Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Chaos

It usually starts around October. You'll see stores starting to put out Christmas stuff, advertisements urging you to buy the latest thing. Capitalism revs up to a hyper-pitch trying to squeeze every possible cent out of the holidays. Rudolph and Frosty and our modern image of Santa Clause, beloved by many, were created to get us to spend more at Christmastime. Some over zealous types will even start playing Christmas music. If there is a theme that describes our modern celebration of Christmas, it is surely stress. There is so much pressure to buy the right thing, wear the right thing, I've even heard ads for laser-liposuction so that you will look good for Christmas photos.  There are so many special productions just for the season, movies, television, theater, concerts, pageants, displays, boutiques, and on and on. There are gifts to buy and make (but mostly buy), Christmas cards, treats and goodies, and on and on. We worry about getting the right gifts, not forgetting anyone, not spending too much and how to pay for it all. As Christians, we are frequently reminded to remember the true reason for the season and we struggle to find the balance between worship and Santa without it turning into worship OF Santa. With the balancing of schedules, the budgeting of money, the making of lists, shopping, School productions and parties for every member of the family, traffic, black Friday, chaos in the stores and grumpy people everywhere, it may be tempting to wish to have lived in a simpler time, long ago.

Joseph was engaged to be married, he was making arrangements for a new household, Finding a place to live, perhaps building a house. they would need some furniture which he would probably build, beds and bedding pots and pans tools and dishes and various household items. He was in love with Mary and surely excited to begin his life with her when he discovered her pregnancy. He must have felt anguished and betrayed as he considered all the social and legal implications, but his faith was strong enough that a message from an angel in a dream calmed his fears. Then the word came that Caesar would tax everyone and that they must return to the city of their birth. Joseph now must plan a long journey with a pregnant Mary, who, I'm sure was not excited about the prospect, AND worry about being able to pay the taxes. Not much is recorded about the journey, but it's not hard to imagine frequent bathroom breaks, (I wonder what they called them) probably labor pains on a donkey, dust and crowded roads. They made it, and though they were really on a divine mission, they were not spared from the realities of mortality. Joseph's instincts were surely to protect and provide for his wife and unborn child so the lack of available shelter must have caused great anxiety. They found the stable and, with a wife in labor, I'm sure they sought the help of a local midwife. The smell of manure, sharing a room with cows, sheep, chickens and their various noises, the cold air, the dirt and dust, and at the peak of his anxiety,

Jesus was born.

Surely he brought peace. Any new Father can attest to the eclipsing joy, wonder and pride that comes with the birth of a child. His focus was suddenly narrowed to that small boy that was now his to care for, along with the knowledge of his special and essential mission. The trials of the journey are suddenly insignificant, the love of God certainly radiated through the hearts of everyone who witnessed the Child. The Angels were so excited that they could not contain themselves as they took the news to the shepherds who were ready to receive it.
    The celebration of Christmas will still require a balancing act, we probably won't be spared the onslaught of commercialism that gave us Rudolph and Frosty but we can take comfort in the promise of the peace that comes as we welcome The Savior on Christmas day.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Capitalism, Materialism and Global Warming.

Capitalism rewards greed. People who consciously participate in a capitalistic system will do anything right up to the edge of the law to make a buck. That's why we need regulation. A Free market economy rewards sound business practices. It includes Humanity in the equation. Recently, a local mlm owner sent $50 to each of his distributors with instructions to spend it in their local areas. This makes no sense to a capitalist because it produces no income but a free market economist sees the intangible psychological value and the long-term benefit to a local market. Our American system is not purely either one or the other so each of us must decide to participate in ethical, thoughtful ways. This applies to, not only business owners, but also "consumers" I hate that word. It implies the acquisition of materials, depletion of their value and discarding the refuse. I propose that we think of ourselves as stewards rather than consumers. As stewards, we will take responsibility for the things we use throughout our ownership. This will include maintenance, conscientious control of the environmental impact (regardless of our political ideology) and thoughtful disposal of any waste. Failure to accept these responsibilities betrays a selfish and/or lazy world view. Christmas seems to be a good time to think about these issues since we are bombarded with advertising that appeals to our "Consumerism" and is in stark contrast to the higher themes of the holiday which, at their least spiritual, include peace on earth and good will toward men. These principle apply equally well to the production and use of oil, natural gas, wind power, etc. Regardless of whether global warming is real, (it has been so impossibly politicized) we should still be responsible stewards of our environments.
I'm a spiritual guy. I'm also a designer. I love material objects! I'm a sucker for clever design, I have lusted over gadgets and maybe even coveted some technology but I recognize the importance of establishing and maintaining firm personal values. (Don't worry, I wont try to impose them on you) It's a precarious balance. But I believe that each of us can express and reinforce our own values with the objects and environments we choose to surround ourselves with. How about thinking about that while we participate in the Holidays this year?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

which is stronger? Sensory memory, i.e. memory of events we experience through our senses; sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, or emotional memory, i.e. memory of how we feel about or felt during events. I think emotional memory is stronger and more accurate. I also believe that, in most cases, the way we feel is more important than what actually happened. Even as we recall events from our lives, our pleasure or distaste is based on our emotional memory of them. A group of people, all present at the same event, will give different accounts of what actually happened but each will recall, accurately, how they felt. This is why religious conviction must be built on personal feelings about doctrine and cannot be as strong if it is based on "proof". If conviction is based on proof, it will be questioned as the memory of it fades. So the Holy Ghost speaks directly to our emotions and doesn't perform physical miracles.
I think that's why I love music so much, it has an immediate emotional effect. Especially religious music, although I'm quite picky and I react strongly to any that seems contrived or insincere. Music is one of the best things about Christmas. I love hearing new interpretations of old classics, new Christmas songs and, of course, my all time favorites. Some songs from my childhood memory still evoke strong emotions every time I hear them. Mom and Dad had an old reel-to-reel tape player with a Christmas "mix". "Il le ne" & "Mele kalikimaka" are two of my faves from that recording. More recently I've been digging "Chrismas is the time to say I love you" by Darlene Love (remade in 2001 by SR 71 and later performed live in 2005 by Billy Sqier) "Il est ne" by Siouxsie and the Banshees "Little drummer boy" by Bing Crosby and David Bowie (has anyone ever heard a version of this song with a rockin' drum solo? seems like a no-brainer! Neil Pert where are you?) "Spirit of the season" by the MoTab and "Do you hear what I hear?" by Steve Stevens. I could go on... and on, maybe I'll try to find a way to post imeem links to those songs on this blog.Do You Hear What I Hear Christmas Is The Time Mele Kalikimaka Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth Sprit of the Season (from The Polar Expr...Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Music and my Mother-in-law

I generally look forward to Christmastime. I like the general feeling of cheeriness, the anticipation, the enthusiasm of children, etc. This year has been different. Last year was so hectic, so many events, rushing around shopping, unrealistic expectations unfulfilled. Don't get me wrong, it was still pretty good, but I didn't enjoy that other crap at all and I'm certainly not looking forward to it this year. I was ready to be a grinch and resist every effort of cheer. My Mother and Father-in-law came to stay with us for a week at Thanksgiving. I always look forward to their visits, I always have. I'm not involved in any of the stereotypes so just clear them out of your mind. Even with a great visit and one of the best Thanksgiving celebrations ever, I was still ready to assume the role of scrooge, until my Mother-in-law, Lynnette Rodriguez, decided to practice a piano piece that she will be performing for a Christmas program at Church. She is playing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" as arranged by Sally DeFord, a great arrangement. You should know that Lynnette is a very gifted pianist. She would have been a concert pianist if it wasn't for a hand injury she suffered as a child. Nevertheless, she has always been able to play anything! songs from the radio, requests on demand, all from memory. She can even transcribe or shift the key at the drop of a hat. I've always loved to hear her play but this time, in my Home, on My piano, it was transformative. Music is my favorite part of the Holidays and this year, her unwitting gift to me has shifted my perspective. Thanks Mom.