Give Yourself a Gift this Season


Poor in cash but rich in love, the Waltons live in the Blue Ridge Mountains during the Depression of the 1930’s.

If you like old shows (“old” meaning way back in the 70’s) you might think of giving yourself a gift this month.  Watch some episodes of The Waltons (1971-1981).  When is the last time you heard of a tv show that lasted 10 seasons?

Much more than just entertainment, this just might be a story we need to experience, especially now.

My wife and I have been enjoying these on iTunes and each episode actually has a meaningful story.  I know it sounds like we’re silly and sappy, but we like the way the family always learns from each other, faces change, addresses major issues like race, poverty, gender, education, religion and much more.  We think of John-Boy Walton, the family writer, as a kind of chaplain, without a lot of god-talk.  He, and the whole family, are constantly helping others through hospitality and plain kindness.  This seems old-fashioned, but as I say, it’s somehow just what we need.

If you remember, each episode ended with the family going to sleep and everyone says good night to parents, grandparents and kids.  The other night we saw “The Fighter” about a young African-American man who comes through and gets hired by John Walton to help in the family saw mill.  The man is training for a big prize fight and he wants to use the money to build a small church “for my people.”  As usual, the story takes a twist and doesn’t end quite like he expected, or as we expected.  The family helps build the church then joins a local Black congregation and the fighter-preacher gives a simple sermon.

That night, faith was on the mind of the youngest girl, Elizabeth.  At bedtime she asked:

“Mama, when someone is baptized in the river, are their sins washed away?”

“Yes, Elizabeth.”

“But, Mama, where do the sins go down the river?”

Grandpa chimes in to say the river flows into other rivers and out to the sea.


Elizabeth says,

“But that doesn’t seem fair to the FISH!”

Give yourself a gift and watch this show, again or for the first time.

(hint for seculars:  Grandpa likes to go to church mainly for the hymns.  John doesn’t go to church at all.  The back and forth between the mother and grandmother–heavy baptists–and the menfolk, is pretty good to hear)






I know I’m not pretty. . .but tell me again why millions of us have to die for you?

Our first T-Day Season in Western North Carolina. . .it’s cold and smoky but beautiful.  No regrets leaving the Left Coast for these mountains.  Nature’s creative artistry is a good distraction from the mind-numbing down-dumbing politics that gives me a permanent case of head-shaking.  My natural unbelief is being dragged even further into the land of WTF nonsense.  It’s. . .unbelievable!

As I said, the natural distractions help, a little, and the wild things are really the best attractions.  We see gorgeous fat wild turkeys roaming our hills and I wonder, once again and again, why we humans are such killers, especially in the name of faith and family.

Ok, before you can accuse me of putting a downer on the “holydays”. . .all I ask is that we all give a gobble up for the Turkeys (and all the other fowl things we stuff down) this consumer season.

Maybe, Thank a Turkey instead of. . .

Well, you get my point.

Happy Season!

Climbing the Christmas Tree

Continuing my tradition, on my 60th!

Part of this tradition is a good, exhilarating walk in the natural beauty that’s so much more refreshing and renewing and relaxing than all the “stuff” that people say we “have” to do to celebrate the season.

(photos of the Christmas Baby in the tree by my wife, the Christmas Carol)

An Atheist Christmas Card

A Happy Atheist Christmas!

{Note:  I usually refer to myself as a Freethinker.  That doesn’t seem to cause much agitation.  And who wants to be identified as one of the ANTI people—always Against this or that?  But I’m a Nature-loving natural guy, and I don’t believe in the Super-Natural or even the Super-Duper Natural, so once in a while I might as well just say it: I’m an Atheist.  There, I said it.  Now, after this “confession of non-faith” you may be disgusted and not want to read this Christmas Message or anything else I’ve written.  I understand; that’s your choice.  Those of you who are still with me, you probably are fine that this is My Blog and I live in a Free Country with Freedom of Religion (I can freely choose to believe in any god I want to, or to not believe in any god on the “free” market). Yes, friends, I realize that Atheists are pretty much hated across the country (and in many states we could never be elected to public office), but since everyone’s an Atheist with one God or another, welcome to my world!  Besides, if you know me at all (personally or through my writings) hopefully you already know that not every non-believer is a big hairy, hungry beast out to eat up all the faith in the world (I have dear family and friends who have faith, and they are loved and respected).  So even though the whole world seems to scramble to make some of us believe, I don’t want to make you or anyone an Atheist.  I just want to be free to speak what’s on my mind.  And you can read it, or change the channel.  Ok?  Now, for the annual Christmas Baby message. . .}

I was born on December 25th and I became a minister because of that day and the lowly-lord of long ago who shared the birthday. As a church leader I assisted in many a Christmas Eve candlelight service.  As a chaplain, I led many a seasonal celebration with women and men who didn’t feel much like celebrating as they sat in jails and stood on the streets (those outsiders who find “no room in the inn” holyday after holyday, in homes or churches. . .I always found that strange, don’t you?).  I used to love the candles, the greenery, the presents and truthfully, I still do.  But mostly, as a chaplain, I very much enjoyed what I came to call “the present of being present.”  Being with people who were outsiders, who felt lonely, depressed and outcast especially in a faith-saturated culture, was a present to me as well, and became, frankly, the most meaningful part of the holidays.

I’ve written about all this before:  My Address is a River; Life After Faith; Jesus and John Muir, and a pile of essays.  Nothing new here.  Yet, there’s always going to be more to say when it comes to the meaning of this season.  Some say I’m angry; others say I’m hurt; still others say I’m bitter and just want to be a critic of faith and religion and god.  There is a chestnut of truth to that.  I usually respond that I am mostly disappointed, with all those things.  It was disappointing to find that I could dedicate my life to serving the people Jesus was most concerned about and discover that “His People” (The Church) didn’t, for the most part, share my dedication. It was very disturbing to find out that the more I associated and identified with the most outcast and marginalized among us the more I was personally and professionally marginalized by those who were supposedly my “community,” sisters and brothers in my “family of faith.”  It was disheartening to have to struggle to pay rent on a lowly chaplain’s salary while pastors were making $100,000 plus a Christmas bonus to shepherd their warm and comfortable flocks.  Finally, it was very disillusioning for me to discover, to learn, to grow to realize, that the divine Friend and Companion and Ruler of the Universe wasn’t really there after all.  Wow, can that be a shocker!  In fact, it was quite painful.  Like a parent you thought loved you and promised to be there forever gradually fades away, disappearing without a trace, with no word, no warning.  Stunning and kind of sickening really.  When I lost my parents a rabbi friend said to me, “You’re an orphan now,” and when I lost my god it felt the same.

So, yes, I’m still a bit pained and bewildered by that.  You can, as some do, judge me for the way I express my bereavement (which of course serves to drive in the knife a little more, thank you).  But the point is the same:  I live without God but not without Good!  I’m doing pretty well, staying fairly positive, learning more every day and hopefully becoming a better person (even at my age).  I am a survivor of faith and really good with that.  I don’t seem to need a 12-step religious addiction recovery program (yet. . .but I may start one).  I don’t wear that on my sleeve.  In fact, many I work with on a regular basis have no idea, no clue, that I have these thoughts and feelings.  I just keep doing what I have always done, faith or no faith:  try to help people be happy, healthy and feel a sense of belonging.  Faith never guarantees any of these things, so I simply continue to act in the only way I know is best, and that’s to show some compassion, to listen and try to help.  My life story.  Period.

The other truth to say is that, thank Goodness, it’s not all about me!  As a child I thought it was—Christmas Day that is.  But as I grew up I found out that I wasn’t the only one born on that day, or in that season, and there were billions of people who didn’t care one way or the other, one day or another.  They could enjoy the season without chopping down a tree or chopping the head off a fat bird.  And I realized that I could too.  In a way one could say I found a big oddly-shaped present under the (living) tree, that didn’t fit in any box:  I unwrapped the enduring perennial gift of Nature’s intrinsic, amazing goodness.  Not always pretty, but beautiful nonetheless.

So, in this season of light and hope and laughing children (at least in some places, on some faces), I am not interested in taking the jingle, the jolliness or the joy away from anyone.  Though I have no faith and feel no need to participate in the pageantry of something nostalgically called “Christmas,” I choose to enjoy the true beauty of this season in the waterfalls and migrating birds and greening rains and warm greetings given and received.

Though I am a Christmas Baby, I don’t feel the need to honor that Other Christmas Kid in any way like we see year after year, season after season.  How good that is!  And what a relief.

Speaking of the child. . .you know, The Child.  I’m with Thomas Paine (you know, the Paine-in-the-backside guy who gave us Common Sense, The Age of Reason and the phrase “The United States of America”?!).  Yes, I’m with that Paine, who said he had no beef with Jesus, in fact admired the heck out of the guy.  There is no need to disparage the character of one of history’s most exemplary characters.  Without worshipping the man who was, legend tells us, born in a barn in a bundle of dirty hay, I can appreciate the man and his message, his “way” of peace and justice and basic human kindness.  In my mind, most of the Christian Church, those who call themselves by his name and claim to “follow” him, still can’t wait to get away from the dirty manger, to get out of the dark and dank barn, the dung-heaped stable, that is, to escape and deny the poor and humble origins, as quick as the donkey can waddle.  That is, they never really got the Christmas Story and, ironically, tragically, can’t seem to get the baby crucified fast enough–in barely three months (here comes Good Friday)!  As I have said for years in many forms in many writings and sermons and classes:  Jesus would never be welcomed in any of the places called “Church.”  Now, isn’t that disturbing?  A sad fact; a disappointing irony.  And now, as a former person of faith, I remain discouraged by this, and I’m reminded throughout the year, but especially at “Christmastime,” of the disconnect, the strange and odd and weird disconnect between “Christmas” and the birth of a poor Palestinian Jew 2000 years ago.  I don’t get it.  And yet, I do.

Here’s the toast for you to take into the season of lights.  Think of it as a kind of Atheist Christmas Card, a non-believer’s wish for comfort (seasoned with a pinch of dis-comfort) along with generous helpings of  joy and goodness and gratefulness:

Celebrate the Child, the real child of the story; reflect on the circumstances of poverty and injustice and religious/political oppression in which that child was born, and in which many children are born today.  Turn the celebration into compassionate collaboration.

Celebrate that the child grew to be the wise teacher Yeshua, Jesus, and that Jesus was a great and respectable figure in human history.  Find joy and courage in the fact that he can’t be owned or packaged by any philosophy or religion.

Celebrate with good tidings and good cheer that the homeless kid with a dark and shady past grew to be an amazing teacher with a message to light up the world.  Standing alongside Buddha and Socrates, Hypatia and Solomon, Lao Tzu and Confucius, Marcus Aurelius and Muhammad, Frances Wright, Margaret Fuller and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama and countless others, Jesus of Nazareth was a wonderful, inspiring human being who had no need to be God.  His humanity was divinity enough.

And remember to remember:  you don’t have to “do” Christmas, the holidays, the season.  Choose your own way of enjoying this time of year.  Start a new tradition, something no one has done (I climb a tree!).  See if there’s someone who needs a hand and offer yours.  Visit someone who’s alone and make them smile.  Keep it light!  Find a new trail to walk, a letter to write, a new movie to watch or meal to prepare and share.  Make the season a new kind of “holyday” for yourself, your family, your community.  Theist or no, it’s up to you, and always has been.

Merry Christmas (Happy Hanukkah and Solstice and Every Naturally-Blessed Day too)!

Why Atheists Love Christmas (American Thinker)