The Christmas season’s contradictions of amped-up marketing and consumerism layered with the sweet message of peace and good will has perplexed me for many, many years, but this year might just take the prize. I grew up in a household that became Christmas Central in December every year with an oversized tree loaded with lights and unique ornaments, presents carefully selected and creatively wrapped, and a large party my parents hosted. Our motto could have been “nothing succeeds like excess.” It was a child’s dream come true, and we reveled in anticipation and the resulting mounds of treasure underneath the tree on Christmas morning. However, my perceptions of gift-giving and receiving were altered when I heard at church about the hungry children around the world. A sensitive and caring child, I was upset and asked my parents about it; they said that, sadly, it was true. Knowing we had a very nice home and plenty to eat, I said, “Well, why don’t we feed them?” That may have been the first seed of my social and political consciousness. I told my dad I didn’t want presents, that I’d rather they bought food for those children. Astoundingly, as I remember it, he told me I was being selfish, since people enjoyed giving me presents and would have already bought some. It was quite close to Christmas, so I might have been hedging my bets with that generous request, but I think that was the spark that fed the flame of responsibility to take action, which I often have with food shelves and meal-serving programs throughout my adult life. I’ve identified with progressive politics and values of social justice for all, seeing my volunteer work as important as my paid work. In my 30’s I found the Quakers, so those values were affirmed and deepened. I also carried with me the belief that there was goodness in every person and found that the Quakers believed that there was “that of God in every person.” I believed we all learn and grow, and that in our hearts we all wanted to become the best people we could, striving for the pinnacle of Mazlow’s hierarchy. As you can well imagine, I’ve lived through many experiences that threatened to disabuse me of those notions, the current political scene included.
The modern politics of hate and greed can be traced back to Barry Goldwater’s loss in his bid for president in 1964. The right wing so-called conservatives (conserving nothing but their own wealth and privilege) were shocked at the loss and began building a structure of increasingly sophisticated strategies, including a five-story training think tank in Washington, D.C. to groom young Republicans in the party line. They called their platform The New American Century, available for all to view on a website by that name, clearly spelling out the goal of world domination by those of wealth and power. (See the book, Blinded By the Right, by David Brock for the enlightening details of this progression.) We have witnessed their actions to decrease taxes on the wealthy (individual, corporate and inheritance); to weaken the rights of people to sue those in power; to fill judgeships with people from the extreme right; to buy and control media outlets; to overturn Roe v. Wade; to block affordable health care for all citizens; and to decrease benefits to those who are most in need of assistance with medical care, education, food, and housing. Millions, even billions of dollars are spent every election on dirty campaigning and outright lies in pursuit of partisan agendas.
We yearn for statesmen and women with good minds and hearts who truly want to work for the common good. So, I ask, along with many others, “How could this be happening? Why are we not changing this direction?” I ask, in this holiday season, “What is happening to the goodness that I still believe resides in each of us?” Believers of many different faiths seek and celebrate the light in this season of darkness, especially those of us in the northern latitudes filling our early nights with candles and strings of lights. The light represents hope and renewal as well as the mystery of spirit and faith. And yet our country is rife with incidents of racism and hatred toward anyone who is considered “other,” whether they be Muslim, Jew, Black, immigrant, someone with a different sexual orientation, or just someone from someplace else. Unfortunately, these haters are emboldened by a president who models ugly, unthinking, narcissistic behavior, reminding me of a spoiled, fearful, out-of-control child who just keeps throwing tantrums, while we wonder how in the world he got in office and when his offenses will catch up with him. A kindergartner, fearful for her safety, asked, “Why did we elect a bully?” I ask the same thing, wondering how private individuals or elected officials can act as they do and still sleep at night. In A Quaker Book of Wisdom, Robert Lawrence Smith writes, “We all know right from wrong. It’s what defines our humanity. Acting on that knowledge affirms our faith in the idea that what we do in this life matters.”
In the meantime, I keep coming to the same conclusion: that we need to do what we can to make a difference, to help others and to build trust and community where we live. So, give this a try: on Christmas or Hanukkah or Boxing Day or whenever, invite someone over for dinner or out for a walk who is not part of your family or close friendship circle, who doesn’t look like you, who is in a different socio-economic class, who speaks a different language, who has a different type of education, a different sexual orientation, who grew up outside the Midwest, better yet, in a foreign country, and/or who thinks differently than you do. Any combination of those things, such as an atheist born in Dallas who grew up under an oil rig, votes Libertarian, and doesn’t ski. Or an urban transvestite with a cooking show who makes five times your income. Or maybe someone who has different views on copper mining than you do.
Many people will be traveling to see loved ones, and some of us will be staying right here, sharing a community potluck dinner at the Ely Folk School on Christmas Day, where everyone is welcome. If you would like to break bread with old and new friends, enjoy some singing, and share some of your own light, come join us at 4 p.m., but let us know you’re coming by calling 218-235-0138. Turkey, tea and coffee will be provided; bring a dish to share. And have a warm and peaceful holiday season.