Poor Little Baby Jesus

manger-and-the-cross

I always feel a little sad for the baby Jesus this time of year.  I mean, here’s a poor newborn in a cold barn with his trembling teenage parents. Strangers with their camels and sheep are crowding in.  And, because of him, the King is slaughtering children all over Palestine.

Not a safe, comfortable or happy way to come into the world, for anyone.

But here’s what makes me feel bad for the sweet swaddled savior:

Billions of believers can’t wait for him to be born. . .

so he can be killed for His Father’s Plan of Salvation for Sinners.

Poor little guy.

Who will save the savior?

(by the way, we know, don’t we, that if Jesus was here now he would have no idea “Christmas” has anything to do with him.  He wouldn’t be saying, “Merry Christmas” but he might say, “Happy Hanukkah.”  And, anyone remember that Jesus said “Salvation is from the Jews” not from Christians?  Just wondering)

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Jesus Wouldn’t Celebrate Christmas

birthday-boy-shirt

Of course he wouldn’t.  (Would he even have a birthday party?  Who knows?)

Christmas was made up anyway, and it was even banned for a long time, by Christians!

See this excellent piece in the WA POST:

“The War on Christmas was settled a long time ago.  Christmas Won.”

Would Jesus himself recognize his birthday celebration?  Be serious.  Not a chance.

Best ways to celebrate the birth and life of a Famous Historical Teacher:

-Try to find out what he or she really said and did (not too easy)

-Learn about the historical context when he or she lived

-Compare his or her teaching to other great teachers

-Ask yourself which of their lessons apply to our world today, and which do not

-Be aware of who controls how we read and understand this person

-Raise the question, “What does our ‘Christmas’ holiday (for example) really have to do with his life or teachings?” (if the answer is nothing, maybe we stop pretending and let it go?)

-See if there really are ways to “live the message” of this teacher

One last thought:  If you say, “Happy Birthday Jesus”–what does that really mean for our world, when most of the world does not celebrate?  Is your goal to make all the world worship your baby savior?  Would you really like every last man, woman and child to say “Merry Christmas!” and you would be happy, and God would be happy?  Really?

And. . .

What if Jesus himself would not come to his own party?

Holiday for Rebels

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A Blue Ridge Mountain Present

I love this season.   A few tenacious colors still clinging to bare trees, the flurry of feathered flight, the calm hours between storms, the energetic storms themselves, the bright crescent moon in a clear night’s sky, tipping toward planets and stars, a quiet forest walk with bubbling waterfalls.

A season of light–a different kind of light, tinted, shaded, filtered light.  You’re not always sure what you’re seeing, or sensing. I like that, usually.

For most American folk, this season is all about an Event:  Opening Presents.

For traditional folk, this season is all about One Present:  Baby Jesus.

For Nature-loving folk like me, this season is simply about Being Present to delight in the Natural Presents the earth has to give away right now.

Natural freethought is also giving out peculiar presents now.  You never can guess where the wise words will come from and how their meanings can change, evolve, and stir to reflection or decisive action.

My wife urged me to read her copy of The American Revolution, published by the National Park Service.  An excellent presentation of the hard truths underlying our National Myths.

(compare this to how we conveniently cover the uncomfortable truths hidden beneath the ornaments, packaging and sweetness of our Religious Myths)

Here’s one odd bit of truth-telling from none other than President Dwight Eisenhower who spoke these words during the McCarthy hearings in 1954 (the same year the Supreme Court desegregated public schools in Brown vs. Board of Education).  You might ask yourself how his words apply to today, to America, to faith, to Christmas and to our lives.

“Here in America, we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionaries and rebels–men and women who dared to dissent from accepted doctrine.  As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.  Without exhaustive debate–even heated debate–of ideas and programs, free government would weaken and wither.  But if we allow ourselves to be persuaded that every individual, or party, that takes issue with our own convictions is necessarily wicked or treasonous–then indeed we are approaching the end of freedom’s road.  We must unitedly and intelligently support the principles of Americanism.”

I keep returning to this quote lately.  It makes me think the principles of Americanism are very similar to the principles of Humanism.  And, it makes me think that this is also a Season for Infidels, Revolutionaries and Rebels (you know, like the poor baby in the cow dish?).  A natural birth of ideas crying for. . . .

 

Scatter the Herd. . .Here Comes Christmas!

Oh my goodness!  This is exactly as I remember it!

Oh my goodness! This is exactly as I remember it!


I grew up thinking that all the happy and peaceful animals gathered around the manger in a beautiful, star-lit evening scene of joy and ahhh, soothed by harp-strumming angels hovering overhead.

Nice bedtime story.  Makes a sweet lullaby.

Then, we grow up.  Don’t we?

(well, at least all the animals and fairies scatter when we scramble in for Presents!)

Oddly, the Church rushes forward to Crucify the Little Swaddler and the animals are eaten (so is HE). . . to “Celebrate Life!”

Here’s something I posted last “holiday season” on Beyond God


Speaking of Annual Fairytales, once again we are blessed with the Great Annual Christian Lie called the “War on Christmas”–I recommend this excellent piece at Exactly My Thinking

New Seasons and New Reasons

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My old cabin on the island

“Nature looks ahead, and makes ready for the new season in the midst of the old. . .  The present season is always the mother of the next.”

~John Burroughs, Ways of Nature

The wonderful refreshing rains have returned to our thirsty land.  The pasturelands are greening; the streams are flowing and lakes are filling.  Snow is falling in the mountains that await the February cabin trip by the icy rivers.

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Snowshoe paradise

I am always grateful for the change of seasons, when the months of contrasts arrive in their annual visit colorfully clothed in dark and light, cold and warm, silence and song, death and life.

When the first sky-waterfalls begin, the sound holds my attention, even when it’s mostly the water pouring down the spouts at night.  There’s a calming and a reassuring sense that the birds, the coyotes, the insects and the land are breathing relief at the taste of liquid life.

Watershedding

Watershedding

My Christmas birthday has changed over the years.  More accurately, it changes every year.  Last year Carol and I surprised our friends Todd and Judy in the City, arriving at their annual morning brunch to a houseful of hugs and good cheer.

Christmas kisses

Christmas kisses

Leaving the festivities we got stuck in terrible touristy traffic.  I was missing my treeclimb, so we got out of the holiday headache and walked Golden Gate Park for a bit where I found a short olive to “climb.”

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A few days later I was able to go just a few feet higher in an oak in a local state park.

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This year we’ll be in the coastal hills for “the day,” among the redwoods and fir.  Between now and then I’ll find a “climber” to be my Christmas Tree.

I’m climbing around some new reasons to enjoy the season this year.  The family seems to be smiling more; good people are connecting; my classes are really very fun to teach; I’m re-reading some good books (Steinbeck, Thomas Paine, Burroughs) and many more birds and species are gathering in the fields and ponds.

Home for the holidays

Home for the holidays

I hope this season of natural beauty gives you many presents.  One gift is good enough.  Life itself.


*This little reflection was just published on Patheos:  Climbing (not cutting) a Christmas Tree

 

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)

Alternative Christmas

Herewith, the Christmas Baby Solstice Sermon for 2011 (note:  Marin is the county I live in near San Francisco):

A Christmas Baby Unwraps the Season

Chris Highland

The dizzying sleighrides are upon us again.  We call them, with a sigh, “holidays.”  Ho, ho, ho. . .hum.  Or humbug.  I’m no grinch, and I have no interest in grabbing a candycane (or a peppermint IPad) from the sticky clutches of a starry-eyed, sweetened-up little child, and there’s no plot to nab a nativity from a kneeling grandma.  But there has to be a saner way to “do the holidays.”

Think about it.  ‘Tis the season for the “CC’s”:  cutting conifers, carving creatures, Christmas carols, Chanukah Candles, the Christ Child and credit cards.  Copy that?  In this glorious land of trees (in excelsis!) the truncating of beautiful, green, living towers seems bizarre. . .cutting back, as we know, isn’t a Marin option.  So, we copy and paste the same old same old year after (blessed?) year.  Why?  We don’t know anything else, and we’re scared to try, I guess.

Killing things to celebrate Life seems a bit weird, especially in the peace-sign capital of the planet.  I gave up the tree and animal slaughter some years ago (I still slip, then swallow my guilt), but I was born, raised, boiled and braised with all the seasonings of the season.  And it still eats me up.  When my daughter was knee high to an elf we dropped a blazing menorah in the middle of a wreath, ate a grateful meal, opened a few gifts and called it our Hanukkah-Christmas (her little hug was my Happy Birthday).  Getting out to Point Reyes or Muir Woods was the best dessert.  Since then I’ve spent a forest of years letting go of “holy days” in favor of a simple, basic contentment with the extraordinarily sacred in every ordinary day.  Each day can be a gift, and being present for others is still the best I can give, to them and to myself.  It’s a little like coming home to yourself, being your own jolly claus–without the trappings and wrappings, the increase in waste and waist.

If you have been homeless (as I have) “home” means something more than the stuff and stuffing we shove into basements, backyards, birds and bellies.  The winter shelter is open again, thankfully, but there are many more neighbors who have to scrounge and scream just to be in, inside, while most of us are out of it, out of touch, unless it’s on a screen, a cell or on sale.

We are so pre-occupied with our occupations we forget to occupy our mental rental space with thoughts for those who simply wish for occupancy.  Maybe this just gets too close to home to think about:  there are so many Marys and Josephs and Bethlehem bundles of troubles out there today and tonight, season after season, forever and ever, amen?  And all we have to offer is another dead tree, dissected turkey or dim iToy.  Bah!

Nah!  It’s not really so blustery bad, not such a snowdrift of sadness.  We can choose to lighten up and tear open something new!  Standing in the bright lights of the dark side of the year why not celebrate the simple delights near at hand: drop the screens for a bit; take a few quiet walks; be the present with friends and family or total strangers; make some art, some love; read a book and read another to a child.  Do something, be something, a little different.

Give yourself the gift of NOT doing the holidays this year.  Or at least not what you’ve ever done before.  Oh, and don’t forget to take long, deep breaths. . .and Be Merry!

(Brainsticker for the Season:  “These Colors Don’t Run. . .Into Wars!”)