The Case for Claus

Christmas is over. We’ve bought, wrapped, eaten, sung, eaten, unwrapped, eaten. We’ve taken part in our respective holiday traditions, which, for a lot of us, includes a visit from Santa Claus.

me-as-santa
That’s me. Doing my best bowl-full-of-jelly Santa impression.

I know there are people who choose not to partake in the Santa Claus tradition. And that’s fine. But the people who grind my gears are those who ruin it for the Santa believers. Many who choose to not include in Santa in their Christmas traditions claim he isn’t biblical. Yes, Santa in our modern-day society has come to represent commercialism, but his origin is about generosity and Jesus. And while Santa isn’t actually mentioned explicitly in the Bible, all the things he stood for are there.

St. Nicholas, the fourth century bishop of Myra (modern-day Turkey) on whom the Santa Claus we know today is based, showed his devotion to God through kindness and generosity to those in need. Yep, you read that right: fourth century. That’s like, a long-ass time ago.

St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, modeled true giving and faithfulness and is known as a lover of the poor and patron saint of children. He was devoted to Jesus and he did a lot of Jesus-y things. When Myra experienced a famine in AD 311, 312 and 333, Bishop Nicholas convinced sailors carrying wheat cargo to give a measure of grain from each ship so the people could eat. The sailors gave the wheat, and then continued to Alexandria where the full amount of wheat was accounted for.

In AD 325 he confronted and slapped a man teaching that the Son Jesus was not equal to Father God. Nicholas was stripped of his office and placed in prison, where he encountered Jesus bringing him the book of the Gospels and Mary bringing him his stole. This miracle had him reinstated. When three soldiers on leave in a port that served Myra were arrested and sentenced to death during a mob situation, Bishop Nicholas grabbed the sword from the executioner’s hands and had the innocent soldiers cleared of their charges. He successfully implored Constantine to have the high taxes of Myra greatly reduced. After Constantine declared tolerance for Christianity, Nicholas destroyed idol shrines, drove away demons and built churches in Myra.

That back-in-the-day “Santa” was a pretty cool dude. And while our Santa tradition has evolved to be more kid-friendly, he still represents generosity and good will.

In the end, each parent has to decide whether they want to have the Santa tradition. But maybe your Santa tradition can be more about teaching devotion to Jesus, generosity and love instead of greed and commercialism.

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Who are the People in Your Neighborhood?

I’ve been ruminating on this topic for a few months now, and I just haven’t been able to adequately put my thoughts to paper. You know when you have something so good in your head and then you write it out and delete it because it sounds so dumb? That’s why I don’t have a journal. #overlyselfcriticalwriterproblems

I’ve also been hesitant to publicly provide rhetoric on the current state of the world because, well, it sucks. Like many, I become justifiably outraged by current events. But unlike many, I try to avoid debating topics of which I might not have all the information, which means I typically stay quiet on social media or during conversations…especially when I see people posting inaccurate facts or being hostile to one another. But hiding our heads in the sand isn’t going to make any kind of positive impact. I’ve attempted to cobble together my thoughts and emotions in one hopefully cohesive post that might help others struggling like me.

Yes, the world sucks. But honestly? It’s always sucked. Its suckiness is just in our faces more now because we have the information, pictures, videos, opinions, etc. at our fingertips and in our faces in an instant. But is it because humans suck? We’re definitely not perfect, and a lot of times we suck because we’re acting in our own best interests first. But God made each of us in His image. And God doesn’t suck, so if we’re in His image, deep down we don’t really suck either. Yes, there are some really sucky people out there doing some really sucky things. But most of us, regardless of theology or ideology, are pretty decent and want the best for everyone.

When I think about this, I remember Jesus’ parable about the Samaritan helping the robbed, beaten, and left-for-dead man on the side of the road.

People are fearful. And justifiably so. I’m fearful as a woman who could lose her reproductive rights. I’m fearful of the normalization of sexual harassment. I’m fearful for my black, Hispanic, Asian, gay, transgender, non-Christian friends. I’m fearful for our economy and our country’s relationships with other nations.

There are productive and unproductive ways to react to fear. Those who are lashing out at others, spewing hate online, and trying to impose sanctions that limit another’s rights are reacting to their fears of the “other” unproductively. Let’s counteract fear with faith, education and understanding. Who would have blamed that Samaritan if he’d reacted out of fear and left the man to bleed out and die on the side of the road, after the way Samaritans were often treated? But he responded counter-intuitively in faith, not fear.

It’s easy to fear the unknown or other by pointing fingers or imposing our beliefs through legislation, rules, muscle or intimidation. It’s much more difficult to have an open heart to someone different than ourselves. I’m not saying we need to invite every stranger from the street into our homes. But I am saying we need to rethink our definition of “neighbor,” and re-calibrate our brains and hearts to associate “other” as “neighbor.”

“Neighbor” isn’t limited to someone who lives near me, looks like me, talks like me and believes what I believe. “Neighbor” means those who live near and far, those who look like me and those who look different, those who talk like me and those who speak another language, and those who believe what I believe and those who don’t. “Neighbor” might mean someone in need; or someone living in a different town, state, or country; or someone with a different religion; or someone with a different skin color; or someone with a different sexual preference; or someone with a different gender.

When the lawyer asked Jesus, “and who is my neighbor?” Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan and then asked which of the three men acted as a good neighbor to the beaten man, the lawyer said “He who showed him mercy,” and Jesus responded with “Go and do likewise.”

To Jesus, “neighbor” was an all-encompassing word for person. What if we extended the meaning of “neighborhood” to world? What if we showed mercy to all our neighbors? What if we began considering every person a neighbor instead of a stranger?

Ready, Aim, Point

Not guns. Though I may someday get up on my soapbox about that. I’m talking about fingers.

Why are humans so quick to point blame at other humans? A child fell into a zoo enclosure and zoo authorities did what was necessary to save the child. A child at a beach lagoon at a theme park hotel got close to water and got snatched by an alligator. These are both so, so unfortunate. And sad. A bunch of people are trying to figure out who needs to take responsibility for these incidents. A bunch of people on the internet are taking it upon ourselves to judge parents for things that could happen to any of us.

I know I got lost in stores when I was a child. I know I did things I shouldn’t have been doing. I probably leaned too far over into a zoo enclosure. I probably got too close to water I shouldn’t have been near. But my parents weren’t negligent. I don’t have kids, but from my experience with them, it only takes one second for an accident to happen. One second. A blink of an eye.

It’s easy to point the blame and feel superior when tragedies like these happen. “I would NEVER let my child near the water at that lagoon.” But really, would you have really sensed danger? Alligators can be nearly impossible to see underwater until they strike. “I would NEVER have taken my eyes off my child at the zoo.” Really? You’re going to claim that your eyes are glued to your child every second of every day? I’m interested to know how you sleep at night. Literally, how do you close your eyes and sleep if you don’t take your eyes off your child?

Kids are unpredictable little people who rarely listen the first time they’re told something. My nephew continued to put his fingers in electrical sockets despite us telling him not to until he eventually got a little shock, and that was the end of those experiments.

Our natural inclination is to find the source of the misfortune so we can apply judgment and then move on with our lives, comforted by the fact that the “negligent, bad people” have been punished.

Meanwhile, we’ve got adults doing intentional harm to others around the world. A man walked into a night club with a gun and shot a bunch of people. A politician in Britain has been shot and killed. A young man has been convicted of sexually assaulting a young, unconscious woman behind a dumpster. The sex trafficking trade is booming. People in Syria are fleeing for their lives. A maniacal man with bad hair is working hard to alienate all groups of people in his quest for the Oval Office. And this is only a small portion of all the crap happening in the world.

What if, instead of shaming for tragic accidents, we focused on the actual terror happening in the world? Let’s get fired up about stuff we can change. And let’s rally around the grieving parents who have lost their children to accidents. Let’s rally around the victims. And then let’s work to stop the intentional abuse happening all around us.

Maybe we focus on being less like the Pharisees and more like Jesus. Are we in this together or are we just waiting for the next opportunity to throw a peer under the metaphorical bus (or cast the first stone)?