So, This Was Christmas

This year’s Holiday season found us in a strange, in-between place. It’s a place in which we’re sort of getting back to normal, but not really, a place in which you can do all of the things that you used to do, you’re just not sure if you should do them. Add to that the fact that we just bought a house in October and are still doing some renovations, and our already tenuous grasp on Christmas tradition has proven to be sand slipping through our fingers.

I was particularly detached this year, which is something that I lament. Karen handled all of the gift choices except for my helping the girls pick gifts for her, and my own gifting was…lackluster. Which is fine, because I feel like I didn’t receive that one cool gift, either…well, maybe one…so it evens out. After all, we reasoned, we did just buy a house.


I remember going home for Christmas one year in grad school. I arrived on Christmas Eve. The lights and decorations were, as always, impressive, bordering on overwhelming, as is my mother’s reputation for Holiday decor. Instead of that Christmas Eve mystery, however, Dad had already gone to bed…his health was beginning it’s downward trend even then…and Mom was doing dishes. The invasion of the normalcy was almost violent, so different from the magic of my childhood.

This was Christmas?


Karen and I stayed up late on Christmas Eve this year, baking and cleaning. There was, once again, no travel on our schedule, which was at once as relaxing as it was depressing. I made sure, keeping with the history of that surprise that greeted me one Christmas morning, that “Father Christmas” had eaten one of the cookies that the girls had left for him, conspicuous crumbs and a half-empty glass of milk staged for effect.

We were rewarded all too early on Christmas morning to the sounds of our excited 5-year-old charging down the hall and exclaiming, “Santa was here!” I managed to stall long enough to get a cup of coffee, and the shredding of wrapping paper commenced.

And, then, by 10:00, it was over, and I thought, this was Christmas?


I think forward to all of the Christmas mornings that the girls will have in this house, and I took some photos of the disarray that followed gift-opening, because I want to remember. None of my adult Christmases have been what my childhood Christmases were…and none of them will be. I don’t want us to focus on the materialism of the event in any case, but how easily our reading of the Christmas story by light of the final Advent candle on Christmas Eve is eclipsed by the excitement of the following morning.

It’s nothing like the past, but I hope that, in intentionally remembering, some of the magic might return, for the girls at least, if not for me. I want them to experience all of those amazing memories with which I was blessed in my own childhood, to look back when they are my age and remember a handful of Christmas mornings so vividly that it feels like they’re there again. I have no idea what will make that connection for them, so I’m just trying.

Hopefully something sticks. And they will remember.

After all, this was Christmas.

The Theology of The Great Pumpkin

While slowly but steadily unpacking our new house, we began making plans for a family Halloween party. If you’ve read my brain dump here for very long, you’ll know that I’ve never been a fan of Halloween, at least not since coming to faith almost two decades ago. While I love an excuse to get into a fun costume, Karen and I generally avoided it early in our marriage, typically just going out for dinner during the trick-or-treat window. When we had kids, though, it’s difficult to tell them that they can’t participate in this event. And, one of the selling points of the new house as they were struggling with anxiety about leaving the old neighborhood was that we would be moved in just in time to go trick-or-treating in the new neighborhood.

This year was also, for a variety of reasons, my first time ever carving pumpkins. I’m proud to say that I did a fairly decent job, but…you be the judge.

A photo of my jack-o-lanterns on my doorstep

A couple of years ago, we purchased It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown in the days leading up to this holiday-that-isn’t-really-a-holiday. The kids have grown quite attached to it, and, I must admit, I’ve started to look forward to viewing it each year, as well. This year, though, because the kids are of an age where everything must be watched multiple times, and thus I heard a perpetual loop of the subject matter for three days, I began to notice the theology of the Great Pumpkin.

You have to feel badly for Linus in this story. He’s the lone believer in the Great Pumpkin, an odd distortion of Santa Clause, and he’s mocked mercilessly for it. Perhaps because of the striking and inescapable fact that the Great Pumpkin as a concept if such a cheap facsimile of “the real event” that is still two months away, his friends think that he has lost his mind, or at least has beliefs that are subject to, as Charlie Brown states, “denominational differences.” All except for Sally, whom he convinces to keep his vigil with him. 

We all know the end. Linus is left disappointed, earning Sally’s ire and his friends’ mockery, all while being horrified that he will be passed by because he used the word “if.” After all, the Great Pumpkin only rewards the utmost sincerity, and there can be no room for even the slightest slip of the tongue if one’s faith is to be rewarded. I feel sorry for Linus. As he looks toward an obvious imitation of the truest event of Christmas, he finds that the pressure is on him. It’s not about what the mythical figure that he looks to does, it’s all about what he is doing, and he will inevitably fall short. There’s always theology at work in the classic Peanuts specials, playfully packaged for us to digest, and this particular special shows us the fallibility of a theology of works. Linus’ ultimate faith experience is about his own efforts. He isn’t looking outside of himself.

The end of this pseudo-holiday special is touching…as we see the clock at 4a.m., Lucy goes outside to find Linus shivering in the pumpkin patch. She has mercy on her brother, and leads him into the warmth of his room where he falls sound asleep. Linus has been devout, but believes himself lost because of the smallest error. We have to believe that his sleep is fitful. I have to wonder, here, if Lucy is demonstrating a deeper faith than her brother, as she shows mercy on someone with whom she had the most intense of debates just hours earlier. She loves her brother, that is evident, and that goes deeper than any “denominational differences.”

There’s much that we could learn from this Charlie Brown special. I think that Lucy’s actions in the final scene are something that would be of a most urgent importance for us to grasp today.

Image attribution: PumpkinWayne under Creative Commons.

What Is Safe?

When our oldest daughter was only a couple of years old, I started a routine of taking her out for “cookies and milk” on weekends. It was intended to carve out special time for her when she had my undivided attention. I was working a lot more then…I do my best to work less these days…but for some reason, we lost the routine. Partly because we discovered that everyone in our family has some variety of a food allergy that makes true “cookies and milk” almost impossible unless it’s made from scratch at home, and partly because, as she got older, life changed a bit. I always said that it might hold as a tradition, or it might not, but the important thing was that we held onto having dedicated daddy-daughter time.

This weekend, I was driving home from that outing. We had spent some time at one of our favorite haunts…a local Barnes & Noble…in which she described all of her favorite characters from a book series she is reading. On the drive home, the driver of a vehicle in the opposite lane appeared to become distracted for a split second. The vehicle began to swerve into our lane. The driver realized instantly and course-corrected…the incident wasn’t even enough to be truly concerning. Even so, I found myself thinking that, although I wasn’t driving fast, had the driver not corrected, there would have been little chance that I could have done anything to prevent a disastrous result.

That’s not just a New England traffic story. There have been countless moments like that in my life, just driving on a daily commute, in which another second could have made the difference in a terrible way. I’m thankful for each one turning out as it did. Like most of the world, I really don’t drive that much these days, but the fact is that, every time I do, risk…sometimes serious risk…is inherent.

Driving…or riding the train, or flying…is a potentially horrible outcome presented to us each time we do it. We’re encapsulating ourselves in a steel vehicle hurtling down a road or a track or through the sky at amazing speeds, and ultimately hoping it turns out for the best. And, to be honest, if you do it enough, eventually it won’t turn out for the best. Most of us have had the accidents to prove that fact.

My point in this is that there are traffic laws and vehicle manufacturing regulations out there designed to keep us “safe,” but we aren’t. We can’t be. And sure, those laws and regulations do good things, and prevent a certain number of tragedies, but they don’t make us safe. We choose to not be safe as soon as we get into the car. It’s a risk we’re willing to take.

The rhetoric of the pandemic has been “stay safe.” We want to know if an event is “safe.” What’s being done to keep us “safe?” I’m going to be honest, I want to scream every time I hear the word safe, because we’re reaching for an impossible state. And while I suppose there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be safer…I’m always reminding our kids of wear their helmets when riding bikes…I think that it’s important for us to recognize that we can’t be truly safe, ever. And giving up our freedoms and allowing blatantly dictatorial actions to happen in the name of keeping us safe never leads to good results.

I’m not a reckless person. I drive so slowly since we had children that it really bothers Karen at times…a drastic change from my single days when I used to just expect speeding tickets. I take reasonable precautions. I think that it’s important, though, to stop whenever we’re about to give up something in the name of safety, and realize that we can’t ever have the ultimate result of that transaction. Safety is simply a state that doesn’t exist.

And constantly striving for it will do more harm than good.

Futurist Retrospective

There are lot of ways that I’m a futurist.

I think that this is much to Karen’s chagrin. I tend to not just adapt to, but seek change in many ways, especially around technology. We were created as creators, after all, and I see the digital sphere as a grand, if occasionally misguided, expression of our creativity. That’s not to say that I grab every new toy that becomes available. Even if our budget were to allow, I believe in a spiritual discipline of avoiding materialism. I also believe that every technology should solve a problem for you, and that, if it doesn’t, it’s likely excessive to have it in your life.

That said, as the technology world goes, I supposed I’m still a bit of curmudgeon. I use some social media, but generally my perspective is that without it, we would have fewer problems. I read my news digitally, but I still prefer to read the paper every morning, even if it is in digital format. I use an RSS reader of sources that I know are reputable rather than allow someone else’s algorithm to feed me information. When I was splitting a lunch bill with some colleagues once, I asked if they had a PayPal account that I could send the money to, and they looked at me blankly as though I were an illiterate luddite.

There are also areas of my life in which I’m anachronistic. I refuse to use modern technology to make my coffee. I grind it in a hand grinder, measure the water carefully, and use a press for my morning caffeination. While my to-do lists are digital because I see a legitimate need to be able to access them from anywhere, any important thoughts or notes that I have about life or inspiration or reflection go into a leather traveler’s notebook that Karen gifted me for Christmas several years ago. There’s something about the discipline of slowing down long enough to write something by hand that is deeply important.

Some of my family finds this amusing. My father-in-law jokingly says that he likes watching me make coffee because I’m a “mad scientist.” I’m fairly certain I’ve gotten some strange looks on flights while journaling my thoughts. It’s just not something that one sees often any longer.

So, while there are ways that I’m a futurist, I suppose that these aren’t among them.

I remember a conversation some years ago with an old friend during our weekly meeting at a local coffee shop. We were discussing how, in Victorian times, everyone kept a journal. Publishing the private journals and papers of influential thinkers, often posthumously, has long been a valued practice in the academic community. I recall making the point in that conversation that blogs were the modern equivalent of this practice, only with the added benefit of inviting conversation from others on the thoughts recorded. Today, I think that I would be more uncertain of whether or not I was onto something there, and, even if I were, the algorithms of social media have all but degraded blogs to the backs of our minds (who has time to ready 200 word posts?) and, even if they haven’t in some circles, the beauty of a blog is the conversation, and almost no one comments on posts these days. So, even if I was correct and we were onto something important there, I think we’ve mostly managed to lose it among the noise.


There’s a theory out there that digital technology never actually makes anything easier for us (I’m specifying digital here, because I don’t think most of would argue against innovations like machines that do our laundry for us). As our work becomes more knowledge-based and less physical, we have developed the capacity to work from anywhere. While that’s a luxury that affords us more time, it also consumes more of our time because we can never switch it off. Sometimes I wonder if the Internet was a better place when it was a place we went to when we intentionally sat down behind a computer and initiated a connection, rather than having it in our pockets all of the time and always on. We’ve rushed to achieve so much, and we have largely succeeded. To paraphrase Captain America, though, they didn’t tell us what we’ve lost. There’s a point of connection that we don’t have if we see each other primarily on a screen.

I guess my point here is that everything becomes progressively more frenetic. And I know that I’ve written about this before, but it’s something that always seems to be on my mind of late, because everything keeps happening faster, and faster, and..it was too fast already when I began thinking about this topic.

I wish sometimes that we could go back. I think I’ve made it apparent here that I’m not against digital progress. It’s that I think that we hit a sweet spot some years ago, and things would have been really great if we had collectively pressed pause and broken free of the illusion that we can never appreciate this great thing that we’ve done, but rather have to immediately rush onto the next thing. And while that sweet spot would be defined slightly differently by different people, I really think that, if we could just rewind a bit…back to before social media spiraled out of control, back to before the web was in our pockets and on our wrists at all times, back to when people read books more than screens…I think that would be collectively better for doing so.

Anyone who has ever tried to downgrade an operating system will tell you, though, that you can’t go back. We can only make the best of what we have and move forward. Perhaps if we just decided to settle in, though, and work on making the best of it before rushing into what’s next….

I guess that wouldn’t be progress, though. And I wouldn’t be much of a futurist if I recommended it.

Or would I?

Time Travel and Father’s Day

Karen and I are coming to the end of a two week visit with my parents. We were visiting them last year just before the pandemic exploded into all of our lives, and, though we were visiting to deal with specific family obligations this time, it still felt somehow fitting that we came out of the pandemic year the same way that we entered. A bookend, of sorts.

I’m a bit of an unusual case, I suppose, in that my parents still live in the same home in which I spent my childhood. They bought this house when I was not even a year old, and enjoyed a decent amount of land to go with it. I remember as they built additions to it. Whenever I visit lately, I find myself spending time with the realization that I grew up in this house. I played in this yard. The house and property have evolved so much over the last 40-plus years (I don’t want to date myself too closely). There have been so many changes. Sometimes, when we visit, I can see snapshots of various time periods play out in my head, vividly. This is true all the more now that our children are asking me some variation of “tell us a story from when you were a boy!” And, into the way-back machine of my mind I travel.

Our visit this year included Father’s Day. The kids decided to make a gift for me. This isn’t the first time….they’ve been pleasantly crafty of late. They ran into the house the evening before, unable to wait, and dragged me outside to see what they had made. They had carefully composed a heart from selected rocks that they had painted, flowers that they had picked, and topped it with (of all things, but a nod to my obsessive-compulsive tendencies) a bottle of hand sanitizer. They had done this in the lawn behind the house.

It meant so much to me.

Photo of the heart that my daughters made for me on Father's Day.

My parents have a huge back yard. The kids will run and play in it, weaving around various mini-gardens that are the endless hobby of my mother, for hours. When I was their age, we had an outside dog whose house was near the very spot where they had laid the heart for me. That very yard in which I had myself ran and played and had so many adventures with my father, so long ago. I could never have imagined that moment back then, but it seems now to be a marker of something sacred, a thin place…the closest I will know of multiple generations experiencing their lives on the same hallowed ground. I know that this is nothing new for some, but for me it was an epiphany, almost as though I was seeing myself as a child look forward through time to this moment.

I had difficulty putting into words why this gift meant so much, even as my daughter expressed sadness that she felt it wasn’t special enough (she inherited my perfectionism, the poor kid). They kept asking, and so I would do the only thing that I know to do in those moments. I would tell them stories of my childhood that happened in that very spot.

And they loved every moment of the telling, just as I did.

I wonder what they will look back on and remember fondly when they’re my age, and the thought that we are creating those memories now makes me feel outright reckless for not approaching every day with care to make them the best memories possible, because they, in turn, will tell their stories to someone.

Because our stories make us.

I’m thankful that there are more in the making.