Monday, December 9, 2019

When It Comes to the "War on Christmas", I Surrender


War (noun) 1. a state of…open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations
2. a state of hostility, conflict, or antagonism            --Merriam-Webster Dictionary

I give up. I surrender. Better yet, can we just declare a truce in the so-called “War on Christmas”?

Yes, it’s back, like that ugly Christmas sweater Uncle Jack always wears to the party. Like the 24 hour Christmas movie marathon that’s been running on the Hallmark TV channel since July 5th. Like the Christmas decorations that show up on the shelves at the local CVS the day after Halloween. I hope and pray every December that this yearly chapter in the culture wars might just fade away, but no such luck.

This “war” stubbornly and annoyingly returns every December.

Politicians from the President on down declare that the war is on, that we fight because some want to threaten treasured holiday traditions.  We can’t say “Merry Christmas” anymore!! We can’t sing Christmas carols in school anymore!! We can’t go to Macy’s or JC Penny for a Christmas sale anymore because they now have the gall call it a holiday sale!!! We go to Starbucks and their annual holiday cup says “Merry Coffee!!!!” We have to call the Christmas parade the Holiday parade!?

Forgive me for not getting all huffed and puffed up about this “attack” on Christmas. I mean, I kind of know Christmas, and really well too. I have been in the business of Christmas, of preaching Christmas and teaching Christmas and declaring Christmas for more than thirty years as a local church pastor. I’d like to think that if there was an actual war on the sacred traditions of my faith or on the birth story we so love or the hymns we so enjoy singing in December: I’d know it.

In three plus decades, not once have my religious freedoms around Christmas been threatened or taken away, not for me, not for my church, not for one person of my faith that I know. Not once have folks complained to me that they can’t put a candle in the window or sing “Silent Night” or set up a home nativity set or light Advent candles or serve the poor on behalf of a poor little boy born some 2,000 years ago. 

Yet still the “war” rages on in places like Charleston, West Virginia. The mayor of that city recently decided to rename the “Christmas Parade” down there the “Holiday Parade”, in her words, to make it more inclusive and reflective of the religious diversity in that place. Not everyone celebrates Christmas as a holy day or even a holiday, right? Is it really such a bad thing to recognize this truth?

Apparently, yes, at least according to the aggrieved and angry and rage filled folks who overwhelmed the mayor’s office with nasty phone calls and filled up her Facebook page with diatribes and threats of recall, who so overwhelmed her with fierce opposition that she relented and went back to the old name for the parade.

As one group of red hot righteous state senators wrote in a press release protesting the mayor’s decision, “Radical liberals in Charleston want to eliminate Christ from our Capitol City’s annual Christmas Parade….[they] renamed the longtime Christmas Parade to Winter Parade and banned the Freedom of Religion for parade participants in an outright assault on our Constitution. We are calling on Mayor Goodwin and her liberal allies to end this madness and allow our citizens to freely and fully exercise their Freedom of Religion with a CHRISTMAS PARADE.”

Wow.  It’s hard to know how to respond to such a harsh screed. I can see why the Mayor finally gave up and surrendered.

Here’s the irony of this whole “war”. It’s being waged on behalf of one who is called the prince of peace by those who embrace that religious tradition. One whose birth was heralded by a choir of angels, who sung for all to hear, of  “Peace on earth and goodwill to all people.” The war is being fought in the name of one, whom some believe, came not for the kings or the politicians or the power brokers but instead to love the least of these: the poor and the lonely and the war torn and the orphans and the widows and the lost.

If you think about it, a war on Christmas is actually against everything Christmas is supposed to mean.  So, my advice: ignore the “war”. It’s more heat than flame, more smoke than fire, and more bluster than truth.

A war? No. But peace? Yes.

I surrender.

  

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

My Three Favorite Thanksgiving Words: I Need You.


“On Thanksgiving Day, we acknowledge our dependence.” – William Jennings Bryan

Seventeen people, give or take a few souls. That’s how many folks will sit around my Thanksgiving table this year.  And here’s a confession before the big meal.

I need them. Really need them.

I need every single one of those guests, every last person who will claim chez Hudson for a meal and maybe a game of Scrabble and definitely some football on the TV, Thursday.
I need them all. I depend upon them all. I cannot imagine my life without all of them in it. You might even say I’m needy when it comes to these folks I love, these people who are among the most important in my life. Yes, I’m needy, needful, need-based, a “needer”, though I’m not quite sure if that last term is really a word. It should be.

I’m actually kind of proud of being so needy.  

I certainly need my 84 year old Mom, she who with tender love and deep wisdom to share, has shaped me into the person I am today. Definitely need her. Her pumpkin pie too. My sister is coming to dinner, my older sib who always watches out for me. She’s in my need circle, though I’m not sure I’ll ever like her squash casserole. Sorry sis.

And there’s my friends whom I absolutely need: grad school buds whom I’ve shared Thanksgiving with for more than thirty years. Old, old friends who’ve always invited me to be a part of their families. Friends: I need them because they are forever reminding me that I am so much more than I might think I am, especially when I am hard on myself or just down about life. My friends will all show up heavy laden: with scrumptious homemade rolls and spices for the turkey and fresh brussels sprouts. Note: I may need brussels sprouts but I definitely do not want brussels sprouts. Nope.

There will be lots of kids at the table too. Truth be told they are not kids anymore.  In the cycle of life, they are now young adults, though I admit I wish I could still read to them like I used to…when they’d squeeze in next to me on the couch and want to hear about “Curious George” or Dr. Seuss. I needed them then, still do now, for their unconditional love. Now they are college students taking a break from the grind of classes or work for a few days of rest and they will bring their friends too. I need them all. I am so proud of them all. I get to watch them all grow up too. Wow. Thanks God.


It’s funny how our world takes words like need, or needy or dependent, and so often marks them as negative or an insult or code for human weakness. She is so needy! Every man for himself! Who wants to be dependent on others? Survival of the fittest, others be damned, especially the needy, the poor, the powerless, the lonely, the last ones in line, right?  

Wrong. At least in the world I want to live in. A world where we recognize and celebrate how much we need each other. A world where we remember we cannot live, if not for the folks in our lives, they who raised us up, who stick by us through the thick and thin, in ill health and good health, in days of plenty and days of want; friends and family whom we so need and who need us too.

Come meal time on Turkey Day, here’s what’ll happen.

Every available surface on my dining room table will be covered with a heaping pile of turkey on a platter and steaming bowls of carrots and a mountainous container of mashed potatoes and gelatinous cranberry sauce on a plate. Then someone at the table will ask, “Who’s saying grace?” and I will ask each person around the table to share what they are most thankful for.

I do it every year.

Guaranteed my Mom will choke up and all of us will listen in gratitude and grace as we talk about our blessings, especially the blessings of being loved and knowing love and giving love.  We’ll offer these prayers to the God from whom all blessings flow, the God I know I need, absolutely. Then we’ll dig in, aware of how wonderful it is to need one another.

Need. We all need to need others. We all need to be needed.  

Happy Thanksgiving!


          
    

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Most Important Issue Missing in the Race for President Is....


"We must stretch for our better angels instead of falling toward our lowest instincts." 
--former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

What would you ask the Presidential candidates, if given the chance?

Let’s say you got the opportunity to sit before this posse, this herd, this scrum of 23 candidates now running for the highest office in the land, and that your exchange with these men and women would also be filmed for posterity. Since this is a pipe dream, let’s also assume, unlike much of the time in debates and public exchanges, when candidates dodge a question or give a non-answer or are evasive or vague or just downright ignore a query, this time…they actually have to tell the truth. The absolute truth. No stonewalling. No equivocation.

It’s my fantasy, so I get to set the ground rules.

So, what to ask? What’s most important to you as an American voter in 2020? What national problem perhaps keeps you up at night? What worries you when you think about the nation and the world your children will soon inherit? What do you want your candidate to actually do on day one, January 20th, 2021, when, at approximately noon, the 46th President of the United States will take the oath?   

If the polls are correct, Americans are as split on the issues that need to be addressed as they are about everything else. According to one national survey from the end of this summer (Rasmussen.com), that polled 1,000 likely American voters, the top three issues for Democrats are health care, gun laws and the economy; for Republicans, national security, the economy and immigration; and for independent voters, the economy, health care and national security.

Is one of these topics what you’d demand honesty about, from your candidates and future president?  Is it “the economy, stupid”, as one candidate’s advisors once infamously declared; what is in, or not in, your wallet and 401k and savings account? Or is health care and our country’s chronic inability to provide affordable, accessible medical care for all? Or maybe the question of immigration? That’s certainly been at the fore of our national dialogue ever since the current commander in chief took office. Keep ‘em all out! Let ‘em all in!          

Now, if I got to be the one to ask a question, I’d take a different tack, one less about specifics, and more about the tone and the tenor and the essence of the one who governs. As a person of faith, I’m certainly very concerned about how well our nation cares for its people, especially those on the edge the poor, the uninsured, the sick and infirmed, the stranger and the prisoner. That’s on my heart. But there’s one civic challenge I see as trumping any policy question, any economic indicators, any law and order stance.

In 2020, I’m most anxious about character. The character of the person who will lead us.  The character of the woman or man who has the courage and the chutzpah to actually want to govern this wonderful and challenged, this soaring and stumbling republic of some 330 million souls.  The character and essential human decency of the one who leads us and for better and for worse, somehow embodies who we are collectively as a people.

So, here’s my question or questions, actually.

What will you do to bring out the best in us, as Americans?  How will you work to appeal to the better angels of our nature, as citizens and neighbors, as fellow human beings who all call the same place home, these United States of America? How will you make each us want to do better by one another and be better in how we live with each other?  How will you lift us all up and not just tear us apart, for a vote, for an office, for an ego, for a hollow victory?

These are the questions not being asked by the media, by the folks in the press who seem much better at treating the election more like a horse race and less like an actual struggle for the soul of America, for how we see ourselves morally, ethically, civically.

I want a President who inspires me, who makes me want to serve others and not just myself. I want a President who appeals to the angel within me and not the devil, who leads not with a clenched fist of conflict but with an open hand of community. I want a President who calls all of us to put aside narrow interest for the national interest, to love country before party, a President who reminds us that the national motto is not “every man for himself!” but instead “E pluribus unum”, from many one.

Will you bring out the best in us? Please. PLEASE! 

I can dream, can’t I?