Whose Birthday? #23

Archives: Whose Birthday Is It, Anyway? #23

Archives Index | Whose Birthday? Index | Many More Interesting Christmas Articles

Daily Calendar Index

An Advent and Christmas Resource for Families, Individuals and Churches

NOTE: If you want a daily Advent/Christmas guide, choose from 15. Some are lectionary-based, some are thematic. (2004 has the same cycle (A) and start date - Nov. 28) Copy your choice on recycled paper as a bulletin insert, in your own Advent-Christmas booklet or as a series in your weekly service bulletin.

Table of Contents

Whose Birthday? How-to

#23 Contents


Editor's Foreword: What I Want for Christmas
This Advent and Christmas, Michael Mortvedt is thinking outside the box to make these seasons simple and faithful with gifts we can only give ourselves and receive from God.


Hope in History vs. Consumer Addictions
Rabbi Michael Lerner reflects on how the holidays of the lights in Judaism and in Christianity are not only about the return of the sun but also of the possibility of a transformation of human reality.

A Christmas Visit to Muir Woods: A Naturalist's Dream
Nadine N. Doughty finds poetry grandeur, and the sacred in Muir Woods National Monument.

A Victory Garden for Christmas
Adrian Bonaro believes that when we make being green something that is available to every living person, that is when the miraculous will shine out.

The Joy of Reading Aloud
For Bruce Forbes, a simple Christmas custom is the highlight of the season.


Food Swap Game
Stan Friend shares a game that can be played anytime, especially with children, to promote local, sustainable and healthy food choices.

Invite St. Nicholas to Your Family, Church or School!
Carol Myers helps us discover the St. Nicholas behind Santa Claus and helps those searching for more meaning in the holiday season.

You Don't Have to Green Up Alone!
Steven L. Beumer has a simple three step strategy for protecting and nurturing God's kingdom on Earth: Conservation, Conversion and Creation.

Advent and Christmas with Children
For Sandy Olson, sustainable living and voluntary simplicity are based in the Christian faith and can be learned by children.

Advent Calendar: A sustainable change calendar of hope for Advent and the 12 Days of Christmas [slightly revised 2004]

Moving toward Bethlehem
Jackie Harper and Amy Crawford share ideas on how to enrich your family's spiritual life this Advent season.

[Credits and Membership]

[Alternatives' Presentations]

Editor's Foreword

What I Want for Christmas

Each year at Alternatives we publish 'Whose Birthday Is It, Anyway?' Each year we give the wonderful advice that friends, couples and families hold a community meeting in the fall to talk about what they really want for Christmas. At meetings like this people rarely say they want overpackaged stuff that they probably won't use, that exploits workers in foreign countries, that unnecessarily uses natural resources and that poisons the planet. But without some planning and discussion, that is probably what they will receive. It is the default option in our culture, and good people with the best of intentions will often choose the default option without giving it much thought.

So I thought I would follow my own advice again this year and even think a little more outside-the-box. My family has been intentional in past years and has decided that homemade, thrift store purchased or specifically requested gifts were the guiding priorities (with some wriggle room for creativity and plain common sense). Plus we have decided on reasonable limits on price and number of purchases.

This year I am thinking beyond the gifts. As in recent years, I want a family dinner with as many of our extended family present as possible. I want a festive, healthy meal with time to renew family connections. Having Sandy's dad, Ole, live with us for the last five years, until he returned to his eternal home this February, has taught us the importance of being family even when it is not easy or convenient.

I want to reclaim carols
to celebrate Jesus' birth
not just hear them
as background music
to promote consumption.

My family is very musical, so this year I want to sing Christmas carols together at our gathering. Perhaps we could sing several of the Carols with Justice that Alternatives produced several years ago. Serving an Episcopal congregation that strictly observes the season of Advent and does not sing Christmas carols until Christmas Eve, so unlike most folks who are so over Christmas music by December 25, 1 still want to sing carols on Christmas Day. I want to reclaim carols to celebrate Jesus' birth not just hear them as background music to promote consumption.

Of course I want world peace, an end to hunger on the planet, and an agreement among the nations to effectively reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. I am not holding my breath that the world receives these gifts for Christmas, but there are programs I can participate in, or donate to, that will help one or two of these noble goals come closer to fruition. Perhaps my family will consider participating in or donating as a family to one of these programs on St. Nicholas Day, December 6. (Check the list of organizations in What Jesus Wants for Christmas.)

I want my life and my Advent and Christmas seasons to be simple and faithful. These are gifts I can only give to myself and receive from God. I need to plan and pray in order to be true to what I believe. That is my definition of simple living.

Have a Blessed Advent, Chanukah, St. Nicholas Day, Christmas.

Rev. Michael A. Mortvedt

Former Co-Director of Alternatives for Simple Living
Increasing numbers of people have come to feel that love can be measured by the quantity and cost of the gifts they receive or must give to others at these holidays.

Hope in History vs. Consumer Addiction

Rabbi Michael Lerner

From time immemorial people have celebrated the winter solstice and the lengthening of the hours of the sun, seeing in this transition the promise of a return to the warmth of spring and summer and the food that hunting or harvest might bring. What was unique to Jewish and then later Christian celebrations of this time was the transformation of these older holidays into a focus on redemption in history, and its message about what might happen in the future.

Unlike religions that taught humans to flow-with-the-river- and learn how to break attachments to historical outcomes, a significant strand of theology in Judaism and Christianity affirmed the possibility that human freedom and the development of our capacities to be loving, kind, generous, just, and peaceful could actually happen in this world. The holiday of the lights (for Jews in the form of lighting Chanukah candles, for Christians in lighting the Christmas tree or Yule log) was not only about the return of the sun but also of a historical hope for the possibility of transformation of human reality.

Chanukah's celebration of the Maccabees' national liberation struggle and victory over Greek imperialism became a message to all: when people come to believe in God the Force of Healing and Transformation in the world, the Force that makes possible the transformation from That Which Is to That Which Should Be then the power of the people so infused with hope can become mightier than the technology of the most advanced military forces. Christianity's celebration of the birth of a child who would become the messiah (the person predicted by the prophet Isaiah whose coming would lead to nation not lifting up sword against nation, and not learning war anymore) became a powerful and beautiful symbol of this hope.

Unfortunately, people in both traditions have at times lost faith in the Force of Healing and Transformation in the World and then have seen redemption either as dependent on military power or on salvation in another world or in heaven.

The challenges and obstacles to the ability of both traditions to restore their vision of hope in history hope for a world of love, kindness and generosity, social justice and peace come from a number of sources. The obstacles come from politicians who merely serve the interests of global corporations whose profits are dependent on the extraction of raw materials and the favorable conditions of trade that global colonialism and imperialism imposed on the poorer or weaker countries. They come from the ability of corporate dominated media, schools, universities, and religious institutions to inflict upon the majority of people in the advanced industrial societies (and now increasingly as Western media penetrates the underdeveloped world, even people with marginal spending capacities) a deep addiction to ever-increasing accumulation of material goods, which are identified as the primary markers of well being, progress, and success. Children are most susceptible to this media indoctrination, and increasing numbers of people have come to feel that love can be measured by the quantity and cost of the gifts they receive or must give to others at these holidays.

To resist this new form of enslavement, the Network of Spiritual Progressives has urged people to stop buying gifts and instead to offer a gift of time to help your friends with whatever your skill painting their house; helping them with carpentry or plumbing or child care or elder care; teaching their child to play a game or develop computer skills or play a musical instrument or sing songs that moved you when you were a child; or... The list is endless once you detach from the need to endlessly consume and once you begin to imagine the gift of your time as far more valuable than stuff. The gift of your time is also the kind of gift that does not accentuate the differences between those who can and cannot afford to buy material goods.

The Empire remains, but this holiday season we can resist Consumerism in new ways and reaffirm hope in history. This is only a first step in a process that ultimately must include the Global Marshall Plan and the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that you can read at www. spiritual progressives. org. Supporting Alternatives for Simple Living and the Interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives, joining our movement and getting others to do so, too, are the very best holiday gifts you could give anyone this holiday season!

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun magazine, www.tikkun.org, chair of the interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives, www.spiritualprogressiues. org, and author of 11 books, most recently The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right.
We visitors explore respectfully, in the presence of majesty.

A Christmas Visit to Muir Woods, A Naturalist's Dream

By Nadine N. Doughty

How many poems and articles have been written about Muir Woods National Monument, California? It's a special place that holds a certain enchantment. Fortunately, it is open to the public. Visitors in a steady stream park in the long, winding lot and walk in. My husband and my son and I follow them.

Our attention sharpens as we enter this sacred place. People fall silent or lower their voices in the quiet surroundings. In one area, we heed a sign, Quiet Requested in the Cathedral Area.

As we crane our necks to catch sight of the treetops, we are indeed standing in nature's cathedral. Our gaze soars up, up to the topmost branches, barely visible. There, pale sunlight ventures in. It's a diffused light, interrupted by millions of evergreen needles.

Pursuing a well worn path through these unique woods, we stop along the way to read informational signs explaining natural phenomena. We see fallen giants, examples of blemished bark, and doubletrunk specimens standing guard. We see new shoots of babies sprouting from a log. We visitors explore respectfully, in the presence of majesty.

Named for John Muir, who fought to save this unique forest, the redwoods are the tallest trees on our planet. Thanks to the efforts of Muir and others, this unique stand of redwoods north of San Francisco survives today. Protected from would be harvesters, the trees grow and flourish, offering visitors a peaceful retreat from daily tasks and concerns. Surely the trees' beauty and nobility provide all who visit with unique gifts of tranquility and wonder. May they survive and flourish for years to come.

Nadine N. Doughty, a retired social worker, is an anti hunger activist and a published writer of poems and essays. She is involved in her church as chair of its hunger ministry and of the women's guild. She also leads sing alongs at the local senior center.
The miraculous knocks on your door and you say, I'm sorry, I don't have enough. The amazing sends you a letter but you say, I'm sorry, I'm already doing as much as I can.

A Victory Garden for Christmas

Adrian Bonaro

An unwed mother to be arrives with only the clothes on her back. She knocks and knocks on every door looking for a place to lay her head, for a place to deliver her baby. No one answers the door. Over and over again she is treated as less than human, as less than n worth my time, until finally the innkeeper answers the door.

No room in the inn, he famously says. But then, seeing her sad state and taking a moment to realize that she too is a human being, he offers the scraps from the master's table, I have a stable out back. And it is in this unspectacular place, with this woman that so many didn't even bother to see, that the greatest moment in human history happens: God is born into a stable.

We hear this story over and over again. You've seen little kids play the innkeeper. You've seen them forget their lines. You've seen them take too much pleasure in kicking Jesus out of their dismal hotel. Yet have you ever seen it with the understanding that you are the innkeeper?

The miraculous knocks on your door and you say, I'm sorry, I don't have enough. The amazing sends you a letter but you say, I'm sorry, I'm already doing as much as I can. You read a copy of Whose Planet Is It, Anyway? and you hold it up for all to see how good a steward you are to this world. Yet a friend of mine once asked me, as I was in the midst of a particularly green push, Does being green mean anything if only the wealthy (if only the innkeeper) can do it?

I know that many studies have recently shown that being green is actually cheaper than living wastefully and that cutting on expenses is a major reason many have made the move to greening their home. They buy the expensive light bulbs that will last longer, they buy new windows that will insulate, they put solar panels on their roofs and the planet breathes a sigh of relief. And that is great, if you can afford new light bulbs, if you can afford new windows and solar panels. But what about the middle income and the lowincome everyone else? How do they get green?

The miraculous moment of our Christmas tale does not come through the innkeeper showing all of us how his inn is so very warm and inviting. The impressive moment arrives when the poor unwed mother to be finds herself a shelter, finds herself a place to give birth to the Creator of our world. How do we give others shelter? How do we help others to become green? For when we help others to become green, when we make being green something that is available to every living person, that is when the miraculous will shine out, that is when being green will become more than just a luxury.

I have not always been a particularly environmentally conscious person. I was of the crowd that enjoyed throwing things away rather than moving them. I was of the lazy many who would rather drive the block and a half to the local market instead of walk. I was of the energy guzzling, let the world burn variety that left my lights, TV, computer, and whatever else you can think on for all hours of the day just because it would have been too much work to turn it all off. Yeah, I was one of those.

But you know when it all changed? I started a garden.

I suppose I have always wanted to have a garden. I remember watching my grandfather somehow, magically, pull potatoes out of what seemed like barren soil. I watched him pick fresh peas from what had been nothing the last time I had seen him. And the magic, the utter simplicity of our natural world got to me, stuck with me, as a seed growing that has finally sprouted after all these years.

Stumbling out into my horribly overgrown backyard wearing my expensive brandname shoes, I began to clear away the years' apathy. I raked back the leaves of who cares. I cut low the all pervasive thought, There is nothing I can do about it.

And then I got into the soil. Where I live it is hard, clumpy, and filled with clay. I had not been expecting that. I was not expecting gardening would be so much work. My grandfather had made it all seem so easy. I had thought that with just the right amount of fairy dust sprinkled in this corner of the held, you could sit back and watch as the bean stalk climbed all the way to heaven. Apparently my grandfather hadn't thought to entrust me with Tinkerbell's secret stash.

I was out there for days and days with my shovel, with my pickaxe, with my MiracleGro. I was playing God with the terrain. I wanted a hill here, some flat land there, and a trench over in the corner to catch the water on heavy rain days. And before I knew it, I had a garden. I had green growing up all around me.

But I suppose it wasn't really the garden that changed me from my allconsuming ways. It was really the slugs. The slugs that ate all of my peas. The evil slugs that decimated all hope I had of growing cucumbers. It was then that I realized how tenuous it all was. Our natural world is struggling. Our natural world needs so much care.

Having a garden, though, getting your own local, fresh produce, is for many a luxury. Many middle income and lowincome people live in apartments without yards. They can't have a garden. They don't have the space.

But we do. We have all too much land.

Many of us are parts of churches that have more space than we know what to do with. We have grass upon grass or beauty bark upon beauty bark, and we have to pay people to take care of those areas. But all across the country a number of churches are starting to open their extra space to those who come knocking on their doors. And then the miracles happen. When we give people an opportunity to work their own land, their own crops, their own space, the same transformation that hit me, that hits everyone who struggles with soil, will begin to take root.

With little more than a few planks of wood, some Miracle Gro, and a hose, your church can start a community garden. Or perhaps a better way of looking at it, your church can start a victory garden. In World War I and World War 11, all across the country people grew victory gardens, produce producing stretches of land in city parks and personal yards that worked to reduce the pressure on public food needs that came about because of the war. Today's victory gardens can be used to fight another war, a war against green living only existing for those who can afford it, a war against the energy guzzling, a war against the innkeepers who reside within us who would send away all those who also want to live into the miraculous.

This is the season when we normally consider the joys of a cold winter's day, of hot chocolate, of staying inside near a roaring fire. But Christmas is also a season of looking ahead, of wondering about new life, of questioning who is left outside of our warm, comfortable rooms. What will you do when the cold ice thaws and the day to day grind is back? Who will you send away? Who will you invite in? Who will you let experience the miraculous?

Adrian Bonaro, M. Div., is pastor of Epiphany Lutheran Church in San Leandro, California.
Simply sharing time and reading aloud is an oasis with one another in the midst of a bustling Christmas season.

The Joy of Reading Aloud

By Dr. Bruce Forbes

As I struggle to resist distracting pressures during the Christmas season, seeking instead a meaningful and fulfilling Christmas, I frequently ask friends and acquaintances what is their favorite Christmas custom or activity. It's a great way to gather ideas. If someone asks me the same question, here is mine:

A small group of my close friends annually selects an evening shortly before Christmas to get together. We each bring a snack or a dessert to share. It is not primarily a time to exchange presents, but some of us can't help ourselves and bring token gifts or humorous items. We start a fire in the fireplace in the living room, sit in a circle on furniture and on the floor, and spend the evening chatting and munching. For our featured activity, one of us selects a favorite Christmas short story. We read it aloud to one another, passing the book around the circle, with each person reading a page at a time. I imagine that it is a little like the olden-days when families gathered around a big console radio to listen to a radio drama. The Christmas stories usually are humorous or touching or both.

Every one of us claims that this is the highlight of our Christmas season, and the reason, I think, is because it is so simple. No one has to prepare a meal or spend a lot of money. (At most, I have to clean my home!) Our gathering, simply sharing time and reading aloud, is an oasis with one another in the midst of a bustling Christmas season.

As a footnote, our favorite source for Christmas short stories is Home for Christmas: Stories for Young and Old, edited by Miriam Leblanc (Orbis Books, 2004).

Bruce Forbes serves as Professor of Religious Studies at Morningside College, Sioux City, Iowa, and served as the Chair of Alternatives' board of directors. He is the author of the popular book Christmas: A Candid History and will be featured on an upcoming History Channel special on the history of Christmas celebrations.
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