Thursday, December 12, 2013

Well... Bless Her Little White Heart

As you can probably tell from the title of this post, I am in what my mother would have called, "a shit-disturbing mood."  Sorry.  But, at least it is a jovial shit-disturbing mood.

Anyhow, Megyn Kelly of Fox News made some amusing statements this morning (I think it was this morning) concerning Santa Claus and Jesus being white men.  The whole thing kind of made me chuckle.  If I were as cute and perky as Megyn, I wonder if somebody would pay me a large amount of money to say amusing things on TV.  I bet I would be good at that sort of job.  Perhaps I could go on "The View."  You don't seem to need to be quite as cute and perky to go on "The View." 

But, Megyn's amusing statements are not the subject of this post.  I only mention Megyn and her editorializing because they remind me of an anecdote from my young adulthood, which I will now recount for your entertainment.

My father's mother (my Nana) passed away when I was 12 years old.  As she and my grandfather lived across the street from us, my mother kindly took it upon herself to have Grandpa over for dinner after Nana's death.  Every. Single. Night.  Except for Sunday nights -- because that's when he went on dates with his various girlfriends. 

I hope it doesn't sound like I'm complaining about my grandpa coming over for dinner.  Every. Single. Night.  Except for Sundays.  I'm really not.  It's just that he was EXCEPTIONALLY opinionated.  And he listened to the news 24/7.  (Thank God that there was no Fox News at the time.)  And he was a rather outspoken individual, at least to his relatives and friends. 

Grandpa hailed from Italy.  In the village where he lived, children were required to attend school through the third grade.  Grandpa didn't make it that far.  He played "hookie" most every day, as he explained it to us.  He was also -- naturally -- a Catholic.  Went to church each Sunday, without fail, his entire life.

So, one day, Grandpa came over -- as per usual -- for dinner.  He sat down at the table and loudly announced to the family, "Now they're trying to say that Jesus was a Jew."

My two sisters, my father, my mother, and I all looked up at him.  I said, "But, Grandpa, Jesus WAS a Jew."

"Huh," he replied.  "I always thought he was Italian."

"Why did you think that?" my father asked.

"Well...  The Pope is always Italian,"  Grandpa remarked, the logic of his thinking impeccable.  (Mind you, this was before the days of John Paul II).

"But, Grandpa," one of my sisters said, "didn't you notice in the Gospels that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and traveled around Galilee and Jerusalem and such?"

"Oh, I never pay attention to that," answered my grandfather.

I did not ask him -- and I have often wondered -- what it was he was thinking about during all those Masses on all those Sundays for 80-plus years. 

So, thank-you for the memories, Miss Megyn.  Bless your little white heart. ;-)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Holiday Card

I have had a love/hate relationship with Holiday cards over the years.

Note: I call them "Holiday" cards because I often send them to people of different faiths, who don't all celebrate Christmas.  So, don't get your undies in a wad over me calling them "Holiday" cards.  That is not the point of this post, anyway.

What, you may legitimately ask, is the point of this post?

The point of this post is to talk about an aspect of Holiday card giving and receiving that I have reflected upon a great deal throughout my life.

A person who sends Holiday cards usually has a list, which is often composed of people who send cards in return.  Great attention is paid to who does and who does not reciprocate in any given year.  If someone does not reciprocate, he/she frequently gets axed from the Holiday card list the following year.  Tit-for-tat, Christmas style.

Of course, I realize that not everybody does this.  Some people don't keep a Holiday card "score."  But, many people do.  And here are my thoughts about that.

First of all, I don't think that anybody should feel pressured to send Holiday cards, at all.  You should only do it if your heart is in it, if you enjoy it.  Some people simply don't have the desire to send out Holiday cards.  And that's just fine.

Some people also don't have the time to send out these cards.  Hey, if you have to choose between reading a bedtime story to your child or attending to your boxes of Hallmark products, I don't blame you for choosing the former.  People's lives are incredibly hectic these days.  If you want to focus your Holiday time and energy on your immediate family -- making it special for them, and only them -- more power to you.

Financial constraints can be another reason why some people don't participate in the Holiday card tradition.  It is an expense that may not be worthwhile for a particular individual or family.  Again, perhaps your limited funds could be better spent on that special someone in your life or on your children or on your parents -- instead of on stacks of paper products and postage.

There are also people -- many people, I believe -- who find themselves in less-than-ideal states of health around the Holidays.  Individuals may find themselves trying to cope -- come December -- with physical illness, emotional exhaustion, depression, horrible sadness, loneliness, feelings of being overwhelmed, spiritual dryness.  The arrival of the Holiday season leaves many people at the very end of their ability to deal with life.

So, before you do your Holiday card score-keeping, it might be wise to consider these things.  That person you are about to axe from your list might just be the person who could use that Holiday greeting most of all.  You really don't know -- when all is said and done -- why somebody didn't send you a card this year or last year or any other year.  The reasons could be complex.  The reasons could be hidden from view.  The reasons could be private.  The reasons could be painful.  And the reasons could be exactly why you need to keep that person on your list this year.  You never know -- it could be the single most important action you perform this December.   Holiday cards and Holiday gifts are just that -- gifts.  They are things to be GIVEN -- without consideration to what is given in return.

And that person who has never sent anybody a Holiday card, EVER?  Well, consider sending that person a card, too.  You just might make someone very happy. ;-)


Monday, December 9, 2013

Christmas Gift Memories

I pretty much suck at Christmas shopping.  I tend to get stumped for ideas.  And I worry A LOT about getting the correct sizes.  Hence, I tend not to buy a lot of clothing items.  Actually, I don't really buy many Christmas gifts.  And I tend to keep them fairly simple.  For example, my kids receive two or three relatively simple gifts from me.  And then I stuff some cash in their stockings.  My husband usually wants something music-oriented.  This year, the music-oriented thing is a mind-boggling electronic gizmo that seems to require "additional accessories."  My mind started spinning around when I looked at the web page.  So, I told him to go ahead and order it for himself.  I will intercept the package when it is delivered, wrap up the gift, and put it under the tree.  As far as gifts for other people, I will get one for my hubby's mother.  My sisters each receive a Fontanini Nativity piece from me every Christmas.  And my husband's siblings usually draw names, so that each of them is responsible for buying one present (a brilliant idea, since there are five of them).

Anyway, as I perused Amazon this morning, trying to choose surprises for the people on my Christmas list, I started thinking about being a little girl.  I used to get SO very excited about Santa Claus's visit.  I drove my poor parents practically out of their minds every December.  One reason I drove them out of their minds was because my favorite Christmas show was "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer."  If you have ever watched this show, you know that a gigantic snow storm practically ruins Christmas for the ENTIRE world, and that it is only Rudolph's shiny red nose that saves the day.  I absolutely loved this show, although I am convinced it was designed by stoned hippie people to turn 4- and 5-year-olds into totally neurotic and cynical little beings.  I mean, after all, Christmas is practically ruined.  Rudolph is totally bullied by ALL of the other reindeer.  And Santa is a douche.  When I think about it now...  I mean... WHAT KIND OF CHILDREN'S CHRISTMAS SHOW WAS THIS, ANYWAY???  Was it written by acid-dropping, 60's era, Communist atheists?  It must have been.  And this show -- even though I loved it -- made me a nervous wreck about something happening that would completely destroy Christmas; and so I badgered my poor parents every day throughout the whole month of December about whether or not they thought Santa would arrive according to plan.  Inevitably, he did.  And he brought with him delightful toys constructed by elves who I think moonlighted as gaffers and set-decorators and script-supervisors on "Laugh-In."

So, what toys did Santa bring during this hey-day of my childhood?

Well, these were some of my favorites:

1.  The Spyrograph.  This was a set of plastic circles and pins and pens.  You pinned the circles onto paper (I think there was some kind of pad that went under the paper).  You then used the pens to turn the circles (which pivoted around the pins).  This combined action of pen and pivoting circle caused wondrous patterns to unfold onto the paper.  At least on the TV ads.  In real life, the pins kept popping out, causing the circle to leave its proper orbit on the paper, thus ruining your hoped-for artistic masterpiece.  This was a toy designed by disciples of LBJ to cause both children and parents to permanently turn against the corrupt, unregulated, capitalistic system.  This toy is the reason for Obamacare and the government takeover of the American car manufacturing industry.

2.  Thumbelina.  This was a doll designed to look like a newborn baby.  I thought she was adorable.  My mother thought she was ugly.  And I had to fight like the dickens in order to convince her that Santa should bring me one.  I am, though, very stubborn, so I emerged victorious from the battle.  I loved Thumbelina.  She was tiny and scrunched-up looking (like a brand-new baby); and when you pulled a string, she would squirm around.  I suppose she was a bit ugly -- to some people, anyway.  Why would a company mass-produce a rather homely baby doll, you may wonder?  It was Planned Parenthood.  It was part of their advanced-marketing scheme to get all of us girls on birth control pills as soon as we started menstruating.  "Don't give those little girls beautiful, round-faced, rosy-cheeked baby dolls to play with," those Planned Parenthood peeps whispered amongst themselves at their top-secret meetings.  "Give them authentic-looking, homely baby dolls.  Baby dolls which squirm around in an annoying fashion.  Then we'll get their business in ten years.  He-he-he."  Actually, I bet if you did a study, the girls who took birth control pills in the 80's were probably the ones who hated Thumbelina, while the girls who got married and gave birth at a young age loved that funny-looking little doll.

Anyway, moving on...

3.  The Dawn Doll.  This was sort of a small version of the Barbie Doll.  Same dimensions, but more petite.  Dawn had amazingly perky breasts, a tiny waist, sexy little hips, long legs, and luxurious brown hair that reached her perfect little bottom.  I had no doubt in my mind that I would look exactly like her upon reaching the magical age of 16, so I loved her with joyful abandon.  And she had great clothes.  Although, being that they were such tiny clothes -- with tiny snaps and hooks and eyes and arm holes and leg holes -- I constantly required the assistance of one of my parents to dress and undress her.  She was, accordingly, not my parents' favorite.  Why -- you may be asking yourself -- would the toy industry find it necessary to create this mini-Barbie-like-creature?  Well, remember, these were the days when people were buying up The Pet Rock by the bucket-load and hanging multiple strands of multi-colored beads between the rooms of their houses in lieu of doors.  All I can say is this:  POT IS DANGEROUS.  HEAR ME ALL OF YOU PRO-LEGALIZATION PEOPLE.  OBAMACARE COULD BE FUNDED COMPLETELY BY ALL OF THE MONEY SPENT ON AVOCADO-COLORED FORMICA IN THE '70'S.  A CLEAR MIND IS A VALUABLE THING.  JUST SAY "NO."

4.  The Barbie Country Cabin.  This was the most awesome toy in the world (as long as you had adequate Barbie dolls to go with it, which I did).  It looked like a little suitcase.  And it unfolded into a wondrous little cabin.  There were bunk beds with plastic sleeping bags, cabinets, a kitchen table, chairs, dishes, pots, pans, and a coffee pot.  I had wonderful times playing with this.  I used to pretend that there was an outbreak of a terrible disease and my Barbies had to hole up in this cabin in survival mode.  Come to think of it, I was playing Zombie Apocalypse when "Rick" and "Darryl" were just babes in their cribs.  Actually, this makes me wonder if some future TV executive -- playing in the sand at the park -- overheard me talking to my friends about my game -- as we played in the sand at the park -- and stole my idea.  Lesson:  copyright your children's imaginary friends. 

5.  The baby buggy.  One year, Santa Claus brought my two sisters and I each a baby buggy.  Sitting in mine, as I found it on Christmas morning, was an absolutely GORGEOUS (non-Thumbelina) baby doll, the kind that must have caused those Planned Parenthood minions much grief and many sleepless nights.  The buggy also contained a delicate, sterling silver charm bracelet, with a little silver Scottie dog attached to one of its links.  I loved all three of those gifts, and I still have the doll and the bracelet.  I think, though, that I probably had the most fun with the buggy itself.  My sisters and I used to pretend our buggies were Barbie high-rise condos.  We outfitted these condos with furniture made of infant receiving blankets.  We would fold and roll up those tiny blankets into sofas and chairs and rugs for the Barbie condos.  Our Barbies wore fabulous clothes and had fabulous parties in their fabulously furnished baby buggy condos.  Our Barbies also endured many "earthquakes" in their high-rise abodes.  My sisters and I would carefully arrange our dolls on their receiving-blanket furniture and them -- wham! -- right in the middle of their hip and edgy party, a HUGE earthquake would strike.  We would shake the buggy madly, causing ultimate destruction.  Of course, I could not allow this to be done to my own personal buggy.  So, we used my sister Diana's buggy.  Gina -- even though she was the youngest -- was sly enough to realize what her eldest sister was up to and refused the use of her buggy for the purpose of natural disasters.  Diana, though, being always sweet and agreeable, was quite cooperative about letting her buggy be the scene of the devastation.  Eventually, whenever she pushed her dolls in this buggy, it would sway madly from side- to-side, as the springs were shot to hell.  I am not quite sure if she has ever really forgiven me for this whole scenario.  But, she is getting married next summer, so I'll buy her a nice wedding present.

So, as I fondly remember these gifts, I would like to extend my best wishes for the Holiday Season to all of you -- however you may celebrate it.  And may you receive all the desires of your hearts.  And may you find no (pet) rocks in your socks.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Berkeley Intercultural Holiday Festival

"Ryan.  I am a Jewish boy.  I don't know if I can be one of the Three Wise Men.  Lightning might strike."

"Quiet, Seth.  Or we'll miss the directions."

"Look, Ryan.  Just because you have a crush on Rebecca does not mean I should be doing this."

"I don't have a crush on Rebecca.  She's just a friend.  And I'm helping her out.  So -- PLEASE -- be QUIET."

Yep.  There we were.  Seth and I.  At the First Berkeley Intercultural Holiday Festival.  Where the Jewish kids enacted the Living Nativity Scene; the black kids lit the menorah, spun the dreidel, and cooked latkes; the Christian kids donned Kwanzaa attire; and the atheist kids read aloud from "The Collective Works Of Ted Cruz." 

And -- yes -- a girl named Rebecca did have something to do with us being there.  But, not because I had a crush on her.  Okay.  Maybe I had a little crush on her, but that really had nothing to do with it.  Besides, she was dating one of the Oakland Raiders.  And you just don't mess with that stuff, if you value your health. 

This is the thing.  We're both architecture majors -- Rebecca and I.  And she's great -- really smart, creative, artsy, kind, compassionate, a free-thinker.  And beautiful.  Yes -- beautiful.  And she came up with this idea of the Intercultural Holiday Festival.  It's not really associated with the university, per se.  But, a lot of the students wanted to participate.  And Rebecca asked me if I would design the structure for the Nativity Scene.  She wanted it to be a bit avant-garde.  So, I designed a stable set into a hillside.  And I fashioned it all out of biodegradable/organic/recyclable materials from the university's food service.  There really wasn't straw available, of course.  But you would be amazed at what you can do with cardboard boxes and a heavy-duty shredder.

Rebecca also asked if Sandy and Kirsten's new baby could play the infant Jesus.  "Well, I guess so.  Although, she is a girl," I told her.

"Like it matters, Atwood," Rebecca replied.  "She's just a few months old.  Nobody's gonna notice.  And it's not like there's a whole lot of babies to choose from around here." 

So, that's how Kirsten ended up showing my friend Sam how to hold a new baby.  Sam was playing Joseph, and Rebecca had decided that it was about time to have a Nativity Scene in which Joseph holds the baby.

I know it all sounds a bit ridiculous, a bit disrespectful.  As accepting as he is about all things Berkeley, even Sandy had his doubts.  But, you know, it all came off beautifully.  In spite of the initial chaos, the atmosphere ended up being quite peaceful.  And everybody learned something -- about another culture, another faith, another way of looking at the world.  And in viewing our differences, we also saw our similarities.  We saw the things that bring us together.  We realized that everybody has a heart-felt need to be heard, to be cared for, to be loved.  We learned that respecting another's beliefs doesn't have to diminish our own -- whether in a family or in a country.  Maybe if we respect another's sincere beliefs, that other will respect ours as well.  And -- maybe -- that is a way to peace.

As I ate my latke and gazed upon Mary, who was bemusedly watching Joseph try to keep the swaddling clothes from slipping off of a fussy "Baby Jesus" -- sheltered as they were in a "cave" made of dozens upon dozens of industrial-sized egg containers, welded together by compost -- a real feeling of contentment filled me.  Until -- UNTIL -- Seth's camel (courtesy of the San Francisco Zoo) decided it was time to gift us with some organic material of its own making.

So -- whistling "Jingle Bells" to myself -- I hustled off to get the shovel.

Happy Holidays!    


Monday, December 2, 2013

Dear Cardinal Dolan...

I wish you would speak a bit differently about "marriage equality."

For example, I wish you wouldn't say that the Church has been "outmarketed" on the issue.

Since when did the Church become about "marketing"?

The Church is supposed to be about teaching; its message an invitation.  That's what I was always led to believe, anyway.

To be fair, you have said many things about the issue of marriage equality.  This is just one of them, and I don't want to blow it out of proportion.  But, I am becoming more and more concerned about how the Church is handling this issue.  So, when I saw this word -- "outmarketed" -- I just felt like responding.  I don't mean any disrespect.

First, here is a little story.  My daughters, who are both young adults -- who have both been educated at institutions of higher education which have the Mandatum -- teach high school students who are preparing for Confirmation at our parish.  They have told me that the majority of their students -- who attend both public and Catholic high schools -- have come into their class believing that the Church hates gay people.  Now, these are students who have been raised Catholic, who have (supposedly) attended Mass and CCD classes and/or Catholic schools all during their childhood.  And they think the Catholic Church hates gay people.  This should not be blamed on "Hollywood".  This one is on the Church.  These kids have been sitting in your pews and in your classrooms for years -- and they think the Catholic Church hates gay people.  Of course, my daughters are quick to straighten them out. 

And this is why I believe that the Church has put the cart before the horse in its teaching.  People -- including Catholic people -- don't understand why the Church teaches what she does.  And they don't understand that the Church also teaches the concept of free will.  Nobody is to be forced to accept her ideas.

What do I mean by "putting the cart before the horse"?  What do I think should be different in the Church's approach?

Basically, I think it should be emphasized -- first and foremost -- that God loves ALL people.  Unconditionally.  It should also be emphasized that the Church puts forth her ideas respectfully -- respectfully inviting people to consider them.  There should be no "marketing" campaign.

Secondly, the Church needs to teach her theology of sexuality from the roots up.  Right now, she's got everybody's attention on individual leaves.  People aren't seeing the tree as a whole.  People do not understand that the Church's theology of sexuality springs from her understanding of the Trinity and how this understanding can be reflected in our human relationships.  The Church believes in the Father and the Son, who have an eternal relationship of love.  The Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from this relationship.  The Church teaches that marriage should mirror this Trinitarian relationship.  The permanent love of the husband and wife is what brings forth (at least potentially) the fruit of children.  It should be explained to people -- starting with the ones in the pews and religious education classes and Catholic schools -- that these basic ideas are the roots from which all of the Church's ideas about sexuality spring.  These are the roots from which the Church derives her teachings on divorce, contraception, masturbation, premarital sex, extramarital sex, polygamy, and gay marriage.

Thirdly, the Church hierarchy needs to remember that people have free will.  This is part of human dignity.  Put forth your teachings, but do so respectfully and charitably.  And then remember that people are free to choose whether or not to agree.  And then -- MOST IMPORTANTLY -- treat with love and compassion those who disagree.  Don't make them your opponents in a "marketing campaign" or in a "culture war".  The people who disagree with the Church teaching on the issue of marriage equality are still our brothers and sisters, made in the image and likeness of God.  They are not our enemies.  In fact, in many ways, they probably do feel hated by the Catholic Church.


Because we seem to be forgetting that these people do love each other.  They make commitments to take care of each other.  They have children.  They are families.  And you are making them feel as though their families are under attack.  They are legally married, yet they fear you will take that away.  (Because you would, if you could.)  They have children, but both parents in a same-sex marriage aren't allowed to be the adoptive parents of a child that they are raising together.  So, when you accuse the LGBT people of being "aggressive" in their marriage equality campaign, they probably are.  And, perhaps, some of it may be unfair.  But, some of it isn't.  Because they are PROTECTING THEIR FAMILIES.  I would protect my family.  Now you may say, "But, you have a legitimate heterosexual marriage and family."  And, yes, I do have a marriage of which the Church approves.  But, if I was a non-Catholic lesbian, legally married to a woman in California, and we had children, I would pretty much feel under attack by the traditional marriage folks.  I would want to be left alone, with my wife, to raise our babies.  I would not want to constantly have to worry that somebody from "on high" was going to declare my marriage null and void.  So, I might get a little "aggressive." 

So, please, Cardinal Dolan and all you Catholic leaders, remember that you are dealing with human beings who love each other and are raising families.  Think about how you sound to them.  Think about how you make them feel.  You are not in the "marketing" business.  You are in the business of bringing the love of Jesus Christ to people.  And -- yes -- that involves teaching the Church's philosophy of sexuality.  But, please do it a little more thoughtfully and charitably and wisely.  And remember that not everybody is obliged to agree with you.  Maybe we need to make room for that.  Maybe we need to figure out how to live our faith while -- at the same time -- allowing others to make their own life choices, according to their own philosophies.  Maybe we don't need to do all this fighting.

I will just end with a few stories.

One of my daughters, in a job she held for a while, worked with a gay couple -- two men, who had been together for many, many years.  One of them was ill (not with AIDS).  She told me how much fun they were, how nice they were to her (even knowing she was a traditional Catholic), how they had such wonderful senses of humor, how the well one took such good care of the sick one.  She was impressed with how they cared for and loved one another.  She was impressed with their commitment.

This daughter also had a male boss who was married to a man.  He knew she was a traditional Catholic.  They got along famously.  He was a wonderful boss, and he always had her back.  She, for her part, respected his relationship as he viewed it.  Some of her friends got on her case for referring to her boss's husband as "his spouse".  "We're not for gay marriage, so you shouldn't be referring to these people as 'spouses'," was the basic message of my daughter's friends.  "Well," she told them, "this is his relationship.  And I am going to respect that."  I was (and am) very proud of my daughter.  She understands her faith, she is living it, she is sharing it.  But, she is not pushing it on people.  She is respecting people's right to make up their own minds about things.  And she realizes that these gay
married couples are good people, with whom we can have positive relationships.

I know couple of other gay couples.  One lives down the street.  They are the best neighbors you could possibly have.  And they are always nice about my dog peeing on their lawn -- a rare thing in suburbia.  Another one of these couples we know socially, through mutual friends.  They are two men who have been together for a very long time.  They are well-educated, smart, hard-working, funny, and kind.  I spoke to one of them for a long time after the recent DOMA ruling.  I hadn't known all that much about the issue.  But, after talking to him, I came to see why they had been feeling discriminated against.  It was sort of an eye-opening conversation.

To conclude, I know you are doing your best, Cardinal Dolan.  I know you are under a lot of pressure.  I don't mean to be disrespectful.  I get concerned, though, when I see how the Church speaks about gay marriage.  I think it can be done better.  After all, Jesus did say that His Kingdom is not of this world.  So, perhaps, when we say "Thy Kingdom Come," it is not about getting Washington D.C. to conform to all of the Church's ideas.  And I -- and many people I know -- are tired of all the fighting.