Thursday, December 24, 2009

I don't say Merry Christmas

I don't typically say "Merry Christmas." I'm not a practicing Christian and don't feel compelled to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Happy Holidays seems a little too politically correct, and has a connotation of chicken shit, so I avoid that too.

Festivus, I think, is almost appropriate, because who doesn't use time with family to air out their grievances and participate in the feats of strength...namely surviving time with the family.

Solstice, seems most appropriate for me. It's the shortest day of the year, both a beginning and an end. It reminds us that life is a cycle and that we often get multiple opportunities to get things right.

I think if I had a choice my winter holiday of choice would be called Soltice Share. It would be a celebration of everything that has been and everything that is before us. We would celebrate by giving the best of ourselves to those around us, and the whole point would be to contribute to the benefit of others so they can do the same in turn.

Yeah, that's what it would be.

But, alas it is not that yet. I will however concede that this year is different. Our rampant consumerism has finally caught up with us, and many seem reluctant to touch the hair of the dog this season as we collectively suffer the hangover. Shoppers seem to be going about their deeds without frenzy. I also noticed today, that there is a sense of good will going around. I repeatedly heard "excuse me," and "let me let you through," as I shopped today. In fact everywhere I went complete strangers engaged in friendly chit-chat as we waited in line. There was definitely a sense of relief, as though everyone was happy to shed the expectation of consumer gluttony.

"It's because we're all in the same boat." my husband said when I mentioned it to him. Funny how misfortune can bring out hints of compassion. It's as though we are finally ready to embrace who we are, as opposed to the commercialized over-hyped version of what we should be.

So what does one say to friends and neighbors during the winter celebratory season? How about "Comfort and Joy!" If it's good enough for the Merry Gentlemen, it's good enough for us all.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Lead us not

In a recent article, Derek Gordon provides a recap of internet evolution for 2009. He talks about the meteoric rise of Facebook, the advent of Twitter, and how these methods have integrated with the use of mobile technology. For those of us who are more than just passive users of these innovations, this is not really news. In fact middle school students understand the impact of being able to use such tools for validation.

But what Mr. Gordon wrote next caused me to take pause.
" and information aggregation sites like Daylife, that intuit relationships based on the search queries you provide to deliver both the content you want and suggestions for associated content are already changing the ways we look for information and entertainment on the Web."
I know this has been happening a while, but I can't help but fear being led by the nose through the power of suggestion, to a place of depraved homogeneity. Yes we make the choice to click, but how easy would it be to be led to a place we really didn't intend to go? (Yes I realize the irony of this as these words are placed right beside my GoogleAd, and thanks for the click)

This brings to mind early images imprinted in Catechism as we learned the phrase, "Lead us not into temptation." As seven-year-olds, we were just taught the words, not what they meant. But, somehow I knew, the request was to stay away from a very bad place. In my mind that place was dark, scary and cold. And I knew being led there would not be favorable.

As much as the internet connects us with friends, community and family, I can't help but see that there are still dark, cold places there too. And as our activity, our interactions, and our curiosity are harvested, processed and used to create a path of breadcrumbs for us to follow, I can't help but worry that malevolent intentions could be at play. One could argue that the algorithms used to create that trail are indifferent, after all they are just based on numbers which are neither good nor evil.

But even the idea of being led to a place is disturbing. Visions of sheep come to mind, ever trusting of their shepherd until they are led to slaughter. Makes me wonder if we are placing too much trust in suggested avenues on the web. Thus my atheist ways are cast aside as I remember those words, "lead us not..."

I feel they will still serve me well.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Gift giving beyond the holidays

Once again the holiday season has encroached upon us. But despite the smell of a fresh Christmas tree in the lobby of the building I work in, bells ringing above red kettles on street corners and an increasing number of twinkling lights in my neighborhood, I am yet to feel merry. The truth is I loath the holidays. I don't like to decorate, hate shopping, and still have no idea what figgy pudding is. I also don't like senseless gift giving. This is the practice that brought us The Clapper and the Barrack Obama Chia Pet.

Don't get me wrong. It's not that I don't like to give, I'd just much rather give meaningful gifts, year round, and when they are unexpected. I suppose in some ways this attitude can be blamed on my time at Burning Man. As I've mentioned before, it's a gift giving society. When we encounter someone that needs something we can give, we do. And we think ahead. Every time I go into Wallgreen's to buy a $1.99 beanie cap, I buy two, so I can give one away. I do the same thing when I get a roll to eat on my way to work in the morning.

Random acts of kindness and giving gifts should not be something we do once a year. Furthermore celebrating such a beautiful thing by giving meaningless crap to those who don't need it is a disgrace to the practice. So please, give gifts that matter. Give gifts with meaning. Give gifts to those who need them, and give gifts year round. We don't need fat guys in red suits to remind us to do this.