Friday, December 28, 2007


I see Christmas as two holidays:

The celebration of the birth of the Child is one holiday.

The feasting, gift giving, and decorating are another secular (pagan) holiday (of which I know the ancient pagan influence), not unlike Thanksgiving or Valentine's Day.

Every year I reflect on that. I celebrate both Christmases, but it's not my favorite time of year, and every year, I'm glad when it's over. But I do enjoy giving gifts to others, and I enjoy being with family, 'cause let's face it, most families only get together nowadays for holidays, when they have days off from work, and funerals. I've decided that for me, secular Christmas is about nostalgia and family. I don't object to presents, because despite some of the entitlement to gifts people feel, you can get around it by choosing how much you want to participate in gift giving. If people have issues with that, shame on them. I don't give presents to other folks' kids at Christmas. In my eyes, it's up to the parents to spoil their children if they want. I don't want any part of that. When I give gifts, it's usually for birthdays, and it's often books.

I think that with my own children, I will make efforts to somehow separate the celebration of the Child from the pagan holiday, so that they will understand and attach importance to the difference. I would like for them to be knowledgeable about my faith. But I want them to participate in the other Christmas - the food and family part - because that means so much to me. Spoiling will NOT occur. Period. And I think that parents are to blame when their children are materialistic, because it's their job to guide their children so that American materialistic culture doesn't program their kids into a sense of entitlement. Once upon a time, kids received oranges and little cakes and clothes and stuff for Christmas. I'm not giving my kids that stuff, but if I'm going to give them nice presents, why does Christmas have to be "jackpot day?" There are 364 other days in the year. And why does it have to be for the most expensive stuff - stuff many people will be paying for until next August? I think it sends the wrong message to the kids.

Christmas is not the most holy and meaningful time of the year for Christians though - Easter is. I feel much of folks' frustration with secular trumping the sacred even stronger when Easter bunnies and Easter baskets and new clothes become the focus. It's a mix of the celebration of the spring equinox and the resurrection of Christ, and it's disgusting to me to see the focus get lost every year. I don't celebrate Spring at Easter time - to me, that time is about faith alone. I can celebrate spring all the other weeks - why should it be all on top of the most Holy time of the year for my faith?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"not religion and not politics"

I was clicking past some channels on tv when something caught my eye on FOX news. I don't like FOX news - I don't like their coverage, I don't like their staff, I don't watch their channel habitually. But I stopped briefly because they were talking about presidential candidates, and apparently there's some controversy about Mike Huckabee's Christmas commercial. In it, he talks about how tiring the political commercials must be, and then he says the most important thing to focus on right now is Christ. In the background, there was a Christmas tree next to what looked like some shelving.

FOX News' question was whether this was an appropriate message from a political candidate. There were two people on a split screen talking with the reporter behind the news desk. One man in particular, an atheist, was disgusted. He said that the shelving resulted in a "subliminal cross" behind Huckabee's head, and that Huckabee's use of religion was shameful pandering to Christians and was insulting to everyone else - Jews, Hindus, Muslims, etc.

Why is everyone so hung up on Mike Huckabee's religion? I can't say this enough:
RELIGION HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH A PERSON'S CAPABILITY TO EFFECTIVELY SERVE THE PUBLIC. Whether a candidate is Mormon, Baptist, Catholic, Sunni, Shiite, Hindu, "animist," agnostic, or atheist among others, my questions are still going to be the same. Are you smart? Are you experienced? Can you lead? Can you work towards the good of all citizens? What are your plans for the country?

If Mike Huckabee or any of the other candidates want to shout their religion from the rooftops, I'd encourage them to do so. I think that it's a good thing when a person is not ashamed of what they believe. I fear that the climate of religious intolerance in this country necessitates that people be brave about what they believe, lest we lose our right as citizens of this country to worship (or not) as we please. Also, publicly identifying with one religion does not mean that you necessarily have no respect for other religions. But I have one caveat: don't think your professed religion alone is going to sway my vote. I am a Christian, but I would vote for an atheist if that atheist had the character and qualifications to do the job and was a better candidate than the others. That doesn't make me a bad Christian. It makes me an honest Christian and a conscientious citizen.

You know what happens when people vote a candidate in based on religion? George W. Bush. A narrow minded, short sighted, egotistical, wannabe-cowboy whose character I refuse to attribute to his professed religion. I don't think all Christians are great candidates for president any more than I think all Muslims are terrorists - that would absolutely ridiculous and unreasonable. People have the opportunity and the ability to assess a candidate without making dumb assumptions based on one characteristic about that candidate.

My point is it shouldn't matter even IF Mike Huckabee was reaching out for the Christian vote. He has a right to campaign how he wants - to show whatever side of him he wants to show. It's our responsibility as voters to determine whether or not we want this to influence our decision next fall. Maybe I shouldn't assume that voters have the capability of making intelligent choices - Bush received more of the popular vote in 2004 than I thought he should have received, given the very expensive and deadly war, and I'm sure a percentage of that came from folks who just wanted to vote for the guy who was "more Christian" than the other guy. But part of being an American is recognizing and respecting that other people are capable of making decisions and choices for themselves. As much as I disagree with the people who voted for Bush last time, I respect their right to make that choice.

And I respect Mike Huckabee's right to talk about the religious meaning of Christmas in a campaign commercial. And even if I fear that people may do the stupid thing and choose someone based on one characteristic alone - Christian, female, black, hispanic, male WASP - I'm going to hold out hope that we've learned from our most recent mistake.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

with time

i noticed the other day that i don't drive as fast as i used to. where i used to use my peripheral vision, now i look and look again (as my dad told me to do when he was teaching me how to drive.) i used to be so crazy with it. once, my mom, dad, and i were on our way from some random outing, and since i was able to drive, my dad suggested that i drive home. he wouldn't shut up, and it was so hard for me to concentrate on what i was doing, that i could hardly drive anyway, so i stopped right where i was. in the middle of the road. no hazard lights, no pulling over, nothing. i just stopped, and scared the isht out of my folks. i told my dad, "look, if you want me to get us home safe, you're going to have to stop all the talking. i can get us home, but not with all you're shooting at me from the passenger seat, i just can't." of course, he wanted to strangle me, or at least switch seats, but with cars whizzing by on both sides of the family car, that wasn't going to happen. after a dramatic pause, i put the car back in drive and got us home. i was crazy. it's his fault, he'd been driving like a maniac for as long as i can remember, and since i grew up used to maniacal driving, it was nothing for me to put the car in park in the middle of the road. during my college years, i drove some of everywhere in my own on-again/off-again hoopty, and driving a van for the school's security escort service (i LOVED that job). it was on the crazy streets of baltimore that i both came into the confidence a driver needs to have, and learned just how far i could push the rules of the road.

but, one hydroplane into the back of a moving truck, one doze on I-95 during rush hour, another doze on the DC beltway in bumper-to-bumper traffic, one broadside through a red light into a BMW, two speeding tickets, and one court-ordered driving class later, my maniacal days were over. somewhere in that time span, i stopped feeling that urge to rush to get where i was going. i stopped feeling invincible.

then i noticed that other people were speeding up to my bumper and zooming around my left side. i noticed that i felt more comfortable out of the fast lane. that two or three car lengths worth of buffer in front of me just made me feel better.

i'm not perfect. i still don't drive the speed limit in low traffic, low pedestrian areas. sometimes i still get distracted. sometimes i get sleepy while driving... but i'm more careful. i don't rush so much. i don't get road rage as often. if i need to, i'll pull over until i can get back on the road.

but this isn't really about my driving. it's about who i am becoming overall. the driving change is really just a part of an overall pattern in my life. it's interesting to be able to reflect - zoom out and witness my own maturation...

Monday, December 03, 2007

my pedigree

The oldest person on my paternal family tree as it stands so far was born in 1820 in Virginia. I have about 5 or 6 other people about 6 or 7 generations back that were born Negro in a slave state before emancipation.

Many of the people I've found were not able to read and write, down into the early twentieth century. Hardly any of them had any formal schooling, but some children started to read and write around the turn of the century. Many rented land and hired out as laborers, railroad section hands, factory workers, housewives, maids, and laundresses. They married, had several children, and went to church. Eventually, folks started to pick up small parcels of land in the same little patch of the country where it seems we've been for at least a couple centuries.

My grandmother was the first professional, a licensed practical nurse. My dad's sister was the first, at least in my branch, to earn a bachelor's degree. Yet I've heard stories of my father's upbringing - there were hard times. Schools were still segregated up until they started busing my dad and other kids in the late sixties, and subsequently closed the colored schools. Even then, men in my family were doing "odd jobs," like digging wells and fixing things.

I am the second in my family to earn a bachelor's degree, and the first to acquire an advanced degree. I have letters after my name. My little cousin is in college - she wants to get her MBA one day.

Needless to say, I am not part of the black bourgoisie. I am not derived from any of the Talented Tenth. I didn't debut for society. My parents and grandparents didn't go greek and shuttle me to homecoming games in early fall. There are no family jewels, no hope chests, no trust funds, no rich uncles. And I am overwhelmingly proud to be who I am. I am a child of former slaves, who lived and loved through poverty and Jim Crow, and took almost a century and a half to produce a middle class not obligated to hoeing and weeding, scrubbing, hauling, or digging to provide for our families. My inherited legacy is faith, perseverance, and a respect for education.

We've been blessed to make it this far. We are the strong. We are the purposed.

I am the future.