Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Christian Perspective: To Santa or Not to Santa

I love talking to young parents, hearing their issues, and feeling a little superior that I've been through it all and survived. I'm honored when they ask my advice on anything, and most recently the Santa question came up. "We don't know what we want to do about the Santa thing," one said. "We don't want to lie to our kids, but do we deprive them of the fun of Santa?" Good question. I remember that issue as a parent, 37 and 38 years ago. (Parents do have the first two Christmases to decide.) Then suddenly our son Josh was caught up in the season, with people asking him what he wanted from Santa and all the pictures and books and stories and then we didn't actually decide. We just went with it.

When our daughter Kelsey was five, she asked her dad directly, "Tell me the truth. Is there really a Santa or is it you and Mom?"

Being a painfully honest (painful to others, at times) person, Steve said, "Your mother and I put out the toys."

She was crushed. She cried and stormed around and acted as though her world had ended. And a part of her world of make-believe had, indeed, met a sudden death.

In a Wall Street Journal article, Tony Woodlief gives the best explanation I've ever heard for a Christian parent to support belief in Santa. He titles it "OK, Virginia, There's no Santa Claus. There Is God." It's a worthwhile read for parents of young children and for parents whose children are grown and they are wondering if they did the right thing about Santa. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122963990662019887.html

Yesterday's excellent post by Jon Acuff on the same topic, though from his usual comedic perspective, is at http://stuffchristianslike.net/2010/12/the-santa-problem/#more-4154 . One point that I really like is that you never hear anyone say they don't believe in God because Santa wasn't real. As to the "I don't want to lie to my kids" angle, he says "we also have to be careful that we don’t miss out on the word 'pretend.'” I agree.

I am grateful that God gave us imagination and creativity from which can pour droplets of delight for young and old. Santa Claus is part of that--and in no way takes away from honoring the Christ Child at this time of year. We have many avenues for enjoying and celebrating, and Santa Claus is one that adds to the fun for us all.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ol' Tennessee and a Colorado Christmas

My grandfather, Luther David Ralph, was quite a storyteller. Between chewing his tobacco and spitting it into the spittoon when Grandmama was watching and into the fireplace when she was not, this is a story he’d tell.

In the year I became old enough to vote, I took off for points west. I ended up in the mining town of Pueblo, Colorado.

One of the first people I met was a jovial old gentleman who headed a big operation in there in Pueblo. He asked me where I was from, and when I told him Tennessee, he said, “No one out here will ever bother you if you tell them where you’re from, because people from your state have a reputation of shooting anyone who crosses their path.” I thought he was kidding, but found out later he wasn’t.

I went to work in probably the biggest store in the state, with a force of 200 clerks and a concern selling practically any item you could imagine. The owners not only owned a whole town up in the mountains, but also the railroad that ran through it. Soon after I started working, the president of the company told me he wanted to send me to his store up in that little town.

“Luther, I want you to help the manager up there,” he said. “I’ve watched you work and I know you’ll be a valuable asset to him.”

Two friends from Shackle Island who were department managers in the big store told me not to go. “It is impossible to get along with the manager there. He’s a Yankee from Maine!” they said.

I paid them no attention because I had always gotten along with everyone I had ever worked with. I knew I could do so with this man as long as I minded my own business.

I took the job. In about a month the manager, my new boss, said to me, “Ralph, you wait on the Mexicans when they come in. I’ve been here six months and can’t understand a word they say. I’ve noticed that you can understand them and speak their language fluently, so they’re all yours.”

I didn’t speak the language that well, of course, but he didn’t know the difference. He had probably watched me weigh five pounds of beans and hand it to them, saying, “Dora alice.” And then he had seen them hand me a quarter, and I’d said, “Mucha gracias,” instead of “Thank you.”

I did have a sort of advantage, however. The day I arrived at the store Ralph Gonzales, a red-headed Mexican, twice my age and a U. S. citizen, shook my hand and became my best friend. As he put it, and correctly so, we had the same name—my last name and his first. He was a bachelor and stayed in the store nearly every night long after the manager had gone home and until I closed it. He taught me with great enthusiasm what everything in the store was called in Spanish. It was great fun to me, and the Mexicans, too, who would always laugh and say, “Si, si,” meaning I had spoken it correctly.

Then came Christmas Eve, 1912. The weather had been down to 20 degrees below zero and nobody could work in the open pit quarries and mines. They were all buying on credit at the store. Headquarters in Pueblo sent us word to let them have only the necessities to live on, which made it hard on the kids at Christmas time.

The store that evening was full of people, and I was over behind a side counter waiting on the Mexicans. Suddenly through the front door burst a little sawed-off fellow that I knew to be originally from Missouri, and right behind him came his tall, hawk-nosed wife. With her urging, he came in mad as a hornet and cursing my boss for not selling his wife a $15 toy wagon for his four-year-old son that morning. Of course she had wanted to buy it on credit. Everyone in the store froze when he declared he was going to beat the manager up. All the while the manager was trying to explain why he couldn’t let the woman have the wagon.

As for me, I was scared plumb out of my wits. I remembered that the president of the big store in Pueblo, when sending me out there, said that he was sending me to help the manager. But did he send me there to help him fight? I pondered it, but stood there unable to decide.

The angry man advanced closer, declaring he was coming over the counter to beat the daylights out of my boss. Then something—I don’t know what it was—prompted me to move. I didn’t really want to get into the fight, but I must have thought that moving closer to my boss would be a show of support.

I walked about 30 feet around behind the counters, stopped about a yard behind my boss, laid my right hand upon the shelf behind me, and leaned there. I knew I looked calm, but inside I was wildly wondering what I should do if the man came over the counter.

The fellow didn’t come over the counter. Instead, in a flash he whirled and bolted for the door, his wife right behind him.

Someone in the crowd asked, “What in the world made him stop so sudden and run out the door?”

The head superintendent of all work crews in the town happened to be there, and he said, “Why—didn’t you see ol’ Tennessee walk all the way around the counters and lay his hand beside that .44 on the shelf behind him?”

To my astonishment, I looked—and my hand was almost touching the gun! I had, unknown even to me, shown the man from the “Show Me” state that if you scare a Tennessean enough he might shoot you, just like the old gentleman had said about the reputations of Tennesseans.

A couple of years in Colorado was all Luther, my maternal grandfather, needed to get the wanderlust out of his system. He went back home to Tennessee, married his waiting sweetheart Hester, and built a home just down the road from the one where he was born. As I visit the old home place where he and Hester raised their nine children, fruits, vegetables, chickens, and cows, I recall with tenderness the many times I sat at his feet in front of the fireplace and heard him tell of his Colorado adventures. Of all his stories, this was always my favorite.

Monday, December 06, 2010

A Delicious But Inedible Gift

As we all contemplate gifts to give and receive, think about an instance when you received the gift of time. How priceless is this gift! A changed appointment, a canceled event, a child who unexpectedly takes a long nap, all the family out of the house for various reasons—moments that you can seize as your own.

What a delicious feeling—time to do as I please, accountable to no one because no one knew this little drop of heaven was coming my way. How did you use that unexpected time you were given?

Depending on the situation, I’ve reacted in a variety of ways, none of which ever included scrubbing the toilet. Lounging with a good book is at the top of my list, but writing one is a close second. When so many other things called to me, getting uninterrupted writing time was a rare event when my children were home.

Sometimes I’m in the mood to go out with a friend, lingering over a tasty meal or an indulgent dessert with steaming cups of coffee, always laughing and sometimes crying together.

I’ve rented a movie I knew Steve wouldn’t care for and had the popcorn all to myself as I watched and cried over the plight of the heroine.

I’ve called a far-away friend and chatted for an hour, just catching up without interruptions or feeling guilty.

And there are other activities that I want to yearn for but do not—longer time for prayer, delight at having more time to study scriptures, helping a less lovable person in some way. I do these things regularly, but they are not how I use a surprising gift of time. I believe those little gifts of time are from God to refresh my spirit so I can then refresh others.

I’d like to have your comments. How do you use an unexpected gift of time?