diminishing Christmas?

As the shopping days dwindle and the ole’ familiar carols continue to play, I’m struck by a continuous topic in some circles this time of year:  is there a war on Christmas?

 

As posted previously amidst these pages, the Intramuralist isn’t into identifying something as war that actually is not.  In the past year we’ve seen the rhetorical rants regarding wars on women, teachers, unions, and coal, for example.  Truthfully, friends, the war terminology seems most employed when the goal is to drum up passion for like perspective.  War is war, and in my semi-humble opinion, it should never be treated as something it is not.

 

There do exist movements, no less, in which people work to diminish impact and influence.  Again, these cannot logically be equated with combat.  Therefore, the question this season is not whether there exists military combat on Christmas; the question is whether there exists an intentional movement to diminish the impact and influence of the Christian holiday.

 

We’ve discussed, past, eye-opening examples…

 

… such as in 2002, when New York City schools banned nativity scenes from their December decor but allowed for Hanukkah menorahs and Muslim stars and crescents…

 

… or how each year retailers, such as Sears, Target, Walmart, Best Buy, or The Gap have either avoided or been accused of avoiding the use of the word “Christmas,” opting instead for “holiday” and/or the watered-down “winter.”

 

The examples continue this current season…

 

… in Newhall, California, where residents of a senior apartment complex were originally told by building staff that they had to take down their Christmas tree because of the presence of Christ’s name in the phrase, “Christmas tree”…

 

… in Santa Monica, where a large-scale nativity scene has been publicly erected for the last 60 years, but atheists have long worked to halt any public, religious sentiment.  After a year long battle via courts and complaints, the Santa Monica City Council finally voted to prevent any and all religious displays on public property.  (Notice the diminished impact.)

 

… or even overseas… where in Brussels, Belgium, they omitted their popular city Christmas tree exhibit this year.  Why?  There were concerns that the local Muslim population would find it “offensive.”

 

Yes, in this sensitive, seemingly uncanny age of correctness, many institutions still choose to address the Christmas controversy (not combat) by paying equal attention to other seasonal holidays.  Typically, this means ample consideration of Hanukkah for those who are Jewish and Kwanzaa for those who are African-American.  What I find unique about these celebrations is the comparison of the holidays…

 

Factually speaking, Hanukkah refers to 165 B.C. when Jewish rituals — which had been previously outlawed — where reinstated as the Jewish people managed to drive the Syrian army out of Jerusalem and reclaim their temple.  Hanukkah is the celebration of this victory; previous to the late 1800’s, Hanukkah was considered a minor holiday.

 

Kwanzaa, on the other hand, is factually more of an ethnic as opposed to religious holiday.  It was developed by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966 as a way to celebrate and promote the African-American culture.

 

Christmas, no less, is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, in whom hundreds of prophecies were consequently fulfilled.

 

In other words, in this uncanny age of correctness — with of course all due respect — when we attempt to pay equal attention to all holidays, we are comparing reclaiming a temple with honor for an ethnic heritage with the birth of the savior of the world.

 

As said at the onset of this post, I don’t believe there is any so-called ongoing war.  I don’t.  But it certainly does seem that the excluding of acknowledgement and the equating of holidays is an attempt to diminish the impact that if true, the savior of the world would undoubtedly hold.

 

Respectfully,

AR

generous love

As I was once again tempted to count the shopping days left until the retail world’s biggest annual holiday, I was prompted to pause, challenged anew to focus on the actual meaning of this season.  I’m not sure I always get it.  Yes, I get that Christmas is far more than Santa and sleigh bells and egg nog and elves.  I get that it’s more than cookies and carols and those pied pipers and presents under our tree.  I get that.  I’m just not always certain I get or we get or even society gets the depth of what the day denotes.

 

Then I remembered the words of a contemporary wise man who suggested that this season is about generous love.  Not just love.  Not just generosity.  The meaning of the season centers around a love that is generous.  A love that is authentic and real.

 

As my pause prompted reflection, I couldn’t help but wonder where now on this planet we see evidence of that love… a love that is so big, unparalleled, sometimes overwhelming, often sacrificial.  A love that leaves a mark.  Yes, generous love leaves a mark.  That’s what I think neither we nor society gets.  I think we miss the mark.

 

So I interacted with multiple persons for whom that mark is obvious and deep.  This is what I found… this is what they said…

 

“Growing up I always told my mom, ‘I want to adopt children; there are too many that don’t have anyone to love them”… “Bottom line: we wanted to be parents and to raise a family.  We chose Ethiopia because we knew there was a need”… “I always thought people were crazy to adopt internationally, and now I’m one of them.  I was always amazed by the leap of faith I saw in those families, never expecting one day that was what God had in store for our family.”

 

Yes, I interacted with families who have chosen to adopt.  When reflecting on generous love, what other example comes closer to the concept than persons who have made the intentional choice to share all of their emotional and material resources with another?  … to forever alter their family?

 

“There was nothing about our situation that made this ‘make sense”… “$23,000 and almost 3 years into an Indian adoption, we got news that India had instated a Family Limit Law that we exceeded by far!  We had no recourse and no additional avenue to take.  We were even financially tanked”… “We once had plenty of things and money.  We once never worried about making a house payment or how much gas was.”

 

The giving of that love — that generous love — isn’t necessarily easy…

 

“There is so much loss and grief associated with adoption. My children grieve that loss at a very primal level”… “She has no medical history, no cute stories of her birth, no memories that we can relay of her earliest months”… “He longs to know his birth mom, and it is a great loss to him, a part of him that he finds as ‘unknown’… “Her very first experience was of loss and rejection”… “Her sadness often comes out as rage”… “People wonder if I am her mother — assume she is with someone else. Throughout her life, I have cringed when this has happened.  She is ours through and through, but there is this constant reminder that she is different.”

 

And somehow this tangible process leaves a mark…  on both the kids and parents…

 

“People tell me all the time how lucky my children are to have me.  I tell them that I am the lucky one”… “Adoption has helped me understand the depth of the love of God”… “My love for her is fierce!”… “I learned that God’s plan was way bigger than the little box I thought my life was going to be in”… “What I know now is that this family of mine fills my soul in ways that I can’t even articulate or understand.  I am blessed.”

 

There is something authentic in that blessing — something that speaks to the depth of the generosity and the vastness of the love.  Something that has more to do with the meaning of Christmas than any Santa, sleigh bell, egg nog, elf or present under the tree.  Those who have chosen to adopt — as seen above in families who adopted from Africa, Asia, the inner city, and more — typical kids, foster kids, kids with cognitive and/or physical disability — infants and teens — they have a powerful message, especially this time of year…

 

“We have embraced the sweetness of every color, every hair type, every body shape, every language, accent, and claimed it as our family.  We’ve learned to pick and choose our battles.  We know the Lord will only give us what we can handle. We are truly blessed.  This is family!!!  This is our family!  It has grown us immensely.  These kids have humbled us, sobered us, and taught us more about our faith than we ever could have realized.”

 

Yes, the blessing is real.  The mark is deep.  Generous love leaves a mark.

 

Respectfully… and today, also, humbly blown away…

AR

ugg(h)s

(In our constant observation of wisdom — or lack of it…)  And then there was this…

 

“After the election of Jimmy Carter, the honorable Coleman Alexander Young, he went to Washington D.C. and came back with some bacon.  That’s what you do.  That’s what you do!  This is, uh — our people in an overwhelming way supported the reelection of this President, and there ought to be a quid pro quo, and you ought to exercise leadership on that.  Of course not just that, but why not?!”

 

Detroit City Councilwoman, JoAnn Watson, at an official council meeting this week claimed Detroit deserves a federal bailout — that would be the “bacon” — because they supported Pres. Obama.  They should thus get something in return.

 

(Note that “bacon” would actually, officially qualify as government “pork.”)

 

Watson’s perspective is not unpopular, friends.  She is merely one of the few who has stated her sense of entitlement out loud.

 

Truthfully, who can blame her?  I mean, we live in an entitlement society.  It’s not just the city, state, and federal levels of government.  It’s not just debt-plagued cities and states like Detroit and California who potentially believe they are owed particular benefits.

 

It’s a little more personal.

 

It’s in our homes and communities.

 

Now one of the great privileges of this blog is the opportunity to interact with several of you on a personal level.  I appreciate your insight and input, and I value dialoguing and learning from you, as you, too, observe the wisdom in the world around you.  Many of you are parents — and as I perceive, solid ones at that.  Several more of you may not be parents, but you are actively engaged in the lives of our youth.  You love these kids generously and sacrificially.  You are hands-on.  You are investing physically, emotionally, and spiritually in these children.  What investment will last longer?

 

But all parents and persons involved in the lives of our youth are challenged with a motive that may actually be initially good and true and right, but yet, the manifestation of the motive often plays itself out impurely.

 

We want our kids to have it better than we did.  We don’t want them to struggle.  In fact, we often want them to learn life’s greatest lessons via the least amount of pain.  We make sure they are well fed, well dressed, have the latest greatest stuff, and that they rarely have to go without.  The inherent challenge in that motive is that sometimes life’s greatest lessons are only taught via the pain… via the actual going without.

 

And thus, while our motive is initially pure, as it becomes distorted, we often find ourselves with kids who feel they deserve…

 

… the latest and greatest…

 

…Uggs, video game, apparel, anything by “One Direction,” iPod/Pad/Ped, etc., etc.  In other words, far more than “bacon.”

 

Perhaps our youth don’t demand it; perhaps they aren’t as loud or elementary as the dear Watsons of the world.  But still, we often buy it.  We want our kids to have what they want.  Yes, the line between “wants” and “needs” becomes very blurry when entitlements continue to increase.

 

Councilwoman Watson simply articulated what she wants; her passion would suggest the bailout is instead a “need.”  In our country’s growing — albeit often unaffordable — sense of entitlement, that should be of little surprise.

 

Sorry… I must run.  My son wants a pizza.

 

I said I’d get it for him.

 

Respectfully,

AR

blaming the gun

At halftime of Sunday night’s Eagles vs. Cowboys football game, NBC host, Bob Costas, added a creative sort of commentary.  In reference to the weekend murder-suicide initiated by Kansas City Chiefs linebacker, Jovan Belcher — and quoting significantly from Fox Sports’ Jason Whitlock’s editorial column — Costas shared the following on national television:

 

Our current gun culture simply ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy, and that more convenience-store confrontations over loud music coming from a car will leave more teenage boys bloodied and dead.

 

In the coming days, Belcher’s actions will be analyzed through the lens of concussions and head injuries.  Who knows?  Maybe brain damage triggered his violent overreaction to a fight with his girlfriend.  What I believe is, if he didn’t possess/own a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.

 

In the coming days, Jovan Belcher’s actions and their possible connection to football will be analyzed.  Who knows?  But here, wrote Jason Whitlock, is what I believe.  If Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.

 

As typical of our seemingly oft hypersensitive society, cyberspace and Twitter’s tweets were active with both outrage and support…

 

Is it appropriate for a sports host to offer a politically-charged monologue?

 

Is it appropriate for Costas to speak of something other than sports?

 

And is it appropriate for the host to opine against what is actually a civil right?

 

Would other civil rights opposition be treated similarly on TV?

 

Truth is, while the Intramuralist wonders about Costas’ conviction, I don’t claim to know the answers to all of the above.  Costas consistently shares an opinion in his weekly segment; rarely, however, does the opinion have any political connotation.

 

Is there some truth in what Costas opined?  Possibly.

 

Is there also some truth ignored?  I would agree with that as well.

 

The gun control debate in this country is challenging.  The right to keep and bear arms is firmly implanted in the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights; it is the law of the land and a civil right.

 

As with all “rights,” they are often used and abused.  Sometimes it seems the most grievous abuse — regardless of frequency — garners the greatest attention.  Jovan Belcher sadly, grievously misused his right.

 

The ignored truth, in my opinion, begins first with the impossibility for any to aver definitively — not even a respected long time NBC sports host — that Belcher and his girlfriend would actually be alive today if Belcher had not access to a gun.  Too often our society blames a thing or a circumstance as opposed to recognizing the foolishness of one man’s actions — as opposed to holding the responsible person responsible.  In other words, it was not the gun that triggered the murder-suicide; it was Jovan Belcher.

 

I wonder if the reason we so quickly and easily jump to blame the gun (or the thing or relative circumstance) is because it’s easier to control.  Maybe if we attempt to impose gun control, we won’t have to deal with the foolish ways some utilize guns; maybe if we attempt to limit free speech, we won’t have to wrestle with the foolish things some say.  If we focus on control of things and/or circumstances, perhaps then we never have to focus on the actual foolishness of some people.

 

And my sense is that the foolishness of some people is what’s most challenging to control.

 

Respectfully,

AR

life isn’t fair

Some of life’s greatest truths are told via the most clever settings.  (Maybe we listen better that way.)  From the witty 1973 novel that evolved into the movie, The Princess Bride, by William Goldman…

 

It’s one of my biggest memories of my father reading. I had pneumonia, remember, but I was a little better now, and madly caught up in the book, and one thing you know when you’re ten is that, no matter what, there’s gonna be a happy ending. They can sweat all they want to scare you, the authors, but back of it all you know, you just have no doubt, that in the long run justice is going to win out. And Westley and Buttercup – well, they had their troubles, sure, but they were going to get married and live happily ever after, I would have bet the family fortune if I’d found a sucker big enough to take me on.

 

Well, when my father got through with that sentence where the wedding was sandwiched between the ministers’ meeting and the treasury whatever, I said, “You read that wrong.”

 

My father’s this little old barber – remember that too? And kind of illiterate. Well, you just don’t challenge a guy who has trouble reading and say he’s read something incorrectly, because that’s really threatening. “I’m doing the reading,” he said.

 

“I know that, but you got it wrong. She doesn’t marry that rotten Humperdinck. She marries Westley.”

 

“It says right here,” my father began, a little huffy, and he starts going over it again.

 

“You must have skipped a page then. Something. Get it right, huh?”

 

By now he was more than a tiny bit upset. “I skipped nothing. I read the words. The words are there, I read them, good night,” and off he went…

 

All this was never explained to me till I was in my teens and there was this great woman who lived in my home town, Edith Neisser, dead now, and she wrote terrific books about how we screw up our children…  And I remember once we were having iced tea on the Neisser porch and talking and just outside the porch was their badminton court and I was watching some kids play badminton and Ed had just shellacked me, and as I left the court for the porch, he said, “Don’t worry, it’ll all work out, you’ll get me next time” and I nodded, and then Ed said, “And if you don’t, you’ll beat me at something else.”

 

I went to the porch and sipped iced tea and Edith was reading this book and she didn’t put it down when she said, “That’s not necessarily true, you know.”

 

I said, “How do you mean?”

 

And that’s when she put her book down. And looked at me. And said it: “Life isn’t fair, Bill. We tell our children that it is, but it’s a terrible thing to do. It’s not only a lie, it’s a cruel lie. Life is not fair, and it never has been, and it’s never going to be…”

 

“It isn’t!” I said, so loud I really startled her. “You’re right! It’s not fair.” I was so happy if I’d known how to dance, I’d have started dancing. “Isn’t that great, isn’t it terrific?” I think along here Edith must have thought I was well on my way to being bonkers.

 

But it meant so much to me to have it said and out and free and flying – that was the discontent I had endured the night my father stopped reading, I realized right then. That was the reconciliation I was trying to make and couldn’t.

 

And that’s what I think this book’s about. All those Columbia experts can spiel all they want about the delicious satire; they’re crazy. This book says, “life’s not fair” and I’m telling you, one and all, you better believe it… we’re not created equal…

 

Look. (Grownups skip this paragraph.) I’m not about to tell you this book has a tragic ending. I already said in the very first line how it was my favorite in all the world. But there’s a lot of bad stuff coming up, torture you’ve already been prepared for, but there’s worse. There’s death coming up, and you better understand this: Some of the wrong people die. Be ready for it. This isn’t Curious George Uses the Potty. Nobody warned me and it was my own fault (you’ll see what I mean in a little) and that was my mistake, so I’m not letting it happen to you. The wrong people die, some of them, and the reason is this; life is not fair. Forget all the garbage your parents put out… You’ll be a lot happier.

 

And yet we live in a society which continues to embrace fairness as a philosophy, arguably believing that such is good and just and will make people happier.  Fascinating. The challenge is that each of us have different gifts, different strengths, and even different weaknesses because we are not the same; we have not been created all the same.  And yet, there seem fewer adults willing to say it.

 

Respectfully,

AR

cliffhangers

Allow me to begin with a semi-sarcastic disclaimer:  this isn’t my favorite topic.  While the Intramuralist focuses on respectful opining and dialoguing about the inherent wisdom or lack of it within current events, to focus on what may appear to be merely economics (yes, a core requirement of both my college degrees) isn’t exactly my favorite thing to do.  The challenge, though, is that our nation’s current economic state — and how we got here, accompanied by the current rhetorical wrangling — is full of wise and foolish approaches.  It is thus time we, too, focus on the colloquial “fiscal cliff.”

 

For those of you who have yet to turn back on your news after all the election hyperbole, you may have missed the cliffhanger reference.  From ‘tweets’ to television, the airwaves are rampant…

 

“Does anyone realize the people who created the fiscal cliff are the ones negotiating to get us out?”

 

“We already fell off the Moral Cliff a while ago, which was the precursor to the Fiscal Cliff.”

 

Or my current personal favorite…

 

“Wonder how long Wile E. Coyote has been waiting with his giant anvil at the edge of the Fiscal Cliff…”

 

Friends, I cannot stress enough that if you are receiving your news from strictly a partisan source (i.e. Rush Limbaugh or Rachel Maddow), your perspective will be skewed.  The Limbaugh’s and Maddow’s of the media continue to cast all blame elsewhere, and in my opinion, neither exhibit the humility necessary on a consistent basis to wisely tackle truth.

 

We are not in this fragile fiscal state because of any one president named Bush or Obama, any war in Afghanistan or Iraq, or any entitlement such as health care or housing assistance.  We are in this fragile fiscal state for 2 basic reasons:

 

(1) For years, our federal government has spent more than it takes in.

 

And (2) For years, presidents and congress have justified the spending.

 

Now it is true that multiple aspects have impacted the frail economy… the wars were expensive; Obamacare is expensive; national defense is expensive.  Social Security runs on a deficit budget.  The post office, Medicare, and Medicaid all spend more money than they take in.  I often stand amazed observing lobbyists and special interest groups (and too frequently, the politicians to whom they donate money) loudly proclaim their passion for the entitlement from which they most, specifically benefit.  The time, friends, for passionate proclamations trumping fiscal soundness has come to a halt…  albeit the screeching halt at the end of a so-called cliff.

 

This cliff is the result of those in Washington (and the lobbyists shouting behind them) being unable to agree on how to solve reasons number 1 and 2 above.  When they could not agree on a responsible budget approach and debt limit over the last 2 years, legislators agreed to sequestration, the formal term for mandatory cuts to federal programs.  Hence, if congress and the administration do not come to an agreement now — and also, if they do not de-prioritize their passionate proclamations — $1.2 trillion will be made in mandatory cuts – half from the military, half from domestic programs.  Health, education, military staffing, and benefits will likely all be significantly affected.  All tax brackets may be significantly negatively affected.

 

Why not simply raise taxes?  Great question.  Some propose this passionately.  “Tax the rich; they can afford it!”  Others oppose it with seemingly equal venom.  “You can’t tax the rich; they’re the job creators!”  Yet regardless of whether or not a tax-em’-all-more strategy is economically sound and/or effective, the reality is that the sobering challenge still remains…

 

… the challenge is that raising taxes alone will not alter reasons number 1 and 2 shared above.  The federal government cannot keep spending more than it takes in; and it cannot keep justifying the spending.

 

Respectfully,

AR

wrestling with the facts

Thank God the election is over.  Allow me to say that again…  thank God the election is over.  Also over, therefore, is the onslaught of political advertising, negative campaigning, and adults acting more like children.  Sorry.  That should not be inferred as criticism of any one person or any one party.  There is just something utterly unattractive about grown men and women desiring to lead and unite us who intentionally distort truth and employ rhetoric that is seemingly, purposely divisive.  Personally, I find that one of the most disturbing developments of the American political system.  What is good and true and right is often sacrificed for “what will get me elected.”

 

Multiple other developments were made manifest via the completion of the most recent election cycle.  For example, we witnessed arguably increased significance of both gender and race.  Also, as a nation, we began to discuss the fragility of a fiscal pattern that continuously spends more than it takes in.  And in an additional, unique development, for the first time, we witnessed a national normalization of Mormonism.

 

Whether given or denied your vote, the placement of Mitt Romney on the Republican presidential ticket prompted more positive publicity of Mormonism than ever generated by “Idol’s” Archuleta, talk’s Glenn Beck, Sen. Harry Reid, or by any of the singing Osmonds.  Many accepted Mormonism as a religion which is good and true and right.  And admittedly, Mormonism — also known as the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) — is marked by people who stereotypically lead an ethical, moral life.  Yet as is true with the Intramuralist, in order to discern goodness, truth, etc., it’s essential to wrestle with the facts.  Hence, we ask:  what exactly is Mormonism?

 

Let me initially suggest that no singular post could define all that the LDS Church believes, so allow me to briefly summarize what is significant but may remain less explored…

 

Mormonism was founded by Joseph Smith in 1830.  Several years beforehand, Smith said he was in the woods as a teenager praying one day when he saw a vision in which God and Jesus came to him and told him his sins were forgiven, that contemporary churches “were all wrong,” and all creeds of Christianity “were an abomination” in God’s sight.  Smith was 14 at the time.

 

When Smith was 18, he said he was visited by the angel named “Moroni.”  Moroni would reveal the secret location of the “golden plates,” which contained divine truth that only Smith had the skill to translate.  The angel warned Smith not to show the tablets to anyone.  When Smith was finished with the translation, he says he returned the plates to the angel.  The completed translation was published in 1830 as the Book of Mormon.

 

Mormonism thus utilizes 4 primary sources:  the Bible, the sacred texts of Mormonism (which includes the Book of Mormon), additional writings by Smith, and the writings of church leaders, especially the church presidents who are now considered to be inspired prophets of God.  These create the foundation of their faith.  What’s in that foundation?

 

As with all faiths, it is significant to examine their perspective of God, a tenet from which all disciplines and doctrine flow.  Unlike Christianity and Islam, though, Mormonism teaches the existence of multiple (and many) gods.  They believe an infinite number of planets exist, each with their own god(s) who were once human and have since evolved into god status.  Smith once wrote, “In the beginning, the head of the gods called a council of the gods; and they came together and concocted a plan to create the world and (the) people in it.”  Mormons will often suggest that they are monotheists — believers in one true god — for since they live on Earth, Earth’s own god is the focus of their current human worship.

 

Consistent with that teaching — and perhaps what’s most notable yet least known — is that the Mormon Church teaches that individuals have to learn how to become gods themselves.  In fact, if a couple marries according to a Mormon ceremony (which only Mormons are invited to), and each lives an obedient life, the couple may then themselves attain god status.  This is central to the Mormon faith:  obedient humans are able to become gods based on their behavior here on Earth.

 

By all accounts, even before the Romney candidacy, Mormonism has become America’s most successful home-grown religion; started by Smith, they now boast a membership of approximately 15 million persons worldwide.  It’s contagious.  With the prioritizing of missionary work and moral lives — consistent with the persona portrayed by Gov. Romney — it is an attractive religion to many.

 

But let’s be certain to ask the tougher questions… is it good?  Is it true?  Is it right?

 

As always, no matter how attractive, wrestling with the facts is essential.

 

Respectfully,

AR

 

 

[Significant sources utilized for this analysis include:  The History of Joseph Smith, Mormonnewsroom.org, Newsweek, Pearl of Great Price, Probe. org, and Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. ]

israel

Perhaps you’ve noticed.  Violence is escalating in the Middle East.

 

True, there is a current truce, but the hostility is still glaring.  Even amidst a so-called “truce,” the animosity is obvious.

 

“Help us!  …This thing is getting worse!  The Arabic – Islamic nations see [the U.S.] as weak and further more they know our country is vulnerable and the attacks are intensifying as a result!  … Several large bombs and packs of explosives have been found in the past few days… Islamic Jihad is declaring responsibility for these attacks.  Hamas is blaming Israel for them.  What’s new about that?”

 

The reality, friends, is that thousands of miles away, it’s easy for us to pay little attention to what’s occuring in the Middle East.  We’ve got arguably tougher issues — at least things more pressing on our plates — items we’re currently more passionate about, and colloquially speaking, we’ve got seemingly bigger fish to fry.  Yet the truth remains; violence continues to escalate in the Middle East.

 

The Israelis and Palestinians are fighting one another.  The Jewish nation and the Arab nation.  Truth is, they’ve been fighting for a long, long time.  Hence, we must ask why…  why do they fight?

 

This is an ongoing struggle.

 

Is it about territory?  Yes.  Is it about religion?  Yes.  Do people disagree as to what the struggle is all about?  Also yes.

 

The reality is that after more than 50 years of war, terrorism, peace negotiation and human suffering, Israel and Palestine remain as far from a peaceful settlement as ever.  It’s not an easy fix.  Hence, as best as possible, allow me to attempt to explain.  This explanation is not full proof, but it’s an explanation given to children, as sometimes they ‘get it best’… getting it better than adults…

 

The area which Israelis and Palestinians are in conflict about is within the original British Mandate of Palestine of the 1922 League of Nations Palestine Mandate, which today is defined by the borders of the State of Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and the Kingdom of Jordan also called Transjordan…

 

In 1917, during World War I, Britain’s army took control of Palestine. The British government issued the Balfour Declaration, “viewing with favor” the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, but also stating that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”…

 

In 1948 the British departed, the State of Israel was declared, and a number of Arab nations invaded Palestine.  As the pro-Israelis won the subsequent war, Israel became a reality.  Civilian unrest and military conflict has intensified in recent years in two Palestinian uprisings…  culminating in the Oslo accords.

 

The Oslo accords was seen as groundbreaking and a first step to a firm and lasting peace.  But after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin (former Israeli Prime Minister) the peace process slowed down to a grinding halt. The Palestinians living on the occupied territories didn’t see their living conditions improve.  Additionally the Israeli settlements, from Palestinian view seen as one of the largest obstacles for peace, weren’t beginning to be withdrawn.  Instead their population almost doubled on the West Bank even if few new were constructed. This along with sporadic attacks from Palestinian militant groups and the retribution from the Israelis made the situation unholdable.

 

After the failure of the summit between USA President Bill Clinton, PLO Chairman Yassir Arafat, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000, dubbed Camp David II, and in the wake of the controversial visit of Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount, violence erupted resulting in over 2,000 deaths to date. Certain [Muslim] Palestinian groups started a new wave of suicide bombers, people who load themselves up with explosives and detonate themselves near Israelis, often civilians, but sometimes also soldiers. In response, the Israeli army has reoccupied the West Bank enforcing strict military law, and sealed off the Gaza strip, imposing economic restrictions on the Palestinians. The Israeli security forces instituted targeted assassinations of Palestinian militants, and destroyed the homes of suicide bombers’ families.  These things have lead to numerous casualties among civilians (mostly bystanders) as well as massive damages to property.

 

Massive damages.  Massive.  People blaming one another.  Friends, it is always easier to blame someone else than to take responsibility for oneself.  To claim one side to be completely pure would be nothing less than naive.  We have more to discuss here.

 

So can these nations stop the fighting?

 

Great question.  It’s not an easy answer.  Too much is getting in the way.  At least for now…

 

Respectfully,

AR

[Intramuralist Note:  Special thanks to www.encyclopedia.kids.net.au for significant content in this posting.]

thanksgiving

Thank God no matter what happens.  No matter what.

 

Are any of us stuck on that “thank God” part?  I often remember those historical words… that the basic reality of God is plain enough.  We just need to open our eyes and yes, there it is!  By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see:  eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being.  It’s there.  It’s all around us.  It’s real.  And it’s authentic.

 

What happened, though, was this:  people knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God — refusing to worship him — they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives.  They have pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life.  Many of us have then traded the glory of God for something lesser.

 

Something lesser.

 

And what’s lesser gets in the way of us giving thanks…

 

… in being intentional in our gratitude.

 

Hence, today I give thanks for _____________________.

 

And ____________________.

 

You fill in the blanks.  Pick something.  Pick something to give thanks for.

 

Today I give thanks with a grateful heart… for an abundance of blessing… both near and far… both big and little… both silly and serious…  so much of which routinely blows me away… by taking that long and thoughtful look.

 

Blessings to each of you.  Happy Thanksgiving!

 

May we each be intentional in our thanks.

 

Respectfully…  always,

 

AR

thankful

As perhaps you have by now surmised, the Intramuralist believes thanks can be given in all scenarios and circumstance.  Don’t let me suggest that it’s always easy nor that we always feel like being intentional with our gratitude.  I would never diminish the days that are hard for each of us.  Nonetheless, I do believe reasons for thanksgiving are always plentiful.

 

Today, I am thankful for…

 

Life.  Liberty.  The pursuit of far more than happiness.  Democracy.  Elections.  Voting.  The absence of dictatorship.  The freedom to agree or disagree.  The right to free speech — even when we actually disagree.  The Constitution.  The Bill of Rights.  Freedoms endowed by our Creator.  The wisdom foreseen by our founders.

 

Communication.  Listening.  The encouragement to listen.  Authentic dialogue.  The art of dialogue.  Respectful dialogue.  Dialogue where opinions aren’t all pre-determined (see again, listening).  Community.  Other people.  People to remind us that self is not as important as we think it is.  Humility.  Being grounded.  Accountability.  Wise persons bold enough and compassionate enough to help us in the grounding.

 

Faith.  Freedom within faith.  Freedom of faith — not freedom from it.  Free will.  The opportunity to see God and love him back.  His creation and the challenge and responsibility to love his children well.  Forgiveness — especially when we’ve needed it most but had somehow had no idea.

 

Ice cream.  Sundaes.  Coffee.  Playing cards.  More coffee.  Jokers wild.  Walking on sunshine, water, or just plain walking.  Game shows.  Knowing the Daily Double.  The Oak Ridge Boys.  Computers.  Christmas.  iPods, Pads, etc.  Diet Coke.  Mountain Dew.  Caffeine-free Mountain Dew.  Garland.  (Not tinsel, though… too messy on Dec. 26th.)

 

Chocolate.  Hot chocolate.  Whipped cream.  Starbucks.  Lattes.  Nonfat.  Foam.  (Did I mention coffee?)  More foam.  Sunrise.  Sunset.  “Fiddler on the Roof.”  Old musicals.  Old books.  Classics.  Julie Andrews.  New movies.  Star Wars.  Han Solo.  The princess.  That Darth is not my father.

 

Music.  More music.  Mariah Carey.  Martina McBride.  Miranda Lambert.  Bruno Mars.  The Beatles.  London.  Those big Beefeater hats.  Prince William and Princess Kate.  Monarchies.  Monarchies not here.  Broadway.  Elphaba.  Empathy.  Compassion.  Selflessness.  Teachability.  Tenderness.  Truth.  Growth.  More growth.  Recognizing both the need for growth and progress.

 

Respect.  Submission.  Honor.  The elderly.  Youth.  The privilege of learning.  The responsibility of teaching.  Taking them seriously.  Being intentional.  Sometimes being silly, too.

 

Old dogs.  New tricks.  Recognizing none of us have life all figured out.  College football.  College basketball.  Good games.  The NFL.  Positive attitudes.  Knowledgeable fans.  Cheering for a good play by the other team.  The other team.  Cool uniforms.  Nike.  Adidas.  Sweats on a Saturday morn.  Swag.  (Sometimes no swag.)

 

Falling leaves.  Brilliant colors.  No more to pick up.  Winter snows.  The beach.  Dreaming of the beach as winter arrives.  The mountains.  Water by the beach and the water by the mountains.  Friends there.  Friends here.  Friends who love you no matter what.  Thick or thin.

 

Foreign countries.  Home.  Coming home.  Clean laundry.  Sheets just out of the dryer.  Picked up toys.  Puzzles.  Getting the toys out.  Throwing them everywhere.  Children.  Babies.  Special kids.  Mature adults.  Even teenagers… well, most of the time.

Sitcoms.  Sundays.  “Cheers.”  A good toast.  Baking.  Alma maters.  Work.  Days off.  Vacation.  Christmas music.  Creativity.  Brainstorming.  Donuts.  (P.S. brainstorming while eating donuts is extra good.)  Wine.  The first miracle.  All miracles.  Being aware of them.  Vision.  Seeing rightly.  Acting wisely.  Loving those around us.  The opportunity.  The challenge.  The joy…

 

Yes, these things make me thankful…  today…

 

Respectfully,

AR