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Christmas Songs Part 2

Last week, I asked my friends to share their least favorite Christmas songs.  A few days ago, I followed that up with asking for people to list the songs they love.  My husband and I noted with interest that while the majority of our friends hate the same four songs, there was no consensus regarding favorites.  We wondered at that.  Is song badness universal?  Is there really that much diversity in what people think is good?

Maybe.  But I suspect that it’s a little more than that.  After talking about it with several people, I noticed a few things.  First, not everyone hates the songs that got top votes.  But neither does anyone list them among favorites.  So there is definitely something to the idea that they simply aren’t great songs to begin with.  Second, all the songs people disliked are non-religious songs, with the notable exception of the Christmas Shoes.  However, none of them are actual Christmas hymns, and even the Christmas Shoes song doesn’t refer to the Christmas story.  That suggests to me that in all of those songs, for most people, there is something missing.  Finally, nearly every person I spoke to could attach some specific memory or other emotional connection to favorite Christmas songs.  The bad songs evoked a feeling of intense dislike, but no other emotions.

Perhaps that’s why there’s such diversity when it comes to songs people love.  As it should be, they stir something within us.  We are moved by the melody or the lyrics or both.  When we hear the strains of a familiar carol, we recall the sense of wonder we experienced in Christmases past.  The songs remind us of people and places we love.  I suspect that’s what’s missing from the songs we don’t like.  They simply don’t stir our souls.  Some, like the novelty songs, are just for fun.  But we can’t make any spiritual connection with them, and the interest quickly wears off.  Others, like the Shoes, might be trying too hard.  We’re supposed to connect with them at some deep, personal level, but we don’t.

As for me, give me songs that remind me what this season is all about.  Not the presents, or even the joy of giving.  Not the reindeer, stockings, Santa, and “magic.”  Not even the sappiness of the Christmas Shoes.  No, I want to be reminded of the humble servants who took on the role of parenting the Savior, the shepherds’ terror turned to joy, and the reverence of the wise men.  I want to recall the longing of a nation waiting for its messiah, and the glory of his arrival.

May this last week before Christmas give you the opportunity to hear the songs you love, and may they draw you into the miracle of Jesus’ birth.

Opening the Lid

Welcome to Part 3 of the series on challenging our thinking.  Up next: People of other religions.

I was excited to read a recent post by Brian McLaren (I will feature him in the next post in this series).  His latest book, due out in just under a year, is about how we can maintain strong faith yet hold deeper respect for other faiths.  This is something I care about deeply.  As a person raised in an interfaith family, it was always awkward when the subject came up at my first church.  After hearing for several years that my family of non-believers were all essentially condemned to Hell, I recall vividly the desperation I felt when my Jewish grandfather passed away.  One of the adults made some lame comment about Jews being God’s chosen people.  I understand that he was trying to offer a sliver of hope, but it fell somewhat flat, because of the constant contradictory message.

It was a long time before I could co-exist with non-Christians before feeling defensive.  I had been taught that we would be “hated” by “the world,” which included people practicing other religions.  Not surprisingly, I had also learned that Catholics were considered to be in this category, that they were not “saved” and that we were at odds with them.  After all that, it’s no wonder I viewed religion as a competitive sport.

Some years ago, I let go of the need to win.  Perhaps it was because of my family, almost none of whom are Christians.  Perhaps it was being away from the insular bubble that is high school and college life.  I’m sure that making friends of all sorts made an impact.  In any case, I realized that it wasn’t up to me to make any sort of proclamation about someone else’s eternal soul.

Over time, I’ve gained valuable insight from many sources.  Social media is great for interacting with a variety of interesting people.  Outspoken Christians are now urging us to open ourselves to dialogue about faith and listening to each other.  We may not agree, but we can be respectful and honest.  We shouldn’t be afraid to hear what others have to say about our religion, either.  Just as we need to have open hearts when interacting with our GLBT brothers and sisters, we need to listen to our fellow humans with different spiritual beliefs.

That said, let me highlight a couple of my favorites.  First, if you don’t know who Queen Noor is (she’s the Queen Dowager of Jordan), then you should make the effort to find out.  Although I knew of her, I didn’t know much.  I will let this web page speak for itself.  She has done much to educate people about Muslim culture and politics.

Second, here is a fantastic article by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.  Love him or hate him, he’s not to be ignored.  In this article, he talks about Jacob wrestling with God.  Some of what he says is controversial, but I appreciate that he doesn’t shy away from that.  There’s a lot to chew on, and we Christians would do well to consider what he says.

It’s one thing to read words on a page.  It’s another thing entirely to build relationships.  I encourage you to make friends with other beliefs.  Do this without an agenda to “convert” them.  Just listen, love, and learn the value of mutual respect.

Welcome!

One last post about this big move and the changes that are coming.

I’m not redefining myself.  I’m still me, and I’m still going to post about the same kinds of things.  But I wanted to reflect the changes I’ve experienced since starting my previous blogs.

Hence the title: Unchained Faith.  That is how I want my life to be—not shackled by anything in this world or this life, including the -isms of tired doctrine.  Just me, in my own words.

Come in, everyone’s welcome at the table.

Changes

I’ve been thinking about a lot of things.  What else is new?  My brain tends to be in a constant state of overdrive.  It’s one of the reasons I don’t usually post more than a couple of times each week.  I often have far too many thoughts to organize them properly.

Things in my own life seem to be changing.  Right now, I’m feeling the burn of a busy schedule, between the kids’ activities, my husband’s work schedule, and our volunteer work.  It’s not bad; I don’t feel pressured or crunched.  It just leaves me with less emotional energy to devote to things like this blog.

I don’t want to leave things in that state.  I’m ready to take the next steps.  I’ve spent time developing healthy spiritual habits, discovering my theological bent, and honing my writing skills.  It’s time to move to the next phase.

That doesn’t mean I’m abandoning my blog—far from it!  What I’ve seen is that I’ve been limiting myself, selling myself short.  But some encouraging words and some good advice mean that I need to make some changes.

Stay tuned, it’s going to be an adventure.

I Need a HazMat Suit

My kid is home again today, so I have a few minutes to rant.  I think the tally this year is as follows: 3 stomach bugs, strep twice, and 4 head colds.  And it’s only March.

I really wish people would keep their kids home when they are sick, and stay home themselves when they are sick.  I used to work as a school nurse, so I saw firsthand how many people sent their kids to school with obvious illness.  I would arrive at work at 8:45, the kids came in at 8:55.  I frequently sent kids home before 9:30.  A few times, I arrived to find a kid waiting for me because he or she had come to band practice before school and was already sick.

I just don’t think there is a good excuse.  So keep your kid home.  Both your kid and mine will thank you.

Mommy Wars, Part II

Yesterday I mentioned an exchange about breastfeeding and formula feeding.  As I turned it over in my mind, I realized that using formula itself really doesn’t bother me.  What bothers me when it comes to any type of infant feeding is negative attitudes.  Unfortunately, they abound on both sides of the equation.

What I’d like to see in place of the negativity is a change in the way we think about infant feeding.  I’d like us to see it as just that–feeding a baby.  No judgment about the method a mom uses.  No restrictions on where she can do it.  No pressure from family or friends to do it their way.  No rude comments about the age at which a child should be weaned or how they will be unhealthy because of the way they were fed.  Because, frankly, it is none of anyone else’s business how I, or my sister, neighbor, cousin, or friend, feed our babies.

Mommy Wars

I had an exchange yesterday in which another mom referred to infant formula as being the “same thing” as breast milk.  She meant nutritionally, but it still sounded silly to me.  That’s like saying the nutritional supplement Ensure is the “same thing” as eating a meal of lean meat, whole grains and a salad.  While I realize that in terms of raw nutrients that might have some truth to it, it is an odd thing to say.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s a good thing we have nutritional supplements, just as it’s a good thing we have infant formula when it’s needed.  But that’s the key: when it’s needed.

Anyway, this isn’t really supposed to be a discussion of breast vs. bottle.  I realized that one source of those kinds of comments is the need many mothers have to be “right” about their parenting choices.  I don’t just see it with feeding.  There are endless debates about spanking, letting a baby cry himself to sleep, diapering, homemade or jarred baby food, education, and so on.  No matter what we choose, someone else has a negative opinion about it–or, at least, we think they do.  A lot of moms spend hours of time contemplating how they will justify their choices to another, disapproving woman, whether or not that woman actually disapproves.

In the end, I believe what’s needed is a more flexible way of thinking about mothering.  I realize there are some clear lines one should not cross.  Beating, molesting, and neglecting a child are not okay.  But what difference does it really make what a mother does, if it’s done with love and bearing in mind what she believes to be in the best interests of her family?

Baby Nostalgia

It seems like a lot of my friends are pregnant right now.  This was brought to mind again while listening to a podcast yesterday morning.  The speaker was talking about looking at his twentysomething son, remembering his childhood.  It made me smile, thinking of my own two children.  I love being their mom.  While not every moment of parenthood is grand, there is a lot to enjoy and be thankful for.

Anyway, as I watch many of my friends experience these joys afresh, from the two pink lines on the pregnancy test to the sweet smell of a newborn baby, I sometimes feel a pang of what I call “baby nostalgia.”  Baby nostalgia, in short, is remembering only the good things about having a newborn: the warm cuddles, the tender moments feeding baby, the excitement of seeing each new milestone.

And then I remember the realities.  Sleepless nights.  Diaper changes.  Awkward breastfeeding moments.  Fussy days.  Teething.  Illnesses.  I wouldn’t trade even one moment of it with my two kids.  But do I want to start it all over again? No way.

When I start to feel baby nostalgia creeping in, I like to remind myself of all the things I value in J and S now, today, at their present ages.  I have gotten to know them as people and I’ve really enjoyed watching them grow up.  Today, S washed her own hair–all by herself, and she did a terrific job, too.  J can prepare a simple meal with minimal help.  Both of them are developing into kind, caring, compassionate people.

Perhaps the milestones kids reach after early childhood are more infrequent and subtle, but they are no less significant.  I am looking forward to watching these beautiful kids become the people God intends them to be.  My prayer is that when the time comes for them to spread their wings and fly, that this mama bird will be ready to release them.

Beauty?

A new challenge has begun: How do I teach my daughter about real beauty?

My five-year-old is participating in Girl Scouts this year.  Because we homeschool, I wanted her to meet other girls and make friends, as well as developing good character.  I remember my days in Girl Scouts as having a significant impact in my own life.  For me, it was one of the few places I could go with the expectation that I wouldn’t be bullied and that I could be myself.  I was able to experience some pretty amazing things that I otherwise would not have.

Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the way my own daughter’s experience is shaping up.  Now, don’t misunderstand me.  At this age, it’s mostly about learning to be a good friend, respect others, and have some fun.  She is definitely getting some of that, so it isn’t all negative.  It’s the extra stuff that concerns me.  For example, next month, her troop is having a “make-up party.”  No, they aren’t making up for things some girls missed at previous meetings.

Why, you might ask, are FIVE-YEAR-OLDS learning how to apply make-up?  Good question; I’ve been asking that myself.  Sure, her troop leader tried to sell me on it by saying it’s really about “self-care” and “respecting our bodies with good hygiene.”  In reality, a make-up sales representative is coming to show these little girls how to wash their faces with product, smear themselves with facial cream, and put on make-up.  Because you’re never too young to look your best, of course.

We live in a society where women are constantly told that the way to be happy is to be pretty and the way to be pretty is to alter the natural state of our faces and bodies.  We put things on our skin, we obsess over food, we totter around in high heels.  At an extreme, we starve ourselves and subject ourselves to elective surgery.  We do all this in pursuit of looking “perfect” or achieving “perfect” health.

So I took a stand.  I told my daughter’s troop leader that we would not be participating.  I don’t want my daughter to grow up believing that she has to change herself to fit someone else’s standard of beauty.  I want her to know that her beauty comes from the person she is, not what she puts on or in her body.  And I want that message to begin now, because clearly, the opposite message is already being delivered–even to Kindergartners.

Imaginary Friends

I love the way their minds think at this age.

S has lots of stuffed animals.  She names nearly all of them “Daisy.”  I have no idea why.  I asked her once.  She shrugged and said, “It’s a pretty name.  I like it.”

J, on the other hand, almost never gives his animals a name.  His blue bear is named Blue Bear.  His red bear is named Red Bear.  His hedgehog is named–you got it–Hedgehog.

When it comes to imaginary friends, though, J wins.  S doesn’t have imaginary friends.  She doesn’t see any need.  Her various Daisies are all she requires.  J has several, all with interesting names.  My favorites are Question Mark and Semicolon.  Of course, they do come in handy when he writes his stories.

Did you have an imaginary friend as a kid?  What did you call him or her?