Pick a Season, Any Season!
|Donate money to charity in the names of your family and friends instead of giving gifts.|
|Have a family meeting to decide which cause you will help instead of just exchanging gifts.|
|Decorate with greens, fruits and nuts instead of paying lots of money for decorations in your home. Greens can adorn shelves, tables, be tied into swags with wire or string, or put into vases.|
|Sent Valentine or Thanksgiving cards instead of Christmas cards.|
|If you receive lots of cards during the holidays, only open one each day. Choose a time during each day when you will read the card and think fondly of the sender.|
|Make your Christmas cards or buy from an organization where the proceeds benefit a charity.|
|Make a mobile of ornaments or decorate a plant or sculpture instead of a tree.|
|Travel. A trip at Christmas helps change your routine and your perspective.|
|Plan Christmas activities which have a positive focus: a hike, visiting friends or having friends in.|
|If you plan to entertain, consider taking your party to an older adults’ home or hospital and do your singing and celebrating there.|
|Make your celebration someone else’s. Take some baked goods, a meal, or some candy to a lonely older person and share several hours with them.|
Create Your Own Holiday
This year, create your own holiday. Don’t just let it "happen to you." Plan something you know you can fulfill so there will be no disappointment. Decide what you would most enjoy for the holiday, and do it!
You may love to shop, so Christmas shopping could be the only thing you choose to do for the holidays. If your kitchen brings you solace, cook your heart out. Your non-cooking friends will love your efforts.
Also, figure out what you don’t want to do and use the same commitment to avoid the things you don’t want. Don’t spend your holidays just fulfilling obligations or doing nothing.
Sometimes we feel so obligated to family that we’re stuck for the day no matter what. For those who don’t feel the family ritual is a celebration, consider choosing another day for your own personal celebration. High tea at a fancy hotel or an evening performance of "The Nutcracker" with friends can be your own personal celebration of the holiday, and you can choose your own day. Once you’ve had your own celebration, any family ordeal isn’t quite as unbearable.
You may also be pleasantly surprised if you are honest about your wishes with your loved ones. Being up front can bring compromise that makes everyone happy.
Plan for something for the holidays. Many of us try to ignore the season, but when the actual day arrives there’s a void and depression can easily set in. TV fare is not good on Christmas, but most of the video stores allow an extra day free on holidays. Almost everything is closed, so plan ahead. Having a "Plan B" is a good idea as well.
Planning for some alone time is a very healthy thing to do during the holidays. Most of us get trapped into days of shopping, cooking, and decorating, but leave no time for ourselves. Taking a day to do nothing is not being irresponsible; it’s taking care of yourself so you can do things better.
Expectations & Stress
It’s not nearly as important to maintain historic traditions as it is to seek fulfillment and enrichment for ourselves and those around us. You can be free to decide what you want to do instead of doing things simply because you’ve always done them.
Relaxing your expectations for yourself and others will prevent angry outbursts. If others don’t wish to take responsibility for traditional holiday activities, scratch that activity!
These are some changes you could initiate to reduce the disappointment and stress of the holidays:
|Share your holiday with new immigrants from countries that have no exposure to our customs.|
|Make a sign up sheet for responsibilities for holiday meals. Create a kitty for money to be spent on groceries or restaurants. Don’t take on or accept the role of family servant.|
|Remove alcohol from your holiday celebration as much as possible. Liquor can make people lethargic and uncaring. (Also, alcohol is a depressant.)|
|Avoid shopping in crowded busy stores. Consider giving family heirlooms now. Items online or from catalogues, magazine subscriptions, gift certificates to favorite restaurants or theaters, car washes for a year, etc., are all excellent examples of non-shopping gifts.|
|Arrange a conference call so relatives or friends can "be together," yet still be free to make separate holiday arrangements.|
|If you are alone, stop feeling sorry for yourself. Figure out what you would enjoy and do it.|
|After a trauma have your first holiday celebration away from home. Less familiar surroundings allow fewer painful associations in the beginning.|
|Buy yourself a nice present and enjoy it throughout the year. Each time you use something you’ve given yourself, you will remind yourself that you really deserve this kind of treatment. The amount of money you spend is not nearly as important as the inner satisfaction you’ll receive from giving yourself a treat you deserve.|
|It’s never too late to have a perfect holiday. Don’t be depressed by memories of past holidays. Do it now the way you’ve always wanted it to be. ª|
Reprinted by permission from the Single Vision magazine, Box 42375, Portland, OR 97242. Binnie Beigh is the editor.
by Dixie Rettig, Aldersgate UMC, Alexandria, VA
No matter which millennium you celebrate, this inventory is worth taking – it’s also useful in creating a journal. Kierkegaard reminds us: "Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards."
To begin to change your world, start by imagining it. Take an inventory of your life.
First: Describe who you are. Look at yourself and write whatever you see. Describe your life.
Second: What kind of person do you want to be? Recognize what you have to be grateful for. What kind of life do you see yourself leading?
Third: Create a list of goals for yourself. Make a step-by-step plan to achieve your goals. Continue to evaluate and reflect upon life.
Keep this journal handy and from time to time, review the first sections and describe how your life has changed and how you have changed your life.
Hey, Hey Mr. Postman
by Michael Webbhttp://www.TheRomantic.com
Editors note: This is a column I ran several years ago and I get more emails requesting the details than anything else. So I thought I would run it again.
If you are going to celebrate Valentine's, I suggest you do it with a little forethought. I cringe every time I go to the grocery on February 13 or 14 and see dozens of men (some women too) crowding around the greeting cards to buy their cards at the last possible moment.
Buy your card now and mail it out to Loveland, Colorado for extra special treatment. Your card will be postmarked LOVEland, Colorado and it will also be hand-stamped with a unique four line poem.
The Loveland Chamber of Commerce heads up this yearly romance project with cards going to all 50 states and over 100 foreign countries annually.
It's simple. Just enclose your pre-addressed, pre-stamped Valentine's card in a larger envelope and mail to: Postmaster, Attn: Valentines, Loveland CO 80537
Valentine, Texas 79854
Valentine, Nebraska 69201
Kissimmee, Florida 32741
Loving, New Mexico 88256
Bridal Veil, Oregon 97010
Romance, Arkansas 72136
Read more of my creative Valentines Day ideas here:http://www.theromantic.com/stories/valentines/main.htm
by B. P. Campbell
Brilliant colors of Virginia Spring splash forth at Easter as if they were a fully planned part of the celebration, right on time.
Redbud and dogwood draw the eye’s attention to the knees of the forest while innumerable buds of tentative green emerge quickly and quietly farther up. Dandelions and violets, clover and bluets appear in the grass. Azaleas tumble over the front walls and rock garden hillsides of parks and houses.
Virginia Spring. Even the cemeteries are beautiful: pansy and iris, tulip and hyacinth, pear and cherry blossom. God’s symphony of color declares here a resurrection in nature even if no story of Jesus were ever told.
Whatever our shortcomings, whatever our griefs whatever the brokenness of our days, these words of grace cannot be unheard.
High above the sundial a cardinal sings his brightest red song to a lady he cannot see. A damask butterfly delicately dances in the light, inviting us to ponder the fleeting timelessness of the garden’s glory.
Resurrection moment, empty tomb with light spreading across dark day, velvet pansy facing so many thoughtful moods – how shall we begin to tell the joy of your arrival?
Hearts hear trumpets and shining brass playing fan-fares of glory. Thousands of voices sing and sing: choirs unending in their hymn.
The joy is God’s prayer and God’s love! For a moment we are all caught up in it. The eternity of the present is the only redeeming thing there is. In this eternity all sorrow is soluble.
Through the winter of our lives it is no accident that tears run freely with the patter of the fountain, tears that are sweetened by the incense of the flower and the hedge. We have buried friends and family, dreams and ease, confidence and youth, innocence and power. We will do so again.
And so we weep – but not the dry tears of hopelessness. Freely, whenever bidden, wet tears of losses water the heart.
This is not the end. This never was the end. Spring, the cyclical moment on the calendar which occupies a few of the 365 spaces every year, purports to renew annually the human covenant. It is the emerging, the redeeming, the proclaiming time.
Why, then, is it so brief? Why, then, does it scamper away like a young child even as it arrives? What is this immense sense of transience that plays like a bass note under the grace of Spring?
It could be tragedy.
But tragedy is a lie in the Spring. Spring is the antithesis of tragedy, the time of truth and grace.
It cannot last; it does not last. But for all that transience, it is unmistakably eternal.
Eternity, in the image of Spring is not static and heavy. It is not redundant or repetitive. It is not monotonous. It is not machinelike or droning. It is sparkling, initiating, ever tuning and turning, changing and proclaiming, resettling and redeeming.
Living. This is living.
This is the only god there is—the living God. Supreme. Not helpless. Enduring. The God of the Present. Here, at this very moment. Beyond this one there is no other.
The pansies proclaim eternity. The Judas trees are redeemed in bud. The dogwoods flower the cross.
The world is new.
Reprinted by permission from the Richmond Hill Update, the monthly newsletter of Richmond Hill. B. P. Campbell is the pastoral director of Richmond Hill which has been "praying for the city since 1866." Richmond Hill is located at 2209 East Grace Street, Richmond, VA 23223.
Who Would You Believe?
Dedicated to my father, who said, "How can you ever earn a living with a degree in philosophy and classical literature?"
What would we do? What would we do
with Nietzsche’s madman as we look toward a world-wide celebration of
Yes, Nietzsche’s madman.
Long before people glibly tossed around the expression"God is dead" two or three decades ago, Nietzsche’s madman burst forth in 1882 from the thoughts of the German philosopher, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s madman declared God not only dead, but murdered at the hands of the human race!
Unlike those who took certain glee in shocking religious people back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Nietzsche’s nineteenth century madman found no reason to gloat over the death of God. On the contrary, this madman was greatly disturbed by the overwhelming obituary he felt driven to deliver. Here is how Nietzsche describes the situation.
"Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly,‘I seek God! I seek God!’ [Since many who did] not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Why, did [God] get lost? said one. Did [God] lose his way like a child? said another. Or is [God] hiding? Is [God] afraid of us? Has [God] gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus they yelled and laughed. The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his glances.
"‘[Where] is God?’ he cried. ‘I shall tell you.We have killed him — you and I. All of us are his murderers . . . God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves?’ . . ."
After ranting a little longer, the madman storms off leaving the market place crowd in stunned silence. Nietzsche’s story then concludes:
"It has been related further that on that same day the madman entered divers churches and there sang his [requiem for God]. Led out and called to account, [the madman] is said to have replied each time, ‘What are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?’" *
So . . . what would we do with Nietzsche’s madman if he came to us in his madness this Easter season?
Would we go into a flustered sort of Three Stooge’s rush and hustle the madman out the door? Would we coldly ignore him and whisper among ourselves, "Why can’t people like that just stay home?" Would we take Nietzsche’s madman to coffee and suggest decaf? Would we reason with him?
"God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him." How would we respond to this message and its wild messenger? What would we do if Nietzsche’s madman came into our sanctuary – our inner sanctum – on Easter morning? What would we do if he called the Christian churches in this nation Tombs and Sepulchers of God? Would we be angry...alarmed...annoyed...afraid?
"God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him." So says Nietzsche’s madman. Accusations about murder, fingers of guilt, have been pointed by many regarding that Friday of dreadful deeds before the first Easter Sunday. If we are honest, we have to give the madman his due. What is our part in killing God? What does it all mean? What comes next? Many of us believe that Death was there that horrible Friday. Nevertheless, the story continues. There was death and there was Something with power over death itself. Some say, "That was Friday, but this is Sunday."
What if three terror-stricken women burst into your sanctuary – your inner sanctum – What if they looked you straight in the eye, and with trembling voices told an amazing – even mad – story of their own:
"Very early this morning, just after sunrise, we went to the Master’s tomb. We had been saying to each other, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ But when we arrived, we saw that the stone, which was huge, had already been rolled back. As we entered the tomb, we were absolutely stunned to see a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side. But he said to us, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples, including Peter, that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So we went out and fled from the tomb, scared out of our wits. We could not speak to anyone because we were so afraid."
They stop abruptly. Then they continue.
"We cannot keep quiet any longer. You know Jesus was crucified on Friday? That was Friday. But today is Sunday. Jesus is alive! He had been raised from the dead!"
Nietzsche’s madman or the terror-stricken women just back from the empty tomb – who is crazier? Whose story is more foolish or more scandalous?
Can we believe the incredible news told by frantic women who had just run from an early morning visit to the tomb of a man they hoped would be their savior? How long did it take them to muster the courage to tell Peter and the disciples? Do you believe the incredible story that the Christian Church is telling even today?
Which story is more fantastic: Nietzsche’s madman or the story of these three frantic, illiterate women? Which do you believe? And how has your response changed your life?
That man buried in the tomb that those women visited had delivered messages fully as strange as the messages of Nietzsche’s madman: "Love your enemy. Hate your father and mother. Become as a little child. Be born again. Feed the hungry. Welcome the stranger. Clothe the naked. Visit those who are sick and in prison. Do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing. Foxes have holes, birds have their nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head. Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me."
Noel Koestline suggests that we need not try to "contain Christ in books, ideas, routines, and formulas." This wild story of the empty tomb is still with us. Is your sanctuary a home of the Living or the Dead? Which message do you believe? And how has your response changed your life?
Reprinted with permission from the March 30, 1997 Easter sermon of Reverend Fred Lyon, minister, Fairlington Presbyterian Church.
by Cynthia Pruett
I confess – lying in fresh cut grass, the soft fragrance teasing my nose, looking at puffy clouds, feeling light summer breezes pass over my skin, and hearing birds singing in melodic harmony, brings me to a place of heightened awareness of natural things and extreme relaxation. Perhaps it takes me back to the lazy days of childhood that are easily forgotten in this ever fast-moving world.
Take time this summer to reconnect to the natural world. Throw a pebble in the water and watch the ripples, listen to the frogs croaking in the hot, breezeless air, laugh and marvel at the silly water bugs scurrying about on an algae laden pond, find a bird’s nest and watch the feathers replace down, parents cajoling flight.
Enjoy the lazy days and watch the fireflies light up corners in the purple darkness. I offer you a few summer Haiku poems to contemplate.
"What does the Lord require of you but to do justice,
by James Atwood
In a few days we will celebrate the Fourth of July. The winds of patriotism blow stronger on that day than on any other.
Thousands of flags will be unfurled from California to the New York islands. Even the fireworks will burst red white and blue. We'll get a lump in our throats as we hear, "Stars and Stripes Forever", and sing, "you're a grand old flag, you're a high flying flag and forever in peace may you wave. The symbol of the land I love: the home of the free and the brave."
All of this will give rise to a great national pride, and we will all get caught up in the experience. But, if ever there was a time when Americans need to hear a clear call to a deeper and more lasting level of patriotism it is today.
The words of the late president John F. Kennedy come to mind. In his inaugural speech he said, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." Well, what can you do for your country? As a citizen of this free and democratic land what is the most valuable gift you can give the USA? What would God want you to give your native or adopted land?
People of faith always ask such questions. What should I be doing? How should I be living? Hear the prophet Micah ask, "With what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before God on high?… Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?… He has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?"
There is a story recorded in Matthew 25, often called "The Last Judgement," when the sheep are separated from the goats. In this story some nations are sent away from God's presence because "when I was hungry, you gave me no meat. I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink. Naked, and you clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and you visited me not." Sounds like nations are expected to show mercy and care for their poor and weak.
Jesus tells this story. He regularly read Micah and the other prophets. He heard the call for God's people to be kind to neighbors. He was keenly aware that his forebears ignored God's call to love mercy and to do justice, which guaranteed their nation's fall from power and a long exile.
Their nation crumbled because they did not do justice; because they did not love mercy; because they did not walk humbly with their God. Perhaps Jesus had a flashback to Micah's words as he told that parable.
It's the story of Judgment Day. We tend to think of judgment as an individual matter. But in this text, judgment is a collective issue. The nations, all of them, are on trial. Sovereign states, ethnos is the Greek word here. Every ethnic group in the world is present. It is the end of time and all the nations of the world are summoned by the Lord and brought to trial.
Here in this huge courtroom, the God of the universe will determine whether or not the nations fulfilled god's intended purposes for them. That is, did they provide for the well being of all of God's children who were assigned to their care. That is the point of contention.
The Swahili nation will be there. The countries of Fiji, east Yemen, Liechtenstein and Marutamia will be present. All of the tiny countries from every continent whose budgets are but a drop in the bucket when compared with only one of our corporate giants are all present. The nations of the Security Council will be there: the United States, China, Russia, England, and France. None will ask to be excused because of pressing business, for almighty god has summoned them. Besides, their work is done. Their busy agendas are stopped in their tracks. The arguments and negotiations of diplomats and ambassadors, congresspersons and senators are finished. All calls waiting and email and other appointments are cancelled. Forever.
There is nothing else to do except stand before the king of the universe and tell the truth. It's Judgment Day for all the nations of the world. All eyes and ears are fixed on the Lord God Almighty who separates the nations as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
The king is looking for evidence. Even back in Jesus' day people understood the importance of evidence. The king was searching for evidence, and proof positive that the nations, in fact, did what they were created to do. And what is that? What is it? That evidence of faithfulness which earns either the praise or the rebuke of God?
We often say big is better. Well then, is the size of the nation important? Oh no, says, God. Size doesn't matter at all. And tiny Liechtenstein is glad.
We say those who have the gold make the rules. Then God must be searching for riches. Right? Wrong. National wealth, silver and gold, and diamond mines and oil and gas reserves, make no difference. And Bangledesh breathes easier.
The world bank is impressed with gross national product, but God says, that is totally irrelevant in this trial, and Nicaragua is relieved.
Some speculate, "perhaps the king is searching for wisdom and good creative minds that can invent computers and software, and excel in technology in order to launch spaceships and satellites and build weapons of mass destruction, in which we happen to lead the world. But it's clear that God is not even impressed with technology. God is simply not interested. Think of that! The western nations begin to fidget.
Others say, perhaps God is looking for the very bravest of countries whose warriors have walked into withering fire on the countless battlefields of the planet. Those who spilled their blood for their homeland and fought for such things as freedom.
Still the Lord God is unmoved. All the nations are perplexed. What then is important to the king? What else is there to define a nation in the eyes of god? Strange as it may seem, God has only one criterion which determines whether a nation is blessed or condemned.
There is a hush in the courtroom, as all the nations catch their breath. There is surprise and unbelief as God announces that the one and only standard of judgment is not whether a nation is large or small, developed or undeveloped, powerful or weak, poor or rich, obscure or famous. But, rather how much did each nation love mercy and do justice, especially for those citizens who had no social power. In short, how well did each nation provide basic human necessities, food, water, clothes, shelter, for those on the very bottom of their society's socio-economic ladders. That is God's bottom line. God's greatest concern.
And according to this story, not one nation realized how much God cared about that issue. Some of the nations of the world are governed by dictators or kings and despots where the average citizen is virtually ignored, with no right to ask questions. They have neither opportunity nor influence to determine how the nation's wealth is distributed. But the United States is different. You will be ignored only if you choose to be ignored. You and I have opportunity to raise our voices. We have pens and computers. We have telephones. We can get in touch with our leaders in county, state and national governments.
People like you and me can help determine how our nation spends its money. We can do this by the questions we ask in public. By the letters we are willing to write, or the calls we are willing to make, by the opinions we hold, and not least, by our spiritual convictions. Just imagine what an enormous influence the people of God could have in America and in the whole world today, if we took this parable to heart and believed that the most patriotic thing we could do for our country was to help it give better care for the least and the lowest among us.
Usually in the U. S. when we deal with economic matters, we first improve things at the top for those who have the most. We start with billionaires and millionaires. Whatever sophisticated language one chooses to use to define such an approach, I find it easier to say it is, in essence, a trickle down theory of economics. Mark Shields defines the trickle down theory as stuffing enough into the horse which when it goes through, means there will be more food for the sparrows.
As I read this parable, a nation which establishes its economic policies by first caring for those at the top, has a fundamental spiritual problem. It is a spiritual problem because it is the exact opposite of God's concern for those without power, who cannot employ their own lobbyists. Yet, they comprise a large segment of every human society. They are the working poor and/or the destitute.
We learn in this parable that what makes a nation great is its unmistakable priority to meet the basic needs of people like that. Imagine what would happen in the United States if the billionaires and millionaires and middle class folks like you and me, instead of asking what the country could do for us—in terms of tax breaks or refunds—lobbied our legislators to first meet the needs of the desperate poor. Some of whom must daily decide whether to buy medicine or eat. Do you think God would be pleased? I think so. I know so.
The Bible speaks again and again about how God would be very happy with that. There will always be folk who want to get by with a patriotism which asks little of them. Instead they would wrap themselves in the flag and sing national songs till the tears roll down their cheeks. Their name is legion.
But we are called to a more costly, honest and lasting love of country. We are called to a patriotism which is forged by the claims of God upon us—to love mercy and to do justice and to walk humbly with God.
We learn that loving mercy and doing justice by caring for the basic human needs of the lowest and the least of our citizens is what earns any nation the praise of God. That's why he said, "for as much as you have fed and clothed, and sheltered the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done it unto me." Amen
This article is based on a sermon presented by Reverend Dr. James Atwood on June 29, 2003 at Fairlington Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, Va. Reverend Atwood and his wife, Reverend Roxana Atwood, served as missionaries to Japan for nine years and retired recently from serving in churches in the Capital Presbytery in Springfield and Arlington.Click here to contribute
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