about the nuns Nicholas Kristof wrote about this week, or the missionaries he’s written about before, who do some of the most caring work in the most dangerous circumstances? What about the Protest Chaplains who have offered counsel during the Occupations in Boston and New York City? Well, they don’t spend a lot of time on PR. Phelps, et al, are mean-spirited attention addicts. The media gives it to them.
It’s time to remember that Christians have founded hospitals, that Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Reverend Ralph Abernathy were  Christians. That Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Christian. They set the standards. Let’s dust them off and shine them up again. The Christians I know should be proud of who they are and the communities they have made and strengthened. They are not bigots. They are not pro-ignorance, anti-science. Those who are Republicans are not the caricature of Republicans that the Tea Partiers have made of the party – a caricature that my father, a lifelong Republican, would never recognize. The Christians I know are more concerned with being a light and a comfort in the world than they are with being a power in the world.
I will go a step further than my original offer. I am going to seek out churches that feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and comfort the outcasts, here in Santa Fe and in Albuquerque. I’m going to suggest that they, perhaps in concert with other churches (and perhaps also synagogues and mosques and temples) they know, put up a billboard like the one above, and I will promise to raise some of the funds to make that happen. Again, I encourage you to do the same in your home towns.

President Obama Endorses Same Sex Marriage


President Obama, by endorsing same sex marriage today, spanks North Carolina the day after a large majority of its voters limited its own citizens’ civil rights.

Will the DNC follow Obama’s lead and move the Dem Convention out of Charlotte? Would they hold their convention there if NC had just voted to reinforce segregation?

The last time Dems had their convention in Charlotte, in 1860, they nominated Stephen Douglas. Who ran against Abraham Lincoln. We know how that worked out.

Democrats: Endorse Love, and Leave Charlotte. If you want to share that sentiment with the party, there is a petition here.

Finally, A Tiny Speck Of Justice: Spanish Nun Maria Gomez Valbuena Charged In Baby-Stealing Operation, Refuses To Testify


In a small news story, the Huffington Post reports on the case involving some 300,000 stolen babies. This is big news in other countries, but here in the US, it’s not exactly front page news.

MADRID — An 80-year-old Spanish nun has refused to testify at a court hearing about her alleged involvement in the stealing of newborn babies from their parents and selling them to other families.

Spanish police have investigated hundreds of cases amid allegations of baby trafficking dating from the years after Spain’s 1936-39 civil war and supposedly a few even in the mid-1990s.

Authorities were alerted by an association of people searching for lost relatives. The group alleges the scheme involved a nationwide network, including doctors, nurses, midwives, nuns and intermediaries. Mothers were told their babies had been stillborn.

Sister Maria Gomez is the only person subpoenaed so far. She appeared in court Thursday and told the judge she would exercise her right to remain silent.

Reuters reports that Sister Maria Gomez is charged with “illegal detention and falsifying documents.”

According to Newser, one mother of a stolen infant alleges that Sister Maria Gomez also threatened to steal her other child.

Spanish nun Maria Gomez Valbuena (C) leaves a court in Madrid on April 12, 2012, after refusing to testify before the judge for her alleged involvement in a case of stolen children. (PEDRO ARMESTRE/AFP/Getty Images)

“Stop asking me [where the baby is] or else I will also take away your other daughter and you will go to jail for adultery,” the mother claims Sister Maria Gomez said.

The BBC explains that thousands of babies are thought to have been stolen under Francisco Franco’s dictatorship with the aim of removing children from their “undesirable” left-wing parents and placing them under the care of “approved” right-wing families.

via Spanish Nun Maria Gomez Valbuena Charged In Baby-Stealing Operation.

We’re talking about a baby-stealing operation that continued into the 90’s. Priests, nuns and doctors were involved. One nun has been found to have over a million dollars in her bank account.

The people running the operation told the parents their baby was dead, that they couldn’t see the body, and sold the baby to paying customers. They then falsified all the documents.

I find these crimes so heinous, so offensive and reprehensible, that for the life of me I cannot fathom why it is not front page news around the globe.

300,000 children. It will be hard to follow the trail, since all the facts have been covered up, but just imagine what it would be like to find out you had been one of these babies. You were stolen from your mother and sold to the people you thought were your parents. The people you know as your parents bought you from a baby stealing operation.

In the case of single mothers, that would make at least 600,000 people whose lives have been forever altered beyond belief. If you include the parents who bought the children – who may not have known they were complicit – that would make around 1,200,000 people affected. And once again, the horror is laid at the feet of the Catholic church.

Will the church demand justice for the victims? Will the vast wealth and resources of the Catholic hierarchy be used to help those harmed, bring families back together, and see that justice be done to all those responsible? Not bloody likely. The pattern they have followed for hundreds and hundreds of years is to cover up, to deny, and to protect the wealth and power of the church at all costs.  And it costs the victims of their crimes most.

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