My Fa-la-la Dilemma

My Fa La La Dilemma

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Freed Christmas Tree: A Heart-Warming Christmas Story

 

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Freed Christmas Tree: My Traditional Heart-Warming Christmas Story

I first posted this story last Christmas season . Like all good stories (or not), I decided to make it an annual tradition – at least this year (mostly because I’ve been too busy lazy caught up in the awe of the season). This is one that deserves a hot cup of cocoa while reading it by the fire.


 

I need to begin this story with a very important disclaimer. By the time you get to the end, I can’t imagine that there could possibly be a dry eye among you. Consider yourself fairly warned.

I was driving down the road the other day with a couple of family members in tow. I’d give you their names, but it’s not easy to recall who always does or does not decide to go along with me on excursions I can’t clearly remember. Besides, you’d probably want to corroborate the details of this story with them – if you knew who they were – and, er, they probably wouldn’t want to be bothered with such disturbing distractions. Just take my word that this is how it all went down…

Early on in this outing, I realized that swerving to miss a large object in the upcoming lane was going to be called for. It was a green, bushy, triangular-shaped something or other that we managed to just barely miss while traveling 65 miles per hour down the Interstate. I couldn’t help but frown as my mind registered what sort of bundled-branched package would meet these specifications at this time of year. Sadly, it appeared as though someone had lost a Christmas tree. (No, I do not have a picture of this particular event, as I was driving 65 miles per hour up – I mean down – the Interstate and had to quickly swerve to avoid impact with this misplaced seasonal symbol. I’m going to have to ask you to help me out here, even if you weren’t prepared to be participative this early in the story.You’ll have to use your imagination on this one. Tis the season for that, you know. Ho ho ho.)

But I personally wasn’t feeling ‘ho, ho, ho’ over this incident. I was feeling ‘no, no, no’…this can’t be. What a terrible thing for some family (couple, crazy cat lady, whoever) to have traveled up the Interstate to have so lovingly picked out the perfect holiday tree (so they could curse stepping on old, hidden, sap-stuck pine needles that would painfully sink into the base of their toes by Easter) and to be on the way to take that new puppy home and unwrap it – so they could proudly re-wrap it in hazardous lights and decorations to the point that any Fire Marshall would blatantly and openly cringe – only to find it had escaped from the top of their vehicle somewhere between stopping to engorge their bodies with a dozen snow-capped Krispy Kreme donuts and home. I tried to imagine how I could help.

Perhaps I could…

turn around at the next exit, backtrack north on the Interstate, turn around again at the exit coming back in this southward direction,

stop my car in the middle of the Interstate with no worries of trucks that looked like they could turn into Decepticons barreling down the muffler of my little car that sips gas through a coffee straw,

strap that cumbersome tree onto the hood of my cargo-challenged car without the benefit of any twine (perhaps my un-remembered family members would hold it across their laps in the back seat and out both sides of the windows?),

and get it home so I could post it on a Lost and Found site until someone filed a Missing Christmas Tree report.

The site of the reunion would be tear-jerking. (Okay, my imagination gets a little outside of its own limits sometimes.)

About the time I was ready to convince myself that I could have this story all wrong – that maybe these people were driving through with their Christmas tree from the east coast and heading back to Colorado, where they’d be too tickled and too hungry with themselves to notice they were even missing the tree, I had to swerve to miss clipping another one…then another one. The next three were dotted, back and forth, on the opposite shoulders of the road. It was beginning to appear more like the driver of a Christmas tree delivery truck who was from Colorado – happily buzzing down the Interstate without a care in the world about flying Christmas trees in his rear view mirror.

This led me to a string of other theories (not to be mistaken with THE String Theory, of course, though that, too, could have been a possibility).

Some of my more plausible theories included:

  1. Santa had gotten into the eggnog and rum cake early this year while thinking of the needs of the poverty-stricken who might otherwise be treeless. Of course, Santa doesn’t prescribe to the notion of welfare without work, as evidenced by his Northern elven sweat factory. Rather than allow these poor families to feel as if they were recipients of charity, in which they might feel looked down upon, Santa decided he’d create a challenge for them to claim these free Christmas trees. If they could dodge the oncoming traffic, heck, that was proof enough that they’d earned ’em – fair and square.
  2. This was the work of a disgruntled member of the Elf Manufacturing Union (EMU – not to be mistaken with those freakishly frighteningly large birds, who are much more freakish than gigantic 20-point reindeer who fly and stomp across roofs; or with Eastern Michigan University, which is very close to the North Pole, from my southern state perspective). I’m guessing this elf was clearly upset because he was expected to labor during the holiday season. He was making his way south to apply for a job at Walmart. He’d laid out a trail of Christmas trees, so that he might find his rebellious little way back home if things didn’t work out any better for him at Walmart.
  3. Colorado driver buzzing down the road with his package of holiday brownies – oh yeah, I forgot. We’ve already covered that one.
  4. Perhaps a boyscout, who had been working on his Christmas Tree Ranch Handling merit badge, suddenly felt convicted over holding all those poor Christmas trees for ransom. Fed by the holiday spirit (and the 2 dozen cookies one of the moms had dropped off that he’d scarfed down in the last 5 minutes), he might have experienced a rush of compassion (okay, maybe it was just sugar) that caused him to throw open the corral gate and yell, “Run for your lives!” while barely escaping with his own before the stampede began. Some of the strays had apparently made their way out onto the freeway. It’s possible that this incident will lead to the discontinuation of the Christmas Tree Ranch Handling merit badge.

In any case, by the time I came back onto the scene from wrapping up my errands, I noticed that the southbound lane had been freed of all the Christmas trees. Just as I was about to wonder where they’d all gone…

When what to my wondering eyes should appear?
Why! An F150 truck, its bumper hanging off its rear!

I noticed one of the concerned Citizenry for the Over-Forestation of Freeways (OFF) promptly dealing with the issue. (Incidentally, I’ve heard rumor that this group actually wanted to be the Federation for the Over-Forestation of Freeways, but when their president made application, it was denied because – for some strange reason – the court clerk took it as a personal offense that he wanted her to sign approval to F-OFF. More unfortunately, there is an insect repellent company who is rumored to have filed a lawsuit for use of its registered trademark name.) Nevertheless, this particular concerned citizen was not going to let that pesky little aggravation stop him from performing his self-assigned civic duty.

Upon spotting the poor, frightened tree from over the tipped-up end of his nearly emptied quart of beer, this in-the-seasonal-spirited gentleman yanked up on his emergency brake and selflessly turned a 360 in the middle of the freeway. He had to thereafter signal with his most visible finger for the trucker – who was leaning out the window while jake-braking and laying on his horn, urging this upstanding citizen as to how he might best go about his business – to go on around him and responsibly get back to his own. As Mr. Civic Duty got around to the rear of his F-150 truck with its holiday-tinted primer/rust mix, he joyfully threw his arms around that lonely, abandoned Christmas tree and adopted it quicker than if it had been his long, lost cousin, Earl, who’d just won the Powerball. He then tossed that tree into the bed of his pick-up, trading it out for about a 12-pack of empty beer cans that bounced off the tail gate and down the freeway behind him. I couldn’t help but think what a considerate and generous person he must be to want to leave those cans for someone to pick up later and exchange for the high rate offered in aluminum trade.

As if he hadn’t already exhibited an over-abundance of holiday spirit and generosity, I truly came to understand the meaning of Christmas in my final glimpse of this remarkable citizen in his over-exuberant heroic act.

Found at: http://gallery.markheadrick.com/humorous/christmas-tree-with-beer-can-ornaments/“Yeehaw!” he belched, as he floored it out of sight.
“I got this durned Christmas tree for freed – without a bar fight!”

I ask you, where else could I have witnessed such a spectacularly heart-tugging story during this special holiday season?

So, now I must say…

Merry Christmas to y’all! And to all a good night!

Ah, crud. That was a copyright issue, wasn’t it?

(Nope, nope. It has ya’ll. I believe I’m good on this one.)

***

 

Freed Christmas Tree: A Heart-Warming Christmas Story

I need to begin this story with a very important disclaimer. By the time you get to the end, I can’t imagine that there could possibly be a dry eye among you. Consider yourself fairly warned.

I was driving down the road the other day with a couple of family members in tow. I’d give you their names, but it’s not easy to recall who always does or does not decide to go along with me on excursions I can’t clearly remember. Besides, you’d probably want to corroborate the details of this story with them – if you knew who they were – and, er, they probably wouldn’t want to be bothered with such disturbing distractions. Just take my word that this is how it all went down…

Early on in this outing, I realized that swerving to miss a large object in the upcoming lane was going to be called for. It was a green, bushy, triangular-shaped something or other that we managed to just barely miss while traveling 65 miles per hour down the Interstate. I couldn’t help but frown as my mind registered what sort of bundled-branched package would meet these specifications at this time of year. Sadly, it appeared as though someone had lost a Christmas tree. (No, I do not have a picture of this particular event, as I was driving 65 miles per hour up – I mean down – the Interstate and had to quickly swerve to avoid impact with this misplaced seasonal symbol. I’m going to have to ask you to help me out here, even if you weren’t prepared to be participative this early in the story.You’ll have to use your imagination on this one. Tis the season for that, you know. Ho ho ho.)

But I personally wasn’t feeling ‘ho, ho, ho’ over this incident. I was feeling ‘no, no, no’…this can’t be. What a terrible thing for some family (couple, crazy cat lady, whoever) to have traveled up the Interstate to have so lovingly picked out the perfect holiday tree (so they could curse stepping on old, hidden, sap-stuck pine needles that would painfully sink into the base of their toes by Easter) and to be on the way to take that new puppy home and unwrap it – so they could proudly re-wrap it in hazardous lights and decorations to the point that any Fire Marshall would blatantly and openly cringe – only to find it had escaped from the top of their vehicle somewhere between stopping to engorge their bodies with a dozen snow-capped Krispy Kreme donuts and home. I tried to imagine how I could help.

Perhaps I could…

turn around at the next exit, backtrack north on the Interstate, turn around again at the exit coming back in this southward direction,

stop my car in the middle of the Interstate with no worries of trucks that looked like they could turn into Decepticons barreling down the muffler of my little car that sips gas through a coffee straw,

strap that cumbersome tree onto the hood of my cargo-challenged car without the benefit of any twine (perhaps my un-remembered family members would hold it across their laps in the back seat and out both sides of the windows?),

and get it home so I could post it on a Lost and Found site until someone filed a Missing Christmas Tree report.

The site of the reunion would be tear-jerking. (Okay, my imagination gets a little outside of its own limits sometimes.)

About the time I was ready to convince myself that I could have this story all wrong – that maybe these people were driving through with their Christmas tree from the east coast and heading back to Colorado, where they’d be too tickled and too hungry with themselves to notice they were even missing the tree, I had to swerve to miss clipping another one…then another one. The next three were dotted, back and forth, on the opposite shoulders of the road. It was beginning to appear more like the driver of a Christmas tree delivery truck who was from Colorado – happily buzzing down the Interstate without a care in the world about flying Christmas trees in his rear view mirror.

This led me to a string of other theories (not to be mistaken with THE String Theory, of course, though that, too, could have been a possibility).

Some of my more plausible theories included:

  1. Santa had gotten into the eggnog and rum cake early this year while thinking of the needs of the poverty-stricken who might otherwise be treeless. Of course, Santa doesn’t prescribe to the notion of welfare without work, as evidenced by his Northern elven sweat factory. Rather than allow these poor families to feel as if they were recipients of charity, in which they might feel looked down upon, Santa decided he’d create a challenge for them to claim these free Christmas trees. If they could dodge the oncoming traffic, heck, that was proof enough that they’d earned ’em – fair and square.
  2. This was the work of a disgruntled member of the Elf Manufacturing Union (EMU – not to be mistaken with those freakishly frighteningly large birds, who are much more freakish than gigantic 20-point reindeer who fly and stomp across roofs; or with Eastern Michigan University, which is very close to the North Pole, from my southern state perspective). I’m guessing this elf was clearly upset because he was expected to labor during the holiday season. He was making his way south to apply for a job at Walmart. He’d laid out a trail of Christmas trees, so that he might find his rebellious little way back home if things didn’t work out any better for him at Walmart.
  3. Colorado driver buzzing down the road with his package of holiday brownies – oh yeah, I forgot. We’ve already covered that one.
  4. Perhaps a boyscout, who had been working on his Christmas Tree Ranch Handling merit badge, suddenly felt convicted over holding all those poor Christmas trees for ransom. Fed by the holiday spirit (and the 2 dozen cookies one of the moms had dropped off that he’d scarfed down in the last 5 minutes), he might have experienced a rush of compassion (okay, maybe it was just sugar) that caused him to throw open the corral gate and yell, “Run for your lives!” while barely escaping with his own before the stampede began. Some of the strays had apparently made their way out onto the freeway. It’s possible that this incident will lead to the discontinuation of the Christmas Tree Ranch Handling merit badge.

In any case, by the time I came back onto the scene from wrapping up my errands, I noticed that the southbound lane had been freed of all the Christmas trees. Just as I was about to wonder where they’d all gone…

When what to my wondering eyes should appear?
Why! An F150 truck, its bumper hanging off its rear!

I noticed one of the concerned Citizenry for the Over-Forestation of Freeways (OFF) promptly dealing with the issue. (Incidentally, I’ve heard rumor that this group actually wanted to be the Federation for the Over-Forestation of Freeways, but when their president made application, it was denied because – for some strange reason – the court clerk took it as a personal offense that he wanted her to sign approval to F-OFF. More unfortunately, there is an insect repellent company who is rumored to have filed a lawsuit for use of its registered trademark name.) Nevertheless, this particular concerned citizen was not going to let that pesky little aggravation stop him from performing his self-assigned civic duty.

Upon spotting the poor, frightened tree from over the tipped-up end of his nearly emptied quart of beer, this in-the-seasonal-spirited gentleman yanked up on his emergency brake and selflessly turned a 360 in the middle of the freeway. He had to thereafter signal with his most visible finger for the trucker – who was leaning out the window while jake-braking and laying on his horn, urging this upstanding citizen as to how he might best go about his business – to go on around him and responsibly get back to his own. As Mr. Civic Duty got around to the rear of his F-150 truck with its holiday-tinted primer/rust mix, he joyfully threw his arms around that lonely, abandoned Christmas tree and adopted it quicker than if it had been his long, lost cousin, Earl, who’d just won the Powerball. He then tossed that tree into the bed of his pick-up, trading it out for about a 12-pack of empty beer cans that bounced off the tail gate and down the freeway behind him. I couldn’t help but think what a considerate and generous person he must be to want to leave those cans for someone to pick up later and exchange for the high rate offered in aluminum trade.

As if he hadn’t already exhibited an over-abundance of holiday spirit and generosity, I truly came to understand the meaning of Christmas in my final glimpse of this remarkable citizen in his over-exuberant heroic act.

Found at: http://gallery.markheadrick.com/humorous/christmas-tree-with-beer-can-ornaments/“Yeehaw!” he belched, as he floored it out of sight.
“I got this durned Christmas tree for freed – without a bar fight!”

I ask you, where else could I have witnessed such a spectacularly heart-tugging story during this special holiday season?

So, now I must say…

Merry Christmas to y’all! And to all a good night!

Ah, crud. That was a copyright issue, wasn’t it?

(Nope, nope. It has ya’ll. I believe I’m good on this one.)

***

 

Go Make a Joyful Noise! – in Someone Else’s Yard

Last night, I braved the elements to go Christmas caroling – the cold (it’s about 43 degrees F in the South), cocktail wienies (we snacked first & that was the healthiest option we had), our youth group (sometimes teens can act like wienies), and the dog poo (that isn’t always left in people’s yards by those little wienie dogs). Yeah, I know. All you Northerners are still calling me a wienie over my definition of cold.  So anyway…

Each year, we select a different neighborhood near our church and set out on a mission to spread good cheer (and candy canes).  We had  a couple of ringers with us this year – our previous choir director and one of the youth who sings in his high school choir. Oh, and of course we brought along some really cute little kids for the “ahhh” effect. As for the rest of, we were just in it to be for the wienies…

Just before I left out to make my joyful noise, I dropped a little satire on my FB page:

Photo

All I can say is that it was a good thing I had mentally prepped myself for how tough this year’s caroling game was gonna’ be. We were obviously at the play-off stage, where even the best page in our play book – you know, the cute kid factor handing out candy canes at the front door -wasn’t gonna’ work. In all the years we’ve done this, I can’t ever recall getting a single rejection (even if they didn’t ask for an encore). Heck, one guy even chased us down last year and asked us to come up to his house and sing to his wife. (Not sure what he’d done to get himself into trouble with her, but that apparently made up for it. Always glad to help a guy out of a jam.)

This year, though – wow. This year we received more rejections to our offers for caroling than we even received acceptances. Tough crowd. People were busy, you see. Busy eating dinner, busy talking on the phone to family members, busy watching television, busy closing their curtains and turning out their lights, busy just saying no. Yes, these were actual responses we got. One particular person stood behind the storm door of his house with a coat on, watched us carol at a couple of houses around the cul-de-sac, watched us walk up his hilly driveway, allowed us to get to his front walk, and as “candy cane kid” and I got to him, slammed the door right in our faces. I mean slammed. Yep, he made his point well.

Others simply admitted that they were suspicious of us. They thought we wanted something from them in return. One guy, after rejecting us, called me back to his deck to drop a few bucks down to me for the offering plate. It didn’t matter how many times I tried to explain that’s not why we were there, he became insistent. He still refused to let us sing to him, but he did reluctantly take a trade in candy canes (probably because our “cute kid” just kept holding them out to him, something akin to Cindy Lou Who scrutinizing the Grinch).

All in all, I thought this was a really good lesson for us as Christ-followers. I thought of how Jesus came into the world to offer himself as a gift to us. And how often he was rejected by others. I realized how people are still suspect today because of the very thing that Jesus, himself, encountered – the political aspects and misguided practices of religion. Mostly, I walked away from the door that had been slammed in my face thinking of a young couple, traveling to an unfamiliar town called Bethlehem, a teen girl laboring to bring a precious gift to the world that even she didn’t fully comprehend – only to have the door slammed in their faces.

No room at the inn.

The lesson gets better than that, though. In a humble setting, the Christ-child was born. Shepherds listened to the angels as they caroled in the fields, and responded to go and see the one lying in a manger. So they went, then joined in the chorus to spread the good news. Later, wise men followed a star, so they, too, could experience this great joy. They came bearing their own set of gifts. Today, we see representations in manger scenes of the outcast couple, the working class shepherds, scholarly well-to-do travelers, along with an assortment of animals from near and far – all crowding in, not sure of what to make of this new being who had broken into this world, but looking to get just a tiny glimpse of the hope he was to bring.

And so it went for us too, in tiny glimpses of humility and gifts – and hope – along the way.

Two burly men (probably something like those shepherds) stood at the back of an apartment complex, one with his beard twisted and braided, the other holding his microwave dinner while leaning against the door frame. I waited to hear the dinner excuse. I expected to be told to get the *expletive* out of there. But as we started to sing, a grin came to one of those faces; tears rolled down the other. “I’ve never been sang to before,” came the humble words at the end. “Thank you,” the bearded man choked out. “God bless you.” He just did, I thought.

An elementary aged boy in glasses stood on a small stoop with his single mom. I asked if he had any requests, preparing myself for one of our secular, kid-friendly songs like Rudolph or Frosty. “Could you sing ‘We Three Kings’?” he quickly chimed back. Hmm, I glanced around with uncertainty. We didn’t have that one on our song sheets, but a few of us knew it – admittedly, some better than others. The boy’s grin widened as we began, and soon he was singing along with us, not seeming to mind the places where we stumbled.

An elderly lady in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank had heard us at her neighbor’s duplex door. I wondered how long it had taken her to make her way to her door and get it open, as she’d managed to do so even before we’d finished crossing to her side of the lawn. As we sang to her, she dropped her head, covered her eyes a couple of times, and wept. When we finished, she pointed to a single star hanging above us in the night sky, shaking her head in wonderment. She became so insistent on wanting to offer us some gift in return, I finally eagerly accepted. I told her we would be happy to take payments from her – in hugs. And let me tell you – she was a wonderful gift distributor!

When it was all said and done, I guess we weren’t such big wienies after all, out there singing making a joyful noise to utterly complete strangers our neighbors. But I will admit. All snuggled in that one woman’s sweet hugs, I might’ve felt like a warm little wienie-in-a-blanket.

Thankful not to have been eaten alive out there,

-jody

Hope Melts

Christmas was coming. Lisa was missing her husband, Brian, who was still serving his country abroad. More than that, her children were missing their daddy miserably during that Christmas season of 2011. A majority of our American soldiers had been removed from Iraq by then, but not Brian. He was still one of those remaining, stationed there until May 2012. Lisa brought her little family to church for the Christmas Eve candlelight service that year. She was home for the holidays, surrounded by as many extended family members as possible. Both her children clutched their Daddy-ARMY-dolls that evening, but even a picturesque representation of Dad wasn’t going to stop the melt-down later that night. Santa may be coming to town…but Daddy wasn’t.

Despite their sad little hearts, they sat among us at the Christmas morning service. When our pastor asked if anyone had a praise to share,  7-year-old Nat was the first to respond. Without hesitation, she stood and proclaimed, “I’m thankful to be with my family on Christmas.” The wet drops sliding down many cheeks across the pews attested that all hearts there had begun to melt.

Paul talks about the small child leading us. You see, Nat was surely heartbroken. Yet, she refused to stay focused on the negativity of her situation. Instead, she caught a glimpse of the hope – and somehow instinctively knew she needed to SPEAK IT to make it more real. If she could begin to openly express that May would bring her daddy back to the United States – back home to her family – then she could envision that she and her mother and brother would be with him once again.

Oh, what spring-like joy welled up when May rolled around! Can you imagine what that reunion must have been like? For me, it was an infinitesimal glimpse of what our reunion with loved ones in heaven might one day be!

Oh, and in case you’re interested – their earthly reunion looked something like this…

welcome

_____________________________

I’ve been wanting to share this as a Christmas story for some time, so today seemed a perfect opportunity to integrate it with the Trifecta writing challenge (with a 333 word limit) and the 3rd definition of the challenge word. I stretched my options – and my luck – by metaphorically using the first definition to ultimately depict the 3rd definition. Even if I get called out on a foul, I wanted you to hear this beautiful, triumphant story that I was privileged to witness. It surely made my own heart melt. 🙂

Hope & Joy,

-jody

MELT (transitive verb)
1:  to reduce from a solid to a liquid state usually by heat

2:  to cause to disappear or disperse

– See more at: http://www.trifectawritingchallenge.com/#sthash.3xwaQzF7.dpuf

O Little Town of Bethlehem – & other places for a Christian woman to cover her head

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/thousands-flock-bethlehem-celebrate-christmas-article-1.1226868

Manger Square in Bethlehem 2012

After the unrest in the Holy Land as of late, it was heart-warming to hear the good news reported by the New York Daily News: “Thousands of pilgrims and Palestinians converged on Bethlehem Monday to celebrate the first Christmas in this West Bank city since the U.N. vote recognizing Palestine as a non-member state.The celebrations capped a boom year for the city of Jesus’ birth, with a record two million tourists in 2012 helping an impressive economic revival.”

I dare say the importance of this news (and that picture above) makes little sense to many Christians anyway. We Christians like to romanticize the little town of Bethlehem, as though it somehow belongs to us. We sweetly sing our caroling song about it, our faces aglow, basking in the candlelight. How still we-e see thee lie. Well, that’s a lie. (Somehow we forget that Jesus wasn’t exactly welcomed in that restless place with open arms – he was only welcomed by a mangy manger.) Commerce hasn’t come through there, either, like it used to (mostly due to an ugly Apartheid wall that blocks it and is responsible for blocking the harvesting of many age-old olive trees now destroyed or inaccessible), and hearts are still restless there – so “pilgrims flocking” – and buying – is good news of great joy to the people of ‘O Little Town.’

Going to Israel’s West Bank has made one of the greatest life impacts on me, putting many things in perspective for me, while also knocking many of my perspectives off-axis. That’s why it was important to go there.

The very night I first arrived in Jericho in January 2006, Hamas was elected into power. There was immediate unrest, with gunfire celebrations going all through the night, as Islamic Palestinians anticipated release from Israeli authority (while Americans – a.k.a. Christians there, regardless of religious affiliation –  had enough sense to remain in their hotel rooms). It’s interesting being over there as an American. Politics & religion become one in the same – don’t bother trying to explain our principle of separation of Church & State; you’re wasting your breath. So if you’re an American without obvious Islamic ties or without Jewish transfer as an Israeli soldier, you’re classified as Christian – no exceptions (which I am Christian, but coming from America, I had to come to understand this particular paradigm). And if you’re an atheistic American, I guess you’ve just become a secular Christian. Yeah, well, academic arguments don’t really matter. Life stinks out for you, huh?

I had just come from Ammon, Jordan, where I’d seen the Palestinian refugee camps and had begun to understand the true extent of potential hatred between the Israeli & Palestinian people because of decades of displacement (and how U.S. Christians are viewed in the turmoil with a Zionist worldview). Nerves were a little on edge in Israel, anyway, as Prime Minister Sharon had suffered two strokes (which had resulted in his vegetative state). It seemed the Hamas must have been surprised to have come into power (certainly unprepared, as were America & Israel about it) because it took them several days to effectively organize and begin disseminating ‘power’ statements. By the time all that had occurred, I had made my way into Bethlehem.

The "Apartheid" wall that encloses Bethlehem(Note the sign on the wall when leaving Jerusalem to go into Bethlehem. It reads, "Peace be with you.")

The “Apartheid” wall that encloses Bethlehem
(Note the sign on the wall when leaving Jerusalem to go into Bethlehem. It reads, “Peace be with you.”)

The wired fences, the walled Apartheid barricade, the armed soldiers, the long wait during passport inspection at the ‘you are leaving Jerusalem & we’re not sure if we’ll let you back in’ checkpoint – all matched well with the ominous gray sky the first day we entered Bethlehem. No sooner did we get off our bus and begin walking to Jesus’ supposed birth site than I began to realize the desperation of the Palestinian people there. Tourism and commerce were down significantly (I was told to less than one-third of what they had been), with great limitations on supplies that could come into the city. Residents didn’t necessarily have the means to get out of the walled-in city to sustain themselves either. We were swarmed upon several times by people desperate to make sales with very little to actually sell (even though, honestly, I’m not much of a shopper anyway, avidly avoiding Black Friday & Walmart like the plague). I accidentally offended one man by backing away and holding up my hand, trying to make the point I wasn’t interested in being crowded any further. (Well, it always works as a good signal to those upstanding people trying to sell you stolen goods at U.S. gas pumps. You must understand that I’m also the person who will ask to be excused from the no-longer-has-met-its-weight-limit-elevator as people keep trying to push me towards the back to suffocate me.) This fellow was persistent in sharing my personal space, as he boldly pursued me, yelling at me that he, too, was a Christian and that I was not “the Mrs. of the World” (which was a little heart-breaking that he hadn’t recognized me without my sash and crown). Desperation creates frustration; frustration causes tempers to easily flare. As disconcerting as this experience was, my heart did hurt for him and the others, one of whom actually was successful in picking another woman’s pocketbook in our party that day, passport and all.

I don’t believe we traveled too many more steps down the road before the speakers on top of the mosques began to blare. I had become accustomed to chants coming from them often, but this time seemed different. Apparently, Hamas had begun to make some decisions, and at least one was relayed to us. Did it come from the very loud-speakers? I can’t recall. Did the words first come in Arabic and then were translated from the speakers? Or were we simply thereafter informed of their meaning? Regardless of the details I’ve failed to remember, I do quite clearly recall the gist of the message we received as we stood out on that street: “Hamas is now in power. Bethlehem is an Islamic state. Christian women will cover their heads” (hijab – yep, I got that part of the announcement).

Now, I’m all for honoring customs and traditions. (Nobody wears green to keep from being pinched better than me on St. Patrick’s Day. Admittedly, I don’t go out of my way to find black-eyed peas and greens on New Year’s; but when my sister says we have to eat them, I hold my nose and play along – even when I can’t recall the point). Seriously, I have no problem with head coverings when they’re called for. I had already taken one with me to the Wailing Wall in Old Jerusalem, and I didn’t even make a stink about having to go to the “girl’s side.” I understood the expectation. Had I known a head covering was going to be a requirement in Bethlehem that day – a town composed of both Islamic and Christian Palestinians – I’m sure I could’ve brought one along. It was the ‘immediacy’ of the matter -without any pre-designed rule book or warning – that kinda’ got my hijab in a wad that day. (That, and this, if you want more info about why the ruling wasn’t really ‘kosher.’)

When you’re one of less than a handful of American women with uncovered light-colored hair and skin walking down the streets of an agitated town in the middle of the day, you don’t have to wonder if you’ve just become a magnet for creating a potential offense! (Especially when there are women fully covered with a niqab or burqa who you realize are now only giving you uncomfortable side glances, as they quickly shuffle away in a direction quite obviously opposite from your own.) Obviously, the impracticality of not being forewarned of the possibility of immediate governmental law changes does not necessarily negate the severity of the perceived offense.

So, you see, had I but only known the wonderfully gracious and giving TravelingMarla back then – my blogging friend, Marla, who just recently sent me a lovely green forever-scarf as a gift for playing along in her writing challenge… (I would like to say it was because I won it for being such a profoundly gifted writer; but then I’d be creating a new offense by not simply saying she is a fun and generous gal!)…I could’ve easily pocketed that little green scarf and pulled it out quicker than a redneck Muslim could say “Hee-yawb.” (That’s some bad American Christian cowgirl humor for ya’, since all Americans notoriously are western cowpokes, too.)

Thank you, Marla, for my forever-lovely forever-scarf!

Thank you, Marla, for my forever-lovely forever-scarf!

For the record, this isn’t the ending story of my Bethlehem visits – there’s a really good one in there that ends in prayer in an upper room. But I’m saving that one for another day. For now, there’s one more thing I have to say because there’s a small likelihood I haven’t offended enough religious (or non-religious, as the case may be) affiliations yet. I came back to the states and later went to see a family Christian production in the movie theaters. It began with a commercial from Evangelical Christians, essentially stating (as fact) that “all” Palestinian children were sent to camps to learn to make bombs. (It was a nasty little hate message, in case you didn’t get that.) It was the same sort of hate message that was keeping the residents of Bethlehem from being able to get any commerce or supplies into their town to survive. As a Christian, I felt more horrified over that commercial than I had during my own uncovered-head-day-in-Bethlehem excursion. I wished I’d had a hijab with me at that moment, along with a dark niqab to cover my reddened face.

News flash to those of you calling yourselves Christians while persecuting Palestinians: Somebody’s been leaving out some pertinent information while filtering their agendas to you. A reality check will reveal that, even if you care about no others outside of ‘your own,’ there are Palestinian Christians who remain just as displaced in both homeland and affiliation in the Middle East as any other Palestinian. Because they are neither Islamic nor Jewish, these governments tell them to go to America (because we all know that is where Christians reside,  of course. Yep, lots of secular Christians.) While in Bethlehem, I witnessed Christians and Muslims living and socializing peacefully together as individuals (well, commiserating over their woes), rather than acting out separately like governmental entities of this region. So are we truly, as proclaiming Christians, going to persecute our Palestinian brothers and sisters with lies such as those being promulgated in that movie theater commercial? Are you truly willing to  be the means of persecuting anyone, according to religion or beliefs, based on picked-up propaganda perspectives? I, for one, did not appreciate it – so much so that it makes me think long and hard before I take any political stances – especially those that might cost people their lives.

I found out, first-hand — Persecution Stinks. But what gets me most is that Jesus came into the world knowing his arrival would mean persecution – persecution to the point of eventually giving up his very life. He even found out how un-welcomed he’d be from the very beginning – right there in Bethlehem, when there was no room anywhere but with the animals down in a musty cave.

But that didn’t stop Him from coming. The Prince of Peace – coming into a restless world. Emmanuel (God with us) – coming not to hoard his power over us with unreasonable rules and restrictions we couldn’t meet or to throw new ones on us to embarrass us and trip us up, but so we could be free of the things that bound us;so His light might shine brightly upon those of us who had been hiding in the darkness.

Perhaps we should revisit that song, O Little Town of Bethlehem – especially that part where it says:

Yet in thy dark streets shineth,  the Everlasting Light

the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

We need to uncover that light within us – a light that desires to shine in the darkness for others to witness; not the darkness trying to snuff out the Truth – that God’s light has come into the world.

The Perfect Present – Merry Christmas!

Christmas

takes the historical,

the theological,

the magical

and the whimsical

and wraps them all together 

in a most delightful present.

whimsical_nativity

Year after year,

the beauty of this same familiar package

never wears down,

it never fades.

The surprise never lessens,

the Christmas spirit never dies –

not as long as we determine we’re going to prepare our hearts to continue to open

-and cherish-

this eternal, priceless gift.

Merry Christmas 2012! – jody

nativity