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10 days until Christmas…

Yesterday I was pondering my favorite Bible verse, Romans 12:2.  It’s so applicable to the Christmas consumerism and might just be another clue in finding the Christmas spirit.  Here is the verse in two popular translations.

NIVDon’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

The MessageDon’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

This one short verse floods my mind with vivid images, many of them exist as photo light paintings in a collection I’ve entitled “excessable”.  I was also inspired to paint this abstract rendition of Romans 12:2 earlier this year.

The details on this canvas were painted with cookie cutters and guitar strings.  I always start painting with brushes, but end up painting with my hands and three dimensional objects.  I guess I do that because I like the feel of the paint and the energy that goes into the painting by touching it.  I also like finding objects that produce intriguing impressions, creating a visual adventure on the canvas.  You can often find the ‘hidden’ eye candy in my art pieces if you look long enough.

The cookie cutters symbolize our current culture and represents the expectation placed on us to conform to our society.  The guitar strings could represent the ‘strings attached’ to us, but truth be told, I just love painting with them.  This painting was auctioned off last month to raise money for the Sons of Lwala benefit.

I’m thinking about Romans 12:2 lately because I desperately want Christmas to be different this year.  Does anyone realize that we’ve all been sucked into this vortex of materialism, buying things because we feel we have to, not because we want to?  If it’s the thought that counts, what does this say about how we feel and what we think of people?

The more I take notice of my surroundings, the more I see a contrast of rich and poor.  Also of good and evil.  However, I also see that people are slowly coming over from the dark side, doing random acts of kindness and serving mankind in very creative ways.

We have the ‘tinselectomy’ thing going on at the church and they’ve asked people to blog stories of helping others or stories of something nice that was done for them.  The problem is, this can’t be done anonymously, so most choose not to share their experiences.  They don’t want to be boastful or prideful about it, but we need to find a way to get their stories out there as an inspiration for others.

In talking to people and simply paying attention in my day to day activities, I’m witnessing so many stories!  People are doing wonderful things for their friends and for people they don’t even know.  I’m going to share some of these stories without using names.  There are so many, and I’ve tried to update my journal frequently to record all of them, but I know I’ve missed some.  I’ll just share a few of them.

The most recent story happened yesterday.  My friend called me to see if I needed anything, as I had a sick child at home.  I needed some Sprite and crackers for him, but I did not want to take him out of the house.  She brought everything he needed and also something for me.  All of my neighbor’s, together, picked up my other child from school and brought him home.

This friend that brought the supplies, whom has been out of work for several months, has a job interview in a couple of days.  To understand this situation a little better, her husband has also been unemployed.  She mentioned her coat being in hock at the dry cleaners.  She needed to get it out, but didn’t really have the money to do so.  Another friend overheard this, went to the dry cleaners, picked up her coat and brought it to her.

She didn’t get the coat right away, because she and several others were out serving lunches they had made for the day laborers, the guys standing in the cold, waiting for any paying job they can get their hands on.  These men sometimes don’t eat for a couple of days at a time.  We plan to make this an ongoing ministry once the Christmas season passes.

Knowing these men are standing in the cold, another guy I know, but not very well, bought a bunch of coats to give to homeless or impoverished people.  We have experienced some incredibly cold temperatures and I’m sure those coats are going to be much appreciated.

Many of these men have families they are trying to support.  Our church sponsored a party for the kids last week giving them some toys and an opportunity to talk to Santa.  Another friend, knowing many of these families don’t have cars, not only tried to arrange transportation, but she gave rides to anyone needing it.

I could go on writing stories all day, spanning from friends collecting money to buy a shower chair for a special needs orphan to paying for a person in line behind them at a restaurant.  Although these people have chosen to remain anonymous, their hearts are in the right place.  Are they experiencing the Christmas spirit?

Do you want to participate?  There are plenty of ideas available on the internet, or just try this simple exercise.  Look closely around you, through the lens of kindness and mercy, and you will see things you’ve never seen before.  Your mind will be transformed, as will your heart.

Also, if I peaked your curiosity earlier on the ‘excessable’ collection, here are some of the images.  Not really Christmas related… or are they?


15 days until Christmas…

I was listening to talk radio on my way to work yesterday.  It was so incredibly cold I didn’t want to let go of my warm coffee mug to steer the car, much less turn on the radio.  The news guy was reporting on the experiences of the fake mall Santas this year, disclosing the newest Christmas lists they’re receiving.  Many of the kids sitting on Santa’s lap are not asking for the typical toys and electronics, they’re asking for basic necessities.  “Mommy really needs a job” or “Could we just have our house back?”  Some others are asking for food and clothing.  You know the economy is bad when kids are happy to get socks and underwear for Christmas.

Santa Claus.  The historical Saint and the modern day icon of commercialized Christmas.  Who is Santa?  Santa has many roots in history spanning the globe, roots also ranging from Christianity to paganism.  The early Christian Santa was Saint Nicholas.  He was a Saint that gave generous gifts to the poor, especially to daughters of poor parents so they did not have to become prostitutes.  I could go on for days here about the history of Santa, but he did have his start as a good guy that helped people.

 

Honestly, I’ve always struggled with the whole Santa thing.  I did not want my kids believing that some overweight guy in a furry red suit is going to give them anything they want for Christmas.  Their dad said that was wrong and I was awful for even thinking it.  Choose your battles, right?  I chose not to fight this one.

My earliest recollection of Santa is asking my parents if Santa was real.  I was in kindergarten, five or six years old, and already wondering how one guy could go around the planet in one night, bringing lots of stuff to kids.  And don’t get me started on the flying reindeer and sleigh.  I suppose my over-analyzing of everything started at an early age.  My parents told me the truth and quickly proceeded to tell me that my knowledge was a secret.  I wasn’t very good at keeping secrets back then.  Even with my secret knowledge, Santa continued to bring me lots of toys and stuff, and much more than he brought anyone else.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a Scrooge, and if anyone understands fantasy and imagination, it’s me.  Christmas is a magical time for little ones, filled with excitement and fun, that is, in our American culture.  What does the whole idea of Santa say to our children?  We tell our kids at the dinner table that there are starving kids in other countries and they had better eat everything on their plate, and yet if they behave, Santa will bring them everything they want at the end of the year.  I simply can’t feel good about this.  If Santa has enough resources to give us anything we want, then why doesn’t he help out with poverty?

My kids learned the truth very early this year.  Santa is not real, it’s your parents giving you the Christmas stuff.  Now my boys are very close in age, but polar opposites.  Cole sees everything in black and white, whereas Joe’s world is all delightful shades of gray.  When they learned of this news, my youngest Joe, pretended to not listen and carefully responded, not committing to this concept.  Maybe if he doesn’t accept it, then he’ll still get all the presents.  Cole, on the other hand, was extremely upset.  He said, “So, let me get this straight.  You’ve been lying to me this whole time?”  We had at least a half hour talk about why evil parents lie to their children about Santa.

After this very long and depressing conversation, I decided to take this opportunity to teach my kids about Santa.  Not the look-alike mall Santa, but the conceptual Santa.  It’s time to go from believing in Santa to being Santa.  Helping people in need is being Santa.  When my kids see Santa, the look-alikes or the flat wood cutouts in the neighbors yard, I want them to think of doing a random act of kindness or helping impoverished people.

Here’s the daily photo collection, yes, a collection of Santas.  I have to highlight one of these.

I like this one a lot because I took this photograph in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico… in May.  Santa must be hot in his winter clothing, but he still looks happy to be there.  If we think of Santa in a new way, then he is not just a Christmas figure, but a visual representation of goodwill, unity and inspiration.  I think the people in Mexico understand this concept already and we can learn a lot from them, as we always do on our trips to Casa Hogar Elim.

The rest of the photos?  I think they speak for themselves.  Oh, and remember, the ‘dead Santas’ were featured a few days ago.

Okay, I probably shouldn’t include this photo since I was people watching and secretly snapped this, but I just can’t help myself.  What was she thinking when she got dressed this morning?

Merry Christmas and enjoy it with a new vision.  No, I don’t mean this last photograph that is burned into your brain, I mean get outside yourself and your comfort zone.  Help others, not only this Christmas, but all year round.


18 days until Christmas…

You know, when you look at the way we do Christmas these days, the commercialism, the chaos and the excess, it’s no wonder why at some point, we have to poke fun at the ridiculousness of it.  Here are some great pics of Christmas weirdness, fun and creativity.

This guy wins the award of creativity.  I wish I had thought of this!  Nope, it’s not a real guy hanging there.  He staged this, but after a couple of days, had to take it down.  People were frantically trying to run over and help him.  A few cars actually drove into his yard in a panic, worked quickly to get the ladder back up, only to find out there was no guy up there.  I call this performance art.  I wonder if he had a video camera set up?

I Googled ‘dead Santa’ yesterday before writing about the Christmas spirit.  I came across a few images that were intriguing.  This dead Santa illustration was created by Brandon Reese.  This was one of many funny Christmas icon illustrations.  It’s odd, but I love the retro look and colors.  I can’t help but wonder why he created this image and how it was used.

This one came up on the dead Santa search too.  Did you notice the peppermint candy border on the rug?  Great artistic details.  Good thing they don’t outline all the dead ones laying around in people’s yards.  Wow, wouldn’t the 3M tape company love that?

One of my favorite sitcoms of all times is The Drew Carey show.  Beer kegs in Christmas lights?  These have to be full of Buzz beer.  Maybe he’s going to have a block party.  If this was my neighbor, I would have to go check to see if any of these actually had beer in them.

Where does one get this many kegs?  Notice the extra keg behind the keg tree?  I’m guessing his patio table base is also a keg, and judging by the looks of this place, he probably has a basement, full of kegs.

Okay, so we started the tree segment with a beer tree.  I found lots of unique Christmas trees out there, ‘out there’ meaning on the internet.  Don’t worry, I plan to have many more of my own crazy photos in future posts.

Our Christmas message series at church this year is called Upside-down Christmas.  I was so excited when that was decided because we were going to finally use the idea Rod and I talked about, upside-down trees.  Sadly to me, nobody liked the idea this year.  I thought about hanging my tree upside-down.  Problem?  It’s a 10′ tree that works like an umbrella.  Four extremely heavy pieces, that if placed upside-down, would fall together and look like a tree that should be strapped to the top of a car to take home.

Let’s start with the upside-down tree.  This is one of the newest fads in Christmas decor, although there is much controversy about the symbolic meaning of it.  For some, this is just to be different, for others, it creates more space for this Christmas icon and makes more room for gifts.  Clearly we need more room for all of the stuff we are expected to, and probably will purchase.

Others have said an upright tree points to heaven, an upside-down tree, well, not so much.  Anytime you mess with tradition, there will always be a group of protestors.

Why do I like the upside-down tree?  I like it for the same reason we are doing a message series about an upside-down Christmas.  When you turn something upside-down, it usually makes a mess at first, but then you think about it, reorganize all of the pieces and maybe put everything back together in a different and better way.  Turning Christmas upside-down is an intentional action, with results you may never have thought of otherwise.  Giving, celebrating and living differently as been an amazing experience for me, so amazing that I cannot go back to my former, selfish ways.

Here are some other cool and creative trees.

Okay, so just one more.  I had an idea of something crazy I wanted to do with my hair when it was long.  My stylist, Steve Hodges, agreed to bleach and color a peace sign into my hair.  Although we have all of the technical details worked out, there’s still the reality of my curly hair.  When I wear my hair straight, the peace sign will look like a peace sign.  When it’s curly, it will look like an abstract color blob, which really isn’t a problem for me, nor would anyone question it.  In the mean time, maybe I can have Steve do this with my hair.

I think Christmas fun might be part of the Christmas spirit.  I don’t think a ‘tinselectomy‘ means that you have to spend less time decorating, however I do believe you should encounter joy in it and create some great life moments with it.  If it feels like work or feels like something you have to do, then don’t do it.  No matter how you choose to express Christmas, make it your own self-expression, depicting what is in your heart, not what society is promoting today.


19 days until Christmas…

I’m six days into writing, and pondering so many Christmas topics that have been on my mind, but more in my heart.  I spend far more time in cognitive contemplation, but rarely to I visit the affliction or spirit of my heart.  What is Christmas spirit and what does it mean?  Well, just to be sure I had the correct definition, I Googled ‘Christmas spirit’.  The results were quite enlightening.

ehow.com has instructions on how to get into the Christmas spirit.  It doesn’t tell you what it really means, but you can get the spirit in just eleven steps.  It starts with telling you to shop early so you don’t have to fight crowds and find a parking space.  The other points have a somewhat ‘tinselectomy‘ feel to them.  At the end of the steps, it has a nice tip telling us that Christmas is not about materialism, it’s about love and kindness.  Following that are several ads for decorating your house, great gift giving ideas and many other places to shop online.

So once you get in the spirit, then you should join the Christmas consumerism?  Change your life in eleven steps, but then go back to your habitual ways?  If I’m understanding this correctly, you go do your Christmas ‘feel good’ things, feel the spirit, then do this again once a year.  I think I’m searching for something bigger than this, something life changing, not season changing.

Wiki-answers tells us what the Christmas spirit is.  It says there is ‘something’ that makes us more selfless, more kind and just much nicer around Christmas time.  It goes on to say, sadly, that the Christmas spirit is not as prevalent today, probably due to the commercialism of Christmas.  This invisible, yet real spirit doesn’t visit as often and the day after Christmas, it disappears.  Before I have time to ponder this, the ads for AT&T and buying flowers at the bottom of the web page cloud my thoughts.

I’m still looking.  I want to know more about the ‘invisible something’.

My Google results are getting odd and the next one I find quite interesting.  “Santa Claus Suit Sales are Up Demonstrating That Christmas Spirit is Recession Proof”  Of course this is sponsored by a costume company, but the picture in the add speaks much better than words.

Sorry, but I just never pictured Mrs. Claus looking like that.  And what happened to the cute little guy elves that build toys?  I know I’m stereotyping here, but I’m quite sure this elf has never touched a hammer.  Do we really need sexual connotations to sell Santa suits?  Christmas spirit?  Seriously?!

Maybe Google is not the place to look.  Maybe the Christmas spirit cannot be defined in words.  I think I’m going to keep turning Christmas upside-down, maybe even spin it, and see what flies out.  Is it possible that the Christmas spirit starts at Christmas because it’s about Christ’s birth?  Christ’s birth was the beginning of a great story, the greatest story, a story that is ongoing and very relevant to our lives.  So maybe that means the Christmas spirit is supposed to be a spirit that we have all of the time.  Maybe if we rename it to something without the word Christmas, but keep the word Christ in it, we can keep it year round without feeling like we’ve left the Christmas tree up all year long.

As I said yesterday, I started the 25 days of Christmas to showcase silly Christmas yard art, so let me not disappoint anyone.  Yes, here it is, finally the inspiration for this whole project.  The dead Santas.  No, it’s not a new band I’m starting, it’s photos of all the dead Santa inflatables that are sprinkled all over lawns in Frisco, and every other suburb.  Who ever thought giant inflatable versions of the commercialized Christmas figures was a good idea?  If these represent the spirit of Christmas, that explains why we can’t find it.  At night it’s filled with a lot of air, sometime during the evening or early morning it falls to its routine death and stays deflated all day long.  Kids will need therapy after seeing dead Christmas stuff everywhere.  Maybe this is good.  As my friend Lin says, start the kids therapy fund, then they’ll be well adjusted enough to pay for their own college expenses.

The dead Santa collection…


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