Occupy Christmas!

The spirit of Christmas is dead. It is as dead as the proverbial doornail. How shocked you are at such a statement is most likely directly related to how much hope is left in reversing our current fortunes. Perhaps it may be that the spirit of Christmas is not entirely dead after all, and that, despite the proverbial doornail, it may open new doors that lead to brighter future Christmases than we have before us at the present time.

    What exactly is the Christmas spirit? There certainly is no shortage of lavish gifts. There certainly is no shortage of profuse spending. Certainly there is no shortage of celebrations, nor is there any apparent shortage of holiday mirth. However, how much of all this is directed towards those less fortunate than ourselves? The Christmas spirit is suffering through the want of charity – of love. Charity is an offspring of love. And it is a love of all people, not only one’s immediate family and friends. Charity is the love of all people, with a special consideration for the least amongst us all, those less fortunate than ourselves, and especially of the poor. We do not like to admit it, and we will most likely even deny it, but this is not what takes place in the name of Christmas today. But we know what does.

    The decadently blatant commercialism gets flaunted each and every holiday season. We complain about the rushing and greedy crowds. We grumble as we fork out enormous sums of cash and credit on gifts either unappreciated or soon forgotten. The Christmas spirit gets entirely commercialized and is quickly consumed within the spirit of Scrooge unrepentant. Unlike Scrooge, however, we know better. We really do.

    The time of Christmas is a time of setting aside our petty differences. The time of Christmas is a time of forgiving our neighbor’s trespasses. The time of Christmas is a time to grow in our faith, in our hope, in our charity. The time of Christmas is a time for helping those less fortunate than ourselves. The time of Christmas is a time of love. A love of (say it again) all people.

    We all know these things to be true, but while we celebrate Christmas safe and warm with our own families and friends, just how much do we share with the destitute, with the down-trodden, with the poor? Holiday cheer is all too often defined by champagne and colorful wrapping paper, but the apathy towards the poor remains hidden underneath and is not as festive. It seems easier to pity the poor when they remain outside our door and out of sight, because seeing them just might upset the holiday cheer. But open the doors and open the windows, the poor are there, even if unseen, for they have no place in this world. And we ask ourselves in Scrooge-like fashion, “are there no workhouses, are there no prisons?”.

    Regardless of our own personal religious convictions, perhaps we could learn something about true Christmas spirit from that prophet from Nazareth whose birthday we supposedly celebrate every 25th of December. Christ was, after all, quite specific with what he taught. Therefore, by examining a few key points of his teaching, we will reach a better understanding of Christmas spirit.

    The best place to begin is the beginning, and, since Christ first began to teach publicly with the Beatitudes (the Sermon on the Mount), let us begin there as well. (All biblical quotations are from the New International Version).

 

        “Jesus said, ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of

        God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed

        are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when men

        hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as

        evil, because of the Son of Man’.” (Luke 6: 20-22)

 

    Christ, therefore, begins his teaching career by accepting all those who are otherwise undesirable and unwanted in our society. Certainly no person is rejected or condemned for being poor or destitute. Christ is well aware that it is not their fault they are poor or destitute – any more so than it their fault for having been born into an all too often cruel and unkind world. Does this accurately reflect our own feelings towards the poor?

    Christ not only recognizes their poverty on a material level, he recognizes their high capacity for maturity on a spiritual level as well. This capacity for spiritual maturity arises in the poor because many of them have given up success on the world’s terms. They turn to, instead, all that remains for them – they turn to God. Those of us who are not poor may not realize that this actually works to their advantage – for Christ also said:

 

        “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the

        other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot

        serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6: 24)

 

        “Jesus said, ‘Watch out! Be on guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s

        life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’.” (Luke 12:15)

 

        “As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple

        treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.

        ‘I tell you the truth’, he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all

        the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she

        out of her poverty put in all she had to live on’.” (Luke 21: 1-4)

 

    The poor find it easier to deal with spirituality for they have little money, and what they do have, even if nothing more than two small copper coins, they share easily, and some choose to share with God.

    If the poor are especially blessed, then what about the rest of us? Does it mean that we are not blessed if we are not dirt poor? This does not have to be the case. Maybe we are not poor, and maybe we are wealthy by modern standards, but, again, Christ is very clear about what our attitude is supposed to be:

 

        “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust

        destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves

        treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where

        thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your

        heart will be also”. (Matthew 6: 19-21)

 

While we may indeed have wealth and possessions, we should not form any attachment whatsoever to such things. All things of the world, such as wealth and possessions, will wither and fade away. The love of God, however, will not. Therefore, we should be more concerned with the perfection of our love of God. Christ was, after all, very clear on how to achieve this goal:

 

        “Jesus said, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give

        to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow

        me’.” (Matthew 19:21)

 

        “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you

        will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it

        will be given to you”. (Luke 6: 37-38)

 

        “In everything do to others what you would have them do to you, for this

        sums up the Law and the Prophets”. (Matthew 7: 12)

 

    It is a well known fact that Christmas time is the worst time of the year for the poor. The overflowing wealth of our modern society abounds and is flaunted before those who cannot afford to participate in our holiday festivities. However, Christmas also offers us the greatest opportunity to share our material blessings with the less fortunate amongst us. Further, Christian morality demands our personal responsibility. Again, Christ’s teaching on this point is obvious when left out of the mouths of preachers and evangelists:

 

    “Jesus said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have

    hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little

    children’.” (Matthew 11:25)

 

    “What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight”. (Luke 16:15)

 

    “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I loved you, so must you

    love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one

    another”. (John 13: 34-35)

 

    “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot

    be my disciple”. (Luke 14: 33)

 

And speaking of disciples, consider what this one has to say on this subject:

 

    “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says

    to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about

    his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not

    accompanied by action, is dead”. (James2: 14-17)

 

    Clearly, we can see what needs to be done to reawaken the Christmas spirit that is so desperately needed today. The Christmas spirit may not be dead, but certainly it has been asleep for far too long. The reawakening of the Christmas spirit will require nothing less than a true grassroots spiritual revolution. Never before has such a revolution been as desperately needed as it is today. The world is what we make of it, and only we can change it. The keys to revolution are in your hands. However, this is not a revolution that requires gunfire, bloodshed, or violence. It is a revolution that requires only personal spiritual commitment. It is a revolution that can begin this very Christmas by following three simple steps: Recognizing true wealth; Rejecting the ways of man and embracing the ways of Christ; And putting Christ’s teachings into actual practice.

 

Step One: Learn to Recognize True Wealth:

 

    “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold

    that you were redeemed – but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb

    without blemish or defect”. (1Peter 1: 18-19)

 

Step Two: Reject Man’s Ways and Embrace Christ’s Ways:

 

    “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world

    you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome this world”. (John16:33)

 

    “The spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to

    you are spirit and they are life”. (John 6: 63)

 

Step Three: Put Christ’s Teachings into Actual Practice:

 

    “But just as you excel in everything, in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in

    complete earnestness – see that you excel in the grace of giving. For you

    know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for

    your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become

    rich”. (2Corinthians 8: 7-9)

 

    The spiritual revolution will happen this Christmas only if we insist on its taking place. Take a little time this Christmas season to share our nation’s bounty with someone less fortunate than yourself. Some may claim that it is impossible to save the entire world, but don’t let that deter you. Learn to exercise the Christmas spirit that dwells within you. Don’t be blind to the needs of others. We are all in this world together, and it is up to each of us to make it a world that our children deserve. Christmas is, after all, for the children. For their sake, let the Christmas revolution begin today.

 

    “It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through

    understanding; And to the open handed the search for one who shall receive is

    joy greater than giving. You often say, ‘I would give, but only to the deserving.’

    The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture. They give that

    They may live, for to withhold is to perish”. (Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet.

    Knopf, 1923)

Change The Tune, Change The Dance

Jumping off the Ivory Tower and facing a mid-career change can be disconcerting to one’s sense of inner equilibrium and well being at best – especially when the “jump” was really more of a “push”. They say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but when that first step is off a cliff and into seemingly endless darkness, it isn’t exactly easy to restrain an overwhelming sense of pessimism. Nonetheless, the journey has to begin somewhere doesn’t it? Whether having jumped, stepped, or shoved off from the Ivory Tower, I find myself splattered on the pavement seeking new directions to somehow get my life back together and to find my way back home – wherever that may end up to be. However, as of right now, the future seems very uncertain.

The world is apparently going to end – as we know it – sometime in December this year. At least, that is, if the Mayans get their way. I suppose if anyone really knows something about worlds coming to an end it would be the Mayans. The best predictions regarding the future seem to be based on past experience – and the ancient Mayans certainly have experienced the end of their world – as they knew it – so it doesn’t look like we have any reason to doubt them. In the realm of prediction they were, after all, professionals. Compared with our own modern professionals, if the past is any indication of success or failure, the odds are clearly in the Mayans’ favor.

Take a look around you. Be honest. The evidence is not good – at least not good that the Mayans were wrong. The world – as we know it – appears to be burning on multiple levels. Nothing seems right any more, nor does it look like anything will be getting better any time soon. To say anything else to the contrary would be the modern equivalent of Nero fiddling while Rome is aflame around him. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to clearly see the flames – or hear the music – through the din of incessant fiddling. And don’t fool yourself. Politicians, Lawyers, Corporate Leaders, Educators, and corrupt College Administrators have known the score for years, and yet they continue to fiddle away while our lives hang in the balance. The Titanic was clearly doomed, but the band played on. Music can be a wonderful thing, but when we become so utterly distracted from the Truth – from avoidable doom – it becomes an imperative that we somehow Change The Tune.

Maybe – just maybe – there remains enough time for us to change the tune, and in so doing, change the dance – the dance that spirals downward to our own doom. However, the answer may not be as simple as it seems because it still begs the question – who controls the airwaves? Whoever controls the airwaves chooses the tune and determines the dance as well.

Perhaps it is dangerous to ask such questions in this day & age, but some questions just need to be asked, even if we do not like the answers. Sometimes the answers may be even more dangerous than some of the questions. And for those of us with any semblance of a post-secondary education whatsoever, shouldn’t we be leading the way in asking these questions and in finding the answers?

We may not know exactly who controls the airwaves, but we know for certain who does not. Whose song do you dance to? Whenever the song has not been chosen by us then we will always be out of tune, and at the current moment, unless we happen to be Nero, we have to admit that most of us seem out of tune with just about everything.

Let us not forget, however, that Nero was a total schmuck. Times have changed to be sure, but not all that much. Whatever your status – in the Ivory Tower or somewhere outside of it – if you can hear the music then you know what needs to be done. The choice is ours. It is time to knock the fiddle from Nero’s icy grasp once and for all. It is either that or simply resign ourselves to go the Mayan way.

Jumping From The Ivory Tower

The reason that I am starting this blog is because, after over a decade of being in higher education, I find myself in the need of making a mid-career change. Note that I  say “in the need of” and not “wanting to” make a career change, for I do not want to make such a change. Like many others, I went into college level teaching as an act of dedication, a commitment to higher educational values & to having a positive impact on my student’s overall learning experiences. However, the well known recent troubling economic times have resulted in the increasing corporatization of higher education. The vast majority of teaching jobs at colleges & universities have become part-time, or “adjunct”, positions with minimal job security, no health insurance, and few other benefits as well. College administrators now treat teachers as mere products or business commodities in a system driven by profit. Perhaps this is their right to do so, but we are not products or commodities, we are human beings. As human beings, we have the right to work hard at being the best at what we do, and asking for fair compensation in return is only reasonable. Unfortunately, these conditions have forced many exceptional teachers, such as myself, to leave our chosen profession and to seek greener pastures elsewhere. This is the situation that I now find myself in, and when I first realized it, even though it was a long time coming, it was quite a shock. Having to reinvent oneself mid-career is never an easy task, and it can create absolute havoc on one’s sense of personal well being & self worth. However, I know that I am not alone in this. We are losing teachers every day because of a faulty system that fails to recognize their lasting value. They say that before we can rise from the ashes we first have to burn. Too many of us are burning each and every day. I have not fully found my way to rise from the ashes just yet, but I have decided to make this a public process. People need to be made aware of the state higher education is in today, and what it is doing to teachers as well as to students. And, as teachers, we need to help and support each other as we go through the daunting task of reinventing ourselves after many years of being highly qualified educators. I hope that through telling my story as it unfolds, others will share theirs, and that together we can make this transition from higher education to the private sector a little less lonely & hopefully a whole lot easier. We have to face reality. College administrators are fiddling away like Nero while The Ivory Tower is burning down around them. However, because we are truly creative & critically thinking & highly qualified individuals, it will be up to us, the teachers, to finally rise from the ashes once and for all.