Do You Celebrate Christmas?

I’ve been working with a wonderful illustrator in Mumbai, India. As a sidebar, my newest book, Hezekiah Loves Music: Learning Rhythms The Food Way, will be available for purchase the first of the year. It’s a cute little book. Anyway, I’ve worked with Marilyn on two books now and am so excited by the collaboration. In the process of our work I’ve been blessed to have her ask me to pray for a friend who was going through a major difficulty. In our last exchange, I asked if she celebrated Christmas. Her answer is the reason I’m writing this post today: “Yeah… We do celeberate Christmas. We’re Christians :).”

Her response brought me up short. How many of us TRULY associate celebrating Christmas with being Christian? I mean, many Americans participating in this holiday are decidedly NOT Christian. And many Christians just might not be exhibiting Christlike behaviors and attitudes – at least not in a way that tells the world we are eagerly anticipating the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! If we are honest, it is difficult to keep Christ the focus of our celebrations in the midst of buying & wrapping gifts (or worrying because there isn’t enough money to get everything on everyone’s list) and planning the holiday feast.

So, what does it mean to say ‘yeah, I celebrate Christmas. I’m a Christian?’  And does saying it mean we should not buy gifts for our loved ones or adorn our homes with beautiful decorations?  I don’t think so. The true meaning of Christmas is about the act of giving. God so loved you, me, the person you don’t want to speak to, your husband/wife even though he/she gets on your last nerve, the homeless person, the President and King – God so loved THE WORLD that God GAVE the most precious gift there has or ever will be. God exhibited God’s love, even for haters (that would be you and me) and GAVE. So, at Christmas, we can proudly say ‘I celebrate Christmas; I’m a Christian’ and GIVE – presents, a word of hope, a beautiful warm home into which we invite family and friends, food, clothing & toys to those less fortunate. We can shower our children with things that make them happy. The key to it all is recognizing that God was the first giver and that God is the ultimate giver. God is an extravagant gifter: salvation, abundant life, eternal life, resources to meet our needs and help others. We have to contextualize our giving, especially at this time. We give because God gave. Our act of giving is merely a shadow of the way God treats us. And we remember that Christmas is about Easter. The beautiful images of the Christ child are important but if he had remained a child we would have remained lost. Christ was born to DIE. So we eagerly anticipate the birth of Christ as God’s gift to us, a gift that would keep on giving to the point of death on the cruel cross. We give each other gifts in this context. And as Christians, we tell the story, through our gifts and most importantly, through our living. Yes, I celebrate Christmas. I’m a Christian.


Eradicate The Shadows

As I near the time when we’ll watch 2010 slip into 2011 (on my knees as we’ve done most of the past 30 years), I think about all of the ways I’ve willingly allowed the enemy to do what he does best: kill, steal and destroy. 2010 has been a blessed year in so many ways and before 2011 arrives I will deliberately focus on those (see  Yet, at this point there’s something else that must claim my attention.

I’ve been on a mission to complete unfinished projects hanging over my head. And I’ve been successful in several arenas. A couple of projects will need to be totally retooled making them effectively new. Others need to be scrapped altogether. But the biggest, most important project that must be completed before the end of 2010 relates to house cleaning and temple cleansing.  I realized early this morning as I lay in my bed having ‘a little talk with Jesus’ that I still have unfinished spiritual business. I started forgiving a few people for deep hurts and I didn’t go all the way. I prayed for deliverance in areas but didn’t complete my work. I asked for painful memories to be excised; I anointed my home against unwelcomed and illegal spirits. In each of these cases the good work was begun and in most, through spiritual negligence on my part, that work wasn’t completed.  This morning, hovering between sleep and full awareness, I heard myself asking God to eradicate the shadows of every sinful act and thought (mine & anyone else who lives here or who has ever visited).

Perhaps you’ve been on the amusement park ride, Pirates of the Caribbean. Holograms of ghosts dance across ballroom floors, sit at dinner tables, sleep in beds and even leave the ride sitting in your car. Likewise, many of us have shadows of spirits living in our homes, in our hearts, minds, and souls. And though they have no real substance they serve as constant reminders of failure and pain. Though they are insubstantial, they continue to weigh us down. Like invited guests, they make themselves comfortable in all parts of our homes and lives, ensuring that we stay anchored in a past that God has already forgiven and wants to move us beyond.

The good news is there are several days left in 2010 – plenty of time to eradicate the shadows.

I refuse to give a free ride to anyone or anything that adds no value to my life. Time, like a river, is ever moving. I don’t want to have to wonder why life seems to be passing me by. I want to live life, not endure it. God sent Jesus – the reason for this season – so that you and I could have an abundant life, one so full that it overflows onto everyone around us! Living with shadows is not a full life. Living in the shadows is not prosperity. Shadows dwell at that juncture between light and darkness. Turning the light up to its fullest, most brilliant setting dispels every shadow. Too little light creates shadows! Jesus IS the light, not just of the world but of my world and of your world. So, Jesus, I ask you, in the words of the old hymn, to ‘shine the light of heaven on my soul (on my home, on my marriage, job, finances, children – every part of my life) and if you find anything that shouldn’t be, take it out and straighten me. I want to be right; I want to be saved; I want to WHOLE!! Help me eradicate the shadows!

It’s Deeper Than That

I spent a very frustrating day going from store to store looking for one simple object. It should have been available at the first store. It was not. I was set to talk to the manager but the store had an emergency of some sort and evaluated the place. Rather than wait, I joined the throngs of folk who took the evacuation as a sign to leave. I went to three other stores and was equally frustrated; I did talk to one manager.

So, what is this simple item that I should have been able to find easily? A black baby doll!  In store after store I looked at rows of White baby dolls that jumped, crawled, cried, did nothing but look beautiful or some other baby-type antic. I saw one or two Black baby dolls but most of them were of a lighter complexion than I am. To make matters worse, I wanted a BOY baby doll. There were NO Black boy dolls.  Just what do manufacturers think African American children are supposed to play with? And why aren’t the buyers concerned that there are so few Black dolls? I talked to one of the sales people at Toys R U (surely THEY should have had Black baby dolls, right? Wrong!). She apologized profusely saying she had been similarly frustrated. The floor manager was sympathetic but unable to help me. She promised that she would ‘bring the issue up.’

My frustration is multifaceted. To be honest, there were plenty of multicolored Barbie-type dolls but I didn’t want an ADULT doll. I wanted BABY DOLLS. When my daughter was little, we didn’t allow her to play with adult dolls. Little children shouldn’t have dolls with boobs etc – my opinion! I’m not about to change my mind now about believing children ought to play with children dolls – at least until they are old enough for some meaningful conversation about the anatomy. As well, I want dolls that look like Black people. I started to say dolls that look like me but I suspect some people would argue with that since I happen to be a biracial, lighter complexioned African American who had long, wavy hair for most of my life. Actually, I DO want dolls who look like me because I represent an aspect of diversity that exists in America!

How are we supposed to teach our children to be comfortable with their Blackness if every image they see, every doll they look at has slighter dark(er) skin but the same features as the White dolls AND long straight hair? There is something very wrong if I am having the same issues in 2010 that I had 20+ years ago when I was looking for dolls for my children!  And as a parallel sidebar, every year I go into stores looking for Black angels and Santas and have the exact same problem! And every year I am forced to spend extra time looking for a manager so I can make my concerns known only to be told that they a) they had one or two,  b) they buy what sells, c) they will express my concerns to somebody or d) I should feel free to call the home office and talk to them – once again I have the onus to make change and that can get very tiring.

There is a lot I could talk about in this commentary but I’ll leave it with this major concern for now. We live in an era where everyone is talking about diversity and inclusion at every possible level. But why aren’t manufacturers, store buyers, merchants etc. on the page? Why aren’t they concerned about inclusion, gender equity, diversity?  I don’t mind my children and grandchildren having White dolls but why is that my only choice unless I go find the ‘Black’ neighborhood stores? Isn’t that a type of racial profiling?

And what about all of the darling White children who never get a chance to play with Black dolls because their parents don’t see them in the stores?  I teach at a PWI (predominantly White institution) and the case for diversity is market driven. Consistently, employers are telling PWIs they must teach their students to work and live in a global society. They must learn to live, work and play with people of all colors. PWIs struggle with not having enough Black faculty or Black students – a critical mass – to force broader conversations and experiences for all of its students.  My experiences in the stores are uncomfortably close to the ones we often experience on campuses. Where are the faces that look like our students – not just in the classrooms but in the brochures or on the websites?

I’ve gone on a bit of a tangent but I’m deeply concerned. I’m also angry and hurt. It’s not just about a toy. It’s about life, respect. It’s about children who should be able to play with age-appropriate toys that look like them – dark skin, textured hair, different shapes of noses and both genders! It makes a difference the kinds of toys our children play with. Parents of all colors should have the option of providing their children with a diversity of age-appropriate dolls with which to play – without running all over town! Otherwise, they run the risk of raising children who, like a former student – an EDUCATION MAJOR, was genuinely SHOCKED to see Black dolls in my home – even though he had recently graduated from college. It had never occurred to him that Black children might play with something other than White dolls. His shock was a failure of his neighborhood and his education! And, without bragging, he benefited greatly from marrying a young woman who was one of my best friends when she was a student and who stayed in my home and traveled with me on a regular basis.

Okay, enough for now. I’m interested in hearing from you.

Available Soon – Hezekiah Loves Music:Learning Rhythms The Food Way

Reserve your copy today!!

This adorable book tells the story of Hezekiah, a little boy who absolutely loves music. In his hands, everything becomes a percussion instrument on which he plays exciting rhythms. Readers are invited to learn Hezekiah’s rhythms using the ‘food’ method.  Parents, teachers and children will love learning to read simple rhythmic patterns.

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