Jesus, No Stable, Just Love

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But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.
 Luke 2:10

Merry Christmas or whatever your holiday is this holiday season.  I hope you have or are having a good one.  I am a Christian but don’t hold to the traditional look at the Christmas story.  I don’t think Jesus was born in a barn or cave, but in a home of Joseph’s relatives.  He did after all go to Bethlehem because he was from there.  The word that Luke uses for inn when we translate “there was no room in the inn” is the same word that is used for the “upper room” at the last supper.  Now I don’t know about you, but I never pictured the last supper in the Holiday Inn banquet hall.  Ok, that’s stretching it a little.  But what makes more sense that Joseph and Mary were visiting relatives and when she was reading to give birth they moved her to a bigger room or they were traveling and about to give birth and some jerk throws them in a stable?  Especially when you think about the importance of hospitality in that region during that time and before.  The Old testament has many verses about taking care of the stranger or traveler so it was important to them to do that.

If you are wondering about the manger,…. Many people kept their animals in the house at night for the extra body heat.  They would keep a small manger filled with food in the home to keep the animals quiet at night.  I wish that worked with my cats.

Do we know about what year he was born?  Absolutely not.  Everyone says 4-6 BCE because they  only read Matthews account talking about Herod the Great.  Yes, He died in 4 BCE so that should make Jesus born before that date.  That would work except that Luke says that Jesus was born while Quirinius who took the position in 6 CE.  That’s 10 years after Herod died.  Hmmmm Can’t exactly make the stories not fit can we.  Yes he was the Legate of Galatia from 5-3 BCE but that isn’t the word that Luke uses.

So we either have to admit that Luke is wrong or our tradition is wrong about the time of the birth.

Now we could sit and debate about whether I’m right or wrong, but that isn’t really what is important.  What is important is what the birth of Jesus represents.  It’s a change.  A big Change that calls to us all.

Throughout the book of Deuteronomy, judges and the books of Samuel and the Kings there is a cycle that is continued to be pointed to that Matthew points to.  the Deuteronomy cycle is basically this.  You are in good standing with God, you commit sins, you are punished and a Messiah (judge, good King) comes and brings you back to good standing.

The Jews at that time would have felt they were in bad standing and Jesus is pointed out as the Messiah.  The one that would lead them back to good standing.  He would lead them into caring about one another and not following some religious laws or tradition that has been made up.  Jesus calls us to love and sacrifice.  He said the greatest command was to Love God and love your neighbor as yourself and then he showed the way by sacrificing himself for this idea.  When he says to take up your cross he is saying you better be willing to die as a revolutionary.  Not necessarily a revolutionary against the government, but against any group or organization that holds to ideas that are hurtful to people.

A true Christian follows in the steps of Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and fights for the poor, oppressed, persecuted, underprivileged and victimized.  Just like Jesus fought for women and foreigners we must continue to change the world as he did.  To do that we have to see each other as someone to be loved, no matter what they are liked or what your religion has taught you to think of them.

When it all comes down to what is important, those traditions aren’t important. It’s whether you actually love.  Are you willing to sacrifice it all and make the change?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quirinius

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Looking Back and Moving Forward

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As we end the 2013, it is often a time of reflection on what the year has brought to us.  We remember the good times and the bad, those who have come into our lives and those who have left us.  For my family it has once again been a trying year.

In January, I finished my masters degree in Special education but that was one of the few highlights of the year.  Most people who know me would chime in that I’m pretty special too.

In February we lost our nephews dad.  This left a 13 year old boy without any parents.  Through heartache, pain, worthless social workers and much more, he ended up in foster care.  For months we have tried to communicate with him and right before Christmas he sent us an e-mail.  We had waited and struggled through nearly 10 months for him just to say hi.

This past summer I left my position at a church that I had been with for seven years over disagreements about how people should be treated and just plain exhaustion over what had transpired the previous year.  Recovery was really what I needed to find.   At that point I was done with church.  I still loved God, but I didn’t care if I ever entered a church again.  My wife made me go to a couple churches as we looked for some place that we felt comfortable at.  I remember at one Bible study we went to the leader asked everyone why we had come.  I responded, “My wife made me.”  We didn’t stay at that church.  They didn’t seem to be friendly.  We have been attending a church since July that we feel more comfortable.  Yet I still feel like a hammer is going to drop at some point.  Maybe it’s because I have been hurt too many times by those that I trusted or thought were my friends.

I didn’t get my teaching job like I was hoping, but that may have been a blessing in disguise.  Because of the car accident in November, I missed a lot of work, but I had sick days so I was still getting paid.  I only worked one full week from the first of November until now.  Partly due to the accident, Dr.’s appointments, strep and some weird body rash that I passed to all my family members.  This past week was my (hopefully) last therapy session to strengthen my back.

My wife was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, an auto immune system problem that has often left her sick, hurting and often unable to do much of anything.  The stress of this year sure hasn’t helped that situation at all.  That combined with the fact that often people just don’t get how someone so young could have so many problems led to people thinking she was for some reason faking it all.  She was also diagnosed with Aspersers syndrome, which is high functioning Autism.  Most people think of Autism as those that I work with in school that do not have high IQ’s.  So again people jumped to conclusions that we were making up stories for some reason.

So yes, it has been a tough year, but it has also been a growing year.  My family has stood together, struggling as we might.  We had a year where we grew as a family.  Not only by one cat, (our nephew’s cat) but also spiritually, and love for one another.  We learned to be strong through tough times and to lean on each other and God.  I don’t know what I would have done this past year without my wonderful wife and my faith in God.  They are what have kept me going.  Well, I need to go do my exercises so that I don’t have to get back to therapy.

I hope your year has been better.  We look forward to a new year and new beginnings.  After all it can’t get much worse than the last couple of years.  Can it?  Grace and peace to all of you and Happy New Year!

Christmas Just isn’t the Same

christmas present

“Christmas just isn’t the same.” That’s what my mom told me Christmas Eve when I talked to her.  I remember growing up in upstate NY.  We always seemed to have snow for Christmas.  Every Christmas Eve my family would get together with all my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents from my mom’s side of the family.  We’d have food and drinks and open presents and just have so much fun.  Afterwards my family would go home and we would do the same.  I never grew up believing in Santa Clause.  We opened all our gifts on Christmas Eve so there really wasn’t any reason to believe in him.

Between 1986 and 1989 my mom’s parents passed away.  No longer did we get together with the rest of the family.  It was just us.  Still we had good times.  We would be singing silly to my parents, having that special family time and always goodies to eat.

I moved away for good in 1999 and have spent my Christmas’ in Indiana and Ohio since then.  People tried to help me fit in by inviting me to their family parties, but I felt that I was simply an outsider, trying to fit in with their traditions which were not mine.  I do appreciate those families reaching out to me, but it was never the same.

Since being married, we have tried to include my wife’s family into Christmas.  Maybe not on Christmas day but we would at least try to meet them somewhere for dinner to exchange gifts.  In the past couple years those have all died and my wife’s one nephew is in foster care, with little contact with us so far.  The past two years we have not even put up decorations.  Last year because we moved two days after Christmas and didn’t want to take everything down and pack it up and this year because since our car accident on November 1st my wife has had Bronchitis, MRSA, and now some rash caused by some virus.  My back was injured in the car accident, so I couldn’t lift anything for a while.  When I started getting better I got strep along with that rash that my wife now has.  We just have not had the energy or desire to be in the Christmas mood this year.

Even when I do go home, it’s just not the same.  The area has changed, people have changed, and I have changed.  That should be expected; after all it’s been 15-20 years since I have lived there.  Life moves on with or without me.   In some ways I feel like an outsider there too.  Longing for the days when we were all together and life didn’t seem so hard.   I also think that goes both ways and that sometimes even my family expects me to be the same as I was when I lived there, but I’m not and never will be.  Equally they will never be the same.

The Gospel of Luke according to the traditional view portrays Mary and Joseph as outsiders.  Luke says they were from Nazareth and that they could not find any room to stay in so tradition tells us they had to settle for a barn or cave.  The story brings shepherds to the manger.  People who were often poor and certainly not ranking high in society’s idea of important people.

I wonder sometimes if they felt alone.  Did their family and friends talk about them?  Did they wonder how they could be so different?  After all they had a baby out-of-wedlock.  According to the Torah it was a sin that could have killed them both.  I wonder what the priests in their hometown said about that?  However once that baby was born, nothing was ever going to be the same.   They followed the path that God had given them even though others may not have understood it.  This often puts people by themselves.  Maybe that’s why Jesus grew up challenging authority and reaching out to those in need.  If he had been the cause of rumors and the ostracizing of his parents and probably himself, he would have been well aware of how that feels.  He would have known the hurt that his parents felt.  He would have wanted to help those that society did not think was important because they were like his mom and dad.   He would have also challenged those who thought otherwise because they were the ones who hurt his mom and dad.

I feel Jesus was about accepting others, because he was not accepted.  I also feel that Jesus had little patience for those who thought that was ok.  My wish for this Christmas is that people will accept that people change.  That it is not that they have developed some skewed view of the world; but that life has taught those lessons that they don’t feel they can go back on.  These lessons were meant for them and not you, because either you didn’t need it or quite possibly you’re not ready.   If they are not harming people, simply let them walk their path and accept that God has given you a different path.  May God bring you peace and joy this Christmas.

The Best Present is Forgiveness

grudge

The most important thing that I learned in growing up is that forgiveness is something that, when you do it, you free yourself to move on.
Tyler Perry

I learned that too, Tyler.  Let me explain.  My family influenced me very much because of our problems.  We don’t generally like to talk about our problems.  That’s the problem.  Several members of my family have gotten mad at others and instead of working it out they just cut them out of their life.  Sometimes it is forever.  One example of this was a grandparent got mad at my aunt because of the person my aunt wanted to marry.  My grandparent died never working that out.  Never seeing their grandchildren.   At my grandparents deaths we sneaked our aunt in to see the bodies because everyone was afraid of being cut off from the family.  Eventually after this grandparent died my aunt and uncles and all of us cousins were able to see each other again.  I was in my twenties.  We missed so much time, family gatherings, sleep-overs, birthdays etc… Simply because of one person’s grudge.

This seems to be the way that my family wants to deal with issues.  I have had 3 siblings follow this line of thinking and cut other family members out of their lives, without seemingly any effort to fix or heal the situations.  Some of these I know on a personal basis.  I also have cousins with similar problems.  It is sad when this may be a legacy that we leave to the next generations.

Because of these problems, I was determined to not be like that. There was no way I was going to cause that kind of pain to others.   I started accepting everyone no matter what they were like because I know what it is like to be shunned by people I dearly love.  Any time that there is a disagreement I work hard to make whatever it is right.  I learned to love people unconditionally at all costs, no matter what issues that person had.  I am not perfect in my love for others, but I dearly try.

The hateful grudges my family seems to hold on to dearly will not find a place in my life.  Nor do I believe that it should hold a place in anyone’s life.  Coming from a Christian home I hold on to the numerous and unending verses about loving one another and ask, why can’t we truly love?  I don’t have the answer.  All I can do is love and hope that one day those that I love will love me back.

I know that I am not the only one that has these kinds of families.  No matter what we do to mend the wounds it doesn’t seem to do any good.  We get frustrated and depressed.  We have sleepless nights, we cry, no matter how long it has been.  We wonder if the other party even cares.  Do they even think about us?  What will it take to bring us back together?  Is there anything?  For my family it took my grandparents death, but it still didn’t stop us from continuing the same actions.  Will we ever learn?

If you are one that has been cut out of someone’s life, keep trying, there is always hope that things will change.  If we stop then grudge, division and hate have won.  If you are the one holding the grudge, ask yourself if it is really worth it, because it probably isn’t.  Life is too short to hold on to the anger that seems to be running your life.  It’s okay to disagree.  It isn’t okay to mistreat.  There are people out there that love you and want you in their life.  They want forgiveness and reconciliation.  Hopefully, as much as you want it.

It’s the holiday season.  Hanukkah is about miracles, Kwanzaa is about family and community unity (among other things) and Christmas is about love.  What part does a grudge have in any of those?  The best present someone can get or give is forgiveness.  Let go of those things that hurt one another and hold on to Love.

How a Dog makes a Man

Crying doesn’t indicate you are weak.  Since birth it has always been a sign that you are, in fact, ALIVE! Unknown

I’m sure that my six cats would not like that title.  However this story isn’t about them.  It’s about the dog my family had when I was in my teens.  His name was Patches and he was a fat little beagle.  Fat may not be the correct or politically correct word.  Maybe huge better describes his belly.  He waddled around just as happy as could be.  Sometimes I used to just watch him waddle around the yard and run into things.  He’d shake his head sniff whatever he’d hit and move on.  He was blind, you see.  Not sure how long he had been blind in his life.  Seemed like most of it.  Anytime we rearranged things outside he’d spend weeks running into things and relearning where the new things were.

Patches had had a hard life.  I remember him getting hit by a UPS truck and walking or better yet waddling away.  Obviously, he was not hit too hard.  Although I believe not too much later he went blind.  Sometime later we went hunting and my brother shot him thinking that waddling through the grass was a rabbit.  Hmmm still can’t figure that one out.  Patches still lived and was happy as could be.

He always greeted me when I got home from school.  Loved to lick my face and just slobber over me.  I let him do it because I thought that meant he loved me, although I never licked him back.  I just rubbed his belly and held him.

Sometime later we had an enormous amount of rain and the creek next to the house flooded.  When the rains stopped my brother and I walked along the creek to see what it was like.  We thought Patches had stayed home but he had followed us.  We didn’t know that until we got home and then we went looking for him.  We followed his tracks yelling for him and followed the tracks straight to the edge of the water and then they stopped.  We screamed and yelled for him walking our way back along the creek towards home but found nothing.  He was nowhere to be found.  Depressed we sat on the manmade dike between our home and the creek just watching the water race by.

Then we heard something.  Don’t know who heard it first by it was a faint beagle howl.  You know the sound.  We looked up creek and there in the middle of the fast moving waters was Patches paddling for his life.  We screamed his name and raced to the edge of the water and he kept paddling toward us.  When he got to us we pulled him out of the water and hugged him over and over.  We didn’t care how wet or muddy he was.  We just cared he was alive.

As life happens, dogs do not have nine lives.  I remember coming home from a church rocker-thon on a cold February morning and being told that Patches had been hit by a car.  This time he had not made it.  One of my brothers had buried him in the yard and erected a cross over his grave.  I cried for days, but because I was a man I tried to hide it.  You know that stupid idea that men aren’t supposed to have feelings.  Yeah, I believed it.

I hated going to chick flicks, not because they are chick flicks but because they are emotional and I would cry and I didn’t want people to see me cry in public.  I cried at my sister’s wedding and people asked if I had allergies.  Sure, that’s what it was.  Others did know better and some made fun of me for it.

Some people still pick on me for crying at sensitive moments.  It doesn’t bother me like it did.  Yes, I cry more than my wife at the movies, even if I’ve seen the movie 100 times.  I can’t help it.  I’m a sensitive guy.  Recently a friend posted a moving video on facebook and I simply said that it made me cry and that I was a softy.  The response was, “That’s not a bad thing, my friend.”  And that is right, because I’m being me.

Children, people, and especially men need to know that emotions are good and to let them out.  Crying does not make me weak.  It makes me a real man.  I used to not let out my feelings because men aren’t supposed to but also because if I let myself show that I care I could also get hurt.  However that is the risk in anything you do.  The important part is to be you.  For me it is to be a sensitive crier.    I hope that you will take today and do that which you’ve been hiding.  Open yourself up to the world and don’t hold back.  You may get hurt because not everyone understands, but it will be worth it for you.  And maybe, just maybe others will see what they can do because of your example.

Keeping Christ in Christmas

happy holidays

“He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.”
― Roy L. Smith

For many years there has been an effort among Christians to call the end of the year holiday season Christmas.  December 25th is the celebration of the birth of Jesus.  Without his birth there would be no holiday.  For more than 2,000 years it’s been Christmas and it shouldn’t change now.  This is the basic argument that we often hear.  No Xmas, no Happy Holidays, no Seasons Greetings.  We want Merry Christmas.

I used to be one of those, but have reconsidered my position.  The main reason is not that it is one more thing that Christians are against. Christianity in many ways has become an anti religion.  People know what we are against, but really don’t know what Christianity is for.  Maybe that comes from a history of “thou shalt nots”.

Instead of being against something, Christians should be promoting things that are positive such as the love of God, the sacrifice of Jesus, forgiveness, mercy, kindness etc..  This holiday season is about the love of God for humanity.  As a follower of Christ we should then use this time to promote that attitude.

I’m sorry that you don’t want to wish someone a happy Holy day (holiday) or Chi Mass (Xmas) with Chi being the first letter of Christ in Greek.  I’m also sorry that Jesus wasn’t born in December.  I’m sorry for a lot of things, but mostly I’m sorry this is even an issue.

How much time and effort is put into changing someone’s mind about what is the correct name for the December season?  How many heated debates end with no one winning?  How will it help America, your local area, your church or even you if we all say Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays?  What is the eternal difference that is being made?

How does arguing about whether we say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays reach out to someone in need?  What difference will that make in someone’s life?  James 2:16  says “If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”  I say if you are more interested in getting everyone to say Merry Christmas and you neglect the real needs of your community it is of no good.

Let me ask you what difference it makes if we can make a business or people say Merry Christmas if your neighbor is without food?  Does this help the man who lives in the park or the drug addict down the street? How does this help the single parent struggling to make ends meet?   Is this really a priority that a Christian should have?

I have often thought that many Christians waste time and effort trying to get laws or rules changed instead of putting effort into the changing of a person’s heart.   Especially our own.  The first thing we need to do is really find the meaning of Christmas.  My pastor reminded the congregation this morning that Christmas is not about me.  It is about how I can give happiness in the lives of others.  The Christ Mass is a celebration of a life lived for others.  The life of Jesus was a life that was filled with sacrifice for others.  A sacrifice for those in need, the hurting, rejected and hated of society.   It wasn’t for changing what people said or getting my way, but about touching those who were hurting.

When will Christianity take Christmas for what it really is?  It is not a name or title to be fought over.  It is a state of mind of sacrifice and love for mankind that goes beyond anything we could ever imagine.  It is grace, mercy, peace and hope all rolled into one.

So what about you?  Will you fight for the name Christmas or will you show Christ in your heart to someone in need?  We will never lose Christmas as long as it is in our hearts.