10/22/2014

What did Santa bring you for Christmas?

"Santa" brought the usual gifts at our house this year- what did he bring to you? ....Electronics and clothing for hubster (poor man, he gets winter clothes for xmas and summer clothes for his bday and that's most of what he gets, wardrobe-wise, all year long.) He also gets " novelty " items related to various college personas and hobbies from back in the day which I cannot mention here, as this is a family blog. Kids got more video game crap, some clothes, gift cards for music downloads and clothing and video games. They also got tablets for downloading books for school and all other cool stuff you can do with them. Hubster got me jewelry (I long ago trained him to shop from a carefully edited pre-approved list that I supply him before any major gift-giving holiday). Really, nothing was unexpected, everything vetted long before the holiday - my sons researched and chose which tablet they wanted- and we like it just that way.
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The wild-card in our holiday gift-giving each year is always my m-i-l, bless her heart. Not knowing what she will do, from year to year, always adds a little frisson of anticipation to our festive holiday mornings. Last year, she bought one 4-pack of "The Nature Channel" geography videos, and cut them up, giving each of us a different continent. They still had the plastic band that connected all four, attached. Hubster sometimes does well- clothing, books, and expensive tools or electronic things. Some years, the clothes are all the wrong size, or girl's clothing, or weird colors. It's a toss-up each year. One year she gave the boys 32 different G.I. Joes. One year she sent a giant bouncy horse that took hubster and me 10 hours to assemble, the night before, and we only just barely finished when the kids woke us up at 6 am. Joy! You have read about my interesting gifts from her over the years: the prune doll devil, the bag of hay, the Clear Out Your Clutter book. Well, m-i-law went to Germany again this year, to the Christmas markets to shop. Did she buy us more figurines, ( she seems determined that we will collect owls, Hummels, wood carvings- whether we want to, or not) cuckoo clocks, Christmas ornaments, knick-knacks, gimcracks, paddy-wacks? No. She bought us extremely expensive, hand-embroidered wool, velvet, and leather ,with hand-carved stag horn buttons, Tyrolean clothing. Suitable for wearing next time we stage a family production of The Sound of Music. In sizes that fit no one. Merry Christmas !

Looking Forward to the Holidays - NOT!

There are many tales in the naked city...this is one of them. Folks have heard me talk about the often strained relationship between my mil and myself.... In the early years of my marriage to hubster, my mil went to several of the German Christmas markets (as she often does- in fact, she is preparing to go again this year) where she likes to buy charming hand-crafted German tree ornaments and other bric-abrac to give as Christmas gifts. The first time she did this, hubster got a little wood carving of a mountain man smoking a pipe. (Surely not an allusion to his hobbies in college...)The boys got soldiers or something. I was given a prune doll that was dressed as a devil. No lie : it had two horns on its head, a long, forked tongue, and a skinny tail with a triangle on the end.


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This kind of gift-giving has been going on for years. One Christmas, mil gave me a tiny zip-locked bag of hay. (A friend of mine, who is Polish, says this is a reference to the manger or something.) And nothing else. Hubster and boys continued to accrue Hummels and wood-carvings, little statues and toys, doo-dads to put on the mantle place. Mil always askes to see these items when she comes to visit, so I haven't had the courage to throw them out or pack them away yet.


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But the coup-de-grace ? Last year mil gave me, as my sole gift, a book (clearly a "free-bee" she got from renewing a magazine subscription) entitled Clear Out Your Clutter. Now who is it, just exactly, who gives me all the clutter?

Truly Hideous Gifts #1

First off, I want to start by saying that any gift, expensive or cheap, beautiful or ugly, is a wonderful gift when the intentions of the giver are genuine and the item is given with truly heartfelt love. I have received many gifts over the years that made me cry with joy - unintelligible pictures drawn by students, a cassette from an old answering machine that my then 3 year old recorded his voice saying "I can't afford to give you anything, so I am giving you this tape of me saying 'I Love You' " .

But....you knew there was a 'but', didn't you? ....for some reason there exists in our culture a drive to give people gifts - any gift - especially around the holiday season. Magazines, news / media, pinterest and other sources are full of "cheap gifts you can make" articles . My question is, why must you give everyone a gift ? Why must it be some crafty hideous useless thing you have made that serves no purpose and really accomplishes nothing, except to take up space, collect dust, and make the giver feel they have accomplished something? You can really tell how you rate with folk by the sort of gift they give you ( and I'm not talking about money here- I'm talking about effort, or thoughtfulness put into the selection of gift) . I had a student once who's mom gave each teacher at the holidays a tin full of home-made cookies. That was delightful. I will always eat cookies (or if not, someone in my family will.) I'm really not a fan of the sort of things like "Snowman Poop" (pictured above) that are supposedly a cleaver way to check someone off your gift list with a minimum of effort and expense: attache a gross paper label to a sandwich bag of marshmallows. Really? How about you just give me the bag of marshmallows without the label, which I find more offensive than cute or funny? How about just skip the marshmallows, and give that $2.00 divided by however many of these you made , let's say 50c worth, to charity, or someone else who likes marshmallows? This one goes into the category of "ugly, cheap, lazy, offensive, and worthless".
When I see slightly more artisanal efforts like this Christmas tree made of corks from wine bottles, all I can really think is : 1)You rank all those bottles of wine, and all I got were the corks? Give me a bottle of wine, and let's call it even. 2)Cute for 5 minutes, but where am I going to put it - store it - how will I keep the dust off of it, and .....you drank all that wine and didn't share? Why do I want your old corks? I'd rather have the wine. So this one goes in the category of "cute but irritating and useless".
I've acquired a bunch of these over the years ....I don't even know what to call them......wine bottle clothing ? People generally pop one on when they give you a gift of a bottle of wine or liquor. Whoever convinced people to do this in the first place was brilliant and is surely laughing all the way to the bank, because now everyone feels pressured to compete. "My wine bottle dress is prettier than yours". But what purpose do they serve? Instead of wrapping paper ? What do you do with them, afterwards - dress your cat? The cat isn't going to tolerate that. Yet you can't bring yourself to throw it away - it's so cute. Either someone spent real money on it, or someone spent a lot of time making it. The only real solution is to re-gift it. But if a gift is given that serves no real purpose other than to be re-gifted, is that really a gift? Just give me the wine . If you feel the need to dress it up, put a bow on it. Or not. Another candidate for the "useless and irritating" category. I'm trying to de-clutter, not add clutter, and I have a box of these at home - can't give them away fast enough.
Lots of folk put together clever or useful baskets, tins, boxes, or bags - collections of useful items, often with a theme. You can buy these or make them - fruit baskets, gourmet foods, as well as other specialty categories: New baby survival kit (gas drops, thermometer, pacifier, diapers, bath tub thermometer, nasal suction bulb, wash clothes, snuggies, booties, diapers, Copy of Dr. Spock's baby book, etc.) . You just broke up with a jerk kit ( chocolate, wine, voodoo doll with pins, box of tissue). You just graduated from college kit (bottle of champagne, cigar, $20 bill, a copy of "The Graduate"). But the basket pictured above appears to contain sweatpants, hot cocoa, house shoes, and other items I can't quite figure out - toilet paper? Snuggies? I guess it's supposed to be the "stay in and watch tv" kit....but does anyone really need a kit for that? Should we be encouraging that , given the obesity epidemic? One re-occurring theme throughout many of this is the gift of hot coca in pre-mixed packets. I am not sure why.

It is extremely popular to make and hand out cute little jars decorated in holiday themes filled with cocoa ingredients. While I appreciate the effort that goes into making these things, just like the wine bottle dresses, they are pretty much useless. I try to re-gift them but find a hard time finding folk who will take them. It gets to a point where there are just too many of these being given about and there is a glut in the marketplace. What starts as a crafty unique idea becomes unwanted via overproduction. As a teacher, I get about 3-7 of these a year. Right now, there are a dozen old ones sitting in my pantry, gathering dust.

Really, the issue boils down to feeling a need to give someone you don't know at all a small token of esteem, during the holiday season. Many of us aging baby-boomers are on special diets and can't consume all the sugary sweets that get passed around. If you are a parent looking to give something your child's teacher really wants, I'd give out a gift card to Starbucks, Walmart, Staples, Target or similar. The teacher can then buy someone for one's self (cup of coffee) or supplies for their class. Even $5 is not too little. I know you love to craft things, Ok then. Craft a pencil cup holder, a hot pad, knit a scarf, make some beaded jewelry. Even painted macaroni. I will wear it.

10/10/2014

That Bible Verse You Quoted....I Don't Think it Means What You Think it Means

From the New International Bible

I live in the buckle of the Bible Belt ......and I am surrounded on all sides by people calling themselves a Christian of various stripes. Day and night, from old and young, at home and at work, everywhere I go I get told things by random people I come in contact with - people who are guests in my home, random people in line at the grocery store, people I meet at social events, in restaurants, at my job or my husband's work...... where I live, it is considered totally OK for these folk to share with me, spontaneously out of no where, and apropos of nothing, whatever their version of Christianity tells them to think or do about pretty much any topic that enters their head.

I regularly have students mis-quote the Bible in class discussions, make outrageously inaccurate comments, or not be able to understand simple Biblical allusions, symbols and motifs in literature . When asked where they got their ideas, they often say, "from my youth minister." When I ask them what Bible verse or which particular branch of the faith their idea comes from, they do not know. Many who claim to attend church regularly do not know any of the familiar tales children in western cultures are often told as bedtime stories, or that suggest the toys they have played with. If I ask my students if they study their own faith in Sunday school, CCD, catechism class, Hebrew school or some other structured learning situation, they tell me they don't participate in any of those. They get dropped off at "youth group" meetings so their parents can have some free babysitting.

I have been told about the "good news" repeatedly and asked about my own beliefs by my husband's secretary at work, soccer moms at sporting events, co-workers, a dentist, neighbors and friends. Christian muzak plays in the waiting rooms all over town. Co-workers, shops and businesses regularly feature religious art (never the "good" kind, either, say, Italian Renaissance reproductions from Michelangelo, Raphael, or Leonardo ...oh no....people around here just think those guys are teenage mutant ninja turtles) and sayings on the walls of their offices, classrooms, and shops. Inspirational posters, flyers, art, commercials and ads saturate the media. A co-worker once called me the devil and an "un-godly woman" because I did not attend HER church. A marriage therapist once told me that my problem was that I needed to follow the Christian rules for being a wife. I have been penalized at work for not belonging to one of the three power churches in town. Because I live on a main street, my home is subject to a continual parade of would-be proselytizers......frequently on Saturday mornings, large vans park out front, a dozen or more people spill out, then they start canvassing the neighborhood, ringing doorbells (upsetting the dogs, rousing my household from sleep or pulling folk, dripping, out of the shower) as they go. Sometimes I will have a door-bell ringer every 5 minutes, a dozen or more all morning, as they work their way back to the van. (I did put up a small sign that says " No salesmen, no missionaries" with a blessing in 5 different languages/faiths, but people still either think I am rude, or want to talk to me about the sign.)

The thing is, I have lived in other parts of the country and other parts of the world, and I know this is not "normal" behavior in other cultures. When I lived, taught and worked in the northeast, diversity in all forms was the norm, and people would get belligerent about protecting the rights of those who were different. I once taught school in Maryland, and we had Buddhist monks and Orthodox Jews from nearby temples come volunteer at our school, which was made up of students from a diverse array of faiths. No one tried to convince others of their beliefs, although they felt free to share them, and we celebrated 6 different festivals in December, including Kwanzaa.  

The other thing is, I was raised Presbyterian. I attended Sunday school where we studied the Bible - every August we'd start at Genesis, and every May we'd finish at Revelations. We'd parse each chapter and verse, read and discuss the various meanings and translations, the history of what happened, as well as the history of it being written down.  I did this for 18 years of my life, in gradually increasing complexity, year after year. As a young adult, I decided to become an Episcopalian, and went through the confirmation class for that branch of the faith (in addition to my childhood Presbyterian confirmation class.) In college, I was an ancient history major, specializing in near east religions. I read Latin, Biblical Greek and a little Hebrew, took classes in history, archaeology, anthropology, comparative religions, mythology, art history, philosophy, and studied it all in-depth. I traveled through the countries involved, and participated in archaeological digs in several of them. Read from the original texts, in the original languages. Guided by scholars as diverse as a Benedictine monk, a Coptic priest, and studied with American, Italian and Israeli professors. 

So I just don't "get it" when someone tries to tell me about their version of Christianity, without really ever having studied it, then wants to pass a judgement on someone who doesn't agree with what they think they know. I know this isn't just a problem peculiar to where I live - it is a problem worldwide, with people from many faiths. 

What does any of this have to do with the photo at the top? I was browsing pinterest the other day , and one of my feeds pinned this, so it was in my feed. Initially, I passed over it, then something in it caught my eye and I thought to myself, "hmmmm.....that really doesn't sound like what I remember of 1st Thessalonians." So I looked it up. The actual verse is underneath. And now I am even more curious : is this catchy pink meme someone's attempt to spin a meditation off the original verse, and say more about the topic? Or did the creator, and the millions who pinned it, think it was the actual verse that is listed? This is what happens when books disappear, when learning is not linked to a definite source that can not be changed. If the original source was removed or destroyed, no one would ever know how or that  it was changed. I'm not a believer in the inerrancy of the Bible, but I do believe one should know what one is talking about, if one is going to refer it. Many claim to have "the true version of...." but do they, really? The hubris at thinking your perspective is better than anyone else's astounds me. We have so many problems in the world today - people claiming a religious text as their source to justify abuse of people of differing faiths, beliefs, genders, orientations, practices is so perverse - but if you are going to do it, at least get the damn verse correct, people !