Friday, December 20, 2013

Strength For the Journey

Yesterday a friend of mine was grousing about how bad Christmas is—the expectation that we are all supposed to be merry and happy and jolly.

But true followers of Jesus know that Christmas is not about happiness. It’s about waiting. It’s about a long, hard journey.  It’s about fear and being rejected. And ultimately it’s about finding Light.

The Christmas story that’s all about cozy families, caroling and giving gifts? That’s the Madison Avenue story, the retailer’s story. That’s the Target, Macy’s, Amazon story.

If you read the actual Christmas story you know it’s a story about struggle: finding out your fiancĂ©e is pregnant (and not by you). It’s about hearing that your son is supposed to bring healing to a broken world (WTF? I just want him to go to college, get married and have kids.). It’s about giving birth in a filthy manger. And it’s about strangers approaching your newborn.

Does any of that sound happy and jolly?

I know, I know, what about the angels? They’re a small part of the story. There’s one at the beginning to say, “Hi, you’re pregnant and God is the father.” And of course Joseph gets one in a dream to say, “Mary is not some slut and you should really marry her.” But that’s it for Joseph and Mary. They don’t get any more angels.

The shepherds get a boatload of angels to give them traveling directions. But that’s it. Those pictures of angels surrounding the manger? I don’t think so. Read the book.

I  really don’t take the Bible literally. The Christmas story is most powerful as a metaphor for a difficult journey at the end of which—impossible though it may seem—we find the Light.

We need Light for our broken lives. For our confusion, our grief, our anger, for all the crap in our lives that makes us say, “It’s just too damn hard.”

Make no mistake: finding the Light isn’t usually happy or jolly or merry. Because sometimes the Light shows us what jerks we’ve been or how we’ve made our own misery.

But as painful as that realization is—what a gift!  Because of the Light we can see a different path. Then we have to make a choice. Choice—another gift!

That means that Christmas happens all year long because we’re constantly embarking on new and difficult journeys. 

So let me end by saying, “Strength to you on your Christmas journey and may it be Light.”

Friday, December 13, 2013

Some Sentences About Crime

Today I attended the sentencing of the man, whom I'll refer to as Mr. Criminal, who broke into our house and took my two computers. To my shock he is only twenty years old. He shuffled in wearing hand cuffs, an orange jumpsuit and those hideous plastic shower slippers in which one can do nothing but shuffle.

My other shock was that he was being sentenced for two others thefts besides mine, one of which was stealing firearms and selling them. That is bad. Very bad.

Escorting him was a portly police officer who couldn't outrun a snail but could probably do a great job blocking and tackling. I was thinking about this since they took the handcuffs off Mr. Criminal. He had flame tattoos around both wrists.

The Judge, a very attractive, classy and dignified woman asked me to read my letter. I read:

" Dear Judge, 

I have not yet been able to afford to replace all my computer equipment, but hopefully will be able to do that soon.

What I will never be able to replace are two years of essays, sermons, unfinished book manuscripts and photos—particularly those of my father’s 90th birthday celebration.  Yes, I have learned the hard way about backing up computer files.

As sickening as it was to lose those things, it was even more devastating to lose my sense of safety and security in my own home.  Our doors and windows were locked. Our burglar alarm was on. When I asked the police officer what else we could have done to prevent this burglary, he shrugged his shoulders, shook his head and said, “Not a thing.”

He agreed that if we did not have a burglar alarm, they would have cleaned us out.

So even now, five months later, I sit up in bed if I hear anything in the middle of the night.  I don’t go back to sleep for a long time. I lock up the house and carry a key when I’m watering the yard. I don’t  even shower with the bathroom window open.

I can’t pretend to know the life circumstances of Mr. Criminal (and whoever else accompanied him) that lead to this crime. But I do know that it was wrong and it matters. Stealing not only robs the victim but also robs the thief of self-respect, dignity and self-worth.

My hope is that Mr. Criminal will regain these things but I suspect it will take him longer to do so than it takes me to replace my computers."

His attorney then explained that Mr. Criminal committed his crimes because his father died when he was fifteen and to cope he started taking drugs. So now he had to steal to support his drug habit. The Judge said nothing.

Mr. Criminal and I looked at one another several times. His glances at me were furtive, but I looked at him a long time because I wanted him to understand that you steal from a person, not from an inanimate object such as a house or a car. (He has a record of car burglaries too.) 

The Judge then asked if Mr. Criminal wanted to say anything. He did.

"I'm sorry to Ms. Jarvis," said.

This was a very wise thing to do considering the judge was just about to sentence him.

She gave him ninety months. The minimum. She urged him to continue his education in prison. They handcuffed him again and lead him out.

And that was that.

I took the bus home and of course stopped at Bartell Drugs to buy chocolate. And what to my wondering eyes should appear but my favorite: Hershey's Mint Truffle Kisses. On Sale! What a great day!

So why then, amid the overhead Christmas music, aisles of decorations and laden with chocolate did I start sobbing?

I had to fumble in my bag for a tissue hoping it didn't look like I was shop lifting because what if I was wrongly convicted and had to appear before that same judge. How weird would that be?

This kid is only twenty. What a waste of life--to spend the next seven and a half years in prison.

Twenty minutes later I arrived home to hear about this shooting at Arapahoe high school in Colorado. Where did that kid buy that gun?

Probably from someone like Mr. Criminal!

Seven and a half years isn't nearly enough.