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Holiday market at Grand Place, the central square of Brussels -- with original Flemish architecture, not copies. It is called a holiday market but nothing is actually sold in the Grand Place [pronounced 'plaas'] itself. Surrounding streets are closed, though, and there are vending booths throughout the downtown area, mostly offering prepared food ranging from snail soup (escargots de mer) to waffles. Photo by Eric Francis.

A Holiday Message from Planet Waves

by Judith Gayle
Dear Readers:

The day that I made my gingerpersons and other holiday goodies, I invited my son's new girlfriend over. She wanted to help. She is a very sharp cookie [no pun] spiritually, despite the fact that she's surrounded by Fundamentalist relatives and, due to her living circumstance, is forced to participate in Evangelical church-going. I admire her ability to cheerfully keep a foot in both worlds ... it's harder now than it used to be. Which is the topic of this message.

When I gave up "drama queen-ness," which is a [sometimes subtle, sometimes not] bid for attention, I gave up telling my personal history unless to illustrate some point. What I learned, and quickly, is that without that tell-all tale you become enigmatic to others, or semi-invisible. Boring to some, I'd suppose -- mysterious, though. The "story" that you tell are the lessons you took away with you, not how you got them -- and you tell them by living them.

But in new relationships, some historical exchange is required. So -- cutting out cookies and listening to Christmas carols, my new friend said that the one thing she'd never done, but would like to, is to go caroling. She asked if I had.

With an effort [these things fade] I recalled my childhood -- my 18 years in the [not Southern] Baptist church, my musical family: my Mother's expert touch on the piano and her rich alto, my Father's hearty baritone and my bright, shiny soprano [ahhh ... youth!]. I told her about the churches we visited across California to perform gospel music, the choir rehearsals every Wednesday night at our big Berkeley church, the oratorios and cantatas we'd participated in, the solos that came up for one or another of us on a weekly basis -- and yes, the caroling. Sometimes memory is a good thing. I recalled the majik of all that, the pure, sweet joy of it.

I could see her confusion at the warmness of my recollection. That is not who she knows me to be. "Religion then wasn't like it is today," I assured her.

She was startled. "No?"

And that's when I had to really work at the conversation. How do you give a person an experience they haven't had; one so at odds with their own that they can't get a grip on it? I had to tell her what church wasn't, in the middle of the 20th century.

"No," I said. "When I was a child, Pentecostalism hadn't infected the churches yet. I wasn't taught fear or hatred and I wasn't given a concept of my "specialness" as a Christian. I wasn't told that Satan was staring back at me from my cereal bowl each morning, waiting to choke me, or that End Times were upon us. I wasn't militarized to believe that saving souls was my purpose in life, or feel superior to others."
"I didn't leave the church because it was a hateful experience," I finished. "I left because it had taught me that Love was unconditional ... I left because I knew there had to be more. I went looking for it."

I do remember when that all started though, that first step toward trouble. I was about ten -- because of my Mother's extraordinary musical ability, she was invited to participate in the newly-formed outreach of a young [Scorpio] Billy Graham. Whenever Billy came to the Bay Area, which was often, we would make the trek into San Francisco and participate in what had the feel of an old fashioned revival, only a lot bigger and much slicker.

The music was superb, the message mesmerizing ... and I was introduced to a sudden sense of evangelical urgency. I watched in amazement as hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people flooded the aisles of an over-packed Cow Palace for an alter call -- and even at so tender an age, I remember being a little nervous about the whole thing. Graham was, personally, as intense a man as he was a preacher -- I believed him sincere then, as I do now. He has mellowed over the years but his stridency and passion to "save souls" has produced his son, Franklin, who continues in his fathers footsteps with a thunderous message of Heaven and Hell, homophobia, women-in-their-place and fear of Islam.

One of the great sorrows of these last years has been, for me, the morphing of the Christian church into a great hulking assault on the consciousness of the world -- and the thing that has been "Left Behind" in all this is the actual message of the Christ. I don't hear it, these days ... maybe that's because it's a softer song than the Fundy's sing. The churches who attempt to live it get nailed as "Lefty" movements ... and that proves a point that most Christocrats don't want to hear -- Jesus [if he was an actual person and not several persons, as is historically speculated] was a liberal ... a pacifist ... a realist ... a radical ... a bloodless revolutionary ... and the message he brought us is the very one we wrestle today -- will we love, no matter the circumstances ... or will we hate because of them?

The one thing I knew about myself early on was that I came into this incarnation with an anti-authoritarian streak a mile wide. And in the church I knew as a child, I was not uncomfortable ... I was questioning, but I wasn't kicking and screaming, and I didn't leave it throwing the baby out with the bathwater. If the church has become a hateful thing, it's because it's people have become full of hate. If it's become a fearful movement, it's because it's people have been taught to fear.

When I was in California earlier in the month, my family and I were following an erratic driver who had a fish-sticker on his bumper. As we commented on it, my seven-year-old grandson piped up, a tone of disapproval in his voice, "Well ... he's a Christian." That hit me like a sledgehammer -- us, them. [Turns out various of Wyatt's little friends at school won't play with him because he's not "one of them." The church's in his area are organized, militant and highly visible. He's too young for a nuanced explanation -- that these children are being taught separation, exclusiveness and nothing of the Christ.] All I could say at that moment was, "So am I, darlin' ... and Christ taught love."

I didn't lie -- I'm a Christian ... and a Buddhist ... and a Muslim ... and a Wiccan ... and a Mystic. We are all the philosophies that have contributed to our understanding -- we are All .. we are One. And after all these years, I'm not a cynic, even though I've stood witness to some of the worst of man's deeds ... maybe that's because I've seen some of their best, as well. I believe in God and Goddess and the Mystery of that ... I believe in Nature and Divine Order and the organizing Principal of the Universe. I believe that all of this is a part of me ... and part of you -- happening WITHIN us and asking to out-picture in our daily words and deeds.

I believe that the Higher Angels of mankind are just a choice away ... and that Angelic presence can only speak to us if we're willing to listen to the still, small Voice and not the loud, mindless Groupspeak of the world. I believe that if we stand in our power, be discerning with our thoughts and process them through our hearts, we can move the dense energy of a hateful, flawed religious signal into a dynamic spiritual understanding ... raise a callous, self-obsessed mankind into a collaborative, respectful world-wide community. In fact, I count on it. My faith is in the Love that holds the Universe together like glue, the essential goodness within each of us and our ability to inhabit that. That's Christ consciousness.

But we live in the Chinese curse, presently: interesting times. I wish they weren't so damned interesting, sometimes, and I find myself left wishing, too often.

I wish we could still go out caroling and people would appreciate the music, the intent, even if they didn't resonate to the message ... or weren't so lost in television and computer games that an actual event coming to their doorstep might be worth getting up for. Mostly, I wish we still felt safe to do it ... and inclined.

I wish the Fundamentalist churches would return to their senses instead of making so many of us just plain miserable, day in, day out -- that for once the Spirit of the message that was birthed in the Middle East all those many years ago would infuse those who say they follow it -- and I wish my grandson didn't think all Christians were wingnuts.

I wish that the Wiccans, should they choose, could put up a lighted pentacle in their front yard with as much freedom and pleasure as my son-in-law gave his children when he strung a gazillion lights on his house and plunked the illuminated reindeer in his front yard. I wish we had as much respect for each persons belief as we do our own. And I wish Santa Claus didn't have a credit card under each arm; that the Holidays held a little more spiritual impact and a lot less consumer angst.

I wish humankind had a better grasp on what we WANT rather than what we don't want ... and I wish we could just talk to one another, rather than scream at one another over the chasm that we've created to separate us. I wish we'd collectively intuit the difference between offering a hand or raising a fist ... and understand that one is powerful for peace, the other murders opportunity.

Interesting times: they make it harder for us to find that still, small Voice that tells us we're ok ... That we're all in the right place at the right time ... and what we want so desperately will come to us eventually. And there's some of us ... the one's that remember ... that are heartened by the new direction of many Christian churches who are policing their own attitudes and those of their brothers. It IS a matter of "values," just not the restrictive, punitive ones that the Loudest of our brothers think it is. There is a populist movement birthing in this country, picking up speed ... you'll hear about it in many pulpits this year, as the old notions of charity and compassion and equality begin their ascent out of the darkness. I would like to see that happen ... for Wyatt, and for us all.

I don't know what spiritual tradition you embrace, if any -- what your experience of religion has been -- or what you think about all this, except that if you're reading this you're aware of the political implications of our current religious "wars." I expect that you would agree with me that the institutions of religion have about broken this world apart ... but the philosophies that prompted them are seldom served. Whatever your traditions, I hope you FEEL them this year ... a little heart-expansion to take you into the New Year ... a moment of Lightness that brings you encouragement and hopefulness ... a tenderness toward yourself and others as we plow through the heaviness of religious prejudice and judgment and bias, in order, I suppose, to firmly grasp what is NOT helpful and all that is, in fact, harmful. We will not progress unless we strip away the cynicism that prevents us from fully feeling -- we will not usher in the Light until we open our hearts to receive it.

And so today, from a cold, bright Pea Patch, please accept my wish for your happy holiday and a Merry Christmas ... and I hope it comes to you with a little music. The thing that's pure and sweet and majikal about music is that the Heart hears ... perhaps that's why tears welled the other day when I heard this one.

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I wish for the world what, according to those who penned the New Testament, Angels proclaimed for a world awaiting a new understanding of themselves -- Peace on Earth, Good Will to men. We will have it when it's more important to us than anything else ... maybe that's where these Interesting Times are designed to take us. But first we need to stop telling the story ... and begin to live it.

May your days be merry and bright -- and may all your Christmases be Light.