Tag Archives: News

Victory And Gratitude

I wrote, recorded and released Nothing Else, a simple acoustic song, in 2015, and its message stayed with me for three years. I also wrote a song called Autumn Hero, which I never did anything with. I kept writing songs, but most of them were not very good, or outright terrible. After three years I had writer’s block and Autumn Hero hanging over my head and it started to drive me crazy.

The past two years have been weird. A lot of good and terrible things have happened. The sex abuse scandal in the Church broke out. Notre Dame in Paris was burned, but not destroyed. Family members have suffered greatly. Late term abortion has become legal in several states. My Godson was born and baptized. Next month I’ll officially be entering the Discalced Carmelite Secular Order; something I never would have expected in a billion years. I’ve grown a lot spiritually. What I intended to be a single has turned into an album.

I remember calling Ken, who has been my guitar teacher, audio-engineer, producer, spiritual older brother, prayer partner, and friend over the years and saying something like, “Hey, I have a song. I have no idea what to do with it. I think I just want to come in and record it.” That was in September of 2018. The truth is I had been thinking about the concept of A Song To Sing In The Dark for three years or so since I wrote Nothing Else. I had been watching the news too much, which meant I had been being buried in misery. At the same time, I had been questioning, to some extent, where God was, or at least what He was doing, though I don’t remember exactly why.

Often, lyrics to my songs become prayers, and that was definitely the case with Nothing Else. The Chorus is: “This is a song to sing in the dark/ This is enough, a spark to start a fire/ This is a prayer you answer with love/ ‘Cause you are God and you are with us.” Lyrics such as this come to me when I feel I’m “in the dark,” so to speak, and I had been toying with this concept for an album for a while.

Somewhere between recording and editing Autumn Hero, the lines to Heart of Love were seemingly handed to me. I was excited because I actually had another good song to work with, and I figured we’d work on that, too. It was a little later that heard about the crisis in the Church, which got me thinking too much, crying, continuously blogging, and finally writing the song King Over The Flood, which was partly inspired by psalm 29. The past year has been chaotic. As I said, I had not intended to write ten original songs, arrange a rock version of Nothing Else, arrange my own version of How Great Thou Art, and compose an original instrumental tune. I certainly had not intended to look into a religious order. The album and my spiritual journey, however, have coalesced and coincided with the chaos, though, per the usual, and here I am.

It always happens this way. The Boston Marathon, and the burning of Notre Dame happened on my birthday this past year, and those two events came together in the song Lament For Notre Dame. Though most of the songs on the album don’t refer to specific events, Just An Honest Prayer, for example, was inspired by a specific checkpoint, if you will, in my spiritual journey. That was a hard song to write because, as the title suggests, it’s a really honest song. I wrote it because I was dealing with some doubt; not doubt that God exists, or that I was saved, or that the Lord was merciful, but doubt that I was worth saving; that I was worth His mercy. When I finished writing; before we had even started recording, I prayed. I said, “I want to write a song that has nothing to do with me. I want to write about You, and how awesome You are.” Ergo, Victory was not hard to write, and it’s my favorite song on the album.

Like the past year, there is light and darkness on the album. It’s called A Song To Sing In The Dark because it doesn’t deny that there is darkness and suffering in the world, but with the conclusion of Victory, it’s meant to remind the world that we are still fighting battles, but the Lord has won the war. I think this is an album of defiance. With Victory, I say, “I know hell will fight You with all he’s got left/ But the first word was Yours, and so is the last.” I released a sneak peak of the album with Autumn Hero last year, and since Victory is completely finished, I decided that needed to be heard early, too, so here you go!

https://katiecurtis.bandcamp.com/track/victory

A lot of work and prayer has gone into this. It’s not completely finished yet, but we just started recording the final song, and now we’re on the home stretch. It’ll be out this winter. With that in mind I want to thank a bunch of people. First I want to thank God because if He hadn’t dropped Heart Of  Love on me in the first place, none of this likely would have happened. I also want to thank Father Patrick for pointing me to the Carmelites and being my spiritual director. I want to thank mom and dad for funding this insane project. I want to thank Uncle Gary for talking me through some crazy stuff (he knows what I mean). I also want to thank Ken for doing nearly all the instrumentation for the album and putting up with me crying at the studio. I want to thank my Carmelite brothers and sisters because I think they’ve helped in some way none of us will know until we get to Heaven. Lastly I want to thank my family, friends, and fans who’ve supported my stuff.

Winter Light

We changed the clocks back a couple of days ago. It’s cold and windy, and it’s getting dark awfully early now. There’s no way around it; it’s November, and Winter is fast approaching. I probably do more than my fair share of griping about Winter. Because I use a wheelchair, I have relatively bad circulation in my feet, so if I’m outside for any length of time on a cold or windy day, I get cold and stay cold. If I had an idol, it probably would be the space heater in my bedroom. At least I haven’t got to the point of naming it.

This Winter is feeling different than most, though. For the past few years, there has always been a new episode of Star Wars out around Christmas. As awesome as that is, I can only get so excited about a movie series. The reason I’m actually pretty stoked about this Winter, is that it will usher in a new member of our family. My godson is due to be born in January. I got him all kinds of Star Wars themed baby clothes because his parents are just as nerdy as I am.

What I’m really excited about, though, is his baptism. The baby clothes were more a gift for his parents, but I got him a personal gift from me. I was driving myself crazy trying to think of a good gift to give to a baby that would make sense and mean something to him when he’s older. Finally I gave up–sort of. Lately, it’s seemed like God has been letting me get stuck on purpose so I have to ask for help. As my mom and I were driving home from running errands, I said, “Lord, I am seriously out of ideas. Can you give me something?” It came instantly.

I got him a stuffed animal sparrow that makes little chirps when you squeeze it, and I’m going to have my dad make a nest for it. The idea is from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said that God cares for all His creation. He cares very much, even for each individual sparrow. Therefore, He said, there’s no reason for anyone to be afraid because a human being is worth much more than a multitude of sparrows. I’m going to write my godson a letter to put in the sparrow’s nest explaining it. I don’t know his name yet because I thought his parents were sold on Max, but they’ve decided they also like Luke, so they want to see him, and then they’ll decide. I like both.

Usually I associate Winter with darkness and boredom. Usually I see Winter as something to endure. This Winter is going t o be different. Jesus said that we are the light of the world. I don’t know his name yet, but I’ve been praying that my godson becomes a saint. I just know he can set the world on fire. God knows us and loves us even before we exist. I usually didn’t give this a whole lot of thought until I found out my godchild was a boy. For some reason, seeing the sonogram, and knowing his gender made me fall in love. This Winter is different because unlike most Winters, I see light on the horizon. I know that little light will drool, and poop, and cry, and otherwise be an annoying baby, but he’ll still be a bright and beautiful annoying baby.

Braving The Bleak

Last week we were on vacation, camping in Maine. It was mostly awesome, but my medication did still give me some issues, and it was frustrating. I had to take a lot of naps. Today I was back to work. I’m working on a rather dark story for my mythology, which isn’t exactly fun, but I’m getting through it. I’ve actually enlisted one of my friends to help me with this one. Basically, I’m describing a Realm in my universe called the Bleak, which, unlike others, is deeply connected to darker human emotions. In another story I described a Realm called the Waiting Lands, which a human could possibly get to, not just in their minds, but also in bodily form, but they would have to “brave the Bleak” first. The Waiting Lands are very strange, but also very cool.

When I’m writing, or sometimes much later than when I actually finish a story, I find myself reflecting on how my fantasy mirrors my reality in a way. Last week was kind of a Bleak for me. I had a lot of fun with my cousins, but I was dealing with issues with my meds, and on top of that, I found myself fighting a pretty difficult spiritual temptation. I am hardly ever angry at God, but I did once yell at him. I didn’t doubt him. I was just mad.

Of course God, being obnoxiously helpful like he is, decided to intervene. My dad decided shortly after my spiritual tantrum that we should cut my dose just a little bit without informing my doctor, which seems to be working, and one night when I couldn’t sleep because I had slept all afternoon, I was reading random stuff on my phone, and I found Saint Therese de Lisieux. That girl lost her mother at the age of four, she was sick quite often, and she died very young. Still, she trusted God completely. I read snippets from her autobiography, “Story of a Soul,” and it was all about how God is truly a God of love. This really moved me, and I keep coming across more and more things that emphasize the fact that God loves me and that he’s listening.

There’s a line from a Tenth Avenue North song that keeps running through my head that seems quite appropriate. “Even when we fight temptation, even when we stand accused, we know that you will defend us, we can always run to you.” I won’t lie, fighting this particular temptation has felt like an uphill battle. Last night, though, I started rereading the Gospel of Luke, really slowly, just because I wanted God to talk to me. He did, in two ways, actually.

I don’t remember how I got to it, or what the verses were that made me realize it, but somehow God spoke to me and told me that I was promised heaven. Initially I thought, “duh, I’m Christian.” But then a voice in my head said, “No, think about it.” God doesn’t break his promises, and the fact that that promise stuck out to me means that I needed a reminder. It also said to me that I haven’t lost the fight. That wasn’t where it ended, though. I had a weird dream this morning. This seems to happen a lot. I was on a weird roller coaster train, and it broke. All the passengers were literally going to die. A voice from nowhere in particular said “Love, luxury, lust.” Then a priest on some kind of flying platform started going to all the passengers. Finally he came to me, right before the train was going to fall, and he gave me my last rights. I wanted him to stay with me, but I let him go so he could get to the other passengers. Then I woke up.

The dream said to me that there was love, and there was luxury, and there was lust on that train. It didn’t matter. Jesus came to save everyone. More to the point, he came to promise heaven to everyone. Okay, there is a path we have to follow, and it gets a bit complicated, but Jesus also said that he’d stick with us no matter what. When asked why he hung out with sinners and outcasts, he said that these were the people who needed him most. He’s not afraid.

I was one of the last people the priest came to in the dream. The train was about to fall, but he got to me. I’m not sure if that says anything in particular, but it was comforting. Maybe if there is a message there it’s that God will catch me if I fall. I think I needed a reminder of that, too. There are a  number of places in the Bible that say the Lord is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Other translations might say “slow to anger and rich in kindness” or something similar. God is not looking to scrutinize and make us feel guilty for our every move. He’s our Father. A good father doesn’t do that. He will make sure to kindly correct us when we do something we shouldn’t, but ultimately, a good father loves his kids. That’s what it comes down to.

Today we got to see a full solar eclipse. We didn’t get the full effect in Massachusetts, but we watched it on TV, and got to see a partial effect outside, which was still pretty cool. My brother was less impressed, but I get excited. There was a bizarre sense of unity because of the eclipse today. It was all over the news, and unlike usual, the news was happy. Everyone was on the same page. While watching the full effect on TV, I couldn’t think of exactly how to express my reaction, but I thanked God because something like this is a gift. It’s definitely something you don’t see every day. I know this seems unrelated to the rest of my post, but maybe it means that I’ve braved the Bleak, or at least I’m almost through.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Cry

I have a hard time being vulnerable. The trouble is, I’m kind of sensitive. I take certain things too literally. I let things get under my skin. I over-analyze. Sometimes I’m too critical of myself. I used to just let things build up. I would hide my emotions. I would refuse to cry because I was stronger than that. Instead I would block out the world and play violent video games while silently hating everyone.

The reason I’m writing this is because I saw a post on Facebook today that said “When life gives you a hundred reasons to break down and cry, show life that you have a million reasons to smile and laugh. Stay strong.” The problem with this idea, is that this is exactly what I used to try and do, and I don’t think it’s healthy. If you have one hundred reasons to cry, then you should cry. You should cry your heart out because that’s what you’re truly feeling.

Sometimes you do simply have to disregard perspective. You might have a million things going for you. You might have a pretty darn easy life compared to so many millions of others simply because you life in a first world country, etc. While that’s important to remember, it’s also important to take care of your emotional well being, and if something really crappy happens, it’s perfectly okay to forget everything else, go to your bedroom and cry.

It also helps to have someone to cry to. For you it might be a friend, or a parent, or a pet. Personally, I still don’t like people to see me cry, but I’m comfortable letting God just be with me while I cry because he knows I’m upset anyway. Sometimes you’ll want to talk, and sometimes you just need someone to be there. It’s important to have someone like that.

I don’t claim to know much about psychology, but burying reasons to cry in reasons not to does not seem like a good idea to me. If we widen the scope beyond our own lives and the things that directly impact us and the people around us, we see almost nothing but sadness and devastation on the news. In the past several months I am guilty of almost entirely ignoring the news for a multitude of reasons. Staying uninformed is a method by which one can bury reasons to cry in reasons not to.

Powerlessness is an unpleasant feeling, and waiting for results is hard. We watch the news, and we think, “What am I watching this for? I can’t do anything about it. I can’t end a war. I can’t bring those people back to life. I can’t change (insert social justice issue).” The thing is, on your own, no, you can’t, and even if you get organized with a bunch of like-minded people, change takes time. Peace takes time. It’s just the dreadful truth.

When you scale it back to your own life, though, the dreadful truth is that crap happens–crap that is out of your control, and maybe you have to lose a battle to win a war. You don’t always have to impress everyone. You don’t always have to be perfect. You don’t always have to agree with everyone. You don’t always have to be liked. When crap happens, sometimes you just have to let go and recharge so to speak. It’s counter intuitive, but I have found that allowing yourself to lose is often the only way to get through.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Politics

I didn’t vote. Many of you will be incredulously wondering “Why?” For me it was a matter of conscience. I did not feel that either candidate deserved my support. Of course no one is perfect. Everyone has some “dirt” on them. However, it seems to me that Mrs. Clinton is far too untrustworthy, and Mr. Trump has said far too many offensive, and quite frankly, disturbing things about far too many people, and I for one, believe that language matters.

What has been more disturbing to me, however, is how this election has affected relationships. Long-lasting friendships have fallen apart because of a presidential race. The fallout has even reached my fourth graders. Truthfully, I don’t know much about Hillary Clinton outside of what I’ve seen on TV, but I thought she gave a really great speech today and accepted her defeat honorably. I can honestly say I’m proud of her for that.

What I would love to see is the rest of society doing the same. I don’t like Trump, but the fact of the matter is, he’s my president. That isn’t going to change now for at least four years, so whether you’ve been a life-long Democrat, young progressive, Independent like myself, Republican, or anything else, it’s time to face facts. It’s time to band together. Our president is not our country. We are our country, and we make America what it is. Quite frankly, I don’t like the party system. It makes politics exactly that: politics. It takes the focus away from real people and real issues and narrows in on the superfluous competition. It becomes a question of who will win and who will lose, rather than, what can be done to make our country better.

What will make our country better? The short answer is: love. The longer answer is uncertain. It’s really up to us. Among other things, we certainly need to be kinder on the internet. We need to pay attention and learn what it means to be good Samaritans; we need to really see people. We need to recognize the significance and effects of language. We need to forgive. We need to be ready to speak and fight for what we believe in, and be kind while doing it. We need to learn how to take a hit. We need to learn how to graciously and quietly accept defeat. We need to laugh. We need to accept that jokes are meant to be taken as jokes. We need to celebrate. We need to read. We need to have fun. We need to stand behind our president and support our government when they make good decisions and be ready to fight when they don’t. We need to recognize, love, and use our freedom.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

New Mythology

When I started this blog, I wrote a short, seven-part mythology that somewhat followed the creation, fall of humanity, battle for dominion, redemption narrative. In hindsight it wasn’t very good, but it was fun to write. Mythology and fantasy stuff in general always is. I mentioned in a previous post that my friend and I are going to be working on a fantasy podcast together. That still hasn’t got started, which is a bit annoying because neither of us are overwhelmingly busy; we’re just on different schedules. While I’m waiting for that to get going, I’ve had an idea for another project. I think college made me used to working on several projects at the same time, and quite frankly, sometimes writing my novel is tedious. To be completely honest, it takes place too much in the “real world.”

My newest project idea is another book, but it’s not a narrative. It’s a book of mythology. I’m going to split it up into several parts. Today I wrote out a table of contents, which is by no means complete, to help me figure out exactly what I want to do. So far, my idea includes: something along the lines of my original seven-part narrative, a section on Realms, a section on Spirits, a section on Creatures, a section on People, and a section on Places. This is the kind of project I’m best at, and I already have several ideas to start filling in a few of these sections. In particular, I want to use this to figure out who in the world the Falcon of Destiny is. Whenever I play D&D with my friends I request the Falcon of Destiny incessantly just to be a nuisance, but I have no idea who or what he is. I just like to call my bird the Falcon of Destiny because it sounds cool.

I also have a vague idea for a character simply called The Tree. Like the Falcon of Destiny, I’m not exactly sure what she does, but what I do want to do is make sure that all the characters in my mythology are at least somehow interconnected. They all matter to each other. The Tree wouldn’t be The Tree without the intervention of the Falcon of Destiny who charged her with the protection of (what I haven’t figured out yet). He did (whatever he did) to spare her from Fearolf who wanted to kill her (for what reason I don’t know). Like i said, I have to fill in the details, but my characters all mean something to each other.

The hardest thing for me will be making the map. I already have one significant description of a specific place, and once I have several significant places figured out, I’m going to have to explain how to get from point A to point B and what mundane things are between these places. I’m not good at figuring out reasonable distances compared to travel time, in particular. With this in mind, I’m thinking once I’m done writing all the descriptions and stories, I want there to be illustrations. It don’t want to just tell people who the Falcon of Destiny is, I want them to be able to see him. I don’t think finding an illustrator will be too hard for this, though.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

“Get Over It”

The world deals us crap and then dares us; maybe even expects us to smile, and fight a battle we can’t win. It’s like a game, or some kind of twisted performance that we have to take part in. As soon as it seems like things are okay, something terrible comes along that’s worse than the last one. Survival instinct or contemporary culture or something tells us to “get over it,” because the consequences are even worse if we don’t. We have to keep our eye on the prize, or at least keep our heads above water, because no one’s going to help us, and we can’t be left behind.

Jesus doesn’t expect you to fight. He doesn’t expect you to keep going. When all you can see is darkness, and all you want to do is fall, he says, “Go ahead. I’ll stay with you. Take your time. Cry. Scream. Do what you need to. I love you.” He doesn’t even expect you to “get over it.” Sometimes you can’t get over it. Sometimes the darkness is so overwhelming that it’s hard to see any light at all. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to see the good in things, but there is good in things. The world dares you to see it, but sometimes you just can’t. Jesus says, “If you can’t trust anything else; if you can’t trust what’s beautiful and good in this life, just trust me. Just trust that even if it doesn’t happen in your lifetime, the world will be made perfect. Your world will be made perfect. You will live. Everyone will live, and there will be no more hurt. I promise you that.”

This has been a bad week. I’m tired, and I’m honestly having a little trouble being the unshakable optimist I usually am. The world has been looking a little darker than usual. At the same time, I see a light on the horizon. Honestly, sometimes I’d rather let the darkness take over, but the fact of the matter is, it can’t. There’s simply too much life and light and beauty in this world. It’s sometimes hard to look at, but it’s there nonetheless. I know that God created a perfect world, and no matter how badly we screw it up, it can never be utterly lost because Jesus saved it, and he’s still saving it. I simply can’t ignore the fact that it was a perfect summer day today. I can’t ignore the sweetness of freshly-picked strawberries. I can’t ignore the strange, but good smell of my bird. I can’t ignore the way my favorite songs make me feel, whether I’m happy or sad. Love is alive in the littlest things, and that’s a fact.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Big News!

I’ve had insomnia off and on lately. I’m not sure why. It’s not so bad. If I can’t sleep I read stuff on my phone and talk at God. If I were him I would have probably told me to shut up and go to sleep by now. It’s nice to have someone to talk to at 3, 4, or 5 in the morning. Usually if it’s at it’s worst I’m able to fall asleep and get a few hours in before I have to get up for the day.

I’ve come to think of God kind of as a storyteller. Often, if I can’t sleep, I just read Scripture, and I find that I like reading God’s stories, even if they’re not exactly happy. I don’t mean to imply that I think any part of Scripture is fictional or false. I just mean that a lot of it is narrative, and I like those parts. I’ve also really come to think of Jesus not just as my Savior, but really, truly as my friend. I’ve recently finished reading all four Gospels, and I feel like I’m really getting to know him. Last night I was at a worship service at my church, and I sort of realized in a truer sense–I came to know and maybe feel, not just believe–that Jesus is alive. It’s kind of hard to explain how I feel about that, so I’m just going to go with the simplest option. In my twenty-three-year-old-twenty-first-century mind, it’s incredible and amazing and spectacularly weird. I know and actually love someone who I’ve never seen in person. I worship a man-who-is-God whose voice I’ve only heard in dreams.

I’m writing this because I’m on the verge of an extremely important decision. Rather, a decision I’ve already made is quickly becoming more solidified. I’ve begun talking to my priest about what it could mean; what it really looks like to dedicate myself entirely to God. I am prepared to make sacrifices. I am prepared to do what it takes. That doesn’t make it any less scary. I’ve got questions. What does it really mean to take up my cross and follow Jesus? What does it mean to love him more than I love anyone else? What does it mean to pray without ceasing? How do I do what he wants me to when a million things, including myself, get in the way, or at least try to? While I’m awake at stupid 0’clock in the morning, I find myself asking “why” a lot. Why did God do X, Y, Z? Why did he tell his peeps to do X, Y, Z? I have to work some of that out, too.

Admittedly, some of this does cause me to worry, and I’ve had to remind myself just to worry about this moment and let God lead. Just in the past couple of days or so, several things have been sort of showing me that I’m headed in the right direction–mostly things I’ve been reading generally by accident. It seems like a lot of my spiritual milestones have been happy accidents until I look at them in retrospect.

So here’s what I’ve been leading up to… This is my formal declaration to all my friends and family, and of course, to the readers of this blog. I am giving my life entirely to Jesus. My next move is to figure out if that means becoming a Sister. I think some of you probably saw this coming. You now have license to make all the jokes you want. Admittedly, it’s kind of funny. I did not see this coming. Know that this will change me. How, I don’t know yet, but it will change me for the better.  Also know that I will always be a giant nerd. I will always be kind of weird. I will always be a writer. I will always be a total rock star. I will always be a space cadet. I will always be me.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Celebrate Anyway

I’ve come to understand that some Christians do not celebrate Christmas because it has some traditionally pagan aspects, and because it has become too secular and too commercialized. I do not deny either of these facts. In fact, there are things about the modern, mainly Western take on Christmas that thoroughly annoy me. However, there are reasons that I feel Christmas should be celebrated anyway. At its core, the purpose of Christmas is to commemorate the birth of Christ, and to acknowledge and enforce the hope we have for his second coming. Strip everything else away, and it is nothing more or less than that.

Christianity entered Europe in the first few centuries A.D. They wanted to convert Pagans to their religion, but they were also interested in their traditions and culture. I have heard the argument that this is dangerous. Prying too deeply into non-Christian ideas might lead one to believe in those ideas. However, what one believes in is ultimately a choice. There are many aspects to faith. Though it would be easier if it did not, it usually requires some form of evidence for its truth, but this evidence almost always comes after an initial willingness to believe in the first place. It needs to be relational, meaning that ideas and emotions and even messages go both ways between us and God. Most importantly, it needs to be intentional. There will always be conflicting ideas in the world, and yes, it is possible to be tempted to question one’s own faith. It is the choice to stay steadfast that makes it real, and makes it stronger. Studying other religions and ideas is not dangerous as long as one is capable of discerning what is fact and what is fiction.

However, there is a difference between studying other religions and incorporating some of those ideas into one’s own practices. Admittedly, this can be dangerous, and I think, has honestly become detrimental over time. Though it is still celebrated by Christians, Christmas has become a largely secular holiday. There are several reasons for this. While some traditions were adopted with good intentions, over time, they morphed into new ideas entirely. Saint Nicholas, who was a real, historical person, and a saint in the Catholic Church, eventually became known only as Santa Clause to many people. He is nothing more than a magical dude who hangs out with elves and brings presents to kids once per year. I do personally believe that this particular aspect of the modern rendition of Christmas is a problem because it takes the focus away from Christ and puts it on this character who, for kids, is generally more fun.

Music causes similar problems, at least for me. Many so-called Christmas songs are only about the secular aspects of Christmas–giving gifts, partying, etc. This is a very personal issue for me. Music and faith are very closely entwined in my mind, and I dislike songs that claim to be about Christmas, but have nothing spiritual about them. To be honest, it’s also just a matter of preference. The majority of them are musically annoying, and lyrically stupid, and I can’t help being a snobby art critic. However, this issue, and the issue of Santa Clause are personal issues for me. If I had kids I simply would not play secular holiday music or introduce the concept of Santa Clause. I would still get a tree, give gifts and eat too much food.

You might ask why things like the Christmas tree or the practice of giving gifts are not problematic. I do not see these as problematic because they are passive. They can be and symbolize whatever you want them to. In contrast, music actively introduces and perpetuates ideas, as do stories and fictional characters. A Christmas tree can symbolize life–the life that Christ promises to us. The lights and colorful decorations can symbolize hope and joy in an otherwise dark and cold time of year. The list goes on. Jesus received gifts at his birth, so why shouldn’t we give gifts to each other? Jesus loves us, and God is within all of us. Inventing your own symbolism for old ideas and concepts is absolutely permissible, and is exactly what the early Church did with Pagan ideas. For example, they celebrated a festival commemorating the birth of the New Sun, which we recognize as the Winter Solstice. The early Christians took this idea and used it to commemorate the birth of Christ. This made it understandable and relatable to their early converts.

Lastly, I would like to say that I do not condone the exploitation of a religious tradition for commercial gain, nor do I think it’s something that is worth getting totally stressed out about. I do not appreciate the trivialization by Western culture in general of something that is so beautiful and meaningful. However, I do not condemn the people who do these things. What they do is their business. Furthermore, I find that condemning people for what they believe is right, or at least permissible, is not productive. It only creates divisions and perpetuates the same problems. Take the Starbucks cups for example. Every year a handful of bored, militant atheists get worked up because Starbucks puts snowflakes on their cups, which simply is not a religious symbol. This year, Starbucks didn’t want to deal with it, so they made their cups plain red, which pissed off a bunch of bored, militant Christians. The most productive thing for Starbucks to do would be whatever they very well please. The snowflakes are kind of festive and fun, so if they want to, they should put them on the cups. They’re not going to go bankrupt because a few people with too much time on their hands are annoyed with them.

It literally does not matter what Starbucks puts on their cups, so Christians should have simply ignored the issue. There are certain things we simply cannot compromise about, but this is not one of them. We can be friends with a-religious peeps and Atheists, and Agnostics, and Muslims and Buddhists and people of any other religion while still not believing in or adhering to their faiths and practices. In fact, I argue that it is our duty as Christians to lead by example, and show people what it’s like to know Jesus. We can’t do that if we’re constantly fighting about trivialities. To bring this back to my original point, I would like to say that I don’t think there is one right way to celebrate Christmas, but I do think it should be celebrated because of its true purpose. Its pagan and secular aspects are not things that we need to necessarily be worried about. As I said, some things are problematic for me, so I personally ignore them. If they are not problematic for you, go ahead and enjoy.

For whatever reason there seems to be a sentiment around this time that tends to lead people to good thoughts and nice actions, whether they are religious or not. That alone is a good thing, and most likely ultimately stems from the original purpose of Christmas, whether people know it or not. There tends to be an increase in charitable donations. People tend to be more generous and more patient. Friends and family who often don’t see each other for months get together and enjoy each other’s company. People can stop and relax for a while. None of this is spiritual, but it’s all healthy and good for society in general. If you couple the warm and fuzzy feelings with a spiritual purpose, they can become permanent–not unbreakable, but more clearly defined, and purposeful far after Christmas is over. Christmas symbolizes a beginning, but what it began is still in progress, and we are a part of it. We need to remember that beginning, in part, to keep in mind where we’re going.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

We Should Be Nice

My friend asked me to help her with a research paper. The topic is whether or not the U.S. should welcome Syrian refugees into our borders. I told her that I don’t know a lot of the details, and honestly, I don’t know the extent of the dangers that this could cause. All I know is that I am 200% for helping these people. All I can give right now is a moralistic argument, but here it is.

A lot of people in this country don’t want to let refugees into our borders for one reason: they’re scared. They are afraid that potential terrorists are hiding among the people who honestly just need a safe place to go. One argument I have repeatedly heard in favor of admitting the refugees is that their situation appears very similar to that of the Jews during World War 2. The counter argument is that it is actually a very different situation because the Jews were a clearly defined, and clearly innocent group of people. It would be absurd to expect any of them to do anything violent and troublesome. However, I think many who are opposed to bringing in any refugees forget that the majority of these people really are innocent. We can’t lock the doors to all of them just because some of them might be bad. We must help the innocent and needy. We need a proper and effective screening process that is also efficient so that we can get these people into a stable situation as soon as possible.

While there is and always will be a threat of terrorists sneaking in among the refugees, we have to remember that it really isn’t all that difficult for ISIS to influence American citizens to do their work for them. They target isolated and marginalized people who are seeking an outlet to express their frustration. Many isolated people simply want to belong to something, and if they are convinced that they are important to a holy war, and that they will be greatly rewarded, they may and have been led to do horrible, violent things. These could be French, English, or American citizens who feel that they belong nowhere else and that they can succeed at nothing else. ISIS recruits these people through commonly used social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and through other less known outlets as well. They have people who are very technologically savvy and can communicate and transfer funds and information across the globe without being detected via the dark web (a closed system that avoids using sites that are detectable by search engines–for more information on the dark web, go here: Dark Web). So while there is a danger of radicalized Syrians coming into our country, there is always a danger of ISIS radicalizing our own people.

Lastly, the U.S. has seen a lot of violent crimes perpetrated by American citizens. Young American people who are frustrated with life go into schools and movie theaters what seems like several times a year sometimes, and kill as many people as they can. While we don’t know their motives, we have to realize that this is a result of isolation. People who have healthy relationships, stable home lives, and a network of support to help with any mental health problems they may have, don’t do these things. It is the people who are neglected and ignored who end up resorting to violence. In this situation, we can all take some of the blame. Our citizens simply don’t want to deal with these people because we’re too busy or because we don’t want to get into an uncomfortable situation, our government doesn’t help because they don’t have enough money, or because they don’t know how, and our religious institutions, Christian, Muslim, or whatever else, don’t get involved because of the complicated theological and existential implications, and because their leaders are inadequately trained to deal with these kinds of issues. Refusing to accept refugees is not going to stop violent crime in this country.

The ultimate solution to our problem is to be careful, but also to be loving. We can increase productivity and the overall happiness of our people, including those we help from other countries, by developing a more inclusive, more caring society. Ultimately what will solve our problem is a change within ourselves. We need to be willing to do two things: get over our fear, and sacrifice a little of our time. We can be kind and loving while still being practical, but we need to be intentional about it. We need to make conscious choices about how we act toward every other person. I’ve had this conversation with my dad over and over: if we could just show our enemies how prosperous our nation is and how happy our people are overall, we might change their minds about us. Our country was built by immigrants and refugees. By not helping our Syrian friends, we are proving our enemies right about us.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!I