Saturday, December 20, 2008

An Ugly Tradition

The ordeal of selecting and subsequently decorating a Christmas tree has routinely been a painful one for our family. With usually four of us involved in it, strong opinions on all sides, and acres of sad, spindly trees from which to choose, the event typically devolves into a disaster. Somebody ends up yelling (usually me), somebody’s feelings get hurt, and in the past, somebody always started crying.

We never buy a tree. They’re absurdly expensive, too “perfect,” and fail to consider that we are surrounded by woods full of cedars and pines. Traditionally, we select cedars, which are usually less leggy and generally ugly as the timber pines. We grab a bow saw and wander around looking for a tree we can all somewhat agree is appropriately shabby and sad, chop it down, and observe it slowly die in our living room amid our Christmas festivities. While none have been as truly pathetic as the notorious “Charlie Brown tree,” some have come close.

There have been some with one good side, some with holes in their shape, and a few with NO good sides at all. In many ways, that’s actually the tradition now. “Here, this one looks ugly enough.”

Most of the time, I fail to accurately measure the thing and we wind up hauling an extra five feet of trunk and itchy branches back, before making adjustments on the front lawn – all the while avoiding the various pieces of deer carcasses that the dog has brought back to gnaw up as they slowly rot. Today there were merely a few tufts of fur, a couple legs, a skull, and only one unidentifiable part. Fairly tidy as the front yard goes, but it still didn’t smell terribly pleasant.

What’s amazing is that the dog, who resides inside an invisible fence, still manages to find so many animal parts. To the best of our knowledge, he doesn’t jump the fence to forage for pieces, but somehow always has them. Even more mystifying, when he does leave the fence, he is leashed and muzzled. He couldn’t even pick them up. Nevertheless, trophies abound. At the end of particularly successful hunting season, not only will the yard be littered with deer appendages, but the nearby wood shed will have a heap of carcass parts on top of it as well. That’s the only place he can’t reach them. This isn’t the first dog we’ve had that’s done this. We look like a butcher shop – a not particularly tidy one.

To my amazement, nobody did any yelling this year as we hunted for a tree. Nor did anybody cry or get absurdly annoyed. We bundled against the cold, English spring weather, dug out a saw, and took off for the woods.

“There aren’t any cedars this way,” I was told. Incorrect, they’re there. Just hang on.

Eventually we began observing them with frequency, quickly eliminated most of them on account of them being short, mangled or otherwise awful. We kept walking.

“That one looks ugly enough. They’re always ugly when we pick them.” I suggested that something better might come along if we kept looking. As we walked off, the dog lifted his leg and urinated on every one of them. Forget it, we will DEFINITELY find better ones elsewhere.

And we did, with only modest searching, no arguments, and the only harsh words spoken directed at the dog, which was making every effort to wander off and chase things. When a hunter drove by, we pretended to be just taking a walk. I had long since heaved the saw into the woods. As he disappeared in the distance, the saw was relocated, cutting was resumed, the tree felled, and quickly hauled back to the house.

This is the smoothest operation in all of my 28 years. Putting it inside the house, it didn’t look too shabby. I clipped a little here and there, turned the tree to put its worst face against the wall (they always have one) and the best forward. As she has done for years, my littlest sister began unraveling the lights in preparation for putting them up. Several tests later, dead bulbs swapped out and one entire line thrown away, she began wrapping them on.

“You’re putting those a little tight, don’t you think?”

“I want it to look slutty.”

Dear lord. Must be the people she works with. No little sister of mine would be naturally that vulgar – and funny. Maybe not, I guess.

Next went up the Whitehouse Christmas ornaments – from unknown origins. A remark was made about not wishing to celebrate the executive branch, or politics in general, at Christmas, or on the Christmas tree. I suggested we forego ornaments altogether. It’s less work, less cleanup, and we won’t lose at least one ornament a year when we fail to see it buried in the innards of the branches and feed it to the goats.

Eventually it was finished. It’s still ugly, but that’s traditional. We christened it by overfilling the reservoir and spilling sugar water all over the hardwood floor. Some things never change. In a few days, we’ll toss presents under it, eye them curiously for about two hours, then rip them all to shreds the next morning, leaving little wrapping paper “droppings” all over the room. Trees love Christmas.

Next year, our tree will be made out of used wrapping paper glued together with eco-friendly, child-safe paste, non-petroleum based tape, and low energy LED fairy lights. Traditionally, it will be ugly.

Copyright © 2008, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 19, 2008

An Explanation Is In Order

Why the title? Because anything else would be stupid and petty, invoking images of some “emo” adolescent male wearing eyeliner and a scarf year round – and scowling.

I neither wear eye liner or own a scarf, and only scowl when it’s considered relatively appropriate.

This is, like a million other blogs, a web log of my daily or near-daily social interactions, thoughts, experiences, conversations, and frustrations. Some days, like life, are just plain boring. Others are a barrage of excitement so terribly confusing that only a small portion is remembered. My intention is to write in it regularly. I enjoy writing, wish to better my skill, and hopefully stir others’ hearts as well.

What makes this particular blog somewhat less mundane is that it is an account of the day-to-day with Jesus invited along. Overtly so. Not to suggest that I’m wearing a sandwich board announcing, “repent or die,” or stalking up to people and asking them if they’re saved. Nobody likes such interrogations. I sure don’t. Only few people employ such a witness. I, at least for now, do not feel called to do so.

The invitation to Jesus is a personal one – meaning that I will go about my daily affairs, whatever those may be, but having specifically invited Jesus to go with me. His presence changes my heart, redeems my thoughts, and certainly influences what I will say and do – more frequently influencing what I do NOT say and do.

I use the name Jesus for a specific reason. In the past, in fact at the start of my previous blog, I simply said, “God.” It sounded more sophisticated. Sometimes I will use the name “Christ.” While all are certainly true, I found there was a childlike foolishness to using the name “Jesus.” I was almost ashamed to say it. Perhaps if I write “Christ” instead, people might think I’m somewhat intellectual or at least marginally intelligent. But wait, we are to be “fools for Christ,” so it’s fitting. There is no place for pride in faith, especially when I have described my own personal walk as a desperate and hopeful clinging to the hem of His garment. Pride, in fact, is an obstacle to my faith. I am slowly learning not to consider others my audience, but instead Jesus. I have far yet to go. Nevertheless, I will choose the name Jesus, regardless of how others might view it or view me. If I am ashamed to defend Him before others, why should He bother to defend and intercede for me when I am before the throne of judgment? I choose Jesus.

This being said, I have now explained the SUBTITLE for the blog. The title itself still remains.

The title, “go where i will show you,” is also a continuation of my last blog. Life, I am learning, is not some scripted set of events that will fall into place exactly as you wish. In fact, it rarely, if ever, does. It’s a simple matter of moving forward. Going. God told Abram to “go to the land where I will show you.” He didn’t say where until sometime AFTER He said go.

And in all honesty, I don’t think the “where” is particularly important to me at the moment. What is far more significant is that I invite Jesus. Put differently, I am simply going (living life), and inviting Jesus to join me.

Clearly, that invitation and His subsequent presence will certainly dictate (at least in part) just where I go and what I do, but I will permit those matter to take care of themselves, or perhaps God will take care of them.

St. Francis of Assisi said that we should, “love God, and do whatever we want.” In my case, I am going wherever I want (within reason), and inviting Jesus to join me.

The Christian walk is not a series of good things to do. Great acts of service, almsgiving, or any of the veritable host of kind and generous things that typify modern understandings of faith. It is a relationship to be fostered with Christ Himself. Not good acts to perform in order to win favor. We are never good enough, so why bother? Instead, pursue the relationship, and the rest will take care of itself in proper timing. Just as in marriage, pursue your spouse with fervor, and the rest will care for itself. Am I saying that the love relationship I am pursuing with Jesus is like that in a marriage? Yes. The church (collectively the body of believers, not a physical structure or single denomination), are Biblically referred to as the “bride of Christ.” Interesting.

If I were to wax philosophically about faith, it would bore people. I can only say so much. I don’t like being preached to, so I will not do it to others. I will certainly share my faith on this blog, but that’s because it holds infinite importance to me. But I don’t traipse around all day long thinking about my faith and about Jesus walking with me. The fact is, I think about such things terribly infrequently. I get distracted. Nevertheless, it’s important, and I will bring it up from time to time.

The posts that will comprise this blog will mainly be posts about what’s going on in my life – whether these be struggles, triumphs, or even the mundane. In many cases, this will be a boring read. And knowing this, I will make every effort to write instead about what’s interesting, to me and others. And that is people.

Unless I lock myself in the basement and never venture out, I am going to run into some of them. Chances are, I will have some decent conversations, too. And a few of those will be worth writing about. In short, I will continue doing in this blog what I most enjoyed doing in the last – introducing America to Americans, and living an adventure along the way.

It may be travels, or it may be at the gas station a mere four miles down the road. The location is irrelevant. The result will be that I, and others, will grow to have a natural interest and care in people from all walks of life, scattered far and wide across the country. Our neighbors are no longer the people in the houses to our right and left; they are anybody you know and care about. If I can introduce a few of them here, then I have accomplished what I believe is a noble goal.

Knowing strangers’ stories stirs my heart, and will undoubtedly stir still others as I have the honor of introducing them to whomever reads this blog. Besides this, they are then no longer strangers, but Americans with names, faces, and fascinating tales of how they ended up where they are. I am excited about who I will meet – and hopeful that others will enjoy meeting them just as much.

I’m just going, basically, and inviting Jesus to go with me. The rest will work itself out in time. I cannot predict the future, and have given up trying. But I have my orders – GO – so I will do just that, and also invite YOU to go with me. There is much we can learn – about ourselves, about others, and about Jesus.

Copyright © 2008, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved