Christmas

Christmas values – Day 6: Charity

“Scrooge was better than his word.  He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father.  He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.  Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms.  His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.”

It feels like at this time of year, liberal or conservative, we all grow a little more tender hearted towards those in need.

Ok, our definitions of who is in need are sometimes head scratching: a friend of mine in the midwest recently started pastoring a church that runs a toy drive among its working- to middle-class congregation (a lot of nurses and administrators and so forth), with the toys going to their own children at the church’s big Christmas celebration. When he asked about whether they might want to give to children in real need, maybe through the town’s fire and police annual Toys for Tots project, they stroked their chins and acknowledged that one year, they did give the leftover toys to charity.

But that congregation notwithstanding, we all donate a little more and smile a little more and hope it all balances out when we claim our tax deductions in April.

Of course, there are some people who worry that even this season is becoming less charitable as a warped version of free market capitalism becomes laudable in certain circles (what Ayn Rand horrifyingly referred to as “the virtue of selfishness”). Witness here Jimmy Kimmel’s rendition of the Fox News interpretation of It’s a Wonderful Life: (more…)

Christmas values – day 5: Love

This is part of the twelve-day series on the values of Christmas I am writing in an attempt to stay in the season of Christmas through January 6.

“I got my mom a STERLING SILVER NECKLACE!” my ten-year-old friend said proudly to my grown-up friend and me just before Christmas, so proud of himself for having pulled off such a high end gift.

“Uh huh. How did you get her something so nice?” my friend asked carefully.

He said something about allowance and we let the moment pass.

My friend and I weren’t sure whether to believe him.

Because ten years of both really messed up parenting and a really messed up foster care system have done a number on him.

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Christmas Values – Day 4: Hope

There is a certain gallows humor among hospital chaplains, I’ve been told — it’s a way to blow off steam in the midst of carrying so much grief for so many people. But it’s something that doesn’t generally leak out beyond those who live the experience, because there’s still some reverence for what is sacred about being with people in such vulnerable moments.

Something similar shows up in some activist circles — the ones where people do this work of trying to transform broken systems all the time. People make flippant comments about elected officials that they would never make in mixed company as a way of blowing off steam about their sisyphean task.

But there’s a fine line about who can make the jokes and to whom. And at the heart of it, I think, is hope. (more…)

Christmas values – day 3: peace

 I am sad about the Christmas tree in Jack London Square.

I have taken my niece to see it newly lit.

I have wandered the pop-up shops and wished I could afford to shop at them.

I have basked in the joy of Christmas that I’m lucky enough to experience because my family is whole and loving and enjoys being together.

And maybe I’ve been a bad ally, because I’ve really enjoyed having a few days where I only had to work a few hours a day and otherwise enjoy Christmas music and turkey and cake with my parents who are still mostly healthy and still very much with me.

If you’re not from Oakland, you may have missed the news.

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Christmas values — day 2: joy

I woke up this morning feeling sorry for homophobes.

If you know me, you might be surprised by this reaction, because I don’t tend to suffer intolerance. And at some point in my young life I realized that God doesn’t screw up people, so if God made people gay, I probably shouldn’t keep telling God to stop making mistakes.

But I realized afresh today that some of the people who have brought the most beauty and love into my life are LGBTQ. And people who want to make people “pray away the gay” (and hate away and threaten away and terrorize away the gay) clearly need more beauty and love in their lives. This, I know, is an incredibly straight-privileged position to take. If I were LGBTQ, I would probably be a lot angrier than most of my friends are at the world.

All of this came to me as I started thinking of a series I meant to start yesterday for the twelve days of Christmas, lifting up the values of Christmas and how I see them showing up in the world around me.

And not long after I woke up, I read an article about a couple who had “Faggots” scrawled into their apartment door and responded as follows:

front door

I was struck by the joy-over-pain bravery of the response, and I found myself thinking about how joy is a choice. (more…)

The Ballad of Harry Moore

Preached at First Congregational Church of Oakland, December 14, 2014.I’ve had the story of one of our forebears on my heart recently on this Black Lives Matter Sunday. So while I was supposed to preach “People Get Ready,” my sermon this morning is actually “The Ballad of Harry Moore,” as written by Langston Hughes and set to music by Sweet Honey in the Rock.

It seems I hear Harry Moore; from the earth his voice still cries:
No bomb can kill the dreams I hold, for freedom never dies.
Freedom never dies, I say. Freedom never dies.
No bomb can kill the dreams I hold for freedom never dies.

Some people call Harry Moore the first martyr of the civil rights movement – he was killed by the Ku Klux Klan on Christmas night, 1951.

A teacher himself, Harry Moore fought for fair pay for Black teachers in Florida, and for the right to vote for Black people throughout the 1940s. He investigated lynchings and worked in the most rural parts of the state, where the risk was highest and the gains particularly hard-fought. During his time as a field organizer, Florida had the highest voter registration level of African Americans of any state in the south: 33%, despite it being some of the toughest terrain in which to organize. In fact, Harry Moore’s determination to work at the most hopeless edges of the movement had just earned him a demotion within the movement, and his opposition to an increase in membership dues actually got him fired from his position with the NAACP. But that Christmas was the Moores’ 25th wedding anniversary, and they celebrated that whatever their status in the organization, they continued to be part of the movement. (more…)