Friday, December 9, 2011

Let's Give Thanks to the Lord Above 'Cause Santa Claus Comes Tonight

Santa Claus and Christianity have rather a rocky relationship, don't they? Is he a saint? A decadant example of rampant commercialism? Does he encourage or erode faith in things neither seen nor heard? Are his gifts alms or mammon? It's no wonder that some Christians are rather skittish about the Old Man. Still, I consider myself a great Santa apologist. Here's why:

  • Santa Claus Knows That We're All God's Children. It's funny to think that being poor could have been such a stigma that the singer had to emphasize that Santa will love you even if you aren't rich. We've sort of come to take it for granted that gift reception shouldn't depend on wealth. There are enormous resources to mobilize all and any into providing "a Christmas" for the disadvantaged, and it's no accident that often these organizations are called Sub for Santa, or Santa's Helpers or an equivalent of that. Christian obligation to the poor fits in nicely to the Santa myth--everyone deserves to have not just what they need, but also what they want. While some kids may have a meager Christmas indeed, they wouldn't if Santa had his way. No, if Santa were running this show, if you aren't going to get any presents, it's not because you're poor, or because of who your parents are, but because you were naughty.
  • Be Good for Goodness' Sake. Admittedly, this is the element of Santa that I'm least comfortable with: good kids get gifts, but bad kids do not (and in some cultures, they get a sound beating, or the threat of it). In actuality, the material wealth of families matter in gift-reception (see above), but threat of reward and punishment is a part of the Santa myth--and of Christian doctrine. We don't really like to talk about heaven and hell, and especially not of a threat (it conjures images of a self-righteous Christian saying "do that and you'll go to hell), so we often talk about natural consequences. "You can't really be happy and sin," we say. But part of that is because blessings are stopped up through sin. Obey the commandments and prosper in the land. Hopefully, our goodness becomes something intrinsic rather than just a quid pro quo arrangement, but it's hard to see how doing good is its own reward all the time. Sometimes the reward or threat gets you through the day.
  • Leave a Peppermint Stick for Ol' Saint Nick. Santa wants to have a relationship with you. He wants your letters, wants you to leave a note with the cookies, wants you on his lap whispering in his ear. No one ever thought much about communication with the Easter Bunny. If Santa Claus isn't always checking in on you, it's because he lives so very far away. It's always about more than the Big Night, and I find that striking. He's an adult who wants to tend your needs, and unlike teachers, coaches or even parents, he had no other motive than making you happy. That's incredibly similar to what I imagine God's motives being.
  • Ho, ho, ho, Who Wouldn't Go?My favorite part about Santa is that he isn't your parents. He is, but he isn't. They can give their children all the gifts that they would like without any threat of appreciation or thanks. You don't even have to write him a card. Santa represents selfless service, the opportunity to give our alms not before men. Parents, especially, who sacrifice constantly for their children--not just for fun things like gifts and candy, but for heating bills and orthodontics--can pretend that they didn't sacrifice at all and that the children can just enjoy their gifts gratis. What applies to parents and children can apply to anyone. Want to donate money to a charity anonymously? Leave food for a struggling family? Santa is the perfect cover.

This isn't to say that I'm thrilled about all aspects of Santa-ism (he probably should lay off the cookies, and elf workshops sound distressingly like slave labor), but over all, I'm in the Old Man's corner.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Better

I was thinking about it this week and I realized that I'm happy with who I am, but not content. It's a really good place to be in, actually.

I adore setting goals. I make New Year's Resolutions. And new semester's. And right now I have three pages of sticker-chart hanging on my bathroom wall. (Yes, one of the rows is for "write in journal/blog.") It's nice to keep in mind the things that I want to do, the person that I want to become.

And I understand that, while my intentions may be good and my effort admirable, I probably won't make all of those goals. I might not get to the Serengeti before I turn 30 to cross it off my list. It's getting to the time of the year when I can look at the goals I made for 2011 and realize that I probably won't lose 10 pounds before Jan 1, nor will I pass my prospectus exam, unless the university system radically changes during finals week. And similarly this week there are several rows on the sticker chart that are relatively barren. "Don't eat after 8:00" for example, and "do >15 min. of service." I still think those are worthy goals, but for one reason or another, it didn't happen this week, and I think that's okay.

After all, there are some pretty cool ones I did keep: I'm a regular flosser for 3 weeks now, and I've been pretty good about reading the Book of Mormon, getting to bed by 11:00 pm, tidying up and, yes, writing something on here or in my journal. This year I did lose weight, and I did pass my field exam, and I cross several things off of my "30 before 30" list this year, including a traditional hike through the English countryside and making a wedding cake. I like to look back on these accomplishment and think about them.

So why do I do this? Why do I have to set a goal on Goodreads for books to read this year, or try to visit 10 Christian denominations while I'm in Texas, or read everything Shakespeare wrote? Part of me worries that this is a "list-worth" problem, that my self worth is tied up in doing good things, proving to others that I've done cool things. For example, I read all those books, but was it close enough? Did they enter into my soul?

I love even my failed goals, though, and I don't want to hate myself if I don't achieve a goal, or if I end up modifying that dream. One reason I love my failed goals is that something is better than nothing. Even though I only did creative writing 3 times this week, one of those days was an obsessive day where I pondered a lot and ended up with 11 single-spaced pages. Even though I only did service for 15 minutes, it's 15 minutes more than I perhaps would have without the reminder. I got something from it.

Another reason why I love even my failed goals is I think that the goals I set describe who I want to be, and who I want to be determines a lot about who I am. The half-marathon I ran this year represents my becoming an athlete, a runner, which, if you had asked my 14-year-old self (the one, may I point out, on the track & field team) if she was a runner, or wanted to be, I don't think she'd concur. But, after running a half-marathon was on my "someday" list for several years, I actually started running more often and longer and I did it. That one I achieved, yes, but there are many failed goals, like my plan to do 100 hours of service in the summer, that still represent a good change in my intentions, an ideal that means something to me.

Finally, I think goals represent a sort of optimism. I can get better. I will get better. Of course, ideally the goals that you set will fall into those business school acronyms and be properly specific, measurable, etc., but any goal (and a real goal, not just a fantasy) suggests a path from where I am to where I want to be, a path that exists, that's a possibility, and that's wonderfully reassuring.

Also, it helps when you get stickers everyday. I love stickers.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Diary of a Wii Fit Mii



What a great day! I started my morning with my standard run along the island. It's a good thing our island doesn't have any cars, because then it would be harder for everyone of us to go for a morning run. But then, who would be driving? Ha, ha. It was a great run. Guess who I saw? Everyone. Even old man Parkins was out there hitting the pavement, then fluffly grass, then pavement again. Do you know who else was there? Puppies. Lots of puppies. I love the herds of puppies that run around the island. It's so friendly.

After my run, I couldn't help but stand around the finish line and watch all the other people come in from their morning run. I clapped and clapped. I'm so proud of them for finishing. Sometimes I don't know which I enjoy more: running and waving to the people behind me, or standing and jumping up and down clapping.

When I finally got home, boy was I in for a treat! There was some crazy person walking a tightrope over my building! I kept frantically gesturing for my friends to come and see, but they never came to the window--I don't know why. It was especially exciting when that black blob tried to eat the tightrope walker--don't worry, she jumped over it!

After all that excitement, I was happy to enjoy watching some soothing hula hoop. I even threw a few hula hoops myself, after raising them up over my head. Great times.

And what would end the perfect day? Why, going to a step aerobics concert! I love watching that ensemble of diverse people rhythmically stepping on, then stepping off, then stepping on again onto a slightly raised surface! I got so caught up in it that I started clapping my stubs along with the rest of the audience--what entertainment!

This truly is the best of all possible worlds.