Tuesday, December 13, 2005

"Holiday" spirit

Well, the week is... going. And it's not going so badly, either. Tonight's music program (for the school where I teach music and band) was moved up to happen during the school day, so I get tonight off, and then there's just Wednesday and Thursday nights. Somehow, I will pack all our clothes for Friday's drive to Alabama. But for now, I will not worry. I will let the Christmas, er.. uh... Season's, ummmmmm,... holiday spirit be what it is, and will try not to get too caught up in the ick of it all.

You know, I've been giving a bit of thought to the whole Christmas/holiday thing lately. Personally, if someone is offering me well wishes, whether they're wishing me a merry Christmas, happy holidays, Eid, Chanukah, Solstice, or whatever, I just don't care which they use. Good vibes are good vibes, and friendly people are friendly people, and I'm quite simply not one to work myself into a politically correct tiz trying to be everything to everyone at all times. I've done that, and truthfully, I am quite skilled at it. If I put my religious studies, dialogue decalogue hat on, like I had to when studying comparative religion in college, I can do it. I can be painfully PC, because intellectually, I get it. But here's my take: If (in casual conversation) I feel the need to carefully choose each word I say to you to ensure that I don't ruffle your pretty little feathers, then it is probably for one of a few reasons. It's either A) because I think you're a complete idiot with whom I have to use simple words and concepts, B) because I don't know or trust you enough to know whether you deal in honesty or froo-froo as your social reality, or C) because you've proven yourself on at least one past occasion to be emotionally volatile, and I don't want to have to deal with your issues.

I guess I figure that I'll start with the assumption that you are operating from good intentions, and that if you start with a similar assumption about me, then we're good for an honest and open interchange. I'm pretty direct, and fairly sarcastic sometimes, and forget that people who may not know me might not realize that I get a great deal of my humor from picking on myself and groups to which I belong. The other day, on the phone with someone who doesn't know me well, I was talking about living in South Carolina "in a real Deep South, fundy Bible Belt kind of area." It then occurred to me that I was talking to a New Englander now living in California, and that, being used to living in places where people are often very PC, he may have been offended or thought I'm some hillbilly who doesn't know better than to use words like that. Which is not true, although I have great admiration for hillbillies, being related to quite a few of them.

What he may not have realized, however, is that for all my joking about "fundies," I am currently attending my dad's church-- a very evangelical church that many would call "fundamentalist." I've never seen snake handling or anything like that, but Sunday services are full of dancing, praise and worship, healing, laying on of hands, and the occasional spontaneous testimony from a brother or sister who's been hit with some inspiration. As an interdenominational church, everybody there has their own take on Christianity, but we all worship together, and there are quite a few "fundies" among my closest friends. I'm pretty sure I'm not a "fundy." I believe in basic Biblical principles, pray several times a day, share my beliefs with others if they're willing to listen, and try to treat everyone with the same respect and support that Jesus did in the Bible. I also love to have a great time, cut up, test boundaries, swear every now and then (usually H-E-double-hockey-sticks, p-i-double-s, and a** [usually paired with "kicking" or "smart"] are my weaknesses), drink an occasional beer with my dinner, tell obnoxious (but not hateful or mean) jokes, honor people of other religious traditions, and operate with a good deal of reason and scientific understanding. If I can still be considered a fundy, then count me in. The label doesn't bother me. If I'm not, that's fine, too. I don't need a label to tell me where I stand in the ultimate scheme of things.

Same with redneck, a very common word in my vocabulary. Used in a sentence: "Hey, y'all, I brought a pellet gun back from Papa's house-- let's go have some redneck fun!" Related words: hott ("Man, that pimped out low rider is hott with two t's"), and klassy ("Hey, honey-- are these jeans okay? I'm worried that if I wear jeans too small, people will think I'm klassy with a k"). Both hott and klassy entered my vocabulary after the millionth neon underlit lowrider I saw with those words emblazoned across the back window.

Am I a redneck? I don't know. Not really something I worry a lot about, one way or the other. I just do what I enjoy, as long as it isn't morally or emotionally damaging, and leave it at that. Sometimes that means sitting around sipping hot tea, doing a little light reading, surrounded by soft light from my favorite candle and the smooth sound of vocal perfection. Other times, it means singing along with one of my favorite redneck songs, or shooting cans off of a tree stump while riding down the hill in a go cart, or throwing ninja stars at balloon dogs. I just do my thing. Sometimes it's a very redneck thing, and other times it's a mellow, intellectual thing. Sometimes it's a very mom thing, and other times it's a very spiritual thing. Lots of different things, all rolled into one-- isn't that really how we all are? And if we poke fun at one of those things every now and then, is that such a bad thing?

Seriously, I have been the butt of a good bit of mean-spirited nastiness at more times in my life than I care to remember. But I have also been the target of a TON of good-natured jokes about women, white people, rednecks, nerds, geeks, moms, wives, daughters, sisters, Christians, southerners, blondes, redheads, brunettes, dancers, singers, band directors, band members, college students, liberal arts majors, children, parents, skinny people, fat people, salespersons, Episcopalians, Baptists, atheists, agnostics, New Age folk, country folk, and city slickers-- none of which has offended me. At different points in my life, I either have been or currently am the above things. And I can laugh about the funny parts, particularly when I know that the source of the joke is a person of integrity, coming from a place of friendship and good intent, and someone who trusts me enough to be real with me. I can handle just about anything, usually even appreciate it, from someone who is real.

Which brings me back to the (insert holiday you celebrate here) madness. People, if you celebrate Christmas and get pissy at others when they wish you a happy holidays, I just don't get it. It's not a liturgical holy day, really, not in the sense that Easter is, anyway. But honoring the birth of Christ should be a holy day, or holiday, not an excuse to try to wave your self-presumed religious superiority over someone who is just trying to be nice. Please, get a grip, and read this. And if you don't celebrate Christmas and someone wishes you a Merry Christmas, take just a moment to realize that they are wishing you joy in your heart. Perhaps a joy you don't think you need, but a joy that they feel has come into their lives due to that tiny baby lying in the manger a long time ago. What a compliment; what an expression of love they are offering...

Our society seems to be in need of some serious mending of rifts. If we can't even offer a sincere compliment to someone without underlying motives, and if we can't offer such compliments and well-wishes to someone without fearing we'll offend; if we can't accept someone's kind expressions of joy and celebration-- we have a problem. It breaks my heart just as much as any compassionate and thinking person to know that some people are being legitimately discriminated against, harassed, or taunted because their lifestyles, beliefs, or ethnic identification is not that of the majority. But let's not get carried away. If we stomp out all references to our cultural and religious diversity in the name of promoting acceptance, then we've lost the battle before it has begun. Holding hands and singing peace songs will not change the fact that we each have our own unique set of experiences, beliefs, and backgrounds, and I, for one, feel no need to stuff the aspects of my background that may or may not seem sophisticated-- why would I? The diversity in my interests, activities, beliefs, political views, and in those of the people around me, are a huge part of what keeps life interesting. Studying, honoring, and (yes) occasionally laughing about those diverse aspects of human experience keeps it real, and keeps life fun. Be who you are. Celebrate what you do. And share the joy of what you experience when you are uplifted and at your best. And for once, let's not take ourselves too seriously, okay?

For those of you who clicked on "more" after reading a tremendous rant like that, SURPRISE and MERRY CHRISTMAS and/or HAPPY HOLIDAYS (take your pick)-- pictures!

My church is doing its' annual Christmas play, The First Leon, and Mary and Joseph are actually going to ride "into Bethlehem" on a real, live "donkey." Okay, so it's a pony, but it's still cool. Here, the kids practice and get used to the pony.

My son, as Leon, offers his performance flowers to the baby Jesus.

Here's my band. They're so cool!

Even if they do like to torture me.


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