November 19

Christmas Ambush

I was doing my regular weekly grocery shopping in my regular superstore. My list in one hand, my phone in the other, I was walking my usual route from the grocery side to the department store side because, of course, all the shampoo and aspirin is nowhere near the apples and Pop-Tarts. I was checking my list against my calendar on my phone, making sure I had all the necessaries for this week’s upcoming events, not even paying attention to where I was going because it was a Thursday morning, and I know exactly where I was going as usual.

I looked up from my list.

My heart began to pound.

I felt dizzy and slightly nauseous.

I thought I might pass out.

I had stumbled into the Christmas section.

Oh.

My.

God.

Really? Already? Why does it always start so EARLY? It’s not Thanksgiving yet, doggone it! Why do we have to pole-vault over my favorite holiday, the best holiday, the least controversial, most inclusive, most relaxing holiday and skip right to Christmas, the most hectic, fraught, restricted, disappointing holiday on the calendar.

Yet there it was in its gaudy, green-and-gold glory – the Christmas section, complete with trees, ornaments, wrapping paper, stockings, toys, candy, snowmen, reindeer, Santa Claus, and the sweet baby Jesus.

Sigh.

As a Christian, I know I should love Christmas, but I seem to like it less and less every year. My fellow Christians insist on dragging out the moth-eaten “War on Christmas” and flogging it for all its worth. (What is it worth anyway? Ugh.)

Our family’s December calendar is already completely full. My family will be running from one event to the next, feeling guilty because we are late, or worse, had to turn down an invitation or two to attend the other three or four that weekend. There’s cooking, shopping, wrapping, and mailing to do. Not to mention all the family traditions we’ve accumulated through the years that are now more obligations than anything else.

Most of the activities I would like to do – the Cantata at the local Catholic church, the performance of “White Christmas” at the community theater, cozy nights by the fire – will be neglected because we’ll be so busy running to events, getting items checked off the to-do list, trying not to quash anyone’s Christmas wishes.

And then there is the rush of sheer panic I feel whenever I think of all the STUFF we’ll be bringing into our home. My children are the only grandchildren on both sides of the family; my parents, my in-laws and my sister insist on buying them stuff they can unwrap. They don’t need anything, of course, and my son would actually be much happier with digital media. My husband and I certainly don’t need anything, but we will get things. And we will have to find places for this stuff in a house already overrun with stuff. I can’t help thinking that, in five years when my son starts college, I will be quite bitter about all the money wasted on stuff he didn’t need when we could’ve saved it for his tuition.

So I have been feeling very Grinch-y these past few days, wishing there were a way to just skip “this whole Christmas thing,” and knowing, of course, it will come “just the same.”

Until then, though, I’m going to look forward to Thanksgiving, refuse to shop that day or Black Friday, and try to come up with a strategy for converting to Judaism.

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October 20

My Colts-Manning-Irsay Rant

Just for a moment, let’s pretend that football is about human beings. Not teams, logos, merchandise, playbooks, win-loss records or MONEY.

The game is about PEOPLE. Players, coaches, staff, owners, and fans.

I’d like to introduce you to three human characters. First, the exiled veteran. A talented leader, smart and well-spoken, he has led his team to many victories and won the hearts of his fellow citizens.

Second, the new kid in town. The young man has potential; the people are becoming attached to him, though he’s a little awkward and inconsistent. He is an innocent bystander to the unfolding drama.

Third, the emperor. He has all the power and all the money. When he wants something from the people, he tells them his empire is theirs, but in the end, he makes whatever decisions he likes. Having inherited his empire from a father who also held no loyalty for the citizens, he makes it clear that his word is law, even though he has never gone to war himself.

For many years the veteran brought joy to the empire. As he got older, though, he was unable to recover from his injuries as quickly, and the emperor grew impatient. He threw the veteran out of the empire and recruited the new kid. The new kid is doing fine, and the citizens are learning to love him, but many remember the veteran. They have followed him in his new kingdom; they wish him well.

And now the day has come for the veteran to return to his old stomping ground.

Peyton Manning has returned to Indianapolis.

The citizens are divided, but the emperor’s position is unquestionable. Jim Irsay, true to form, opened his big mouth to ungratefully pronounce that Manning was let go because he won only one Super Bowl. Irsay is a prat.

Manning extended the Colts’ seasons 11 of 14 years.

He took us to two Super Bowls.

He turned Indianapolis into a viable football market.

He gave us a representative we could be proud of in all those goofy TV commercials and Youtube videos and on Saturday Night Live.

He gave back to the community through his foundation and the children’s hospital which bears his name.

Obviously, none of that matters to Jim Irsay who loves hearing himself talk almost as much as he loves lining his pockets with the money of Indianapolis taxpayers and Colts fans. For him, it’s all about the ring. Guess he values that more than all the dollars that we paid for tickets to those Manning-earned playoff games.

And the new kid is stuck in the middle. Poor Andrew Luck has huge shoes to fill. Maybe he will. Who knows? But I’ll tell you that if some Time Traveler returned from the future and told me that Andrew Luck will win eventually one of two Super Bowls with the Colts, I’d be thrilled. Sounds great!

Of course, no one knows the future. Maybe Luck will never even get to a Super Bowl. Maybe he’ll take the Colts to three and lose them all. Maybe he’ll go to five and win them all. Know what? We can only enjoy them one at a time, and the fact that Manning won one for us still makes me happy and proud. I will never be disappointed that we didn’t get more out of him. In fact, I hope he gets more Super Bowl victories.

Yep. My hope this year is that Manning wins the Super Bowl with his new team. If he can achieve an undefeated season at the same time, good for him. He’s a great guy. I’m grateful for what he did for my team and my city.

And I’d love to watch Jim Irsay writhe.

Does it make me a bad Colts fan if I’m okay with a loss tonight? I’m not a violent person, but I might hit you if you questioned my loyalty. I’ve been a Colts fan since they moved to Indy when I was 12 years old. I watched the Mayflower trucks roll into town. I remember the NFL sportscasters freaking out over the move, bashing Bob Irsay for being disloyal to Baltimore. I remember the Baltimore mayor almost crying on the national news. I remember Mayor Hudnut proudly shaking hands with Irsay on local TV. I remember an Indy business sold t-shirts that read, “Indianapolis Orioles.” (It was funny at the time.)

I survived multiple losing seasons, the Jeff George debacle, the heartbreaker loss to the Steelers in the ’96 playoffs, a succession of coaches and running backs. I still have my Harbaugh jersey.

Don’t question my loyalty to the Colts.

But if the Colts lose tonight, Irsay loses. Manning wins. On a human level, that makes me happy. No matter what jersey he’s wearing, Manning deserves a win, and Irsay does not. I will be disappointed for the Colts and for Andrew Luck, who deserves a chance to earn the city’s love. Irsay is making that harder for him. If Irsay wants the people of Indianapolis to stop hating on him for cutting #18 (not to mention #63, #44 and other beloved players in that one shattering move), he should take a tip from class act Manning and keep his mouth shut.

Win or lose, Denver or Indianapolis, Manning or Irsay, tonight around midnight this game will be over. The teams will finish their respective seasons. Manning will likely play in the NFL for a couple more years. Luck could play for a decade or more. And God forgive me, but if Irsay’s bad habits catch up him before his Colts win another Super Bowl, I’d be okay with that too.

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May 5

An Open Letter to My Fellow American Christians

Dear Fellow American Christians,

STOP WHINING! For Jesuss sake (and I mean that literally), stop claiming that you are being persecuted for your faith! PLEASE! Knock. It. Off.

If you live in the U.S. and truly believe youre being persecuted for being a Christian, one of three things is true. One, you do not understand the true meaning of the word persecution. Two, you have no basis for comparison between your experience and the experience of people who really are persecuted. Or three, you are an entitled, thin-skinned crybaby.

We can start with the first problem. Persecution is defined as punishment or harassment meant to inflict injury, grief, or suffering. Never in all my 41 years as a Christian has another person of any nationality, religion, or political persuasion ever hurt me physically or emotionally because of my personal faith. Not once. Have people annoyed me? Sure. (Usually my fellow Christians, though.) Teased me? Not that I can remember, but maybe. Certainly not enough to make a lasting impression, though, so I dont see how it could qualify as persecution.

Alright, so the second issue stems from a lack of awareness. Perhaps many of you are just ignorant of what actual persecution looks like. Maybe you should reread your Bible. Jesus was persecuted. It was ugly, violent, nightmarish. He was beaten, spit on, nailed to a cross, stabbed. Paul was imprisoned and beheaded. Many early Christians were tortured and executed. Real persecution was common for early followers of Jesus.

In modern times, true persecution is still ugly, violent, and nightmarish. You think that youre persecuted as a Christian in the United States? Try being a Christian in Indonesia or Egypt. Try being a girl in Pakistan or Afghanistan. Try being gay in a rural or African-American community. Try being black in South Africa.

Ive had the good fortune to work with an Indonesian man who is finishing graduate degree in social work. He is Muslim, but he is a liberal with many friends of different stripes. He told me about his Christian friends in Jakarta who have had to rebuild their tiny church three times in five years because the conservative Muslim majority keeps burning it down. I also was lucky to work with a young Coptic Christian whose family had to flee Egypt last year. Her father, an active member of the Christian church in her town, began receiving death threats after the Arab Spring. That is what Christians in other countries know as persecution.

You think youre being persecuted? By whom? Jason Collins and the gays? Obama and the liberals? Jon Stewart and the Jews? Did ESPN hurt your feelings because they gave Jason Collins a couple days of attention when he came out as the first gay NBA player? After poor Tim Tebow got no press at all? Oh, wait. He did get press. Tebow got negative press? Well, not really. Id say he got annoyed press. Tebow wasnt the first Christian athlete, folks. In fact, theres an entire Fellowship of Christian Athletes. And remember Kurt Warner? How about Joe Gibbs? Mariano Rivera? Derek Fisher? Or all the hundreds of athletes who thank God for their good fortune after a win? If Tebow did get negative press, it was because he acted like he was special, like he deserved attention for praying, like he was the only Christian on the field. And maybe also because hes just not built for the NFL.

Jason Collins is the first guy to come out as homosexual in any major American team sport. And all the negative, mean-spirited comments Ive seen about him have come from Christians. And while the press has been pretty kind in a politically correct way, Id wager that fans, teammates, and NBA administrators will be less so. Well see. But if good, loving Christians cant be supportive of Jason Collins, my guess is that hes in for a rough time.

Hopefully, he wont be beaten and left for dead like Matthew Shepard who was truly persecuted for his sexuality. Likewise, I hope poor Tim Tebow will never have acid thrown in his face for being a Christian as girls in Arab countries often do when they dare to go to school. I also pray no American Christians will have their businesses ransacked or burned as blacks in South Africa or Jews in Eastern Europe have often experienced.

See, THAT is what persecution looks like, my fellow Christians. It looks bloody. Burned. Broken. Anguished. Dead.

Which brings me to that third point. Yall need to stop whining and grow up. Nobody promised you that, as a Christian, youd never get your feelings hurt. Jesus certainly never promised that because he knew that would be a lie. You are lucky to live in the United States. You need to remember that. The next time you want to cry Persecution! because somebody teased you, questioned you, or criticized your faith, stop. Remember, were still the majority in this country if we dont alienate all the potential converts with our entitled whining.

Shut up. Turn the other cheek. Remember what real persecution looks like.

It looks like a cross.

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April 7

Balance in the Force

Endor and Naboo versus Tatooine and Hoth.

Ewoks and Gungans versus Sand People and Tauntauns.

Most Star Wars fans would readily admit that they prefer Tatooine and Hoth and their inhabitants to anything featuring Endor or Naboo. Among the geeks, the sappy ending of Return of the Jedi with its dancing teddy bears and Episode Ones ridiculous Jar Jar Binks are considered travesties that nearly sunk George Lucas epic.

Judging from my Facebook wall, though, most people seem to want to live on Endor or Naboo. They post all these maudlin, cheesy pictures of unicorns and rainbows. They share positive thinking memes with rainbows and puppies. They wish away winter for “flip-flop weather” and sunshine. And I fight my gag reflex.

Things that make other people giddy with joy leave me cold or make shudder. Let me show you what I mean. Here is a list:

  • Morning
  • Sunshine
  • Warm weather
  • Dogs
  • Sleeping with windows open
  • Dinners out with groups of friends

Does this list make you happy? Youre not alone. Seems like 99% of my 500 Facebook friends love all that crap too.

I dont.

In fact, a few of those things would be on a list of things I despise. Mornings? Ugh. Sunshine, well, thanks to a childhood eye injury, bright light gives me a migraine. Warm weather? No, thanks. Im always hot anyway, plus I dont want to see my neighbors fat rolls in a tank top or Uncle Bobs hairy, sweaty back as he mows the laws. Not to mention the fact that warm weather makes people temperamental, loud, and obnoxious.

Dogs would not be on my hate list, but their barking sure would be. You know that show, Inside the Actors Studio? And the host acts famous actors what sound they hate? Yeah, dogs barking would be on that list. Growing up, I was traumatized by too many nasty neighborhood dogs to ever truly trust any of them, but I have made a few canine friends over the years. Still, I scroll right past most dog pics on my Facebook wall, and if youre one of those people who has to rush home from a wedding, a holiday, or a party to take care of poor little Snookems who might be lonely because youve been gone for two hours, Im not sure we can ever be real friends.

Now sleeping with the windows open does SOUND nice. We did have a long, cold March, so I understood when people were excitedly posting about getting to open up their windows at last. Unfortunately, in our house, leaving the windows open after sundown is an invitation for a major asthma attack and/or laryngitis.

Dinners out with groups of friends always sound like a great idea too. And I admit that when I see Facebook pics of some of my friends eating at a long table at some restaurant, I get a momentary pang of envy. Then I remember: I HATE going to restaurants with big groups of people! First, those pictures on my wall are lies of perspective. Sure, it looks great: all those friends gathered together, enjoying food I didnt have to cook, smiling happily for the camera. But most of the time, if youre actually sitting at the long table, you dont get to talk to even half the people gathered. (Since I usually have to bring my kids with me, two of the people are always my own ubiquitous offspring.) That is, if you can even hear your friends. The kinds of restaurants where people tend to gather for such chatty, informal meals are usually so noisy, I cant hear anyone beyond the person next to me. And then, theres the problem of service. As a former server, I remember all too well the feeling I got whenever a 10-top or larger. I cringe every time one of my friends asks for another drink, sends back an order or makes a special request from the kitchen. Too many painful memories. So whenever my parents or husband ask what I want to do for my birthday, I tend to beg for a gathering at home. I want to be able to see ALL my friends, hear what they say and not worry about the server spitting in their drinks in an act of passive-aggressive frustration.

After all that, I guess its no wonder that my friends think Im a morose freak.

Ahhh, but heres the twist. My friends hate things I LOVE!

  • Long, dark nights
  • Cold weather
  • Snow
  • Cooking
  • Hosting large parties
  • Grocery shopping
  • Laundry
  • Grammar
  • Public speaking
  • Writing essays
  • Classic literature
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Snakes
  • Old movies
  • Teenagers
  • Desolate, empty landscapes

So when my wall is full of whiny grumblings about how much people hate winter, how much they hate black and white films, how much they hate doing laundry or going grocery shopping, Im shaking my head, wondering what is WRONG with these people?!

I try to toe the line, though. People get mad if I post about how much I love snow; contrariwise, people get mad if I complain about the travesty that is Daylight Savings Time. Instead, I keep my preferences quiet these days, posting on individuals walls rather than on my own. I know the few soul mates who share my love of the long, cold nights of winter, classic books and films, homework and Tatooine-like deserts. I share my strange loves with them individually. We are a dark and twisted group, but there should be room in the world for us. Were heavy, so we provide some balance to those light-hearted folks who cannot sustain their smiles in shadows. Even George Lucas recognized that a universe with too many goody-goody Jedi Knights could not be maintained. The Force must have its Dark Side.

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February 4

Super Bowl 2013? Meh.

If you are not a fan of either team in the Super Bowl (nor of the halftime act), you have a few options to make the show more fun. You can host a party, go to a party, or make bets on the game (or pretty much on any aspect of the broadcast). If you just sit at home and watch the game in the same way you watched 60 or more previous regular-season games, you have a more objective view of the whole event. That was me this year. My hubby is on call this weekend, so we couldn’t do much of anything. I made some snacks, and we watched the game on the same couch, in the same room, in much the same way as I watched nearly every other game since August. Overall, it was okay.

The Game

As I said, I didn’t have strong feelings either way. My hubby did. He hates both teams; they make a lot of dirty tackles. The game was, as Bob Costas euphemistically put it, “chippy,” even early on. The refs kept pretty busy separating players, and one of the officials got shoved for his efforts. The first half was a rout. Things got a little more interesting in the second half, but if you were an objective, experienced observer, you could see that San Francisco had a slim-to-none chance of pulling this off. The 49ers kept making sloppy mistakes that led to costly penalties. Baltimore’s defense was getting away with murder. Kaepernick was a nervous colt. Flacco was having a good night. Over the years, I’ve watched many games in which I had no favorite that got me excited nonetheless. Last night’s game wasn’t one of them.

The Commercials

A friend of mine who is in marketing tweeted, “Creativity is dead.” I agree. This year’s crop of commercials was, overall, safe and predictable. The standouts were either disgusting (Thanks a lot, GoDaddy, for running my son out of the room) or weepy (the Budweiser Clydesdale made me tear up). Many of the ads were out weeks ago on the web, so the punch lines were already stale. I did laugh at the M&M “I Would Do Anything for Love” spot, but that was very early on. Many other ads were just derivatives of previous spots (still with e-Trade baby?) or pop culture trends (I like “Gangnam Style,” but can’t we be done with it now?). With just a couple minor exceptions, I agree with Amber Lee’s evaluations.

Halftime

First, let me announce loud and clear (because some of my friends are already really annoyed with my opinion on halftime) that I like Beyonce. I have a couple of her songs on my iPod. She’s beautiful. She’s a great dancer. She’s got a great voice. But I thought the halftime show was just okay. First, I have long believed that the Super Bowl halftime act should be mainstream, American pop-rock. Prince, Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Tom Petty, Madonna. Good. Country, hip-hop, and non-American acts marginalize your audience. You have a really broad spectrum to appeal to, and very specific musical styles aren’t going to do it. I knew three of the songs Beyonce did, and “Halo,” while a pretty ballad that she performed well, was a low note on which to end the show. She brought out Destiny’s Child, only to make them sing HER songs, which seemed a bit rude. The special effects were cool, but the sound was AWFUL. (My musician hubby was very annoyed.) Overall, I was a bit offended by the peep-show quality of the performance. The whole stage was full of beautiful women. There were some “musicians,” but only a couple were actually playing; most weren’t even holding the instruments properly. All the others were decked in sky-high heels and black leather a la Madonna in the “Open Your Heart” video, dancing and vamping for the men in the crowd. Ew. But at least Beyonce didn’t lip-synch; that seemed to the most important thing about her performance. And she was definitely better than the Black-Eyed Peas.

The Power Outage

Up to that point, the blackout in the Super Dome was the part of the broadcast I found most entertaining. I needed a break from Phil Simms. (Does ANY NFL fan like Phil Simms? What’s he doing broadcasting the championship anyway? All I can say for him is that he’s marginally better than Chris Collinsworth.) Watching the CBS crew scramble was the best play up to that point. I live in Indianapolis, so my Facebook and Twitter instantly lit up with “Well, at least Lucas Oil Stadium pays their light bill,” “Our Super Bowl had electricity. For the whole game.” and “This year’s Indy 500 will be well lit.” “Ray Lewis killed the lights” and variations on that theme popped up quite a bit. The whole situation was an amusing diversion.

The Outcome

I still have a Jim Harbaugh jersey from his time as the QB for the Indianapolis Colts. I guess I would have preferred to see him win. (According to their brother-in-law, my beloved Hoosiers’ coach Tom Crean, the Harbaugh brothers are crazy-competitive, so I worry about their relationship now!) But Baltimore’s team includes a player from my high school, so it was nice to see a hometown kid get a Super Bowl ring.

Unfortunately, Baltimore also includes Ray Lewis. I feel the same about his winning a championship as I would if OJ Simpson had won one after he was found innocent of murder. And Lewis’ Bible-thumping, God-loves-me-best speeches seem to have no effect on his on-field ethics, but I’m sure he’ll feel quite justified now. As one of my minister-friends put it: “Positive outcomes do not validate bad theology. In other words, The fact that the Ravens won doesnt PROVE anything. Just because Ray Lewis says God is on his side and his side won the game, doesn’t mean that God is on his side.” But he’ll retire now, on top, sure that his “journey” proves he’s been right about all the decisions he’s made. Even though some of those decisions involved a double-murder.

I avoided #52’s tearful farewells (and Joe Flacco’s f-bomb) by flipping the channel the moment the score was final. Then I watched the episode of “Downton Abbey” I had DVR’d. It was the best entertainment of the night.

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