Monday, May 23, 2016

Reclaim Memorial Day from Militarism

The shift from honoring our war dead to ogling death machinery and lusting after militarism is subtle but powerful


[My post has been published as a "Letter to the Editor" in the Indianapolis Star around Memorial Day in 2005, 2008, and 2012]

The National Medal of Honor Memorial in Indianapolis
I love how Indianapolis pulls out all the stops on Memorial Day weekend.  With the eyes of the world on our city on Sunday, there's plenty of pageantry and patriotic fervor to spread around.  No city has a greater responsibility, then, to accurately frame what Memorial Day honors.

As it is currently observed, however, the holiday appears to be mostly a celebration of American military prowess.  Military might is prominent at all our big events, from military bands and troops marching in parade to the latest military hardware proudly on display to a bone-rattling fly-over of military jets at the singing of our national anthem before the race begins.

Of all places, the praise of militarism is included and embedded in official public prayers offered at numerous memorial and spectator events. Ordained ministers of the Gospel, who should know better, routinely give thanks for and invoke God's blessing carte blanche on America's war machine. Do they do this sincerely?  Because they think it's expected?  Because they're mimicking others?  Have they even begun to think the implications through?

God, guns, and guts will together be praised.  In the eyes of our youth, a distinct and misleading impression will form: Memorial Day is about recognizing military might and honoring those who fight for us.  Secondary assumptions will be implanted: This is the primary way we preserve our freedoms and ensure democracy.  This is the way it's always been.  And this is the way it always must be.

But the intention of Memorial Day is to honor all who died in America’s wars, not to celebrate militarism or bless war.  It’s clear from the inception of “Decoration Day” in 1868 by General John Logan and its post-WWI promotion by Ms. Moina Michael that the focus was to honor our war dead, particularly by decorating their graves and graciously supporting the many widows and orphans war leaves in its wake.

Though routinely disregarded, the distinction between memorializing our war dead and celebrating militarism is critical.  Instead of letting the holiday be co-opted to perpetuate militarism, let us resolutely focus on honoring those who have given their lives in our nation’s conflicts.  Reverently consider the cost of even one soldier’s life and its impact in lost potential, relationships, creativity, and community contribution over a generation.


This Memorial Day is an opportunity to consider: given the cost in these precious lives, we must find a better way, not just repeat the past again and again.  War--and those whose lives are snuffed out or haunted by it--gives us every indication that we have not yet explored or employed our best intellectual, spiritual and material resources for preventing or addressing conflicts.  

The Memorial Day holiday affords us an opportunity to contemplate how far we have to go as a nation--and as a human family--in transforming our means of defending liberty, advancing democracy, and procuring justice for all.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
www.indybikehiker.com
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker
indybikehiker@gmail.com

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pentecost and Social Justice


"Pentecost laid the axe at the root of social injustice." - Phoebe Palmer Knapp

Kevin Austin leads a 21st-century effort to end human
trafficking around the world via the Set Free Movement.
TRANSFORMED AND EMPOWERED TO LOVE. Officially, May 15 is the celebration called Pentecost. An ancient Jewish holiday that follows fifty days after Passover, Acts 2 records the event that forever changed the context of Pentecost for the followers of Jesus. Now celebrated as the "birthday of the Christian church," Acts tells the story of God pouring out the Holy Spirit on Jesus' disciples in fulfillment of ancient prophesies and the promise Jesus had made (Acts 1:4-8).

FROM COWERING TO COURAGEOUS. Pentecost turned cowering converts into bold advocates. It transformed a rag-tag band of despairing disciples into people indwelled and overflowing with the love of God. Pentecost launched a movement that, for all its 2,000-year ebb and flow, has never quite ceased to transform people and challenge core human injustices in every generation through a burning love that overwhelms fear, paralyzing inertia, despair, violence, domination, pride, and corrupt power.

SELF-GIVING ACTIVISM. I am part of a Christian tradition that places Pentecost at the heart of spirituality, both personally and corporately. Wesleyan holiness folk think that every believer in Jesus Christ can directly and personally--in one way or another, at some point or another--encounter a Pentecost-like transformation that catapults one from initiatory and fledgling faith into maturing love and self-giving activism.

EVIDENCE IN LOVE. Our tradition considers the evidence that one is "filled with the Holy Spirit" and growing in Christlikeness will be found in a love that is notably self-forgetful, service-focused, and redemptively confrontational to the powers of domination at work in the world. We see in Pentecost not just a personal empowerment, but a collective empowerment both (1) to embrace and express the new eschaton--described in the Bible as the Kingdom of God--and (2) to bring the influence of this future-focused reality into every possible social relationship, structure, policy, and practice as a signal and sign of what Love wills for the world's future.

FREEDOM AND LIBERATION. That is the context of Phoebe Palmer Knapp's statement: "Pentecost laid the axe at the root of social injustice." To Knapp, a holiness teacher, speaker and advocate in the late 19th-century America, "social injustice" primarily meant human trafficking and oppression of women. She expressed her confidence in the radical change Pentecost called for by advocating vociferously for the abolition of slavery and for the suffrage of women in America. She saw in the gospel of Jesus Christ a clarion call for freedom for all human beings and the liberation of women from the age-old system of domination that reduced them to objects and possessions. She set a tone and standard both as a woman and as a Christian leader that fueled many in the evangelical and Christian holiness movements at the time. I would welcome her voice anew on these same, lingering issues in the 21st century.

Explore a 21st-century expression of the fight to end human trafficking that has reemerged from the Wesleyan holiness faith tradition: The Set Free Movement. http://setfreemovement.com/

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Lessons from my First Solo Bike Camping Excursion

Since riding the Great Allegheny Passage from Pittsburg to Washington, D.C. self-contained last summer with a small group, I've been itching to do some solo bike camping. I've ridden thousands of miles internationally and in the states, but rarely camped while doing so. My first opportunity to solo bike camp came the first weekend of April, an excursion that led me into Wendell Berry's homeland in Henry County, Kentucky.

On Friday, I drove my VW from Indianapolis to Columbus, Indiana, parked it at my cousin's house and struck out on my panniers-loaded Surly Long Haul Trucker for Madison, Indiana via State Highway 7. My panniers and seat saddlebag included a one-person tent, air pad, sleeping bag, cooking supplies, some food, clothing, toiletries, and tools--about 30 lbs. in all. It was a balmy 45-mile ride, with a break halfway in North Vernon. I arrived in Madison in the middle of the afternoon and set up camp at Clifty Falls State Park. In the early evening, I explored this quaint Ohio River town and had great pizza at the Red Pepper cafe.

Saturday morning, after breakfast at Red Roaster coffeehouse, I pedaled across the Ohio River bridge and started exploring Henry County, Kentucky. This is the home of one of my favorite writers, Wendell Berry. Berry describes and reflects on this simple country in his writings, from wooded hills to rolling meadows to creek banks and the Kentucky River. I rolled through Port Royal and tried to take in the essence of this place, which is at the same time remarkable and commonplace. From my experience of this day, I will read Berry with more clarity and understanding.

I cut my Henry County ride short because of a stiff and steady wind that kicked up. It must have been 30 mph with higher gusts. The ride north and west back to the Ohio River and Indiana was a struggle. I arrived at the state park campsite with my tent bending sideways in the gale. I re-secured the stakes and ropes. Temperatures dropped and the wind continued to howl until the early Sunday morning hours. My one-person tent would have blown away had I not been inside it.

By Sunday daybreak, the wind had died down but temperatures had dropped to freezing. I climbed out of my sleeping bag, dusted frost off my panniers, broke camp, and prepared to ride from Madison back to Columbus in the cold. Against a headwind, I arrived in Columbus around 3 pm, loaded the Surly on my VW, and drove back to Indy.

I covered about 140 miles over the weekend and had what I consider quite a nice little adventure. Here are a few lessons I learned and pass along from my first solo bike camping weekend:

1. Cold is not an enemy or a friend. It is a factor to plan for. Reduce cold’s impact with good gear.

2. Riding self-contained produces wide options and independence. But it’s a slower ride. I'm used to riding 18-22 mph, but with 30 lbs. of camping supplies, etc. in two panniers and a seat saddlebag, I managed about 15-17 mph. I can still pedal fast on flats, but climbing hills are much slower.

3. My bike shop (A1 Cyclery in Indianapolis) set me up with a perfect cross-country touring steed: a smooth Surly Long Haul Trucker, which I've ridden for four years. This is a no-worries, tough, dependable bicycle for riding long distances. I've had no breakdowns or problems in 10,000 miles.

4. Factor wind in your plans. 30-40 mph winds changed my distance and range of activity. No way around this; it's just ugly and hard.

5. A State Park base camp made a nice returning point. Keeping a base camp for a weekend of riding made day travel lighter. And, I met very helpful campers whom I talked to each day.

6. A 30-degree F rated sleeping bag works for 30 degrees F (and high wind). I stayed warm. Good buy. I purchased a sleeping bag that was also lightweight.

7. Enjoy local coffeehouses, food, and places. These are better than franchises in small towns. I like eating at local restaurants instead of cooking on my own, also. Except for making some coffee and soup, I ate at local places entirely.

8. Indiana’s Clifty Falls State Park gets a thumbs up for service, cleanliness, and scenic awe. Deep ravines. High cliffs. Beautiful falls. This place is worth a two-day visit. Plan on vigorous and rugged hiking.

9. Relax and you’ll enjoy the ride on the way to where you want to go. Be here now.

10. I need to find a lightweight, compact fuel cooking unit that defies windy conditions. Taking recommendations.


John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
www.indybikehiker.com
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker
www.instagram.com/johnfranklinhay
indybikehiker@gmail.com

Sunday, March 6, 2016

In Honor of Theresa Ann Branch

A tribute to a family friend who recently died

Theresa Ann Branch, 78, died on March 2. She and her husband George served as Children's Ministers at the church of my childhood (the era from which this photo is taken). I traveled to West Virginia to participate in her memorial service on Saturday. Early in the morning before the service, I penned the following reflection to share. I thought of Theresa as a pastor's spouse and of her life in Parkersburg for over 35 years after George passed away. She died far from her childhood home, but had made a home in the place to where she and George felt called of God to serve. This, to me, is profound and fascinating.


This is where the call of God ends,
or begins:
Here in a city far from home,
With a spouse preceding you 
in death by decades,
Among people you never could have
imagined knowing in your
beginning years.

When you said “yes” 
to the invitation of Jesus 
to a lifelong journey,
this is where it ends,
or begins.

“Come, follow me, and I will make you
fishers of men,” Jesus said.
“Deny yourself, take up your cross daily,
and follow me,” Jesus said.
“Whom shall I send, and who will
go for us?” God asked.
And you said,
“Here am I. Send me.”

So you followed.
And you were sent.
You journeyed—
in joy, in sorrow,
in laughing, in weeping,
in serving, in sharing—
over a lifetime in the name of
the call of God.


This is where the call of God ends,
or begins:
Here in a place you have made
a home,
With a spouse who from eternity
has blessed and beckoned,
Among people—friends, loved ones,
saints, characters—you could not
have imagined caring for you
in your beginning years.

When you said ‘yes’ to Jesus,
He promised to be with you
to the very end—and 
this is where it ends,
or begins.

The road has not been easy.
Its winding turns at times
baffled and startled and grieved.
The way has also been joyful--
as if you’ve been borne along
by grace, by love, by hope.

And, having walked the last mile
of the way, you hear the One
who invited you, “Come, follow me,”
now welcome you: “Well done,
good and faithful servant.”


This is where the call of God ends,
or begins:
Here in places we make our home,
With companions who dare to link arms
in love with us—for better or worse,
Among people who are given to us,
and to whom we are given—at the same
time rag-tag and wonderful beyond
our imagination.

We hear Jesus’ invitation anew,
“Come, follow me, and I will make you…”
We say, today, ‘yes,’ afresh.
This is where it ends
and begins.

Legacies of faith surround us.
In life and from eternity
they beckon:
“Jesus is with you,” they say.
“He is faithful,” they exclaim.
“Do not hesitate to follow—
to go with him, with him
all the way.”
“It will be worth it all.”

At this journey’s end,
so let us begin.


John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
www.indybikehiker.com
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker
indybikehiker@gmail.com

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Launching into Lent

I'm a hesitant observer of Lent, nevertheless, I'm on board for the turbulent journey

Obediently,
we saunter into
Ash Wednesday's service.
Kneeling,
we are marked--
as much a sign of
obligation as mild
intention.

Lent launches
as we straggle up
the gangplank.
Though winded,
we're on board--
a bit bewildered about
where this journey ends,
somewhat unsure of
the purpose of this
passage.

When inspiration flags,
discipline and duty
carry us.
Where vision is obscured,
the immediate horizon a fog,
soundings resonate
direction.

Others seem more
certain of this voyage--
sails are trimmed and
crew busy themselves.
But we aren't sure
whether we should
settle in to rest
or keep watch
at the bow.

We're asked to
give up something--
to lighten the load?
Have we not already
given up home and land
for this untethered vessel
churning through
inhospitable seas
to an unheard of
location?

After a few days at sea
we notice atop the mast
flies a flag--are those
cross bones?
What were we thinking
when we bought the ticket
marked "Destination Port:
Calvary"?


John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA 
www.indybikehiker.com 
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker 
indybikehiker@gmail.com

Monday, February 8, 2016

Roots of Ash Wednesday: Spreading Humility Around

I'm struck by the sense of solidarity with all sinners that Ash Wednesday has come to reflect


ROOTS OF ASH WEDNESDAY. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, the beginning of 40 days of prayer and fasting leading up to Holy Week and Easter. I came across a few paragraphs by Stuart Malloy that put the ashes we mark on our foreheads on this day into perspective. Malloy writes:

“Ashes marked on the forehead of worshipers were not always given to everyone, but only to the public penitents who were brought before the church. Much like Hester Prynne bearing her scarlet letter, these open and notorious sinners were marked publicly with the sign of their disgrace.”

IDENTIFYING WITH THE PENITENT. “As time went on, others began to show their humility and their affection for the penitents by asking that they, too, be marked as sinners. Finally, the number of penitents grew so large that the imposition of ashes was extended to the whole congregation in services similar to those that are observed in many Christian churches on Ash Wednesday.”

IF YOU ONY KNEW… Malloy continues: “We who will bear the ashes upon our foreheads stand with those whose sins may be more public, but not, according to the Scriptures, more grievous to the heart of God. And so we make our confessions. . . . If you only knew the secrets of my heart, if you only knew the sins that I am capable of contemplating, if you only knew some of the schemes I have considered – and of course God does know – then you would know that I, too, am a sinner.”

THIN LINE, EARNEST PRAYER. He concludes: “Ashes are signs that we are all in this sin business together, and that the difference between the good in us and the bad in us is sometimes frightfully thin. We so often fall short of the Faith we claim. We have treated people as things and we have treated things as if they were valuable people. And so we look into our hearts and make the ancient prayer of one notorious sinner our own: ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me’ (Psalm 51:10).”

BLESSING OF THE ASHES. Here is the blessing often uttered just before foreheads are marked in ashes with the sign of the Cross:

“May these ashes be to us, O God, an acknowledgment of our wrongdoing and our acceptance of your forgiveness. In these ashes are our prejudices, our impatience, the times we have turned our backs on the suffering of others, our neglect of the environment, our indifference, our materialism, our greed, our hypocrisy, our envy…all of our sins. In these ashes of repentance are the seeds of our forgiveness and our transformation. For God always accepts us and forgives us. Through our repentance and forgiveness comes transformation. May God create within each of us a clean heart and a new and right spirit.”

Friday, January 22, 2016

Nine Years After India

Preparation for a cycling travelogue this week prompted me to consider the power of adventure.

This day in 2007, I was pedaling in the center of India and was mesmerized by this land of wonder and paradox, of the bizarre and ordinary, of great wealth and vast poverty, of modernity and antiquity. Today, that experience challenges me anew.

Carefully preparing for a one-hour presentation about my journey for the Central Indiana Bicycling Association's (CIBA) Winter Speaker Series at Central Library in downtown Indianapolis, I viewed and reviewed hundreds of slides, thousands of photos, numerous video clips and mementos and journal entries, along with the blog I developed for the event (www.bicycleindia2007.blogspot.com). The review and preparation experience brought all my senses and recollections of that life-changing event to renewed life in me.

At the distance of nearly a decade and half a world away, I have fresh observations and new questions about what I saw and experienced in those six weeks and 2,000 miles. Had I left these images and memories alone, perhaps they would have continued to calcify and fade way. But I have revisited and resurrected my experience in India and it breathes wonder in me. This is, to me, the power of contemplation. The original experience becomes a part of eternity when repeatedly contemplated and allowed to agitate thought and change behavior.

Maybe, more basically, my fascination is this: Am I--are we--willing to experience events, such as this six-week journey on a bicycle through India, in a way that somehow fundamentally alters us? Or, do we process such experiences--fascinating travels and rapturous adventures--so that, for all their possibilities for changing us, they ultimately become little more than framed photos on a wall that we occasionally admire while we go on through life unaffected by the existential challenges they presented at the time? How can we adventure and reflect on our adventures in a way that changes us?

I left India in February 2007 with a sense that I had experienced something that would--and should--reshape my way of thinking and approaching life and relationships at a rudimentary level. I wasn't sure what all that meant. I just felt that something had happened to me, in me, not that I had just accomplished something.

I had ridden 2,000 miles and helped raise funds to rebuild a hospital, and had helped raise awareness of that hospital. That's what I accomplished. That's what externally occurred. But what happened in me? What was accomplished--or beginning to be accomplished--in me? To what extent was my trajectory and pattern of thinking and choosing being shaped and changed?

In posts that follow, I will try to explore what changes I can observe and articulate nine years later. Whatever I can now articulate, I will have just scratched the surface.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
www.indybikehiker.com
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker
indybikehiker@gmail.com

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Steps in Redemptive Love

Resisting evil nonviolently is not for cowards or vengeance seekers

Martin Luther King, Jr. challenged civil rights activists to focus their anger away from destructive means and ends. He reflected on the transformation of anger into redemptive love after he committed to the way of nonviolent resistance in response to the evil of racism. The steps in redemptive love, he concluded, are:

First, “It is not a method for cowards, for it resists evil; it is not passive.”

Second, “it does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his or her friendship and understanding.”

Third, it directs its attack “against forces of evil rather than against persons who happen to be doing the evil.”

Fourth, “it entails a willingness to accept suffering without retaliation…to accept violence if necessary, but never to inflict it.”

Fifth, it “avoids not only external physical violence but also the internal violence of spirit.”

Friday, January 8, 2016

After Celebrations End, the Work of Christmas Begins

Howard Thurman suggests next steps for Christmas revelers
















"When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart."

from The Mood of Christmas by Howard Thurman


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Last to Arrive?

Shall we take our place among the unlikely visitors at a stable in Bethlehem?

At the end of the Christmas season and on Epiphany (January 6 marks the visit of the Magi and Light to all people), I think about the continuing, unusual draw of unlikely people to an unlikely place in the heart—Bethlehem—and I offer the following poem:


First, census-responding throngs
swell the local populace,
burgeoning homes and hostels
with not-so-welcome guests.

Then, a man and pregnant young woman
arrive, seeking vainly for a room.
Bedding down in a stable,
their boy is born among livestock.

Later in the night, gnarled shepherds
traipse in, finding their way
to the mangered newborn,
just as an angel had told them.

How much later we do not know, Magi
come with gracious gifts,
following a star that draws them
from beyond any traceable map.

And later still, from the four corners
of earth and time, we make our trek.
Are we the last to arrive
at the gathering in Bethlehem?

Years from now, until the end of ages,
more will be drawn and find the One
whose birth angels once proclaimed
and so shall forevermore.


Read my fuller reflection on Epiphany - http://www.indybikehiker.com/2013/01/with-epiphany-partys-nearly-complete.html


John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA 
www.indybikehiker.com 
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker 
indybikehiker@gmail.com

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas Lives by Imagination

Christmas is an afterthought. But what an afterthought it is!

Maybe it seems crude to say that Advent and Christmas are afterthoughts in the Gospel story—especially to say it this late, with Advent eclipsed by Christmas and as we now count the days from Christmas to Epiphany. But, perhaps pointing out this overlooked reality at this moment may heighten the celebration.

I learned this in Biblical literature studies: only Luke and Matthew write birth narratives and the earliest church did not attach great significance to details of Jesus’ birth. Only in the second century did the church begin to magnify and adorn the birth of Jesus.

Even the little the Gospels tell us of Jesus’ birth is divergent. Luke and Matthew tell two different stories about the birth of Jesus. Luke follows Mary’s lineage; Matthew follow’s Joseph’s. In Luke, an angel appears to Mary; in Matthew, an angel speaks to Joseph. In Luke, shepherds bear witness to the child’s birth; in Matthew, Magi come to Bethlehem to see the child.

Regarding the birth of Jesus, his initial followers missed all that Christians a generation later meticulously tried to reconstruct, document and infuse with meaning. This is not to say that they manufactured the story, but that they relied on passed-along stories (oral tradition is a great and historically important tradition—one largely lost in the West today).

Only long after Jesus’ crucifixion, after resurrection witness, and after Pentecost, amid the dispersion of Christians across the Roman world did the idea of calendaring Jesus’ birth emerge as important in the hearts and minds of the faithful.

Eventually, Christians co-opted a holiday already significant to various “pagan” cultures and baptized it as Christmas. It doesn’t sound very holy, but that’s pretty much how it happened.

However, after a date is fixed, the idea of Jesus’ birth begins to flourish. It doesn’t take long for the imaginations of practitioners, theologians, and musicians to begin to magnify and multiply meaning. One generation adds garnish to the last. Across cultures, stories deepen, traditions broaden, liturgies blossom. The original stories are magnified and morph through riffs that ripple and refract across millennia.

Beyond the church and over time, people have adorned Christmas with explosive imagination. Imagination has given us what is now too much to take in and process in any singularly coherent framework. With only a fraction of Biblical or theologically correct touchstones, Christmas images dazzle, stories morph, traditions multiply, music pours forth. The genie is out of the bottle and no one can contain or control it. Like it or not, Christmas influence is pervasive and continuously extending.

In light of this uncontainable, irreducible reality, I laugh at those who ardently try to convince us that someone is trying to steal Christmas—to drain it of meaning. Hogwash. No one, even if they tried, could curtail the Christmas imagination.

So, however Christmas imagination has come to you—whatever its shape, whatever its feel, whatever its experiences, whatever its traditions—dare to enter into them as fully as possible. Hey, why not contribute a bit of your own imagination to the mix? It is only those who fail to imagine a little who miss the spirit and trajectory of what this season promises.

Have a merry Christmas!


John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
www.indybikehiker.com
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker
indybikehiker@gmail.com

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

THE ADEQUATE GIFT


These four stories help me get over gift anxiety 

GIFT ANXIETY  What shall I give?  Will it be enough?  Will it be right?  Will it be what my loved ones desire?  Will they be pleased?  Such thoughts go through my mind as I think about gift-giving.  I scroll through online items and walk the aisles of stores with questions circling.  You do this, too?  We're not alone.  

Some of my favorite imaginative Christmas stories and songs revolve around gift anxiety--and its resolution.  Leaving alone the more perplexing story woven in the Twelve Days of Christmas song, you may know the following stories quite well.  I recall them here and set them in context of this question: what is an adequate gift?

LITTLE DRUMMER  The most popular of the stories I have in mind is embedded in the song, "The Little Drummer Boy."  It sings first-person of a little boy who has nothing he thinks is fit to bring to the baby who is born to be the King.  "I have no gift to bring," he sighs.  He decides—innocently, naively, hopefully—to offer the only thing he has or can do: he will play his drum the very best he can for Jesus.  In the song, the baby Jesus smiles at him as he plays.  The gift is adequate.

LITTLEST ANGEL  "The Littlest Angel" is a familiar childhood story about a troublesome little angel who, learning that God's Son is to be born on earth, manages to hide away such common things as a butterfly, a bird’s egg, stones, his favorite dog’s collar in a rough-hewn box--things that he loved as a little boy on earth—to offer the Christ child.  His items, however, pale grossly in comparison to the other angels' magnificent, shining gifts.  He feels humiliated and runs to hide.  But, to his surprise, his choices are things the little boy Jesus relates to and loves.  As the Christ child looks approvingly upon his gift, it rises and transforms to become the star above the stable, giving light to all.

GIFT OF THE OF MAGI  "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry is the touching story of a young couple with very limited resources trying to offer each other a significant gift at Christmas.  Unbeknown to each other, they sacrifice the best they have for the other's best. She sells her beautiful long hair so she can purchase a golden chain for her lover's valuable watch. He, in turn, pawns his cherished timepiece to buy a golden comb for her beautiful hair.

IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER  Christina Rossetti’s carol "In the Bleak Midwinter" concludes with a verse that compellingly underscores the only adequate gift we really bring is the gift of our heart: “What can I give Him, Poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb. If I were a wise man, I would do my part. Yet what I can I give Him--Give my heart.”

GIFTS WE RECEIVE  Christmas is really not about what you can give to Jesus or to others. It is about what God has given to us. All our gift giving is a simply response to and reflection of this gift. Whatever it is you choose to give to others, let it be joyfully and from a grace-gifted heart.