War on Christmas

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I’m so relieved! Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has announced that, thanks to Trump’s election as president, Christmas is saved. So glad that President-elect Trump is Making Christmas Great Again.

To be honest, though, I was pretty sure Christmas was not going underground when I shopped recently at my local Target. Here’s the display of Christmas items there:

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In contrast, here are the Hanukkah items you can buy at Target:

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And thank heavens I didn’t even see any Eid or Kwanzaa decorations. I guess Christmas’s dominance over the holidays is assured.

But not so fast. Many Americans are still concerned that the political correctness police (AKA the Democratic Party) is preventing innocent citizens from uttering the words, “Merry Christmas.” For instance, just this morning the smiling but frozen Salvation Army bell ringer offered me a mere “Happy Holidays.” But seriously, folks, I think the “C” word is safe, what with all the radio stations playing Christmas music 24/7. I haven’t heard of one instance of someone feeling affronted by being wished a Merry Christmas.

Yet what about that creche you want put up in the public square? The hateful U.S. Constitution won’t allow it! To these people I say: If you want to see baby Jesus in the manger, get your a** to church. They all have them on display, usually outside, so you don’t even have the inconvenience of attending a service.

I do believe there is a war on Christmas, but to my mind it’s a spiritual one. It’s the lack of civility and kindness that has really ratcheted up since the election of the Divider-in- Chief, Donald Trump. Newsweek recently reported the following:

There were nearly 900 reports of hate incidents in the 10 days after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and schools across the country reported an uptick in violence, derogatory comments and verbal harassment, according to a new study from the Southern Poverty Law Center. (newsweek.com, Nov. 29, 2016)

In the ultimate irony of conservatives’ insistence that Christmas is under attack, the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, was vilified for having a black Santa Claus greet kids and hear their Christmas wishes. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which reported this “first” for MOA, was forced to turn off the comments section of its online site due to the racist and hateful messages posted. And the corker is that black Santa Larry Jefferson is a U.S. Army veteran. The right loves their veterans, except when they are black and trying to be Santa.

On the very first Christmas night, when angels appeared to announce the birth of a newborn king, they proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

That is the Christmas spirit for which we should all be striving during these next few weeks. All the rest of it – the jingle bells, decorated trees, presents, and Santa – are just trappings.

 

 

 

Material Girl

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My youngest child is a great kid. She works hard in school, plays multiple sports, and is a good friend to many. But she has one trait that drives me a little batty. She is constantly wanting “stuff.” Whether surfing the web on her phone or comparing herself to her friends, she is continually finding items to add to her ever-expanding wish list. When we go shopping, she finds something in every store that she absolutely must have. I could take her to a hardware store or a place selling home health aids, and she would find some doo-dad that she wanted.

This quest for possessions reaches its zenith during the Christmas season. Her Christmas list is almost comically long, and her three older siblings just shake their heads at her rampant materialism. Mind you, all of them have had their share of “wants” over the years as well. But their desires have always been tempered by a measure of good sense and an acknowledgment that their parents are not going to indulge their every whim. But for my baby, hope springs eternal.

Along with wanting lots of stuff, my daughter has a passion for brand names. I’ve noticed that middle school kids have an almost pathological need to get the right brand of jeans, shoes, jackets, and electronic equipment. But that brand fanaticism seems to fall off in high school. Not so with my youngest. She is an advertiser’s dream. Just slap the word “Patagonia” on something, and she will want it.

I have sometimes wondered whether my daughter’s outsized need for things stems from deprivation early in life. For her first 11 months of life, she had to share the limited resources of goods and attention with dozens of other babies in a Chinese orphanage. And even though we showered her with love and attention (and toys!) when we brought her home with us, she may have a nagging sense of wanting that is hard to fill.

Each year, I have had my kids help me shop for and wrap presents for a needy family for Christmas. Last year, this became my youngest daughter’s Confirmation service project, and she indeed threw herself into every aspect of it. It was humbling for both of us to realize that the wish lists for another family consisted of such prosaic items as socks, work boots, and jeans. My husband and I have strived to teach our children that we are incredibly fortunate, that others are not so lucky, and finally, that material things do not bring happiness.

I hope that over the years, through her knowledge that we love her abundantly and will never leave her lacking for attention, my daughter will come to value relationships over material goods. I hope maturity helps her realize that it is how she moves through the world that makes her special, not the label on her jacket. Meanwhile, I will try to handle my “material girl” with humor and compassion.

 

Lone Star State

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This weekend I’m “gone to Texas.” My trip to the U.S. state that defines the notion of “big”is due to my son’s impending graduation from the University of Texas in Austin. After four plus years of wearing cowboy boots and drawling, “y’all,” my boy is entering the great big world of adulthood.

My second born has been my high-maintenance child. From an early age, he developed life-threatening food allergies and asthma. Temperamental from birth, he took a lot out of me physically and emotionally. As he grew up, we had frequent skirmishes over behavior and school achievement. My husband has always said that of my four children, he is the most like me in personality, which is why we have so regularly butted heads.

At the same time, my son has always been highly intelligent, creative, and sensitive. At school, he always took up for the child who was being teased or bullied. At home, he could be found deep into a marathon Lego-building activity or creating a tableau out of action figures. Using our 8 mm video camera, he made silly movies with his friends. No doubt he has had his share of shenanigans in college too. It’s difficult to imagine him in the adult world.

Yet Saturday he will don his cap and gown and, in the words of St. Paul, “put childish things behind” him. He will step out into the adult world of work, taxes, and independence. We have come a long way from the days when I had to pack him peanut-free snacks for school or sleep away camp. A long way from sleepless nights cuddled under a blanket to let the cold night air soothe his terrible cough. With God’s grace, he has grown up to be fine young man, one of whom I am very proud.

So here’s to my lone star in that vast world of Texas. May his boots be shiny, his barbecue tender, and his Longhorns winners. Hook ’em!

 

Of Colin Kaepernick, Flag-Burning, and Starbucks Cups

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Joshua Feuerstein has saved Christmas. At least that’s what he said in a recent interview with the Washington Post. Feuerstein was referring to the protest he started last year against the plain red Starbucks holiday cups that got everyone’s knickers in a twist. Some Christians took the snowflake-free cup design as yet another sign that liberals are trying to take the Christ out of Christmas. So Feuerstein encouraged believers to go into their local Starbucks, order a drink, and give their name as “Merry Christmas” so that the barista would have to write it on their cups. Oh, it must be a hoot to work at Starbucks.

The protest apparently worked because this year’s Starbucks cups feature holiday designs, albeit none that are religious. Still, Feuerstein was gleeful, crowing, “And we not only saved Christmas, we elected Donald Trump as our next president and saved the country!” (Chicago Tribune, Nov. 29, 2016) In fact, Trump’s victory has put Starbucks in the crosshairs of the far right once again. This time, Trump supporters are encouraged to give their name as Trump for the side of their drink cup. This has caused a fracas at some Starbucks outlets and led to the complaint that Trump supporters’ First Amendment rights are being violated. (Apparently the savvy baristas realized that these folks’ names were not really “Trump.”)

Well, to begin with, the First Amendment protects our free speech from interference by the government. We are not, however, allowed to say anything we want in a private establishment. (Ask my kids.) Furthermore, it has been the far right – the Trump supporters – who have most vocally denounced public speech that actually is protected by the Bill of Rights. Take the Colin Kaepernick case. Kaepernick spurred outrage by refusing to stand for the national anthem before a 49ers game. He was protesting the racial bias that he believes exists in American society. At the time, I was critical of Kaepernick’s gesture myself. However, I have come to realize that his protest was not only legitimate, but also effective. Across the country, athletes began to make their own peaceful political statements by sitting out the national anthem. The country got to talking not just about Kaepernick’s protest, but about how far we have yet to go in race relations.

A more ironic and sinister move has been President-elect Donald Trump’s call to imprison and/or strip away the citizenship of people who burn the American flag. Having already threatened the free speech of journalists repeatedly during his presidential campaign, Trump now wants to go after the First Amendment rights of protesters. Even conservative Justice Antonin Scalia would have vehemently disagreed with such a move.

Flag burning has always been a potent symbolic gesture of anger and protest against the policies and actions of governments. It has always stirred resentment on the part of some people, which is why it is such an effective act of protest. While I personally do not like any kind of desecration of the flag, including wearing it as an article of clothing or headwear, I agree with the English writer Beatrice Evelyn Hall, who famously characterized the beliefs of the philosopher Voltaire as, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” An attack on flag burning is an attack on the right to disagree with the government. Our right to do so must be zealously guarded.

As for those Trump supporters who want to have their hero’s name written on their Starbucks cups, I say that Starbucks baristas should give them what they want. Imagine the chaos when several drinks come out, all with the name “Trump” on them. Decaf Debbie might be given Double-Shot Fred’s drink. Lactose intolerant Lucy could end up with a nonfat latte while Joe gets the runs from drinking a soy-based peppermint mocha. That would be a delicious comeuppance for people who think the design of a drink cup is going to make America great again.

 

 

Turkey Drop*

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My daughter recently taught me a term I had never heard before: the turkey drop. The turkey drop refers to the phenomenon that occurs when romantic couples go off to different colleges or graduate schools and try to maintain a long-distance relationship. Invariably (apparently), these couples break up by Thanksgiving – thus the term “turkey drop.”

When I first heard it, I found the expression humorous. Lately, though, I’ve been considering what people/things/habits I might separate myself from. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving and the time-honored Turkey Drop, I am challenging myself to get rid of the following:

1. mean-spirited people on Facebook. They will never have to know I am unhappy with their “low blow” types of posts. I can simply unfollow their posts without unfriending them. I have no doubt some of my FB friends have decided to unfollow my many liberal political diatribes.

2. arguing about politics. In the same vein, I’m pretty sure I have never convinced someone to change his or her political convictions by arguing my case. As my daughter recently pointed out, after 28 years of marriage, my husband and I are still polar opposites when it comes to politics. Why spend fruitless hours and create hard feelings arguing about partisan issues? I plan to follow the same policy on Facebook, where it is much easier to volley verbal grenades at one’s opponent from safely behind a keyboard. This does not mean I will not continue to post articles and blog posts expressing my views. I simply won’t engage in a pointless shouting match.

3. sarcasm. I enjoy a witty barb as much as the next person, and some of my favorite comedians use sarcasm like a finely honed weapon. Yet I tend to use it  as a defense mechanism or way to feel superior to others.

4. general negativity. This may be the hardest challenge of all for me. I tend to be a “glass half full” type of person. Negativity leads to fatalistic thinking, depression, gossip, and surliness. The holidays are a good time to shake things up and try to approach the world with a positive point of view.

I have many other bad habits that could use a revamp, but as the Christmas holidays approach, I think these are a good start. I encourage others to perform their own “turkey drops” and get rid of whatever is holding them back from claiming their own happiness.

What turkeys do you need to drop?

*Author’s note: In looking for a photo to accompany my post, I learned that in Yellville, Arkansas, live turkeys are actually dropped from planes every Thanksgiving. This is a horrible and barbaric tradition and instance of animal cruelty. Yellvillains should be ashamed of themselves. Time to “turkey drop” this tradition!

 

Stumbling Toward Thankfulness

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I am having a hard time feeling cheerful this holiday season. Recent events of national political significance have rendered me alternatively depressed and angry. Every day’s news deepens my feelings of helplessness and fear. People keep telling me to get over it and move on. Well, I have no intentions of moving on or ignoring what is happening in the country I love. But I do need to work on a little perspective and seek some peace for my own sake and the sake of my family.

One thing that helps is the realization that we have had much darker times in the history of this country. The Civil War literally threatened to rip our Union apart. Our nation has survived two world wars, the Great Depression, and the terrible quagmire of Vietnam – not to mention the many thousands of lives lost on 9/11 and subsequently in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Our black citizens no longer live under Jim Crow laws. Women have the right to vote, own property, and work outside the home. While I can’t pretend that things are completely rosy in our society today, I can at least acknowledge that we have made great strides toward tolerance and freedom in America.

Another thing that helps me is the realization that I have people whom I love dearly and who love me. In less than 48 hours, my two sons will be home from college. They will get busy messing up their too-pristine bedrooms and looking for home-cooked food. They, along with my two daughters, will join us for our annual road trip to Detroit, Michigan, where we will feast on my mother-in-law’s delicious Thanksgiving meal and reconnect with brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins. No matter how we may differ politically, we are family, and nothing can ever take the place of that fact.

Finally, I have a strong faith in God, who I truly believe is in control. While I don’t think God wants me to sit around and wait for the Second Coming, I do think He asks me to trust Him that all will be well. I will try.

I am so blessed in so many ways. For the holidays, I will turn my focus outward into the world and try to bring goodness into it. There are so many things I can do, and indeed that each one of us can do, to make the world a little happier, healthier, and more secure. Toy and food drives, donations to charities, and simple human kindness in our everyday dealings with others can go a long way to bring about a society in which we are proud to live.

This holiday season I plan to take to heart the adage to “be the change you want to see in the world.”

 

Unify This

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342e5f765072632be75f1fb13e466612I’m getting a little tired of Republicans and other Trump supporters telling us it’s time for unity. Trump is our president, they say, and it’s time to get behind him.

Well, for eight years, the Republicans in Congress did everything in their power to obstruct  the Obama administration. In addition to wasting taxpayer money continually trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Republican Congress refused to act on immigration and would not even hold a hearing to consider Obama’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. Where was the talk of unity then?

Trump supporters of all stripes voted for a man whose entire campaign was run on divisiveness: pitting white working class Americans against minorities, demonizing Muslims, spewing misogyny, and courting white supremacists, one of whom he has named to be his chief strategist in the White House. Instead of developing a coherent policy platform, Trump spent his time lying, contradicting himself, and hurling insults, most pointedly at the Democrat nominee he recently thanked for her service to the country.

I truly hope I am wrong about Donald Trump. As I said to my brother-in-law who was crowing over the Trump victory, nothing would make me happier than to eat a huge slice of humble pie should Trump prove to be a good president. I’d even let my brother-in-law carve the slice himself.

So far, however, Trump has nominated  hate mongers, unqualified individuals, or business-as-usual insiders to serve in his administration. Add to that the fact that Republicans firmly control both houses of Congress and show no appetite for being conciliatory. Let’s just say I won’t hold my breath.

I respect the office of the presidency, but I do not respect this man. President Trump will need to earn the respect of the American people through his words and actions. Then and only then will there be any hope of unity in this fractured nation of ours.