Monthly Archives: November 2012

Want to Keep Christ in Christmas?

Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Don’t let Friday get Black.

With apologies to retailers and economists, I need to confess that I have never been a Black Friday fan. You have to admit the irony of following up our official national day of gratitude with our unofficial national day of commercialism and coveting, right? Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, given the fact that we celebrate Thanksgiving by eating massive amounts of food. If we express our gratitude with gluttony, why shouldn’t we spend the next day indulging in retail therapy?

Still, I’ve been frustrated by the ways that Black Friday has encroached upon Thanksgiving Thursday over the years. It was bad enough when the thickest non-Sunday newspaper of the year was the Thanksgiving Day edition filled with several pounds of door busters, stocking-stuffers, and midnight specials. Now, Black Friday begins on Thursday! I find it sad that we can no longer devote a whole day to Thanksgiving, nor apparently, can we confine Black Friday to one twenty-four hour period.

And we all know how it will go. Someone will be trampled to death or serious injury as people race into a discount store somewhere in America. People’s mothers and grandmothers will become thugs and fight each other over sale items. Millions of indebted people will smile over their receipts, celebrating what they have “saved” and paying much less attention to what they spent.

According to a recent Gallup poll, the average consumer plans to spend about $770 on Christmas gifts this year, up a few dollars from last year. At the same time, a Barna Research study indicates that 34% of Christians have reduced their giving to their church this year, and 11% have stopped giving at all. In their book Passing the Plate, authors Christian Smith, Michael Emerson, and Patricia Snell report that more than one-fourth of all American Protestants give nothing to their church over the course of a year.

Somewhere we got the message wrong. We think that we best honor Jesus by spending lots of money buying gifts for the people we love. We think that we best celebrate his birth by creating more consumer debt and by gathering more treasures that moth and rust can corrupt. We forget that Jesus had another kind of generosity in mind . . .

Here’s the sad irony. In the midst of the spending frenzy that is Christmas, good Christian people like you and me will get terribly upset when a store employee says “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” God forbid that someone should use the abbreviation Xmas, whether or not they intend the X to be the letter chi, the first letter of the Greek word for Christ.

We will quickly raise protests like, “keep Christ in Christmas,” or “put Christ back in Christmas!”

It begins with us and our attitudes. Will this be Christmas as usual, with Black Friday and bills? Or will you and I do our part to keep Christ in Christmas?

This year at First United Methodist Church, we will observe the season of Advent by using Mike Slaughter’s Christmas Is Not Your Birthday as a study and worship resource. Check out the book. Join us in worship.

I hope you enjoyed a meaningful, memorable Thanksgiving Day today. I hope you have a great Friday, black or otherwise. Keep Christ in it, ok?

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My First Buddy

Eighteen years ago today, on November 14, 1994, I got the telephone call. It was a Monday. My parents called to let me know that Granddaddy had died.

Through our twenty-three years together, Lloyd Blair rarely called me Jonathan. To him, I was J.B., or more often “Buddy.” I find myself calling each of my sons Buddy from time to time, and I smile inside, thinking of my first Buddy.

Granddaddy Blair & me in the early ’70s

My earliest memories are of lying on the couch with him watching TV, smelling that unique mix of Pall Malls and Old Spice that I would recognize in a second even today. I remember how hilarious I thought it was that we always ended the “Hey diddle diddle” nursery rhyme with the dish running away with “the ‘poon,” rather than the spoon. I remember listening to southern gospel record albums with him, usually featuring The Inspirations from Bryson City, North Carolina.

For my ninth birthday, he gave me money to buy a calf at his own Tri-State Livestock Market, and from then on, he and I went out together to feed and farm pretty much every day until I went to college. I would wake up early in the morning and look out my bedroom window to see whether his kitchen light was on. If it was, it was time to get up. If not, I could snooze a few more minutes. By the time I walked into his kitchen, breakfast was ready–sometimes sausage biscuits, often cinnamon rolls, always with black coffee.

On many occasions, I was the passenger in his pickup truck when the tires on my side drifted onto the shoulder or slightly into the ditch as he concentrated on cattle in a roadside field more than he concentrated on the road itself. I cherish the memory of suppers with him at Shoney’s. I recall the trip of a lifetime when I spent three weeks in a Buick with him and his sister, my Aunt Cot, as I drove them to Barstow, California, to visit their sister Julia. But that’s a story for another day.

He’d had heart trouble through the years, probably in part because of those cigarettes he loved and I hated. Then prostate cancer came along. There were treatments. There was optimism. Then, there was reality. Most of us say that we would want to die quickly, maybe in our sleep. But in Granddaddy’s case, I think terminal illness brought hidden, unexpected blessing. In the face of mortality, he didn’t feel the need to be macho. He became more affectionate, more willing to express his love. He had great visits with his siblings and other loved ones. He embraced the opportunity his cancer offered to make his peace and to show his heart.

The flag from my grandfather’s committal service and his copy of My Service Record.

I celebrated Veteran’s Day this Monday by reading My Service Record, a thin, hardbound blank book distributed to military personnel by the United Drug Company in the early 1940s. I could almost hear my grandfather’s voice as I read in his own handwriting of his wartime experiences in the US Army Air Corps. Of course, there were the facts about his service from 2 October, 1942 until 6 October, 1945.

Beyond the facts, though, I got to see his heart. Through his elegant script, I could almost see twenty-two year old Lloyd’s excitement as he experienced for the first time the Mississippi River, the French Quarter, and “The Republic of Old Mexico,” as he called it. In March 1943, he traveled to California, where he reported, “I have been through Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Seen the homes also in person some Movie Stars.” He was obviously impressed by the geography, as he reflected, “the desert country is something unbelievable.”

I really enjoyed reading the other expressions of his heart–the glimpses into his love story with my grandmother! On Wednesday, June 23, 1943, he “arrived in Knoxville at approximately 4:00 PM. I was married and on my way to Gatlinburg at 8:00 PM. We were married in the home of Rev. & Mrs. J.P. McClusky Jr. in Knoxville. Arrived at Gatlinburg at 10:00 PM June 23rd and stayed in the Mountain View Hotel.”

Twenty-two months later, on April 21, 1945, he wrote from Hondo, Texas, “Received my wings & commission as Second Lieutenant today but instead of being the happiest man on earth I think I was one of the most unhappy ones. My leave for home had been cancelled and I didn’t have time for Margaret to come to my graduation. I’m going to an aerial engineering school for B-29. I don’t mind the school but I do wish I could get me a leave.”

I remembered what a joy it was to visit Roswell, New Mexico, with him in 1993–to see where his military career had ended with his honorable discharge forty-eight years earlier and to hear him tell how excited he was that my grandmother traveled out there for the occasion. It warmed my heart to hear my seventy-two year old grandfather talk about being young and in love!

Love. That word very neatly and nicely sums up my relationship with him. Ours was a relationship of mutual admiration, appreciation, and maybe even adoration. I know how much I loved him, and he always made it clear how much he loved me.

I sat in his living room with him on an autumn day eighteen years ago, just a few weeks before I got the phone call. It was a Monday. I had come home from Atlanta for the weekend, and I stayed with him as long as possible that morning before I had to make the five hour drive to Atlanta and he had to take the thirty minute ambulance ride for his cancer treatment. We were in the same room in which we had said nursery rhymes and listened to gospel music together in simpler, better days.

The ambulance arrived, and he sat on the gurney facing the back doors where I stood. Just before the EMT closed the door, I heard the last words my granddaddy would ever speak to me in person.

“I’ll see you later Buddy.”

I believe that.

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An Open Letter to the Presidential Candidates

Dear President Obama & Governor Romney,

In the process of trying to articulate my sentiments to someone else, I realized last night how very disappointed I am. Put simply, I don’t believe your conduct is very presidential.

First of all, I think you both need to confess to being disingenuous. As you make claims about all the things you will do if you are elected, and as you boast about all the things you can do better or accomplish more quickly than your opponent, you fail to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

The truth is that ours is a tripartite federal government in which you–if elected–will have very little legislative power. Your only authority in matters of policy comes through exercising veto power or through issuing executive orders, neither of which carries the same weight with most Americans as “real” legislative authority or responsibility. Otherwise, your capacity to effect change depends upon your power of persuasion with congress.

Presumably, you will have a great deal of influence with the legislators of your own party, but the members of congress who belong to the opposite party will most assuredly try to stand in your way. I’ll be surprised if you can accomplish much of your agenda in this era of bipartisan hostility.

If you wanted to impress me, you would have risen above the bipartisan rhetoric, above the tired, worn out “party lines.” That’s a big problem with politics today–you “leaders” act as if your political parties and your donors are your constituencies.

I want to be your constituency! I don’t want a multi-billion dollar corporation or a wealthy donor buying your influence. Nor do I want you to seek first the approval of your party’s leadership. I want you to think first about what benefits the people of Marion and of thousands of other communities across the nation.

An effective President should unite us. Remember–e pluribus unum–“out of many, one?” A person with conviction who articulates a compelling vision unites us. A person who can only point out the flaws of the other candidate divides us, because your criticism of your opponent comes across as criticism of your opponent’s supporters. And, by the way, in this very closely contested campaign, your opponent’s supporters make up about half of the voters.

Do you get that? Do you understand that you alienate half of us by taking the low road? That seems a high price for motivating the other half of the electorate. Is it worth turning people against their friends over political ideology? Is it worth my eleven year old Grace trash talking the television because you’re trash talking each other?

No, it isn’t, and I fear that your unpresidential behavior in countless television ads, news soundbites, pieces of mail, and even phone calls has become so tiresome to us that many people won’t vote at all. Others will participate in the process dutifully, but joylessly. Our greatest opportunity to participate in this republic/democracy has become like a doctor visit to us–we feel like we need to endure it, but we’ll be so glad when it’s over!

You’ve brought out the worst in us during this campaign. And you won’t mend that with an acceptance speech in which you pay lip service to bringing us all together after a hard-fought campaign. Half of the nation will still feel the sting of your attacks on their ideology. Half the nation will still hear your voice saying, “I’m Mitt Romney/Barack Obama, and I approved this message.”

Come on! Ours is the greatest republic on earth! Ours is history’s greatest experiment in a democratic form of government! We should be a light to the nations! You should bring out the best in us!

I’m disappointed with my choice of candidates today, but I feel blessed. People in Syria will watch today’s election results on TV and will dream of the opportunity to vote for a less oppressive regime. Women in many nations will be amazed as they watch images of women in our nation casting ballots and having a voice in the political process. People throughout the world are amazed that you can say almost anything in a campaign speech and that I can write almost anything I want in this blog.

I’m disappointed because we can forget so easily what a great nation this is. We cheapen its greatness when we become petty and small, when civility and dignity give way to finger-pointing and childish squabbling.

President Obama, Governor Romney, if you are elected tonight, please act presidential. Lead us! Take the high road, so that our nation takes a higher road. Unite us with vision! Quit pointing fingers! Be part of the answer, rather than trying to deflect blame for the problem. I’ll be praying for you.

I’m Jonathan Jonas, and I approved this message.

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