The Grinch and Mrs. Milton

As I said in my last post, this is the first time in 35 years I’ll be acknowledging Christmas. After hours of discussion during our pre-dawn breakfast brawls, I told my husband that my feelings about Christmas had changed.

Gino and I playfully name our early morning discussions as “breakfast brawls” because we fuss and intellectually joust on a variety of subjects. This year the topic was Christmas. Both of us spent years loyally supporting the teachings of our church.

NO CHRISTMAS– its paganism–and we had ex’d Christmas out of our family life.

This year, we decided to give Christmas a second look. I upheld my church’s teaching and custom in my home faithfully: no lights, no trees, no presents, no Christmas cards (well maybe one to my wealthy Aunt in Brooklyn)–No, NO and NO to everything Christmas!

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To our fundamentalist religion, the very idea was too Roman Catholic (since they seemed to be the first ones to combine December 25 with the baby Jesus) and, need I repeat it, the practices were too pagan. In our eyes, Christ’s-Mass represented the combining of the winter solstice with the birth of Christ, and we refused to participate. Those bad Roman Catholics did this to us all. We had been enlightened, We were above all that, and we were serious about it.

To read about pagan practices associated with Christmas click here.

Many of the pagan practices associated with Christmas are easy to spot. Mistletoe, Yule, drunkenness and yes, caroling. Yet, I couldn’t ignore the fact that worldwide it had become part of Christian custom and tradition to celebrate the birth of Christ. It has become a time of year people try to show love to one another, meditate on the birth of Christ and his purpose for coming into the world, peace on earth and good will toward all men–you know– the Christmas spirit. In short, it is a universal Christian custom to honor the birth of the King of Kings.

Customs are simply practices created by communities of people. Those customs may endure regardless of the original source. Biblically, we have the freedom to acknowledge or not acknowledge a particular day.

Colossians 2:16-17 Let no man judge you in respect of a holy day.

Paul encouraged the Roman Christians not to change their love or view of one another based on differences of beliefs that had little to do with the true kingdom of God.

Paul stated in Romans 14:5
One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

Yes, Christmas (and Easter) are man-created celebrations of sacred things. Some wish to observe and celebrate; others do not.

In our increasingly godless society, I find value in having opportunities to worship and tell what Christ means to me and how he changed my life.

It was funny to me how folks in my church were cautious not to honor Christmas but when Easter came, all the new hats and clothes would come out on Easter Sunday morning. Where is that in the bible? Were we told to celebrate his resurrection?

In my years since becoming a Christian, this issue of holidays has been a delicate dance. There are Christians who feel you are deceived and nigh backsliding if you join in Christmas celebrations and others don’t care and have their ugly Christmas sweaters and crazy shopping days ready to roll.

Our church was particularly joyless and confusing this time of year.

Let me tell you an interesting story about what happened in our church.

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My husband belonged to our church as a child in the 1960s. Now, up to this point, Christmas was not an issue. In fact, every year a beautifully decorated Christmas tree was placed by the stage in the basement of the church and from what I understand, the Pastor gave away presents to the children.

One year, as lore has it, an evangelist came through and like the Grinch, stole Christmas away in his little bible satchel and ran off.

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He preached against Christmas and decorating trees (Jeremiah 10) and from then on, he convinced the Pastor that it was not good for Christians to celebrate this pagan-infested banquet of evil. The Pastor started teaching against it. After a while, the tree in the basement came down, and the NO CHRISTMAS rule was in effect. It spread and spread throughout the years until, by the time I came to the church, you had to say “happy holidays” and not “Merry Christmas”. Saying Merry Christmas was not right. And you were literally reported to the ministers if you had a Christmas tree in your house.
Where is that evangelist anyway?

Some weakly try to keep this no Christmas tradition going, but many of the people in my church now acknowledge Christmas. Recently a Pastor stated during a church service that “saints (the Bible term for Christians) don’t celebrate Christmas”.

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The people in front of me looked around confused and shocked by the statement. This was the first time they heard this. Apparently, this was not a “thing” in their church, which was interesting to us because we grew up in an opposite atmosphere where such a statement would have been met with a hearty “amen”. See what I mean by confusing.

In all honesty, it really should have been left up to the individual.

While in our church, people were practically “turned in” for celebrating Christmas, many other branches of our church celebrated with vigor. For example, my husband and I were friends with a pastor in Oklahoma, and his kids would send us Christmas cards almost every year. But we felt odd sending them cards because–WE don’t do that. We were enlightened to the truth of Christmas. Well, should we send one back? We wondered. Was that joining in with the wrong “spirit”? We weren’t sure.

We were being rude for Christ’s sake, I guess. Everyone was left to fend for themselves in these situations.

Gino and I created a Family Appreciation Day around this time where we would give our children presents and tell them how much we loved and appreciated them. We’d stay up all night and have games and videos and special, once-a-year foods. We basically created our own celebration in the midst of our joyless anti-Christmas atmosphere. Our children knew what the deal was. They knew about the pagan roots and why we didn’t practice some things but looked forward to this fun time and the presents every year. We didn’t want them to go back to school from Christmas break with a lump of coal.

Here are some arguments that we used while under this spell and our thoughts on it now.
1) We don’t even know the day Christ was born.
Well, a lot of people of less significance to the history of the world, don’t know their birth date, but they know they were born. So they pick a day and celebrate. American slaves did that all the time. So there’s nothing wrong with a day to call attention to the birth of Christ. Besides, for some, this is the only time they may even think about Him at all. Any time I get an opportunity to talk about the King of all Kings or the plan of salvation is a beautiful time.

2) All the paganism and fantasy mixed in is just lying. Christians promote truth, and Santa, elves, reindeer, flying sleighs, and Ole St.Nick knowing whether you’re naughty or nice is all part of the Christmas scene. It’s just not truthful.

This is true! Those things are false. But who says those things have to be a part of your celebration. Why throw out the baby Jesus with the bath water? The birth of Christ is a true event. Stay away from the false. The original reason for the season is celebrating the birth of the savior to the world. This doesn’t mean one has to live on fantasy island. As Christians, we don’t have to indulge secularism. We can take it back and make it sacred. Make this time of year your own. Create holy family traditions. Eliminate the milk and cookies for Santa and bring out manger scenes and little drummer boy songs that tell about Christ. You have to stay focused on what is important to you and your family. Any time I can bring up what God has done for my life, it’s worth celebrating.

What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice (Philippians 1:15-18)

3)Where do you see Christ telling anyone to celebrate his birthday in the bible? Ha! I would get my relatives with this one because of course, they couldn’t find any scripture like this. But we thought about this again. Where do we see Christ telling anyone to make a celebration about his resurrection either? But we gladly do this every year at Easter. It’s customary among almost the entirety of Christendom. Easter is a late development of Christian tradition and was never celebrated in the New Testament. Acts 12:4 ( only in the KJV) is the only place the word Easter is mentioned. Some Pastors because of this fact have taken to calling Easter Resurrection Sunday. But we won’t fuss about words.

4)We don’t celebrate Christmas. It’s Paganism!
Now, as much as my husband and I hollered these words, and said we were free from the Spirit of Christmas. Several conflicting issues would come up.

1 ) Our church gave out fruit and nut baskets to church members (BECAUSE IT’S THE HOLIDAYS!)

2) We sang all the Christmas songs in the hymnal around December 25, but not in July…only in December. Hark the Herald Angels Sing just did not fit near the 4th of July.

3) We had special Christmas morning church services, even though it’s “just a day” and Christ wasn’t born on the 25th. The justification was “it’s customary, and people are looking for church services during Christmas time. We’re catering to people’s understanding.” Or rather their CUSTOM. Helllooo?

4) Our church still went caroling on the street to reach people for Christ. No complaints about this. It was appropriate and beautifully done. But this does come from pagan practices and you don’t find that in the bible either.

5) We were instructed that if someone gives you a Christmas gift……TAKE IT and don’t be offensive, AND THANK THE PERSON AND JESUS….BUT we didn’t give OUT Christmas gifts to our families because that would be participating in the spirit of Christmas.

6) We did visit our families during this time, ate their figgy puddings, visited each other’s homes, and played board games and then enjoyed the AFTER Christmas sales. We still had a good time, but we did NOT decorate our houses.

So this year, we decided to do wreaths, poinsettias, candles, and cards and we’re working on gifts. We’re so out of practice. My husband couldn’t bring himself to do the lights and trees yet. Baby steps.

This year we will celebrate the fact that Christ was born, that he came to this world as part of God’s great plan of salvation and grew up to be the perfect example of holiness and the perfect sacrifice for our sins. And because of all this, we can lay our sins at the foot of the cross. Hallelujah!

No cookies will be left out for Santa though.

So Happy Hanukkah
Feliz Navidad
Happy Kwanzaa

I’m Out.

How Is The Air In Your Church?

Can a poisonous environment hinder spiritual or personal growth? The main word on everyone’s lips these days is the environment. The air we breathe, and the health of our surroundings make all the difference in how long our planet survives and how well we live while we’re here. The atmosphere is important ecologically and spiritually. Take our homes for example. In every home, there is an undercurrent, a feel. Often you can sense it when you enter a house, but more often, when interacting with the family members, you get a feel of how they engage with one another. If there’s anger, and resentment, abuse, a code of silence, one can pick it up in the body language and the words used. It all has to do with the messages that are between the verbal lines or sometimes just in the air.

When I was growing up, I received the unsaid message from my father that unless you were perfect, you would not be loved. He never said those words. He was very careful not to say it. He didn’t have to. He acted it out every day. If my sister did something independent, she was branded a troublemaker. He treated her differently, negatively, suspiciously. I never wanted that treatment. I wanted love and approval from my father. So I did everything necessary to get that love. Of course, I did my share of teenage and childhood crimes, but on the surface, I complied with every rule. I was a good girl. I was a soldier in my parent’s one person army. To my father, my sister had gone AWOL, but I was the dutiful one. The one he could brag about with As and Honors and Ivy League education.

For me, in adulthood, that translated into people-pleasing, and fear of losing approval and acceptance. Our home was so chaotic and violent, and there was so much manipulation, I never really felt safe and my parents never really talked to me about my actual life or my problems or even who I was as a person. They were too distracted with their own mess. When Christ spoke to me about my life, I needed him, and even though I felt I had the external parts of my life together, the spiritual component was a disaster.

Initially, our church environment had a lot of love, and that’s what I craved. I had new moms, dads, aunts, uncles, brothers, and sisters in Christ. The love shown to me was incredible, and I thrived spiritually in the atmosphere.

I was sincere in my love for Christ, and I could ignore a lot of flaws because of the love of God that was in the air. However, as with all parts of life, when love and acceptance cool off, the flaws in the relationship became impossible to ignore.

Here’s how poisoned atmospheres affect your spiritual life.:

An Example

Recently, my granddaughter had a lead count that was higher than usual. We were all very alarmed. She’s nine months old. We don’t let her touch tap water, she still uses “baby” water. We gave her good food.step0002 Where was this poison coming from?

So the doctor notified the state and a guy came out and found several areas in the house that had high lead counts. On the scale of toxicity is was on the lower side but the doctor wanted to investigate the source.

The inspector said it was our old front windows!Georgian-Sash-Window.jpg

No one could tell!  Some poisons are tasteless and odorless and extremely deadly.

The inspector said that because the house was old and the front windows were the only ones that were never replaced, he suspected that this was the major culprit, spreading lead through the air. His meter reading went off the charts when he came near the windows. There were other minor places in the home with higher than normal readings, but he said that those things combined in the atmosphere could be breathed in and cause a problem.

Can this happen on a spiritual level? Of course.

If a bad substance is breathed in and is strong enough, it can make a difference in your joy or misery, peace or confusion.

Honestly, there are a lot of things you can ignore in your spiritual surroundings. There will always be a few bad actors: those who use the church for a social club, or those not interested studying their bible, then there’s always the self-righteous ones who think they’re the only ones toeing the line and don’t have any compassion for anyone but their friends of course. Then some people just want to be seen accepted and like their status, or those looking for a quick wedding night and not a marriage, the dishonest people. However, if such people are not held accountable, it can ruin the air.

What if such people are allowed to flourish and take over until the atmosphere is toxic, selfish and stagnant, and the church becomes a mixed goulash of unresolved problems, hatreds, and bitterness and you can’t seem to separate all the ingredients that made up the stew in the first place.

All of this creates a climate change. And in the words of Al Gore, an inconvenient truth.

What Makes the Truth Inconvenient?

When we see our environment is messed up and harmful to us,  our initial reaction is to get away from it.  But getting away can be inconvenient.   This is where the problem starts.  I spent years trying to fix what couldn’t be fixed, and God had to show me that I couldn’t function in lousy air and spiritually survive. 

Do you still ignore dysfunction? What if the church is run by the dysfunctional people? Is that OK to endure because the doctrine is right? Does good teaching outweigh the need to breathe freely?

What if loyalty to families and particular people become more important than the gospel?

What if being on the Lord’s side becomes a conflict with the church’s agenda?

What if you try to discuss your concerns but then are tagged as an enemy of the state or a troublemaker or just ignored altogether?

What if every time you call attention to the problem, you become the problem?

All of these questions are questions that you have to work through to come to an answer.

No furniture, No Friends.  My husband tells the story of how his dad took away all the furniture one year because he and his siblings just kept breaking the furniture and wouldn’t clean up the house–nine–I said, 9 kids. His dad’s solution was to throw out the couch, tables chairs etc.

It didn’t look like a home and you couldn’t be comfortable there. So for years, my husband didn’t invite anyone home. He was too embarrassed.

Sadly, I began to know exactly how that felt. 533de970ee6567a034d170100f190c25d437c126924fea92307fec5b0c07cd5d.jpg

Having been in my organization for over 30 years, and knowing that it’s foolish to try and change an entire system. I found myself coming full circle. Seeking and working with God for myself. Besides I could see the writing on the wall.

O My! I’ve Been Replaced! Fun Stuff. I remember being sent an email one time by a Pastor’s wife who thought I was doing too much in the church. The email, ( I still have it) told me that I was being removed from heading up a project; that I would now be an “advisor” working with the women on a particular project and that she would now be taking over that project and she made sure to copy her husband. Ok. Fine. I’ve been replaced.

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I’m just fine working in the background, but I never heard about the project again. No meetings or follow-up. It was just seemingly stomped out. Sadly, the women it was designed to help were the ones that suffered, not me. They actually had thought of it, not me. I was simply helping to organize but somehow it became all about me and political, the larger picture of helping people was lost.

Well, once a person wakes up to their surroundings, they have decisions they have to make. The struggle is not to accept dysfunction as normal. I remember telling the Lord, I didn’t want to accept political games, and bad behavior as ok. I couldn’t give in internally. I needed to hold onto what I understood to be right. I didn’t want to lower my expectations and begin to think principles don’t matter. They do matter. Environment matters. This is where people fall asleep, and start to get swallowed whole by the atmosphere.  I needed to keep my inherent ethical values intact. And focus on my future in the kingdom.

Reclaiming My Freedom

The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14: 17)

My quest for better spiritual awareness came after years of being an innocent.  As a Christian, I needed to stay in connection with Jesus Christ, the source of spiritual life. The Vine. Righteousness is not based only on works of faithfulness, but faithfulness to the voice of God. It is Him we must please in our daily walk. He is the decider of what is holy and acceptable, and He is the king of peace and giver of real joy. Salvation is for everyone, of every culture, every background, and circumstance. The details of people’s lives cannot be dictated to them by other people.  Instructions must come from heaven to the heart. The above scripture from Romans 14 holds significant meaning. What truer sentiment could have been written about what constitutes the kingdom of God.

It is not the tangible that makes up the kingdom but the intangible. My soul belongs to God, and it’s a part of me that no earthly person can touch or judge. Only God can know the intricacies of motive, backgrounds of understanding, and depth of heart. Therefore, Paul said it best because who are we to judge another man’s servant, to his own master he stands or falls, for we must all give an account in the day of judgment.

In the circle of church attendance that I’ve been in for the last 35 years, people don’t just leave individuals in the hands of God. They tend to just pick at one another. When you put this kind of power in the hands of humans, they tend to wear each other out. After a while, people grab a badge and arrest whomever they wish, with the consent of the authorities.

Part of my journey towards greater spiritual growth involved identifying the things that came between Christ and me and personal, Spirit-led decisions about myself. I had to shake off the control people tried to have over my family and my life. For example, in our congregations,  for reasons I never understood, no one could wear Afrocentric styles or cut their hair in styles. Mind you, these are black congregations. We had to go around like we were in the 1950s wearing just curled-set hair or permed styles that didn’t involve any cut or shape. Go figure.

One minister even tried to sneak in the idea that cutting off split ends WAS cutting hair. She was quietly booed.

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So where does that leave a black woman in the City of Chicago? How does this even work? Insane.images (1)

We were pretending to be white southern belles from the 1950s and ’60s with perfectly coiffed tresses while living in the 1980s, 90s, and 2000s.

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I hear this obsession still goes on. Of course, after studying I Corinthians 11 for myself, I threw up my hands. Who was going to listen to the Bible at this point?

Yeah, that thing.

I was a small minnow in a sea full of whales. What was seemingly important in our congregations was how the Pastor’s wife saw it, not the scriptures. Their hair rules were ingrained in our religious group. Unfortunately certain of our black congregations still have this pre-occupation about what is HOLY HAIR. One group even said that using a relaxer is worldly! You must PRESS your locks with a hot comb.

But, the pressure was real. Conform or else. Or else what? Thou shalt be stared at and talked about and preached against as a rebel, a breaker of unity, a breaker of our laws, vain, worldly …. (don’t ask, you get the idea).

download Can you fry it or dye it and still be saved? Can you feather it, relax it? Can you wear twists or twist outs? Can you braid it or put extra hair in it without being accused of vanity, and then how MUCH extra hair is too much, and who gets to decide that? The person who has no hair?

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One time, my poor daughter ruined her hair on a weekend trip with friends while she was swimming. It was “toe”-up, not just torn up. She had allowed the chlorine to stay in her hair all weekend. This was the summer before she entered high school. We had to cut off the damage and do something cute with it to help it grow back. My child, bless her heart, was already pulling and picking at her hair as a habit. The best way I saw was to put braided extensions in her hair so she’d look cute and it would solve the messiness of daily styling a 13-year-old girl who had damaged hair. My husband agreed. He said to our daughter and me,

“Look, if anyone, I mean ANYONE, the Pastor, whoever, I don’t care, says anything to you about your hair, you have them see me. I am NOT going to have my daughter going to a new school with her hair to’ up!”

Thank you, baby.

Since I became a Christian, that struggle remains daily and real. People always try to put the spiritual whammy on you with their opinions or traditions spun out of everything but prayer and scriptures. They feel their views are the Holy Ghost and trust me if they can’t cover it with the Bible, it ain’t. If their opinion is the Lord, why don’t they have the grace of Christ to act nice about it?

We Do Have Liberty

In the Spirit, we have liberty in Christ to follow as He leads and practice what we understand to be sacred in our lives. Yet, there are people in this world who would have you believe that YOUR standing with God is through them. We shouldn’t give away our freedom in Christ to other people. It never ends well. Bottom line if you place yourself in that position you will find in the end that people simply like controlling other people. In the end, you will not even know or understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, but you will feel that you must.

A good, solid Christian told me one time, when it comes to people and authorities, don’t go asking; go telling. Tell them what God showed you, what He wants you to do and then go do it.

When you ask permission, that’s too much power and people like playing with power and half the time, they don’t even know how to use that power.

God saved me as an individual. He individually sought me, and forgave me of my sins and gave me light to walk the path of salvation. I know that God is watching over me as a person to keep me on the right track. If I’m sincere, God will lead me the right way. The way that’s best for me. Yes, we all need community and guidance and shepherding and mentoring and help with our joy and faith. These are things the body of Christ provides by building itself up in the love of God.

I had trained myself to be tethered to other people’s opinions.  I was not alone. But now, I’m aware enough to reclaim my freedom.

Think about the following story and let me know your thoughts below:

Elephant and the Rope

As my friend was passing the elephants, he suddenly stopped, confused by the fact that these huge creatures were being held by only a small rope tied to their front leg. No chains, no cages. It was obvious that the elephants could, at anytime, break away from the ropes they were tied to but for some reason, they did not. My friend saw a trainer nearby and asked why these beautiful, magnificent animals just stood there and made no attempt to get away.

“Well,” he said, “when they are very young and much smaller we use the same size of rope to tie them and, at that age, it’s enough to hold them. As they grow up, they are conditioned to believe they cannot break away. They believe the rope can still hold them, so they never try to break free.” My friend was amazed. These animals could at any time break free from their bonds but because they believed they couldn’t, they were stuck right where they were.

–the Unbound Spirit

My Miseducation About Perfection

I’ve written about perfectionism before, and yet as I go on in life,  I see more clearly the dangers of this insidious disease.  I’m reminded that the wrong type of perfectionism comes from damaged homes and false signals.  Some people bring this wrong mindset into their life and into their spiritual walk.  Years ago while participating in a married couple’s class at our church. The question on the floor was what is it that your spouse does that irritates you and how do you cope with it.   A minister’s wife got up and said, “Oh my husband is perfect.  He doesn’t do anything to irritate me.”  At first, I thought they were joking, but they weren’t.  How can that be?  Is he a clone?  Is he in a coma?  I couldn’t comprehend this at all. What had gone wrong there? Did she expects people to buy that? Continue reading

Frustration and Anger: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools Ecclesiastes 7:9 KJV

One day I was sitting at the table, trying to relax after putting the children to bed, and my husband was telling me about problems he was having on the job, problems new converts were having etc. I told him, “Hey honey, I really don’t want to hear about anyone’s problems right now.”   I had reached my human limit. I was tired, and I was frustrated. Continue reading