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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Chrismas the Great Inclusion; PART EIGHT

Christmas; The Great Inclusin
Part eight - The Giving

Our Puritan forefathers came to our fair country to escape the corruptness of the European church. They did not celebrate Christmas. They had no desire to participate in the inclusion of wild riotous parties and the like. For many years, their perspective held traditional celebrations in check. There still are Christian sects who refuse to celebrate the holiday.

It wasn’t until the 19th century until business decided to include Christmas as a new marketing tool to sell products. And it quickly became an instant hit. The Christmas season is now watched carefully as an extremely important financial indicator for our economy. The average American will spend $769 on gifts this year, according to Gallup. As long as middle class America can afford Christmas shopping, we are in good shape.

Yet, the word on the street from many is that we have “lost the true meaning of Christmas”. Just what is the true meaning of Christmas? Let’s review some important points:

- The original Jewish sect did not celebrate the birth of Christ. The significant Christian event was that of his resurrection. (By the way, that too is based on a pagan holiday celebrating the spring equinox.)
- When the birth of Christ was established, it was a random choice based on the popularity of a pagan Italian holiday.
- Every holiday tradition we practice has roots in various cultures of the world. All were originally non-Christian.
- The popular practice of exchanging gifts was maximized during the past two centuries by business. This has been good for our economies.
- All traditions we celebrate during Christmas time have inclusionary roots. Some are religious based. Most are not.

So, what is the true meaning of Christmas? It is a holiday of giving. It is a time when we spend our hard earned cash to give something of value to someone else. It is a season of song and the arts. It is a time for parties and happy socialization. It is a time to spend with family. Sure, the baby Jesus, pops in occasionally. And I suppose it is good to remember a poor man who taught of love, charity and grace. But our current holiday does not exist to celebrate the birth of its namesake. That does not take away from the message of giving, sharing, and sacrifice.

Our holiday is rich in inclusion. That is what I view in its celebration. There is spirituality in the commercialization through the gift giving. Love is in the air. To me, that is the true meaning of the season. I love the colorful decorations. I love my fake Christmas tree. I love to purchase and give gifts.

I suppose that if we truly can capture the sentiments of giving and sharing, we have instilled something of the teacher’s message into the holiday named for him. But I can absolutely guarantee you, that it is not a Christian holiday. It is one we celebrate with all people.

Copyright 2006 by Cindi Jones RSS feeds allowed

Christmas the Great Inclusion; PART SEVEN

Christmas; The Great Inclusin
Part seven - The Tree

Our most popular modern Christmas tradition is decorating everything. We’ve got to have tinsel, bows, bright colored paper plastered everything. And if that isn’t enough, we string lights made in China to waste countless kilowatt hours powered by fossil fuels.

It all started with the Christmas tree.

The Christmas tree has no connection to the birth of Jesus. In fact, trees have long been gone from the holy lands. A tree relegated to decoration would have been something of a luxury methinks. Two of the priceless gifts presented to the baby Jesus according to the gospels were myrrh and frankincense. Both of these products were produced from tree sap and were used as incense. Tree sap valuable? You know why? They didn’t have many trees. Now, this sap truly was special!

In the seventh century, a monk from Crediton, Devonshire, traveled to Germany to preach. Much of his time was spent in Thuringia spreading the gospel. The people there revered the oak tree for all the reasons great oaks are admired. It was old, it was strong, it was a virul symbol of life. Our monk friend used the idea of an evergreen to convey teachings of the holy trinity. A cut fir was triangular in shape and in his discourses, the three points of the triangle represented the three personages of the godhead.

It took 5 hundred years for the idea to catch on, but by the 12th century, fir trees were being hung upside down every where in Europe at Christmas time. Yes, the gift of the monk was to take a long standing tradition of respect for the living mighty oak and turn it into a frenzy for killing trees and hanging them upside down.

But this was not all that the monk left to us. Decorating the trees became popular at some point… .and his work came to great financial reward to Thuringia which soon became the greatest manufacturer of decorations in the world. Until they learned of outsourcing.

The message of our monk was devised to include the Germans into his faith. It unintentionally became a strong tradition which we enjoy with fervor today.

Deck the halls! Kill a tree!

Copyright 2006 by Cindi Jones RSS feeds are allowed

Christmas the Great Inclusion; PART SIX

Christmas; The Great Inclusin
Part six - Viscum Album

Mistletoe (Phoradendron flavescens or Viscum Album) is a parasitic plant that grows hardwood trees for the most part. As mistletoe grows on a tree, it sends out its roots right into the tree's bark and takes nutrients from the tree. Mistletoe does not kill the tree but it is known to cause deformities in the branches. Mistletoe stays green all year long and is easily spotted in the winter time when the trees lose their leaves.

Image of Mistletoe

Ingesting mistletoe can cause severe stomach cramps and diarrhea, and in some cases can be fatal. In Europe, mistletoe is used for medicinal purposes. Here in the United States, we haven’t figured it out yet since we can’t legally grant a patent to Pfizer for a plant.

The name for mistletoe comes down to us from second century Anglo-Saxons (yes, the white people) Mistel is the word for dung. Tan is the word for twig. They called it mistletan. In the good old days they saw the birds crap on the tree limbs and then this parasitic plant would grow. Of course, the birds were leaving seeds from the berries they had eaten, but it truly did appear that this plant was the direct result of birds crapping on the tree.

In the first century, British Druids believed that this plant could perform miracles. It was used as an aphrodisiac (believe me, the human race always checks out this use first for any drug), medicinal uses, and to protect people from witchcraft. They would harvest mistletoe five days after the new moon following winter solstice. Fearing contamination if it touched the ground, it was carefully caught in a special white cloth. They would then sacrifice two white bulls while prayers were offered. Sprigs were then passed to the people who would then be protected from evil spirits and storms. Because of the consistency and color of its berry juice, it has long been recognized as a sexual symbol. Now I looked this one up. What this means leads my mind to wander.

Correct etiquette for kissing under the plant was for the man to remove one berry when he kissed a woman. When all the berries were gone, there could be no more kissing under that plant. (Yea…just try buying some mistletoe with actual berries on it.) If an unmarried woman was not kissed under the mistletoe, she would remain single for the coming year.

So, why in the world was this gnarly plant drawn into the great inclusion? For the best recurring reasons of all. It helped celebrate the very creation of life. And besides there were lots of Druids in that neck of the woods to convert. Since bulls have been hard to come by, that part of the tradition has been relegated to the hamburger chains for year round processing.

Anyone for some mistletoe berry mash?

Copyright 2006 by Cindi Jones RSS feeds allowed

Christmas the Great Inclusion; PART FIVE

Christmas; The Great Inclusion
Part five - Amanita Muscaria

The fly agaric (amanita muscaria) with its fiery red cap and white “stars” is one of the most spectacular of our forest fungi. Down through the ages it has been compared to bull testicles and male genitalia and worshipped as sthe earthy incarnation of infinity, divinity and virility. It’s characiature appears on common objects from key chains to lawn furniture. It is unusual to find a societal icon to be, in fact real. This species is named the “fly” agaric from the old practice of using the mushroom mixed with milk to stupefy flies. It is also notable for its ability to concentrate vanadium – a rare, malleable, ductile metal used to add tensile strength to steel. (paraphrased from Mushrooms Demysitified by David Arora).

Amanita muscaria is a member of the same family of other well known but seldom recognized mushrooms such as the death cap and the destroying angel. Yes, they carry toxins which can be deadly. But it is commonly known that it has hallucinogenic properties. Before I continue, let me reiterate, that consuming this mushroom can be deadly. Do not eat them.

Now where am I going with this mushroom that is prone to maggot nurseries? You are going to love this.

A Russian folk tradition puts our muscaria as a central character in a Christmas story of sorts. You see, many years ago, Russians hanging out in a snow soaked frozen wilderness of the mother country’s famous nether lands had nothing to do. The winter freeze forced them inside. So what to do in those cold winter nights but eat, drink, and get high. The muscaria was considered food, a recreational food of sorts. The story goes that these fellows charged up on muscarias and recycled the chemicals by consuming their urine into a hallucinogenic frenzy. Yes, hanging out with friends sharing a few good fungus was THE thing to do. The mushroom of their interest became heroic. It became their icon, a football hero of their day.

So what was to do with such an icon? Today we plaster our walls with artwork with NFL heros. Back in “the day”, good old Saint Nick was a pretty drab dude. If you look back at the old artwork, his clothes were pretty boring. These wacked out gents decided to decorate their patron saint with the bright and festive colors of their favorite fungus. Yes, they clothed good old Saint Nicholas in red and white. And to their saint, they granted him the mystical powers we are familiar with today. He was attributed magical skills divined by a group of men in a hallucinogenic state of mind.

May we give thanks to our old Russian compatriots this sacred season for the tender gifts of magic and wonder they gave to us. Yes, child, what can Santa bring YOU for Christmas?

Copyright 2006 by Cindi Jones RSS feeds allowed

Christmas the Great Inclusion; PART FOUR

Christmas; The Great Inclusion
Part Four - Yule Tide Log

The Scandinavian tribes also celebrated the winter solstice. It seems like the ancient peoples all understood astronomy to some degree. Many experts give the civilizations in the old days a lot of credit for becoming expert astronomers. But here’s the deal. Other than getting smashed on alcoholic beverages, they didn’t have all that much to do at night. So, they sat around at night looking at the stars and making up stories about them.

You know, if you were to watch the stars for a couple of years or so, you would soon recognize their dance across the heavens. It doesn’t take a rocket science to figure out that their motion tells a story of the seasons. This knowledge was important; for they relied on it for their very survival.

It’s not hard to understand why the winter solstice became so important. It marked the shortest day of the year. It marked the coldest and longest night. It was the march towards springtime planting. It was a time to celebrate. One particular celebration of note was called Jol to honor Jolnir (or Odin, the chief god of the Norsemen). The pronunciation of Jol became “Yule” to us.

In those cold regions of northern Europe, the burning of a large log became a very popular traditional way to celebrate the festival of Jol. They’d go out into the forest and drag in the biggest log they could find. Into the communal lodge it would go to the fire.
Out would come a big pig and in it would go for roasting. (Could this be the origins of the traditional holiday ham dinner? It certainly didn’t come from the Jewish traditions!)

The party started when it was lit and it would not end until the log was completely consumed. The lodge would be filled with smoke, food, laughter, dancing, brew… and the other things that naturally accompany such an event. I’m sure that if we could go back to those times, there would be many who also celebrated birthdays in August.

Yes, I would consider the party an uncontrolled orgy of sorts. Why not? It was cold outside and there was not much else to do in the time of longest nights. It wasn’t uncommon for the log to last several days. I wonder how much imbibing a person could take in over several days? I have no clue. I’m not an imbiber. I really don’t know.

When celebrations of the Christmas holiday caught on in these areas, the log was included by the local people as part of the local traditional way to celebrate the season. Oh yes… all of the other trappings came along with it much to the chagrin of the church I’m sure.

Nevertheless, it was an inclusionary act to adopt the Yule log as part of a traditional Christmas.

Oh yea. Come on baby and light that fire.

Copyright 2006 by Cindi Jones RSS feeds allowed

Christmas the Great Inclusion; PART THREE

Christmas; The Great Inclusin
Part three - The Birthday of a King

There is only one surviving historical account of Jesus made during his time. Josephus, a historian of the time, wrote of Jesus being executed as a criminal. He elaborated no further. He did not write anything of the life of Jesus or his influence… only that he was killed as a common thief. Intuitively, however, you might think that there was more to it than that, for if Jesus were indeed a common thief, it would not merit historical annotation in that day. So, according to the people of that time, Jesus was a figure of some notoriety.

My husband tells of how his sister would help her son understand the “true meaning of Christmas” as he was growing up. She was a single mother with little money to celebrate the holidays. Yet she still found a unique way to make the event special for her little boy. She would make a birthday cake that they would share for the baby Jesus.

I hear often that we have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. I’ve never quite understood what that topic is meant to convey. Yes, this particular day supposedly marks a great Christian event…..

The books of the New Testament give us little to work with when establishing the real date of the birth of Jesus. In fact, these writings work against us in helping to determine the actual date. They can’t even agree in which city he was born. Two cities are identified.

The season of his birth is further confiscated by the description of events in the gospels. These indicate spring or fall time events, not winter.

Additionally, the year of his birth is totally masked by historical facts that contradict each other. has gratiously provided this concise example of what I'm talking about:

“The Gospel of Luke (1:5) states that John the Baptist was at least conceived, if not born, under Herod, and that Christ was conceived while John's mother was in the sixth month of her pregnancy (1:26). Luke's Gospel also states that Christ was born during the reign of Augustus and while Quirinius was the governor of Syria (2:1-2), . Blackburn and Holford-Strevens (2003, 770) indicate Quirinius' governorship of Syria began in AD 6, which is incompatible with conception in 4 BC, and say that "St. Luke raises greater difficulty....Most critics therefore discard Luke" (p. 776). Some scholars rely on John's Gospel to place Christ's birth in c.18 BC”
So we, quite honestly, do not know where Jesus was born, which day marks the day of his birth, or even the year he was born.

So, when to celebrate Christmas? Quite honestly, it wasn’t a concept followed in the early church. Celebrations of any kind (other than the sacraments) countered the doctrine. In early church history, it was believed that Jesus was born and killed on March 25. Jewish tradition mandated that a prophet live an integral number of years.

However, there came a need to further define Jesus. The church membership needed more to believe in. And, it was also important to use the concept of inclusion to help provide a step for non members into the organization. As the church became more of a Roman entity and moved from the lands of Jerusalem, it made sense to include the them.

In Italy, a well established festival was Saturnalia, a holiday held prior to the winter solstace. Small gift giving was common and the holiday lasted several days accompanied by much singing and drinking. Natalis Solis Invicti (the birthday of the unconquered sun) was a celebration of winter solstace on December 25. The date marked the shortest days of the year. The celebrations marked the rebirth of the sun… when the days would now grow longer. Many sun deities were worshiped. These holidays were popular among the Roman population. They marked a new beginning, new life, and serious party making.

It made sense to include these celebrations, these dates, into the Christian life. For, a religion to survive in Rome, it needed a Roman membership. This inclusion has its first recorded mark in history dated 221 AD by a traveling pastor named Sextus Julius Africanus.

And indeed it was. The church officially hijacked the festival of the unconquered sun. The Catholic Encyclopedia freely states that this Roman celebration has the strongest claim on the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

The date of his birth is ultimately unimportant. The inclusion of other peoples, the marriage of common beliefs, the celebration of life is what is important.

Copyright by Cindi Jones 2006 RSS feeds allowed

Christmas, the Great Inclusion; PART TWO

Christmas; The Great Inclusion
Part two- Saul of Tarsus

What do you do when you have a struggling new religion and you just can’t get it off the ground. You’ve got some new ideas, some fresh perspectives… you want to get the word out.
Yes, this is what the early Christians faced. The Romans had really done a number on them. Early Christians were a sect of the Jewish faith. Oh yes. They were Jews. It is a little recognized fact, much to the chagrin of the KKK that Jesus was in fact a Jew. I don’t know that he ever denounced the Jewish faith as a matter of fact. But I digress.

So, here we had the Romans actively persecuting the Jews. They had the audacity to give the Romans the proverbial finger. And the fledgling religion was caught up in the struggle. The once great Jewish nation was nearly cleansed from the earth as the great Roman armies invaded to clear the insurrections. Oh no… the Christians were not the first to go after the Jews (oh… but back then the Christians were Jews!).

So, here we have a decimated nation with a new sect impoverished by the cleansing of war. And in its Jewish state, it had moderate acceptance but was not growing. In fact, in all likelihood, it could have died had not Saul of Tarsus come along.

Saul described himself as an active persecutor of the new sect early in his life. He was a fundamentalist Jew and a legal Roman citizen. There was no room for these free wheeling liberal hippies spreading love all around. Persecution in those days was not an act of publishing pamphlets and yelling hatred in the street. No, it was a driving people from their homes, whipping and killing sort of thing. Somewhere along the way, he had a vision where upon his heart was changed. He saw the error of his ways. Love was the answer and he joined the new liberal sect. Although he never met Christ, nor was he given an assignment by one of the authorities, Saul took it upon himself to spread the good word.

His first act was to change his name. For you see, you need to do something to convince people that you’re not the same ole murdering SOB they used to know. A name change is good. It completely eradicates all that old history… at least it did back then. Paul traveled and could see that the easiest way to grow the membership was in the liberal act of inclusion. He stepped outside the borders of Judah and started teaching to the Gentiles, those not born to the Jewish cast. He was ridiculed by the fundamentalist Jewish Christians for this act. Are we confused by this liberal, fundamentalist, conservative ping pong ball yet? Okay… let’s let it go. The thing to see here was that Paul was an inclusionist.

The practice wasn’t a new idea. Egyptians, for example took no chances. They would write prayers from just about every known religion to include in their burial rituals just to make sure their loved one would be properly carried into the afterlife. Believe it or not, there are Egyptian burial records with even Christ mentioned in later years.

But this was a first for the new faith. It was not to be the last. Religious sanctity depicted in art… holy angels with halos, for example, would be taken from the old Greek religions.

Paul would come to be the principal figure in shaping the structure and very nature of the new Christian faith. Christianity ceased being a Jewish sect with the acts of Paul. New members coming in from surrounding nations carried it to a new faith to stand on its own… sort of.

It needed more followers. And to do that, the Christians needed to attract people with better marketing. That marketing would lead to the unofficial policy of inclusion. Other religions and nations had long held traditions which they could not abandon. Christianity gave them a way to follow the new path and still hold on to their closely held traditions. For Christianity would embrace those traditions and make them its own.

The holiday we now celebrate as Christmas would become an amalgamation of many traditions from many cultures. Now this, my friends, is a wonderful thing.

Copyright 2006 by Cindi Jones RSS feeds allowed.

Christmas, the Great Inclusion; PART ONE

Christmas; The Great Inclusion
Part One - The War on Christmas

In our day, we declare war on anything we don’t like. I remember when we declared the war on drugs. I remember thinking at the time that this was a war we would never win. We didn’t have a known enemy to conquer. We had no idea what we would be fighting. There have been other wars declared in the meantime. The war on poverty, the war on terror, and others come to mind. None have been effective. The names are misnomers.

Last year, I heard a new one: “the war on Christmas”. It was odd. I’d never really thought that there was a need to beat down Christmas, put it on trial, and throw it in jail. Oddly enough, this war was declared by the same political factions of other declared ineffective wars for the same political reasons. It was a war conceived to portray an enemy that did not exist, conceived to enflame and divide the people of our fair country.

I saw on the tube recently, an interview with a Jewish man on the street concerning some aspect of the war on Christmas. At the end of the interview, totally off script, the Jewish gent wished the interviewer “Merry Christmas”. Here in the states, it is a national holiday of festive decorations and gift giving. You see, it is shared by most everyone from every walk of life. Regardless of your faith and spirituality, the holiday is a fun holiday to share.

Most of you know that I am “Druish Royalty”. Yes, the church that I pastor has no official religious holidays. But Bill O’Reilly had better not take my Christmas away from me just cause he wants me to declare a war on it!

Historically, this holiday has spurned creativity from the world’s best composers. Sure it’s religious. But it is also wonderful art of enduring quality. We should remember it. We play these classics every year to celebrate. Some of the newer stuff won’t have lasting value I’m afraid. But who doesn’t recognize tunes from the Nutcracker or Bing singing white Christmas?

It is a time when we get together and share with family and friends. For most of our society, it is the only time that gift giving is given a passing thought. I like to give out presents all year long… but it is especially fun at Christmas time. For you see, someone took the time to make festive wrapping paper that always fits the season. Just try finding themed paper to wrap that perfect gift for the summer solstice!

So here, may I present some of my favorite Christmas stories for your enjoyment in “The great inclusion; Christmas”

Copyright 2006 by Cindi Jones RSS feeds allowed

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Wishing My Life Away

Wishing My Life Away

The days are countin down
No more messin round
In that time I'll be found
doing the inevitable.

Am I wishin my life away
wantin this thing but still stay
focused on what must be done today?

Time clicks by so slowly
The seconds seem like minutes
and the minutes seem like hours
Bla bla bla, you've heard it before.

But can I say the interum is
precious to me?
Can it be that I just can't see
beyond this thing that just can't be?

Copyright 2006 by Cindi Jones RSS feeds allowed

Monday, December 11, 2006

Standards of care are very worthwhile

In dealing with transsexualism, medical professionals require us to follow the Harry Benjamin standards of care (SOC). These standards are a minimum set of requirements that a transsexual must follow prior to obtaining irreversible gender reassignment surgery. They include reasonable requirements for therapy, hormone treatment, and living full time in a role of the new gender for one year. Many self diagnosed (aren't we all?) transsexuals have a difficult time in following the standards of care for various reasons. This is usually for financial reasons or the individual feels that living in the opposite role is not necessary.

The standards of care are reasonable. I believe that variations on these standards are acceptable and necessary depending on each case. These can be worked out between therapist and patient. However, we must maintain the standards of care. I believe that they should not be abandoned on a whim. We are telling the rest of society that we are different and we have set up some definitions, some rules, things that HELP us get along with the disbelievers. This is another perspective to the SOC I've never seen discussed.

On the other side of the fence, for the rest of the world looking in, we have some labels, some definitions, procedures, and safeguards that help THEM to understand and deal with us. It helps us to be able to use a restroom if we can say that we are following a well established procedure. You all know how I feel about labels, boxes, and definitions. But sometimes they are beneficial and necessary.

The SOC is much more than what applies to US. Remember, WE are very self centered. The world does revolve around US. Step outside the hoola hoop kids. Try to see what the SOC means to your average citizen who has no understanding of our problems other than what they have been told all their lives. Many are perfectly open to accept us if we show them that yes, although we are different, we have safeguards, we have a methodology that we are following. They know, although they may disagree, that we have medical professionals working with us to change our lives.

Our public's education and experience with transsexualism for the most part is watching us go through our transition as we follow these standards of care. People we know and strangers alike watch us as we change. They see us transform our own lives and deal with the problems we face in real time. There is no better teacher my friends than this real life experience. They all learn from our experience in our real life test, part of the standards of care.

A perfect world would not require it all. But we live in a society. A lot of this stuff benefits our society. It helps it to learn, to grow along with us, and hopefully to some day understand. When that day comes, I'm sure we'll have a much different set of rules to follow. Perhaps we'll be able to dismiss them altogether.

In the mean time, following the standards of care will help us as we transition. And in a very big way, this will help our society learn to accept us.

Copyright 2006 by Cindi Jones RSS feeds allowed