Saturday, December 27, 2008


The 2008 Christmas season is now behind us. Gifts have been purchased, given, received, and in some cases returned or exchanged. Many of us have remembered the less fortunate during the season. Somehow we can always count on a warm-fuzzy feeling when we give our support to campaigns such as Salvation Army, Rescue Missions, Domestic Abuse shelters, Toys for Tots, and the like. Giving is a way that some of us express our compassion.

Compassion can be defined as deep awareness of the suffering of another, coupled with the wish to relieve it. It runs deeper than donating an unwrapped toy or a can of yams to a struggling family. Compassion drives us to want to do something that will make a difference in someone's life, to somehow contribute to changing their circumstances for the better.

One way that the church I attend shows compassion is in adopting a local domestic violence shelter. Adopting a family at a shelter is not unusual, especially during the holidays, and doing so does make a difference. In fact, last year the mother of one of the adopted families commented that the gift that she received from the "adopting" family was the first Christmas gift that she received in seventeen years!

However, December is only one month out of the year. These individuals and families are escaping months and sometimes years of living in fear, and are in a transitional process to break the cycle of allowing abuse to continue. And the change can be stressful. So our church goes a step beyond gifts at Christmas time to relieve the suffering of these families. Once every three months we host a special event where the families can just hang out together. For these events our church does all the work -- set-up, cooking, clean-up -- and teh only expectation that we have of the families is that they have a good time. During the fall we had a pizza party where we played group games such as Pictionary and Mad-Libs. Last August we hosted a picnic at a local park, with all thetypical family picnic games -- three-legged race, balloon toss, face painting, and the like. At the picnic one boy, about four years old, was reluctant to eat -- he didn't believe that all of this was for him. Another girl, about nine years old, told me that this was the first time she had ever been on a picnic.

I suppose my point is this: Compassion doesn't originate in our bleeding hearts or moral sweat, but in God's mercy (Romans 9:14, Message). Just as God's love and compassion for us knows no season, our compassion for others ought not to be seasonal. Suffering and social injustice in all its forms is present throughout the year. Shouldn't we be moved to action on a regular basis, and not just when we are buying the fixin's for our holiday dinners?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Love one another

I’ve heard it said that, for a "belief system" that teaches "Love one another," Christianity is the most narrow-minded religion there is. Many nonChristians see people who wear the Christian label as being exclusionary. Unless you enjoy their entertainment, agree with their politics, shop where they shop, read their books, have sex only with your spouse, you can’t in good conscious call yourself a Christian. After all, you don’t want to do anything that could be misconstrued as consorting with the enemy.


If someone listens to Madonna, is a registered Democrat, buys their kids’ school clothes at Wal-Mart, read “Harry Potter”, or “lived together in sin”, they’re “of the enemy” and should be shunned from our congregations. If you’re not “for” Jesus, you’re “against” him. There can’t be any grey area, right?

Thank God most Christians I know do not believe that way. If all Christians did, then yes, Christianity would be the narrow-minded religion that some repute it to be, and the love of Jesus would be only for those who obeyed his commandments.

“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” That is the command that Jesus gave his disciples at the Last Supper (John 13:34).

Jesus was not choosy in whom he loved. Rich and poor. Healthy and sick. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Being human means we are not perfect people. Not everything we do is the right thing, and love does not mean we accept what is wrong. Not everyone was lovable, yet he loved them anyway. He comforted the challenged, and challenged the comfortable, hoping to leave those he encountered more blessed than they were before.

Perhaps we should do the same. This is how everyone will recognize that we are Jesus’ disciples—when they see the love we have for each other.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

What Gives?

The Holidays. 'Tis the season to be jolly, or so the song goes. People everywhere are actively engaging in discussions about what they want to receive under the Christmas tree. People are bringing their kids to the malls to sit on Santa's lap to whisper to the red-suited-guy what their most desired toy is. The dreaded ChiaPets start appearing on drug-store end-caps. And judging from the commercials, more people buy electric razors this time of year more than any other. (Perhaps it's to shave the ChiaPet?)

When people think of the term "materialism" it is though of in terms of someone wanting something for himself, someone who is not content unless he receives "things." But it appears there is quite a bit of materialism on the giving end as well. In fact, according to Americans spend $450,000,000,000 (that's $450 Billion) on Christmas! I don't know how the bean-counters came up with that dollar amount, but that's a lot of ChiaPets and electric razors!

There's a lot of talk around the office fax machine and water cooler about what people are giving kids and loved ones for Christmas. What's sad is when the discussion includes the lament, "I don't know what I'm getting for my (insert close family member) for Christmas this year." Or the growing cop-out, "I just give gift cards. Everyone can use a gift card."

Hold on a minute! If you're a close relative you should know something about their tastes, their likes and dislikes, their passions and pet-peeves, right? It would make sense that you might be able to think of something meaningful without much prompting, especially from someone who doesn't even know the recipient. Having to even ask a question like that indicates that there's more you need to know about these people in your life.

Here's an idea - Rather than think of the perfect "thing" to get for someone, consider what you can give that will show that you are interested in knowing your loved ones more deeply over the coming year. For example, if you know someone who keeps a journal, give a comfortable pen (or refills for his - or her - favorite pen) and a blank journal (in his - or her - preferred style - leather? hardcover? spiral-bound?), with the first entry from YOU, saying how much he or she means to you and how you hope he - or she - grows from the journaling experience. If you want to give more, a gift card to Starbuck's - or It's A Grind - would be a nice touch.

Or, here's an other one - Let's say you already succumbed to buying a ChiaPet for your daughter. Add a note to it with a written commitment to go to the local SoupPlantation (salad bar) for lunch once a month - just the two of you - with the purpose of getting to know each other better.

And ladies, if the Norelco Electric Shaver is already under the tree for your man, add a note telling him that you would like to spend more time face-to-face, to know him better, during the coming year. (Guys, if you even THINK of doing this for any female in your life make sure your funeral plans are taken car of!)

There are as many ways to get to know each other as there are cheesy, useless gifts out there. What gifts will you give this Christmas to get to know your loved ones better?