Tag Archives: Advent

Get Rid of Clutter?

Christmas Clutter

I had planned to wrap gifts this evening. Over the weekend, I pulled roll after roll of red and green and white paper from the bins at a craft store and stacked them in my husband’s arms. Then we stopped at the area’s newest grocery store to buy a few fresh vegetables for these weeks between the gluttony of Thanksgiving and the sugary delicacies of Christmas. As we entered the store and the doors swished closed behind us, I was mesmerized by a carefully crafted and strategically placed display of satiny red paper with white reindeer, by shiny gold and blue foil, priced at two rolls for $3.00. How could I resist? I stacked four more rolls into the cart and skillfully maneuvered past all the young couples who stood in front of the seafood counter, the fresh vegetables, and the myriad cheeses and used their smart phones to compare prices.

So instead of wrapping gifts this evening, I sit here in front of the lighted Christmas tree, breathing in the smell of Fraser fir and the peace of Christ. Not a bad way to spend an evening. But why, you ask, am I not wrapping those presents?

A girl can change her mind, right? Perhaps it’s because I’m older and wiser now, learning to slow down, you’re thinking? But you would be wrong.

Instead, I’m sitting here thinking of my pastor’s Advent sermon series about getting rid of the clutter in our minds. Two Sundays ago, he made the entire congregation laugh out loud over and over again as he described the difference between himself and his wife, our co-pastor. Like me, she dislikes clutter. Like my husband, he has a much greater tolerance for untidiness, and he offered a very funny “scientific” explanation of the law of physics that ensures that clutter accumulates.

This was particularly amusing to my husband and me because we had just finished cleaning out the basement a few days before. I have six boxes of files from 30 years of teaching that I haven’t gone through in the five years since I left the classroom. At one point it was nine boxes, and I weeded through three before I tired of spending a day off sorting through handouts I was never likely to use again now that my job is to design lessons for interactive whiteboards. But I can’t quite bring myself to toss those other six boxes, even though I have used perhaps two handouts I saved before putting three boxes into the recycling bin. What if I throw out something great that I could have used—something I don’t have on a floppy disk or a CD or a flash drive?

And what does that have to do with wrapping gifts, you ask? At the same time that I refused to wheel those six boxes of files to the recycling bin, I insisted that my husband break down the stack of empty gift boxes he’s saved for the past two Christmases that filled up three storage shelves. And so he did. But he wasn’t happy as he stomped the boxes to break them down flat. One woman’s clutter is another man’s practicality.

And if you haven’t guessed it by now, I need those boxes. I broke my vow to avoid Cyber Monday and shop at the mall. I ordered most of my gifts online in spite of my recent blog to the contrary. But none of those items came with gift boxes. And so now, as I continue to stack those gifts on the bed in one of the guest rooms, a bed that needs to be cleared before our friends visit this weekend, I could have used those boxes that hadn’t been recycled for the past three years.

It’s a good thing that I’ve done a better job this year of uncluttering my mind.

So tell me a story. What’s your most beloved clutter?

Is the World Your Book?

Christmas Tree

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and I am joyful.  After church my daughter and her boyfriend will join us to cut a live tree, and her friends will join us to decorate the tree and laugh and talk and share a meal and a cup of cheer.  And while I’m mindful of my faith, many of the traditions we share have little to do with the story of that babe’s birth in a manger.  While we share memories of our church filled with the soft light of hundreds of candles on Christmas Eve, many of us would be stumped if asked why we kill a live tree and bring it into the house with such delight or why we leave cookies and milk for the man in the red suit who finds a way into even those houses that don’t have chimneys.

When my siblings and I were children, our mom bought a set of World Book Encyclopedias, adding the annual volume each year, no matter how little money our parents had, to be sure our information never went out of date.  In those white books, embossed with gold print, some of the most worn pages were those that described how people in other countries celebrate Christmas.  So while we grew up in a tiny town in the Appalachian mountains, we knew that we shared this holiday with people in England and Italy and Germany and Denmark—people who seemed far away but close because of our shared enthusiasm for the babe in the manger who promised hope.

Having grown up in a town that was all white and all Protestant, I didn’t encounter a Catholic until I left home for college.  But I am happily married to a Polish Catholic, and because of those pages in my mom’s beloved encyclopedias, I’ve always had at least a partial understanding of how Catholicism differs from my faith.  So the only real stretch of understanding for me was moving from my mom’s and my childhood church’s non-alcoholic table to the wine and the bread that embodied the risen Christ.

But I didn’t truly know anyone of a non-Christian faith until I moved to the D.C. suburbs, where my school system closed in September for two Jewish holidays that I knew nothing about. And later, our department hired a Muslim of Pakistani descent, a woman who also knew much more about my faith than I knew about hers.  I quickly learned that my colleagues and friends of other faiths often knew more than most Christians about the holidays we celebrate.  And I know that on more than one occasion, my questions and curiosity revealed a complete ignorance of their faith that must have astonished them.  But I was strengthened in my fight against cancer when a young Jewish woman made me a framed hanging with a tiny scroll and a verse our faith traditions shared.  And my life was enriched when the Muslim woman brought a Pakistani meal for our department and explained as she broke bread with us the significance of each dish.

As we begin this month-long, boisterous celebration of our faith tradition, what would happen if each of us took the time to find out something about the traditions of other faiths?  What if I turned to that Buddhist whose quiet strength is often greater than my own and asked about his meditation practices?  What if I asked an atheist—with genuine curiosity instead of a desire to convert her—how she seeks to understand a world that is often vocal in its rejection of her?

As Twain’s character Huck Finn discovered as he floated down the Mississippi River on a raft with the man Tom, who his culture had taught him was only 3/5 of a human being, we cannot possibly hold to stereotypes when we truly get to know another human being in all the complexities that defy the way we’ve been taught to see them.  Every culture and faith has its villains and its heroes.  But once we see someone up close—and even learn to call him a friend—we learn that the complexities of human beings are far more interesting than the extremes in which we paint them from a distance.

And even if we live in areas that never allow us to know those of other cultures, the Internet has made the world a much smaller place.  I can now see videos—and even chat with—those people in far-away places that I could only read about in my mother’s World Book.  The world is now my book.  And isn’t that much more interesting?

Advent—for Christians, the word means the coming of the Christ. But what if it were also advent—a coming into place or view—where we begin to come to a fuller understanding of what’s best in us all?

What have you gained or learned from someone of another faith?