The Glass Darkly

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Let me remember . . .

I've had a few posts on culture and everyday living floating around in the back of my mind for quite a while now and hope to get them written in the next week or so. But in the meantime I thought I'd post a poem that one my professors sent me as a thought for the new year. It is by Winston Abbott and was included in a book she recommended, Leading from within: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Lead.




beyond forgetting




let me remember always

for my spirit is often shrouded in the mists

let me remember beyond forgetting

that my life is not a solitary thing

it is a bit of the rushing tide

a leaf of the bending tree

a kernel of grain the golden wheat fields

a whisper of wind about the mountaintop

a reflection of sunlight upon the shining waters

it is fleeting

it is of the moment

it is timeless

it is of eternity.

-Winston O. Abbott

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The "Mom Version"

A friend sent me this and it is really funny. For all you "moms" out there.

William Tell Overture -- The Mom Version

Teaching middle schoolers again has made it even more funny for me since my children are still a bit young.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

"I Just wanted it to be perfect for you. . ."

I was nervous about getting together with family this past Thanksgiving. Inevitably I knew the topic of Christmas and gift lists would come up and I would have to contain myself again . . .

. . . Marriage really is a blending of cultures, for within our American culture are subcultures and ways of doing things, attitudes and shared experiences. From these come our expectations and desires. These expectations are often indications of deeply held values. I am grateful that I married into a family that has good relationships with one another, has been mostly stable over the years and for the most pa
rt deeply values their faith. My children receive a lot of love and have wonderful role models in their grandparents and aunts and uncles. But as most people find, there is always potential for clashes when cultures mix.

I've been pondering this as I have tried to reconcile my family experience with that of my husband's. Gifts in my immediate family, growing up, were not a huge priority. I'm not sure when this developed, but today I can clearly see that in my family, it is much more important to take the time to talk or be there at an important event or visit than it is to buy something that the person will likely not need. Gifts are seen more as something frivolous and sometimes even insincere. A heart to heart talk or interest in the lives of our nieces/nephews are much more appreciated.

While some of this is also true of my husband's family, they also find tremendous enjoyment in buying lots of gifts for one another. It is a special way they can share their love, help each other out and dote on one another one time in the year. Christmas tradition includes the perfect tree with the perfect decorations and a pile of gifts stacked to a perfect height wrapped perfectly in beautiful paper. The scene would be topped off by the song, "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas," playing softly in the background. Of course there are the special foods and brewing coffee in the kitchen too that make the moment "just perfect."

For m
ost of my life I tried to persuade myself that this was normal, until I started to think more about how my faith fits into this picture . . . and how this picture fits into my bigger picture of my culture . . and how my culture fits into the bigger picture of the world. Traditions are important aspects of culture, but as a Christian, part of my daily exercise is to critique how my cultural practices fit into my life as a Christ-follower.

This concept of making things "perfect" has eluded me for years and now that I have children I worry about it. I worry about preconceptions that develop inflated desires. I worry that sentiment can sprout into unreasonable expectations. I worry that my children learn that a perfect Christmas needs to look a certain way and happen in a certain way.

I was like that growing up to a certain extent. For example, I couldn't imagine how one could celebrate Christmas in a tropical country where there was no cold weather or snow. I wondered how people there could sing "Jingle Bells" and "Frosty the Snowman." A perfect Christmas was snow on the ground, being home with my family and our little train set going around a little tree with little colored lights. I hear my mother-in-law long for everything to be "just perfect" and I worry that it won't be perfect . . . but am I really worried it won't be perfect for me or that she will be disappointed if it doesn't meet her expectations?

I think a lot of what we think of as perfect is based on nostalgia and fantasy about a life that really never exists. For me, while I remember so many wonderful things about Christmases as a child, the truth is that holidays were not always the happiest days in my family. Things were not perfect. There would be arguments and chores to do and misu
nderstandings and usually someone was angry about something. And there was always someone trying to smooth things over so the day would be okay. And when I pressed my mother-in-law to explain what "perfect" means to her, the truth is that her nostalgia is based mostly on pictures and songs and stories and American fables of what the perfect American Christmas is like. Her life was not really perfect either.

So I get tired of feeling the pressure to "produce" the "perfect" Christmas to make everyone happy. I get tired of the myt
h created out of expectations and desires of American middle class society. I really don't want my children to draw a Rockefeller painting of Christmas in their minds and then live with the disappointment when life doesn't produce it.

The earthy picture of the stable counters the one we see in America each year of light-trimmed trees and piled packages. The dirty place where animals lay is more closely aligned to the places people lived when we were in Asia. Christmas morning sees dusty roads busy with everyday life on a hot, hot day where people don't know the significant coming and birth of the world's Savior. It is nothing like the pictures sung about in our sentimental Christmas music, yet it is a picture of the kind of people and culture Christ was born into.

Is it bad to say that I want my chil
dren to see this first when they think of Christmas? I feel like a stingy parent to say that I don't want my children to make their long wish-lists every year. I love to give my children good things, but Christmas giving just bothers me. There is something unnatural about it. The camera is focused on the wrong part of the picture . . . there is a very "UNperfect" world out there that will never understand or experience what we think is Christmas. Yet they deserve to experience the Child whose humble birth made a deeper connection to humanity than any gift we could buy. That human connection was a God connection . . . more perfect than any picture we could ever paint.

A perfect Christmas for me would be people-time spent in worship and enjoying relationships - friends and family - old and new from all walks of life and cultures. Forget the trees and lights and gifts and maybe even Christmas day. The reality of Christ's connection to humanity is something we can carry with us all the year through -- and the best part is . . . . . . that humanity doesn't need to be "perfect" to experience it.