Fresh Air and Mirth

Some people are so generous, so wonderfully share-y, so thrilled for you to join in on their fun, they hardly appreciate the magnitude of their gifts. I hope we all know one or two of these fabulous souls. Or maybe you’re one of them… and wondering what’s this all about? I mean, who wouldn’t be wonderfully share-y given the means and opportunity? That’s their mindset, these happy givers. Do you know them? When you thank them, hug them, attempt to return the favor, or even raise a glass in their honor, you’ll get an aw shucks shoulder shrug. And they mean it. This is a genuine aw shucks shoulder shrug. And then they totally want to return to the fun awesomeness you were having because your heartfelt thank yous are probably just delaying more fun awesomeness.

I spent the past two days in a picturesque mountain town with my happy giver friends who invited us to join them. My kids had never been on skis, and when you live up here, apparently your kid becomes some weirdo outcast if he’s never been on skis. For me, the idea of adhering thick knives to bent boots in order to plummet more gracefully down a cold mountain sounds like a ridiculous way to get injured or (gasp) delay cocktail hour… but my boys were up for the scary challenge. So we stuffed duffles with puffy clothes and joined our outdoorsy friends for a mini-break, pre-Christmas get-away.

The house belonged to their friends, also of the happy giver ilk. I mean, who does this? Sure, use our house while we aren’t there, bring friends, make sure to test the hot tub, light the fireplace, sample the wine cellar, enjoy enjoy enjoy? Who doesn’t worry that the house will be a messy wreck for Christmas or that kids that aren’t yours will lose the board game pieces? The happy givers don’t. My mother would rope off the living room and restrict certain bathroom usage for days prior to the arrival of guests: vacuum lines in the carpet and triangulated toilet paper arrangements were necessary indictors that our house was ready for an audience. The notion of permitting others free range enjoyment of your home mere moments before a major holiday is beyond the pale. It also betrays a belief that a house and its contents are just stuff, and people and fun and fellowship always trump stuff. And can’t we all, especially at this time of year, use this reminder?

Oh, did you want to read all about the skiing? Skiing types always do. The conditions, quality, weather, memorable “runs” and tricks, and oh-we-ran-into-the so-and-sos… there is nothing a skier enjoys more than to share his zeal for skiing. The wide-eyed euphoria that accompanies people who happily hurl themselves down mountains is quite similar to my exhaustive enjoyment of peonies and caladiums and dahlias. I’m equally passionate about pursuits on flatter, warmer grounds. But nearly everyone strapped to go-fasters (save a few over-bundled, overtired toddlers) was full of fresh air and mirth. Because teenagers exist, it’s possible that so does the occasional, grumpy skier. But it’s impossible to be anything but delighted around skiing types who are skiing. Fresh air and mirth. It’s contagious.

I still didn’t tell you about, you know, the skiing. Well, that’s because I don’t. In case this wasn’t made plain: I don’t ski. I was content to wander the lodge, mix hot chocolate into my coffee, and have an appropriate venue for the debut of my mohair legwarmers. But my boys? Champs. Two lessons and they were switch backing down the mountain with a cool ease that made my heart soar. Even though controlled mountain plummeting scares me all bejeezously, I do want my kids to try new things. Better still when they love the new thing and don’t suck at it. But the biggest gift of this mini-break get-away was the memories made in an idyllic setting surrounded by people we love, and hosted from afar by generous people who care more about celebrations than stuff.

And now the usually slothful Lees will greet this Christmas with grateful hearts, full of fresh air and mirth, inspired to be happy givers this season, too. Maybe we’ll even plan our own trip for controlled mountain plummeting… or something equally outdoorsy that allows for legwarmer accessories during and Proseccos afterwards.

Merry Christmas, friends!

Happy little skiers...

Happy little skiers…

Potty Mouth Christmas

Those of you who include me in your Facebook feeds might occasionally wish you didn’t. But if we’re friends (in the world webby ether or of a fleshier variety), you know that the Christmas Market at the Church of the Redeemer has mercifully and finally come to an end. As the Church Service League President this year, it was my job to interrupt your BuzzFeed shares, What Color Is Your Animal Spirit?, and Santa’s lap pics with my Shop for Jesus alerts. Organizing the yearly fundraiser is truly an honor, but in the 11th hour, it feels more like that dream where you’ve forgotten to go to class all semester and here’s the final exam.

Churchy do-gooding is mostly fun; and the entire week was peppered with the Christmassy smells of wreaths and greens, giggles between good friends, and moments when the Holy Spirit is tangibly flowing all over the garland-draped church. But the rather awesome responsibility of raising money loomed… and that made me want to hurl my chicken and mushrooms all over the place.

Terrified that the generous people who had donated houses and family jewels and lavish parties to our live auction would be rewarded with a quiet room of un-bidding church folk, I couldn’t push anything past my pylorus. I recently raved about people who have the Godly gift of inspiring generosity in others, baffled by the criticism of any sort of philanthropy. Though I thrive in the busyness of passion-fueled volunteerism, asking people for money will always be awkward for me. Bernie keeps reminding me that this aspect of charity work isn’t really one of my keener skills. And because it makes me physically ill, he’s probably right.

What my stomach always forgets is that this annual event is a team effort coordinated by really lovely souls and presented to a parish hall brimming with people who want to be part of something great and good. Nearly all of the money we raise is channeled to outreach efforts, and results in real improvements at our sister Church, our food pantries, care for our community’s elders, even our West African brothers and sisters afflicted with deadly Ebola. It’s a night to think about others, and that’s what everyone does, and there’s really no reason to get all pukey.

Floating on that isn’t-everyone-and-everything-just-wonderful feeling that accompanies a weekend of Christian fellowship, I returned my attention to my own home and hearth, sorely neglected during Christmas Market week. The halls were un-decked. The cupboard was bare. The checking account was overdrawn. Sagging pumpkins at the doorstep, half-unpacked clothes from Thanksgiving travels, and not a single photo in any of our cameras or iThings worthy of a holiday card quickly froze all those floaty feelings and grumpy, potty-mouth mommy delivered chastened, weepy children to the bus stop yesterday.

Yelling at the boys to “Fucking smile! We’re going to miss the goddamn bus!” in order to snap the Christmas photo before school doesn’t align terribly well with the spirit of the season. Zealot Sister wisely counseled that I should avoid unimportant activities that sap the joy out of the next two weeks. And after a deep breath and a pot of coffee, the necessity of a perfect picture or pumpkin-free stoops seems… stupid. So does cursing at small children, in spite of the breadth of their early morning assholery.

With a better attitude and entire platter of French toast, I greeted two happy little guys this morning who couldn’t wait to tell me about their ham radio exam. After umpteen classes and hundreds of sample questions, my boys passed the test and have earned operating privileges for vintage communication. Sometimes I wonder if we should install lockers in the home so my kids can practice escaping them. But most times, these boys delight and amuse me and I can go entire weeks without wanting to backhand them (kidding) or demonstrating the correct context for bad words in angry sentences (confessing). Fa la la la la… la la la la.

I’m going to slow down, friends. Drink the entire pot of coffee. Send the blurry Christmas photo… after the New Year. Watch “Love, Actually” over and over and over. Order takeout. Leave gigantic tips for the wait staff wherever I go. Pop the Prosecco and read every holiday letter enclosure. The King is coming whether I pitch the pumpkins or not. And though my home and hearth may not be ready, it’s pretty important that my heart is.

Fa la la la la… la la la la.

The best plot line in the movie...

The best plot line in the movie…

 

 

 

Is There A War on Christmas?

Last year, Steve and I hosted a friendly religious debate here on EMB. The response was overwhelmingly positive because most humans are thoughtful and kind and delightful. We learned that people love to talk about their faith or explain why belief in One Holy Being sounds bonkers. We also confirmed what we suspected: it is possible to discuss religious differences without insult-lobbing or conversion agendas. Steve is no more likely to keep Kosher than I am to demote my Belief for fear of sounding like a zealot. Our aim is for greater understanding, not for change, even though I have the sneaky conviction that discussions about religion are where God is at… and He is rather irresistible.

Recently, a local town included a non-binding referendum in its annual elections to reinstate “Christmas Recess” as the official title of Norwood’s mid-term break, and learned that 76% of the paltry turnout of voters were decidedly pro-Christmas. Two years ago, the town’s School Committee voted to replace “Christmas” with “Winter” for all of the obvious reasons, but not in response to any clear outcry for this change. Our little local town here is bound to make national news as normally sane people take a stance on The War on Christmas, or back a staunch refusal that such a battle exists. Because Steve is hilarious, has oodles of friends, and is a maven of social media, his on-line inquiries lead to long threads of opinions and wisecracks and wisdom. When he asked followers to weigh in on this debate, the time seemed ripe for an Atheist Jew vs. Churchy Jesus Girl reprise.

Steve, quite logically, wants to know why we’re wasting time and dollars and ballot space on this nonsense. I’m not sure he recognizes a War on Christmas and sees the Christian religious defenders to be a bit bullying:

“I’m not Christian. Am I still allowed to say the ‘War on Christmas’ paranoids are fucking crazy? Isn’t demanding that things go your way kind of the opposite of faith?”

For me, the knee jerk reaction to this story was similar to my stance on the Bossy Ban. The politically correct language police irritate me and are largely humorless. I’d love to know what prompted the School Committee to vote out “Christmas” two years ago. Who is opposed to Christmas? Why? Is it necessary to preserve references to Christian holidays on our shared calendars, or are we losing something if we don’t fight for them? Do these semantics constitute a War on Christmas?

Let’s discuss.

ON SEPARTION OF CHURCH AND SCHOOL CALENDARS

Steve: I’m not sure how hilarious I’m going to be on this, but thanks for the buildup. People in Norwood are confused. Nobody is removing “Christmas” from the calendar. All they did was change the name of the vacation that encompasses Christmas and New Year’s (and sometimes Hanukkah) from “Christmas Break” to “Winter Break.” This keeps a consistency in the nomenclature with “Spring Break” and “Summer Break.”

The change to “Winter Break” was done two years ago. For some reason, people got worked up into a frenzy and decided the school needed to change the name back. In a non-binding referendum, the town voted overwhelmingly in favor of reverting back to the “Christmas” name. Towns can do whatever they want. I don’t think there’s a law against naming vacations for the holiday of the majority faith. But I can’t reconcile how the “Keep the government out of our business!” crowd is also the same one that says, “The government should name its vacations for Christian holidays!”

I don’t think this is a matter of political correctness or trivialities. 25% of the country is not Christian. “Merry Christmas” does not offend me and I had a Christmas tree in my house for 20 years. It’s a lovely holiday. But I still don’t understand how having its name on a vacation helps with the education of children.

Britt: It’s that “frenzy” that concerns me the most. We’ve become so polarized, so unable to discuss these things without feeling attacked or invoking referendums. My children attend a Christian school that breaks for “Winter Recess,” and I fully agree with you here that the naming of a school vacation isn’t worthy of the time and money required for this fight. Unfortunately, a handful of zealots and one minivan of voters grab the media attention and now we have another set up for the division of normally lovely human beings into anti-Obama Jesus lovers and left-wing-liberal camps. And Steve, this scares me more than spiders. Why can’t you be hilarious about this? I think we have to be hilarious about exactly this.

Also, I don’t see irony where you do here. Those who are opposed to big government want “officials” to let these things be. They can’t insist the government promote Christianity on its official calendars, but will exert their First Amendment right to make a stink about removing them. Are they right? Wrong? Who cares? They’re allowed to make a stink. I just wish they were less douche-y about it.

IS THERE A WAR ON CHRISTMAS (OR CHRISTIANS)?

Steve: Faith succeeds in spite of governments, not because of them. The argument that a government has the power to destroy one’s religion, especially in America, has neither proof nor a plausible scenario. The American government could decide tomorrow that every mention of religion, from “One nation under God” to saying “Oh Jesus!” during sex should be illegal. Would that, in any way, impact your right to worship? Your faith in God? Your ability to shop for bad sweaters?

The founders of our government thought official state religion was so odious that it banned it as soon as the inkwell arrived to write the first item in the Bill of Rights.

A lot of play goes to the words of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” But note the Free Exercise clause: “…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Every argument about religion in public places starts and ends here. In short: “We’re not going to have a state religion, and we’re not going to stop you from observing your religion. We cool?” The U.S. can’t stop a religion. But it’s not supposed to promote it, either.

And even if the world were trying to “Take the Christ out of Christmas,” isn’t one’s faith enough to sustain said faith?

Britt: You have a more faith in Faith than the purported faithful, my friend. And a real part of sustaining faith is its presence in our every day. Jesus might frown on us being all polite and hush-hush about it. People of faith in this town of intellectuals often stifle their support of things that might sound “too religious.” Going a few Sundays a year is normal… but every Sunday? Freak. When you spend at least one moment of every day NOT saying you’re at Bible Study, or NOT saying a prayer before eating, or NOT wearing a cross with your outfit for fear of judgment or your friends thinking you’re an idiot, well… you start thinking, “Fuck! Now we can’t even call it Christmas break?”

Steve: You can call it whatever you like. The state, however, has an obligation to use non-denominational labels.

Britt: I do feel like the world is trying to snuff out all traces of God, sometimes, and that saddens me. But you are already RIGHT, Steve. You win with the support of logic, most of your Facebook contacts, and the law of the land. I’ve already agreed with you. But you still sound so huffy. Why?

Steve: Well, I hate to play the Nazi Card here but the world actually DID try to snuff out Judaism, and we managed to carry on. In the darkness of the Nazi death camps, faithful Jews still found a way to secretly observe Shabbat, Hanukkah, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana. That’s right-– in a state that was really, really trying to wipe out a religion and its adherents by the millions, the religion kept right on going.

Britt: Nazi trump card. I got nothin’. Except… it is my duty to explain well and without anger why I want a little more God sprinkled through my day (EVEN THOUGH I AM NOT ALLOWED TO ASK THE GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE THAT!). It’s your duty to be funny about everything. My blog. My rules.

Steve: Yeah, I’m being pissy here. Noted.

IS THERE ANY HARM IN BANNING “CHRISTMAS”

Steve: Who’s banning “Christmas?” Sure, Bill O’Reilly makes a lot of money getting people worked up over folks who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” But THE WAR ON CHRISTMAS IS NOT A REAL THING. Education is. That’s where a school committee’s efforts should lie.

Here’s where I might be going off the rails a little: I think there is kind of a racist undertone to the “War on Christmas” paranoia. Not in everyone. Not even in most. But in some…

“They’re trying to take Christmas from us!”

“Who?”

“The media and the Hollywood elite and the New York Wall Street types and the ACLU and…”

I think it’s clear which people we’re talking about here, and they’re the people busy trying to figure out what they can and can’t eat next week. Hint: We’d support a war on gefilte fish.

I still don’t understand what this has to do with the name of a school break. People are calling for the resignation of the school committee members that don’t support changing the name back. That’s nuts. Suddenly that’s the litmus test of a citizen willing to give their free time to help improve a school system?

Britt: Ahhh… this is the deep well where icky feelings dwell. Those of us who want to stand on soapboxes for Christmas should be able to do this kindly, and without even a hint of anti-Semitism. Sheesh. I mean, Christmas is awesome! Yay! Let’s go buy some ugly sweaters! But why is it more important to argue for this than a better math curriculum or any other thing, and do you really want someone to lose a job over this?

Those who see Bill O’Reilly admonishing liberal culture for their The War on Christmas need to remember that he’s Bill O’Reilly. But they also need to explore the honest motive behind the Christmas break name change in Norwood two years ago. Was there not even a whiff of an atheist agenda there? Those who feel relief or maybe even a bit of smugness when another “Christmas” falls off the calendar… where is that coming from?

I think this was the unwritten undercurrent of your Facebook thread. It’s just Christmas on the calendar, so why is everyone feeling attacked? Unfortunately, the media fuels this fire. How do we put it out? I think it’s done with an open mind, faith that those with differing opinions are also lovely fellow-humans, the refusal to be polarized into a frenzied “war,” and an honest exploration of our pissy feelings. If Christmas is already off the calendar, let it go; but when Robbie Republican fervently wants it changed back, it’s possible that’s coming from a deep passion for preserving a bit of God in the world… hopefully not that he’s an anti-Semite.

Are you Pissy Steve or Believer Britt on this topic? Is there a War? Do we have a responsibility to help end it? Be kind, be thoughtful… be funny.

 

Wouldn't Jesus miss us saying, "Happy Birthday?"

Wouldn’t Jesus miss hearing, “Happy Birthday?”

Phototherapy

Today is my Cancer-versary. All day I’ve been morbidly imagining a Jacquie Lawson whimsical, animated e-card for this, though I doubt there’s some cutesy montage of a woodland animal getting scared fur-less then starting a blog. Last year, this day was a tough one. This year I’m inventing really inappropriate Christmas greetings in my head as Tinyprints offers no canned holiday slogans for the cancered. I should probably exorcize them prior to sitting down to the actual task.

Merry Christmas from ALL FOUR Lees! Not dead! Yay!!

Still here—Hair-allulia!

Wishing you a wonderful New Year (knock on wood)!

April came over today to exchange gifts, check in, and make sure I hadn’t started drinking, or possibly join me if I had (…these are the things friends do). Two years ago today, I took the life-changing call in her living room. One year ago, to mark a shitty year completed, April organized a trip to Turks & Caicos for our families (…these are the things April does). Her gift to me this year was a bound photo album of that vacation: 38 pages of gorgeous, warm, sun-kissed memories. If today was always going to be about looking backwards with fear and sadness, this lovely book of pictures flipped the switch on that.

Brodie just padded down the stairs with are-you-mad-I’m-still-awake reluctance. He’s deep into the fourth Percy Jackson, and it had gotten a little creepy. It had also gotten quite late past the allotted reading time, but I can never muster any real parental sternness for this transgression. I think many of us remember unsanctioned school night flashlight reading for just one… more… chapter. Usually mommy hugs and expert bed-tucking are the cure for the Can’t Sleeps, but tonight Brodie requested something else:

I need something good to replace the scary things in my head.

Indeed. Though I was going to save it for Christmas, Brodie needed it now. I pulled out the Anderson and Lee Family Adventure book and we reminisced over the images, erasing chapters of spooky monsters, and months of cold terror with the turn of each page. Brodie returned to his cozy bed dreaming of conch shell diving and night swimming and paddle boarding and sea turtles. I returned to my keyboard to write April (this) little thank you for a more-than-she-could-ever-know magical gift of pictures.

Anniversaries are powerful. The sights and smells of Christmastime may always harbor a twinge of fear, hesitation, superstition, and gloom for me. I still haven’t set foot in April’s living room, and I’m growing my hair like I’m trying to prove something. Certainly the cure for scary memories is to outnumber them with fabulous ones. And to do that, all I need is to surround myself with these wonderful people I call family and friends… and to stick around for many more photos.

Two years. Hair. Here. Happy. Hallelujah.

From April's book... me and the boys and a mop of hair and smiles all around

From April’s book… me and the boys and a mop of hair and smiles all around

Mall Santa

I dreaded Mall Santa Season as a kid. My father, always eager to whip us up into (occasionally forced) holiday cheer, would float the query at some point during our 11th hour Christmas shopping for mom:

Who wants to see Santa?!?

This is one moment from childhood that I recall avidly praying to God. Please, please, please, let there be NO Santa. Or make the lines really long. Please make Dad forget. As a shy child (and a logical one), I thought it was creepy, scary, and weird to sit on the lap of a stranger for any reason… even if it meant a greater possibility of finding The Game of Simon under the tree. Also, I don’t think we Stockton kids actually “believed” for any significant stretch of time. Mom began holiday shopping just shy of Halloween and inexpertly hid wrapped presents in our usual hide-and-seek spots. And in order to remember what she wrapped for whom, mom’s slant-y cursive handwriting could be found on a tiny sticky note affixed to the underside of the presents. It was also hard to believe that my owl-shaped calculator was wrought by North Pole elves that shared mom’s zeal for coordinating wrapping papers. I think we fell for the feint until kindergarten, but then gifts that were signed “from Santa” were just a quaint nod to the tradition, and we openly thanked mom and dad for them. Until then, even as a six year old, I found all of the good-natured wheedling to believe insulting. It was a relief when we finally reached the arbitrary ages grownups deemed appropriate for disbelief, and threats of Santa Mall visiting finally ceased.

Recently, Bernie and I found ourselves at the tinsel-covered mall. As our window-shopping brought us closer and closer to Neiman Marcus, louder and louder became the wails of impatient and terrified children. The Santa Line: a queue forty strollers deep with 37% of the children in tears… and the remainder being asked by Starbuck’s-fueled adults, “Are you EXCITED?” I wanted to rescue all of them. Given the choice, I think any kid would prefer fries at the food court to sitting on the lap of a ridiculously dressed stranger while his frantic parents yell at him to replace his panicked tears with “SMILE!!!” But that’s me. Maybe some kids love this crap.

As a kid who feared forced Santa sitting, and then was annoyed by this childish and dishonest prank perpetuated by adults I normally liked, I became a parent who couldn’t muster enthusiasm for the myth. My boys have never really “believed.” Faced with actually lying to them, I chose not to. “Is Santa sorta like Spiderman?” asked three-year-old Brodie. Yup. Good comparison, kiddo. We still put out cookies (which they know Daddy eats), and write “from Santa” on gifts (which they know are from us), and Lee Family Christmas is still awesome. And no Santa line.

I’ve been holding my tongue (well, fingertips) when ALL CAPS Facebook statuses from agitated mommies implore parents like me to prevent kids like mine from “ruining” it for their innocents on the bus. Be assured that my boys have been schooled in this just as well as the Jewish kids (who must think Christian youth are a bit feeble-minded). Mine aren’t going to “ruin” it for anyone. Well, maybe a little. I never insisted they protect other parental lies as fiercely, and Teddy totally outed the tooth fairy on bus 698. Whoops… sorry, parents.

Dear friend April’s strategy is to tell her kids, “if you don’t believe, you don’t receive!” Knowing their parents aren’t actually going to withhold Christmas presents, this extends the myth for the sake of fun; it puts them into a collusion that is sort of adorable: we know it’s you, but we’ll pretend we don’t, and isn’t this Santa thing a hoot? But I’d love to ask the ALL CAPS mommies, when is the arbitrary age for appropriate disbelief? Is five too young? Is twelve too old? And if my kid debunking the myth at circle time seems cruel and unfair, what is the ideal way for small children to learn Santa isn’t real? And why is this belief so ALL CAPS important?

Obviously the ALL CAPS mommies have much fonder memories of forced Santa-sitting than I do. I’m sure they just want their own kiddos to experience the same magical Christmastime excitement they had, which somehow included bouncing on the lap of a jolly stranger. For the Lees, we’ve never relied on Santa to provide all of the excited anticipation of a Christmas morning. And though I think the creepy custom of Mall Santa could end without irreversibly damaging Christmas, I think we’d be missing something if abandoning the tradition meant no more pictures like this.

BAD SANTA

The hilarity of this photo is not lost on the lovely parents of these tortured kiddos.

There really cannot be too many of these. Ho ho ho!!

‘Tis the Season

Much like my favorite atheist Jew, my blogger friend Rob is a vocal non-believer. But lately, it’s his fellow There’s-No-Big-Guy friends who have been gnawing at his patience with their smart-alecky, know-it-all-ness. And although he recently posted a list of five things we Believers should do differently (e.g., stop trying to convert him), what he really wants—what most of us really want—is for open discussion and kindness to prevail. Steve and I had a popular discussion about this a year ago, and it continues to be read almost daily as Google searches for religious themes click unsuspecting readers over to our back-and-forth about the essential absurdity of Faith. (Essential for me… absurd for others.) In a world that seems broken with all of its celebrity worship and gun-toting children, where jobs can’t be found and tires are being stolen off of cars, where insane, angry people blow up innocent athletes… well, we’re all looking for something, right? The discussion of God, whether He is or is not, and regardless, how to multiply kindness in our midst … well, that’s the most important discussion we can have.

Rob adorably asserts we share the same opinions on just about everything, even though 20 years and half a planet separate us. We’re in agreement right up to where I believe Jesus died on a cross to change the world (and did). And though he takes a more logical approach to Biblical things, I cajole him into admitting a glimmer of Faith, because certainly someone who talks about it with such frequency and respect couldn’t possibly be a nihilistic heathen. Although admittedly, the heathen post will always trump in entertainment value the vague, otherworldly musings of annoying zealots, especially this time of year. Overused “blessings” can make the season sound quite sneezy. An Atheist’s 5-Step Guide to Being Religious begs a thoughtful rebuttal from a mouthy Jesus Girl. But having spent the past week entirely at Church planning and organizing our annual fundraiser, I’ve had few opportunities to bump up against non-believers who question my passion for a supernatural, undead Jew.

What I can share is why this is an excellent time of year to visit Church… whether you Capital B believe or not. The birth of a baby that saves the world is at least as compelling a story as a gaggle of pitch-perfect Austrians. And the music of the season is equally fantastic. Ave Maria? O Holy Night? Goose bumps and damp eyes all around. You’ll find throngs of robed singers eager to belt out harking heralds for all ye faithful at Church, where it smells wonderful, and where real candles glow, and where sacred music is always free. What if we all attended a service of Lessons and Carols and murdered the melody of Once in Royal David’s City together? I strongly believe a community that sings together is more likely to contemplate community. There’s just something about gorgeous music wafting up toward stained glass that makes our hearts swell with the fantastic notion that everyone deserves to have similarly swelling hearts, and inspires our Scrooge-y souls to consider the most vulnerable among us. Of course this can happen outside of Church… but come inside, light a candle, sing along, see what happens.

Saturday night was our annual Trinity mini-reunion, fancy dress grown-up party at Steve’s. Steve recently guest-blogged about this year, which began with a new friendship: Agent 99 joined our gang with sparkly aplomb. Our chat chat chatting about times long past and what’s happening now was accompanied by mulled wine and bubbly wine and savory bits and sushi. We were over-served and we overstayed, which is the mark of excellent hosting. We just weren’t finished celebrating our collective fabulousness (my impression, and these old friends kindly tolerate my vanity.). To prolong the fun, Tony—whose scotch consumption made Honda-maneuvering a bad idea—came home with me and found himself in the hustle bustle of Church readying at 9am the next morning. He could have easily slept in, begged off, pleaded atheist, feigned ill, or claimed hangover… but Tony accompanied The Family Lee to sit in pews and listen to an Advent season sermon.

Our Church prints a weekly leaflet to avoid hymnal page ruffling, provide sit-stand-kneeling directions, and offer words to un-memorized prayers. For the kiddos, it’s also an effective tool for marking time, and answering the rather frequent query, “is it almost over?” But Tony didn’t even crack its cover. Instead he put it aside and just took it all in, approaching this novel church-going more like a college class he was auditing for the day than a zoo exhibit we insisted he see. Eventually it was time to take the sacrament of communion, and well-dressed ushers politely nodded that it was our turn.

“I think I’ve gotta be a part of this thing,” said Tony… who quite possibly hasn’t had the merest sliver of host in years. We bellied up to the rail together. It could have been Cathy’s sermon, which was intelligent and uplifting, thoughtful and soul-touching; maybe it was the chance meeting and Tony’s introduction to some of my favorite Churchy friends; possibly it was Michael’s incredible organ solos with pompadour-flipping gusto. Or perhaps it was just the sense of community and a collective mindfulness of those who don’t have that component of cozy goodness in their lives. Gotta be a part of this thing? Well, exactly.

Maybe you go to Church all of the time, or maybe the idea of pew-sitting and communion-taking gives you all sorts of heebie jeebies. Or maybe (Rob?) you’ve been wondering if you should see what it’s all about, or start going again, or finally find a place that feels like a spiritual home. ‘Tis the season for that. Come inside, light a candle, sing along… see what happens.

For local readers: Carols By Candlelight, A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. Thursday, December 19th. Church of the Redeemer, Chestnut Hill.

The Redeemer in the snow...

The Redeemer in the snow… where miracles happen.

Christmas Cards

The Lee Family Christmas cards are in a pile waiting for addresses and Santa stamps and happy little words to sum up an entire year. I relish this task because I never do Christmas cards without a festive musical and champagne bubbly accompaniment. Also, I sort of delight in those moments when I think about the people on my list, the ones in my heart, (and the ones who sent me a card last year). I love holiday cards more than Christmas itself. Birth announcements, children getting cute, then all gawky, then cute again, long-winded essays about medical ailments and grandchild accomplishments, hey-we’re-on-a-boat!/ski-lift!/gondola!, card stock, theme stamps… the whole shebang.

To illustrate how freakishly fond I am of the ritual, I’ll share the fact that I send out 250 of them. I realize that because I am neither popular nor employed nor a Kennedy, this makes me ridiculous. But if I have your address, you’re getting the 2012 version of Brodie Hugs Teddy. And after the year I’ve had, and all of the resulting new friends in the worlds of Medicine, and Cancer, and Church, I’ll be spending more on stamps than Nerf Darts this month. These cards are another opportunity to pen a little thank you to anyone I might have forgotten. But as I look at the gigantic stack of Brodie Hugs Teddy, I’m wondering about the cards that go out to my thesis advisor, or great Aunt Pat, or my lab partner—the people who don’t… KNOW.

Although I love love love love long, single-spaced, tell-all, bragging, and even boring holiday card letter inserts, I am personally opposed to writing one. This is because I feel quite obligated to mock any holly-sprig-bordered form letter that flutters out of a lined envelope. It’s possibly the least Christian thing I do (another lie, I’m perfectly dreadful about plenty of other things), but I am unable to refrain from poking fun at a perfectly pleasant summation of a year. I find it great fun to read what someone deemed holiday-card worthy to share. Last year, great Aunt Pat’s was a dry memo about the inevitability of assisted living; a more distant-than-close acquaintance sent everyone on his list comprehensive beach house renovation details; one year my sister-in-law’s letter had a picture of her pool house, my children, and her uterus; and everyone gets at least one note with lots!! of !!! exclamation!!!! points!!!!! bordered with thirty-eight thumbnail pics of kids-on-holiday in addition to the twenty scanned onto the card, itself. (You know I adore it, Kir.)

But after a lifetime of gleeful giggling over Christmas letters, I’m wondering if Happy Holidays from the Lees! requires my own embarrassing missive on theme paper. It’s quite possible that my old boss (and everyone else who isn’t on Facebook) will just assume that I grew tired of long, awesome hair and chose to embrace a practical mom style. But in the spirit of (over) sharing, maybe these old friends would want to know what happened to us this year? In the end, I’ll err on the side of a simple signature, as every attempt to write one of these things is dreadful. I should really subcontract this out to Steve Safran, because this is what I’ve got:

Merry Christmas! We’re happy to see 2012 pass. Britt was diagnosed with breast cancer and slogged through the usual drill of surgery and poisons, wigs and hats, Holy Spirit shout-outs and blogging. Sending happy, haired messages of thankfulness and love from our home to yours.

Nearly Happy Holidays from the Lees. 2012 was a terrifying year for us. Frankly, we’re a little mystified why so many of you shun social networking, thus necessitating a holiday insert about Cancer. You can read all about it at http://www.eastmeetsbreast.com, but realize some of you are too busy/important/cool/retro to read about Britt’s Tragedy online. We hope you enjoy a Cancer Free Christmas.

Happy Holidays from the Lees! Britt had breast cancer! But now she’s fine!! Everything is great!!! Yay!!!!!

So I think I’ll keep Cancer out of the Christmas card.

Today at Bible study (yes, BIBLE STUDY), one lovely lady shared that she prays for each person on her list as she addresses her Christmas card envelopes. I love that image, and hope it’s one that rings with you, too… in whatever form prayer takes as you shovel stacks of letter-pressed and offspring-adorned cards into the post. I’ll be sending out 250 cosmic messages of love along with my Brodie Hugs Teddy. And all I want in return is some truly tell-all, boastful, misspelled missives peppered with alots. As crap 2012 comes to a close, I deserve a good giggle.

One of many Brodie Hugs Teddy captured by www.drewwiedemann.com/family

One of many Brodie Hugs Teddy captured by http://www.drewwiedemann.com/family