Believe

Christmas/Hanukkah 2019

Believe

12.27.2019

 

Today is the third day of Christmas, a time for three French hens according to the song “Twelve Days of Christmas”. It is also the sixth day of Hanukkah. We have no true diary of the feelings of the Maccabees as they rebuilt their temple but one can imagine that as the sun was setting on day six, anxiety about the oil that lit their lamp which provided light so construction could continue began to rise. What we do know is that on the sixth day of Hanukkah there was a belief that the third day of Christmas contradicts, at least according to the song.

 

The oldest breed of fowl in France is the Crèvecoeurs. It is not a breed one could rely on for food. That needs to be understood before we continue. Although they are quite rare, Crèvecoeurs are primarily used as show birds and make quite the fashion statement with their unique crests. They are black birds and a rich dark green coloring can be found on the crests, hackles, and tail feathers of the roosters. By the nineteenth century, however, there were also black and white variegated versions of the breed.

 

Today we will continue to get news of politicians posturing, much like the French hens would do, about the upcoming or lack thereof impeachment proceedings of the current sitting President of the United States. Much like a gift of fowl that seems to enjoy posturing rather than being productive, these politicians are strutting about and crowing with little thought of actually doing their appointed jobs.

 

Today more than four times the number of children remains isolated from their parents in detentions camps on the USA-Mexican border than were the number of Jewish captives in 1943 on this same date. These children are within USA borders illegally but is that a reason to deny them basic human rights, especially during a season which proclaims love and happiness? Or is this just more posturing without swift resolution or productivity?

 

The miracle that Hanukkah celebrates includes action. One cannot simply light candles, say or sing the accompanying prayer, spin the dreidel, eat any won gelt, and then go to sleep. One is expected to continue building a temple – a life based upon family and community action. Sadly those in Washington, DC who were elected by a large conservative Christian coalition seemed to have forgotten the message of Christmas. They are celebrating the birth of one child by incarcerating many others.

 

It becomes an issue of what we believe and how we live that belief. Today is also the third day of Kwanza, a celebration primarily of the African-American community but open to all. It is not historic, having its roots in the twentieth century but its message transcends time and races. Kwanza celebrates one’s cultural and ethnic heritage without specifying denomination or religion. It is perhaps what all holidays should represent – peace, pride, love, joy, and happiness in a communal setting.

 

The importance of having something to believe in is profound. What we believe controls our behavior. Our beliefs control all our decisions and influence what we think. They often influence the quality of our thoughts and determine our actions. We translate the world as we see it through the filters of our beliefs. Whatever we may identify with spiritually, including not identifying with any one group, affects everything we think, do, and say. Those who believe only in themselves and their own superiority consequently become their own deity.

 

  1. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur defined the American as an immigrant who has become the exact opposite of his own European past. “The changes that came when the immigrant came across the sea eliminated all of the prejudices and the habit of kowtowing that he had learned in Europe”… or so Crevecoeur believed. He was born December 31, 1735, to a family of minor nobility in Normandy. In 1755 he migrated to New France in North America. There, he served in the French and Indian War as a cartographer in the French Colonial Militia, rising to the rank of lieutenant. Following the British defeat of the French Army in 1759, he moved to the Province of New York, where he took out citizenship, adopted the English-American name of John Hector St. John, and in 1770 married an American woman, Mehitable Tippe.

 

Becoming famous for his books on being an American farmer, Crevecoeur later returned to France so he could inherit his father’s lands and it was in France that he later died. Crovecoeur found himself in America after serving in the French Militia which was on the losing side of a major war at the time so perhaps his beliefs and statements are understandable. Certainly in his native country, he would have been imprisoned as being one of the enemy but in America he became a citizen. Sadly, those opportunities are no longer believed in today.

 

Though the breed of the three French Hens given supposedly on the third day of Christmas share the same name, they were not related to the family of St John de Crevecoeur. The family name translates as “broken hearted” and one can only imagine why the name was given to this breed of fowl. Was it because it was believed they would give plentiful eggs or was their strutting around deemed important and yet disheartening?

 

On this third day of Christmas and Kwanza and sixth day of Hanukkah, we have a choice. Do we believe in the goodness and hope of mankind and enact effective policies to create a better tomorrow or do we believe that posturing is all that really counts? The day before the French hens, the song celebrates turtle doves, known as a symbol of love. The day after the third day, the fourth day of Christmas, mentions four calling birds. Perhaps on this third day we are to stop strutting about and prepare for a calling to beliefs that would encourage effective behavior and action. The future will be determined by what we believe. There is no one else who can meet the task of building a better tomorrow than each of us. Perhaps the real miracle of any belief is that we act upon hope and a belief in tomorrow.

Connecting Advent and Christmas

Connecting Advent and Christmas

Advent 2019

2019.12.23

 

Not posting to pay my respects to those killed in gun violence has resulted in very few posts these last six months, I am sad to report. The loss of life is tragic. The failure to prevent such is inexcusable. In the past thirty days the following gun-related incidents occurred:

 

Incident Date State City Or County Address # Killed # Injured
December 22, 2019 Maryland Baltimore 225 Park Ave 0 7
December 22, 2019 Minnesota Minneapolis (Spring Lake Park) 8407 Plaza Blvd NE 1 7
December 22, 2019 Illinois Chicago 5700 block of S May St 0 13
December 21, 2019 Mississippi Waynesboro Turner St 1 6
December 20, 2019 Alabama Tuskegee 2900 block of Davison St 2 2
December 18, 2019 Texas San Antonio 2418 SW Military Dr 0 4
December 17, 2019 Montana Great Falls 1701 10th Ave S 4 1
December 15, 2019 Georgia Columbus 600 block of 32nd St 1 4
December 14, 2019 California Ivanhoe 15700 block of Paradise Ave 0 4
December 12, 2019 Missouri Saint Louis 9900 block of Lewis and Clark Blvd 1 3
December 10, 2019 New Jersey Jersey City 223 Martin Luther King Dr 6 3
December 8, 2019 Texas Desoto 200 block of W Wintergreen Rd 2 3
December 8, 2019 Louisiana New Orleans 3801 Washington Ave 1 4
December 6, 2019 Florida Pensacola 280 Taylor Rd 4 8
December 4, 2019 Alabama Montgomery 500 Eastdale Rd S 2 2
December 1, 2019 Louisiana Cotton Valley 116 Hawthorne Loop 2 3
December 1, 2019 Louisiana New Orleans 2000 block of N Dorgenois St 2 2
December 1, 2019 Illinois Aurora 700 block of S 5th St 1 4
December 1, 2019 Michigan Kalamazoo 6300 block of Proctor St 1 3
December 1, 2019 Louisiana New Orleans 700 block of Canal St 0 12
November 30, 2019 Arkansas Hensley 6500 block of E Sardis Rd 0 5
November 29, 2019 Texas Amarillo 2650 Dumas Dr 0 7
November 27, 2019 New York Bronx E 153rd St and Courtlandt Ave 0 5
November 25, 2019 Florida Brownsville NW 29th Ave and 44th St 2 2
November 24, 2019 Alabama Birmingham 7 15th St W 1 4

 

For the past five years we have explored the connections we have with others. We’ve woven stories, explored through literature, exchanged recipes, and traveled the world seeking sacred places and artifacts. Advent is a time of preparation but it seems to have been a time this year of obliteration.

 

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”  The spiritualist Rumi gave us our challenge. However, I am not so concerned with you changing your views on gun ownership as I am about you finding value within yourself. We are all uniquely made individuals and we all have value. We each bring to the world special talents. Yes, women generally are the ones who bear children but men also bring unique abilities. Historically, though, men got all the attention.

 

In his book “Make the Most of You”, Patrick Lindsay quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.” Lindsay mentions that there are three actions we all can participate in: leave everything better than how we found it; wear our scars proudly; unleash our own song. In this series, I want you to plant thoughts that will help you blossom. I want you to sing and sing your own individual song as it becomes harmonious with the rest of mankind.

 

Being an individual in this world is not easy. One of my favorite philosophers of the twentieth century was not a philosopher at all. She was an actress, the late and magnificently great Katharine Hepburn. “We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, the teachers – but never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted to change you’re the one who has got to change.”

 

Colombian writer and reporter Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in his book “Love in the Time of Cholera” explains what we must realize in order to grow a better version of ourselves. We have to understand that “human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”

 

Too many people go through life believing they are not good enough. Our journey is valuable and everyone’s presence on the planet is a gift. What we accomplish, though, is ours to make happen. Whether one works at home or on a global platform, is highly educated or has learned of living from life, we all have value. Every life matters. Life itself is a previous gift given to everyone, if they are lucky.

 

The Beatitudes are eight blessings recounted by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. Each is a proverb-like proclamation, without narrative. Four of the blessings also appear in the Sermon on the Plain in the Gospel of Luke, followed by four woes which mirror the blessings. In a fourth century translation of the Bible, known as the Vulgate, each of the verses contained within what we call the “beatitudes” begins with the word “beati” which translates as happiness or blessed. Many use this group of scriptures to decry religion since they address groups normally isolated or rejected.

 

The Beatitudes show us that everything is good in its own way. The quiet have time to learn. Those that grieve had something or someone of value they loved. Those who seek righteousness will find it. We all have value. We all are good enough when we seek life in all its glory. Religion is not about separating and judging. It is, quite simply, about acceptance and embracing life – all of it, the good and the bad.

 

Oscar Wilde once said “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” We often look for the meaning of life and our purpose in exotic, extravagant, external environs. We really should just look in the mirror. None of us is perfect and none of us is a Supreme Being. To honor your own uniqueness does not mean to equate yourself with being a deity or with being egotistical or selfish. It does mean living according to your faith and celebrating life – the life within all of us.

 

You, like all of us, have much to offer and the world is waiting for it. Turn your back on doubt today. It serves no purpose. Focus on the positive and let your self-worth be the seed you plant to day in growing a better you and a better world. You are good enough to be the start of a better future for us all. You are a gift to the world. Celebrate yourself and find joy in living, please. Our world is waiting to celebrate you.

 

 

 

Mindfulness at Christmas

Mindfulness at Christmas

2018.12.22-24

Everyday Miracles

Advent 2018

 

A child shivers in a cold room, watching for a sign of a better tomorrow.  A teenager creeps out of the shadows to rummage through a garbage bin outside a closed restaurant.  A woman is walking out to her car in a busy mall parking lot and suddenly feels her purse snatched off her shoulder.  A man stumbles home after working two jobs, wondering how to explain to his family that Christmas will not be like the ones in the store windows.  These are often the bleak picture of Christmas that make one wonder if there really is a reason for the season.

 

We forget, though, that somewhere a child is sharing their holiday by donating to a local charity.  That a group of teenagers is wrapping presents at a local store to earn money to buy Christmas dinners for the homeless.  A stranger has stopped to help the woman whose purse was snatched while another chases after the thief and calls law enforcement.  The father returns home to see his children making their own presents and years from now, those will be the ones kept and treasured.  The trappings of Christmas have only the hold on us that we allow.  We make the holiday have meaning by how we live it.

 

This post is being published a day late on purpose to prove my point.  Whether or not we accomplished everything on our to-do list or not, the clock kept ticking and Christmas has arrived.  The season of Advent is about preparing but sometimes we forget what comes next.  Are we running away from Christmases past?  Is our expectation for Christmas Present realistic?  Have we given up and sworn off any Christmas Futures?

 

Mindfulness can be structured meditation or simply a calmer way of living that helps us break habitual patterns of thinking that usually serve no useful purpose except to create more stress and greater unhappiness.  The easiest mindfulness practice is to simply sit quietly for several minutes.  IN the midst of holiday mayhem, the easiest place to find those few minutes of calm might be the toilet, a bedroom, or even a shower or bath.  Then you just have to breathe.  Easy, right?  I mean, you are already breathing so just do it with thoughtfulness.  Focus on the movement of air going into your nose and then visualize it in your throat and chest.  Then exhale and reverse the process.  By being fully present in your breathing, you have stopped negative thoughts and are no longer clinging to those causing anxiety.

 

The holidays seem to intensify the mind wandering we do as we go about our daily activities.  Odds are you are doing one thing right now and thinking of at least three others you need to do.  Having spent the past month preparing, take time today to be present in the moment.  Right now notice the sights and smells around you, paying attention completely and with the utmost concentration.  Perhaps today will go perfectly but even if it doesn’t, take a few moments to breathe and give thanks that you can.  Life is a beautiful gift in and of itself.

A Bi-Polar Holiday, Part Two

A Bi-Polar Holiday, part two

2018.12.08-12

Everyday Miracles

Advent 2018

 

The story of two people about to have a child traveling is not that unusual.  Thousands are doing just that south of the US border along Texas west to Arizona and California at this very minute, having left their homeland because of political unrest, threats of death, or lack of living conditions that make living sustainable.  Hopefully most are not about to give birth but some might be. 

 

Many would argue that what makes the Nativity Story important is that the child was the Son of God.  However, that very child grew up to become a man who made it his life’s work to preach that we all are sons and daughters of God.  He lived showing love to all, especially those disenfranchised by society.  You could honestly say that most if not all of his actions were everyday miracles. 

 

Those of the Christian faith put great stock in the Nativity Story, the story of Mary and Joseph who traveled a great distance, not in the easiest of circumstances, to be registered on the census rolls.  Without doing so, they would be without verification, a couple without a country so to speak.  There is some discrepancy within the Bible about this story, I should note. 

 

 The Gospel According to St Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph travelled from Galilee to Bethlehem because of a Roman census during the time Quirinius was governor of Syria. This census took place in the year 6 ACE, and the Jewish historian, Josephus, tells us that this was the first such census that affected the Jews. A paradox in this passage comes from the fact that we also know that King Herod the Great died in 4 BCE, some 10 years before the census. Moreover, it is highly improbably that such a census would include Judea, since Herod was empowered to raise his own taxes and was not required to report on the population or wealth of his dominion.  

 

The Gospel According to St Matthew provides a different telling of this story and it suggests that Mary and Joseph did not travel from Galilee at all. Bethlehem was their home town, and the wise men found Jesus in a house, not a manger. The family fled to Egypt to avoid the Slaughter of the Innocents and returned to Judea after the death of Herod. But when Joseph heard that Herod’s son, Archelaus, had succeeded to the throne, he turned aside and went to Galilee and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, thus fulfilling the prophecy that Jesus would be called a Nazarene.

 

Like many myths, there is some truth, some storytelling embellishment, and some history in the Nativity Story.  At this time of the year when rather than experience joy, many feel depression, it is of great use to explore the reality of the time period.  In 2011 Justin Taylor wrote a very interesting article regarding the political scene of Galilee and Judea at the time of the birth of the baby Jesus.  He quotes historian R. T. France in his article. 

 

“The northern province of Galilee was decisively distinct—in history, political status, and culture—from the southern province of Judea which contained the holy city of Jerusalem.  Racially the area of the former Northern Kingdom of Israel had had, ever since the Assyrian conquest in the eighth century B.C., a more mixed population, within which more conservative Jewish areas (like Nazareth and Capernaum) stood in close proximity to largely pagan cities, of which in the first century the new Hellenistic centers of Tiberias and Sepphoris were the chief examples.  Geographically Galilee was separated from Judea by the non-Jewish territory of Samaria, and from Perea in the southeast by the Hellenistic settlements of Decapolis.

 

“Politically Galilee had been under separate administration from Judea during almost all its history since the tenth century B.C. (apart from a period of “reunification” under the Maccabees), and in the time of Jesus it was under a (supposedly) native Herodian prince, while Judea and Samaria had since A.D. 6 been under the direct rule of a Roman prefect.  Economically Galilee offered better agricultural and fishing resources than the more mountainous territory of Judea, making the wealth of some Galileans the envy of their southern neighbors. 

 

“Culturally Judeans despised their northern neighbors as country cousins, their lack of Jewish sophistication being compounded by their greater openness to Hellenistic influence.  Linguistically Galileans spoke a distinctive form of Aramaic whose slovenly consonants (they dropped their aitches!) were the butt of Judean humor.  Religiously the Judean opinion was that Galileans were lax in their observance of proper ritual, and the problem was exacerbated by the distance of Galilee from the temple and the theological leadership, which was focused in Jerusalem.”

 

Today many people are discriminated against because of their religion.  This was also true of the man we call Jesus.  According to R. T. France, “even an impeccably Jewish Galilean in first-century Jerusalem was not among his own people; he was as much a foreigner as an Irishman in London or a Texan in New York. His accent would immediately mark him out as “not one of us,” and all the communal prejudice of the supposedly superior culture of the capital city would stand against his claim to be heard even as a prophet, let alone as the “Messiah,” a title which, as everyone knew, belonged to Judea (cf. John 7:40-42).  The man for whom we celebrate his birth was very much a stranger among even his own people and at this time of the year, many feel exactly the same way. 

 

Mathematician Blaise Pascal believed “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it cannot be filled by any created thing.”  He believed that by surrendering ourselves we would gain everything.  Pascal saw the gridlock of ego as the world’s biggest problem.  It would be an everyday miracle and the solution to this holiday that seems to celebrate and yet cause depression if we would liberate ourselves from the gridlock of our own ego.

 

 

 

A Bi-Polar Holiday, Part One

A Bi-Polar Holiday, part one

2018.12.08-11

Everyday Miracles

Advent 2018

 

It is a most contradictory time of the year.  In the Northern Hemisphere temperatures are at their coldest and yet, we celebrate the holidays that are designed to bring out the warmest feelings in us all.  At the very time of the year when Mother Nature is experiencing death, we celebrate birth and rebirth.  For many of us the weather is a bit shifty.  Some days are moderate in temperature and then within twenty-four hours, we can experience a climate change of magnitude proportions.

 

Bi-Polar Disorder is a mental health disorder that causes periods of depression and periods of abnormally elevated or happy moods.  During such periods of mania, the individual behaves or feels abnormally or unusually energetic, happy, or conversely, irritable or depressed.  These extreme mood swings create these episodes of emotional highs and lows and can create changes in sleep patterns, thought processes, eating, and other behaviors.

 

The very mention of Christmas or other winter holidays can bring about similar reactions in many people.  Those with a bi-polar diagnosis might experience such episodes during seasonal changes and the winter time in many areas is ripe for such.  For others, though, the holidays represent loss or failure.  Very few people get through the month of December without some type of anxiety or depression.

 

Christmas is a holiday based upon the past events that Christians believe tells the story of the birth of a baby named Jesus.  Hanukah is a holiday celebrating the story of one night’s worth of oil lasting for eight nights.  Both of these have elements of a miracle occurring but perhaps the greatest miracle is that these stories are still with us.  It can be difficult for some to find a bill they believed they paid three months ago and yet, these two stories have lasted over two thousand years.

 

The story of Hanukah does not appear in the Talmud, since it occurred after its writing.  It is, however, referred to in the New Testament when Jesus is described as attending a feast of rededication.  The events that inspired the Hanukkah holiday took place during a particularly turbulent phase of Jewish history. Around 200 B.C., Judea, known then as the Land of Israel, came under the control of Antiochus III, the Seleucid king of Syria, who allowed the Jews who lived there to continue practicing their religion. His son, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, proved less benevolent: Ancient sources recount that he outlawed the Jewish religion and ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods. In 168 B.C., his soldiers descended upon Jerusalem, massacring thousands of people and desecrating the city’s holy Second Temple by erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs within its sacred walls. 

 

Led by the Jewish priest Mattathias and his five sons, a large-scale rebellion broke out against Antiochus and the Seleucid monarchy. When Matthathias died in 166 B.C., his son Judah, known as Judah Maccabee (“the Hammer”), took the helm; within two years the Jews had successfully driven the Syrians out of Jerusalem, relying largely on guerilla warfare tactics. Judah called on his followers to cleanse the Second Temple, rebuild its altar and light its menorah—the gold candelabrum whose seven branches represented knowledge and creation and were meant to be kept burning every night.  There was only enough untainted olive oil to burn for one night and yet, the flames continued flickering for eight nights, leaving them time to find a fresh supply of oil.

 

The celebrations of Hanukah for this year have just ended but the message burns brightly, even in the aftermath of the recent terroristic murders of eleven at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue.  Hanukkah is a joyous eight-day Festival of Lights in the Hebrew calendar. It is a time when Jews celebrate the Jewish victory over a tyrant king and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. 

 

We have a choice during this holiday season as to how we respond to the past, our present, and hopes for the future.  We can wallow in depression, lamenting the sins and problems of the past or we can choose to think positively and move forward with hope.  “Every person can be a small light,” said Hayley Miller, Associate Director of Digital and Social Media of the Human Rights Campaign nonprofit organization. “And just as the small quantity of oil that fueled the miracle of light for eight nights, when we are our authentic selves, we can be a beacon of light that shines.”

 

Figgy Pudding

Figgy Pudding

2018.11.15

Growing Community

 

In one week those living in the USA will celebrate Thanksgiving Day.  It will also be the official start of the holiday (i.e., Christmas) season.  In reality, though, the holiday shopping season began in mid-July as stores put out decorations and crafts ideas for gifts to be made.  Many people have been griping about seeing peppermint canes and holly wreaths while shopping for swimsuits or pumpkins but I am one of those who delights in seeing the Christmas cheer on display, even when the temperatures are over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

As we become fully entrenched in the holiday season, carols will be played and one of the more popular ones has a verse that implores…”So bring us some figgy pudding, so bring us some figgy pudding, so bring us some figgy pudding and put it right here.”  Savory puddings are less well known than their sweet counterparts but savory puddings like figgy pudding are actually not only older but why the community of mankind survived the ages.  The modern usage of the word pudding id used to denote primarily desserts however the word pudding is believed to come from the French “boudin”, originally from the Latin “botellus”, meaning “small sausage”, referring to encased meats.  The meats were encased in animal intestines to preserve them; such preservation meant the meats could be kept longer and thus provided sustenance during hard times or when one could not go hunting. 

 

The first record of plum or figgy pudding dates back to the fifteenth century when records indicate a plum pottage or mash was served at the beginning of the meal.  Plum was a generic term used to indicate any dried fruit and the fruits were combined with meat and root vegetables.  Commonly dried fruit of the period were raisins, currants, and prunes.  By the end of the sixteenth century, dried fruit was more plentiful and the plum or figgy pudding became more sweet than savory.  Pudding cloths became popular as the concoction would be wrapped in the cloth and no longer needed to depend on animal fat to hold together.  It is most likely that such is the early beginnings of dishes like the Scottish haggis and Pennsylvania Dutch hog maw – both savory casseroles prepared in either intestines or the lining from a pig’ stomach.

 

In 1647 the figgy pudding was so closely associated with the Christmas holidays that Prime Minister Oliver Cromwell had it banned.  The Puritanical Cromwell felt such harkened back to the Druids, paganism, and idolatry.  In 1660 when the English monarchy was restored, so were the traditions of Yule logs, nativity scenes,, Christmas carols, and the figgy pudding.  The Victorian era saw the figgy pudding achieve a position of prominence, thanks in no small part to Charles Dickens.  The first Christmas savings clubs were created to help poor housewives save for the figgy or Christmas pudding ingredients.  In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the last Sunday before the Advent season contained a prayer that began “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people” and became known as “Stir-Up Sunday”.  Family members would take turn stirring the Christmas pudding which was then wrapped and boiled and set aside to mature until Christmas Day.  By the nineteenth century the traditional figgy pudding had become more of what we today call fruitcake, a mixture of brown sugar, raisins, currants, candied fruit, breadcrumbs, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, suet, and alcohol.

 

The Victorian citizens, the Christmas pudding was an analogy for their world view.  The British Empire consisted of savory bits from distant colonies all bound together by a settled atmosphere of All that was considered to be English.  One advantage of the Christmas pudding was the time it took to season and cure as well as the lengthy time it lasted.  This meant that soldiers deployed in far-off lands could enjoy this taste of home even if it took almost a year to receive it. 

 

I don’t mind the appearance of Christmas in July simply because I think it is always time to spread Christmas cheer.  Sadly, too often today our Christmas puddings are made in molds rather than the more organic shapes of the past.  While I admire the beauty of such molds, I do wonder if they serve to divide us instead of bringing us together.  We grow a community with the sharing of Christmas cheer and yet, if we expect that community to be perfect or everyone to fit in a mold, then we are self-defeating.

 

In growing a community we need to stir-up our diversities and celebrate our common denominators in solidifying our future.  The 1848 satirical cartoon once entitled “John Bull Showing the Foreign Powers How to Make a Constitutional Plum Pudding” seems sadly appropriate for our

modern times.  The cartoon illustration revealed a person preparing to carve a bulging, holly-adorned pudding labeled “Liberty of the Press”, “Trial by Jury”, “Common Sense”, and “Order”. 

 

Stir up, good people, the wills of your faith, so that they will bring forth the fruit of good works and therefore richly reward us all.   When we grow community we help ourselves to hear the call of goodness and practice such service as will benefit us all.  Whatever the weather or season, we need some figgy pudding, that combination of different things brought together for preservation and continuance of us all.

 

 

To Be; To Serve

To Be; To Serve

Christmas 8

 

We’ve spoken of the three holidays during this time and in some detail about Kwanzaa.  Tonight the eighth candle of Hanukah will be lit, each candle having significance in the commemoration of the miracle of the struggle of the Maccabees. 

 

Many believe Hanukah serves to remind us that life is a struggle and we find joy when we participate in that struggle.  Those that celebrate Hanukah often do so believing that, to quote Rabi Levi Ben Levy, “the past [serves] in a way that transforms who we are in the present, which in turn, affects what we may do in the future.  If you fight for life, salvation is won. It is in the victory of life that we find joy.”

 

The eight days of Hanukah are broken down into central concepts for each day.  One is concerned with their Creator, another in studying the oral and written tenets of the Judaic faith.  The third days recognizes that Judaism is an Abrahamic faith and those that follow it are children of Abraham, a belief shared by Christians and Muslims.  On the fourth day unity is emphasized, a unity that sadly has seldom been lived here on earth.

 

The fifth day is dedicated to the words of Moses and special note is made of the 365 positive commandments which correlate with the 365 days of the year.  The remaining 248 negative commandments some feel correspond with the same number of organs in the human body and this is used to illustrate the need for peace within and with one’s neighbors.

 

The sixth and seventh days are associated with creation, the six days the Hebrews and Christians belief in which creation took place of the earth, heavens, and all living things, as well as the seven orifices on the human face.  These orifices are considered gates through which things are taken in and are said to relate to the seven days of the week.

 

One could argue these points, especially those that reference the calendar because the Jewish faith does not follow the standard calendar.  On the Hebrew calendar this is Year 5777-8, for example.  They do have seven days a week and belief that the world was created in six days but comparisons could be difficult is one really delved into the subject.  Metaphors are good, though, and help us remember basic facts.

 

Life is difficult and whether one is struggling to make oil in a lamp last or stretch a dollar to cover all necessary items for living, such celebrations give us hope.  Even for those of us who are not Jewish, Hanukah serves to remind us of several important things.  First, that our faith is seen by all we encounter.  We wear it as visibly as we do our clothes.  The menorah is placed in a window so that all may see and know.  Our faith dictates our behavior and it is the walk we walk and not just the talk we talk that gives meaning to our beliefs.

 

My particular favorite thing of Hanukah is the Shamash candle.   It is sometimes called the “server candle” because it is with the Shamash candle that the other eight candles of Hanukah are lit.  Shamash is the Akkadian name for the sun god of the religion native to the Mesopotamia region.  He was also considered the deity of justice. King Hammurabi left evidence that gave credit to Shamash for his famous code by which most legal codes are written and the admonition to “love they neighbor as thyself” which occurs in most religions is derived.

 

The Shamash candle reminds us, just as the other eight candles do, of a very important aspect of living – the importance of serving.  On this the first day of a new year, according to the standard calendar, the eight candle of Hanukah will be lit with the Shamash candle.  The eighth candle is one of retrospection, rejuvenation, refortification and thereby, giving us a rededicated mind. 

 

On this first day of January in the year 2017 or the third day of Tevet in the year 5777, how will you be a server?  It is our purpose to not just take and experience but to serve others, to share in life.  On this day, many will make resolutions for a brighter future to forge pathways to be as bright as the sun god Shamash.  I hope you will also be a server candle and help another find their way towards a better tomorrow for us all.