Rants & Roadkill

Leisure Studies 1: Hog Heaven

Posted on: Sunday, April 14th, 2013
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Let’s face it, nobody’s going to the bank preaching the gospel of career breaks; they just haven’t swept our cultural consciousness (yet!)…

That said, I hope and believe that most folks find a way to get their yayas out now and again.

So I’m introducing a new series that salutes and comments on various forms of leisure. Even when some of those releases seem peculiar to the rest of us.

  • Today, we take Harley Davidson for a ride.

That rough, tough, renegade brand of mega-motorcycles screams independence, ruggedness, and machismo louder than 100 Harleys on the open highway, right?

Well, maybe. Yet a handful of impressions and experiences make this bike-skeptic question that. Like, there was that time when I was about 10 and a (truly nasty) biker gang was passing through the lake region where my family was vacationing. I ended up walking by dozens of them, and some made sexual slurs at me. That’s intimidating and mean, sure. But, really? These scary, dangerous dudes had to resort to bullying a pre-pubescent boy? I was frightened, for sure. But not impressed.

These days, large Harley stores—you see them outside of many towns—look rather like bricky Wal-Marts. One rarely sees much activity there. I’ve read that Harley makes more money on clothes and stuff than on actual bikes now. That makes sense. Doesn’t it seem you see way more Harley regalia than actual motorcycles?

Harley Davidson has gone from symbolizing unconventional free-spiritedness to a sort of clipped-wing conformity. It’s hit-the-road, fantasy fashion statements for folks who are stuck in their recliner watching football and working on their beer guts (if we pass by the actual biker gangs).

The people I do know who own Harleys (and wear the attire) go for a ride, oh, maybe once a month, in the warm months. They do sometimes ride to that huge Sturgis rally though—in their pickups and motor homes and SUVs that tow their bikes behind until they get to a nearby truck stop and then—SHAZAMM!—they ditch their comfort and climb on their uber-bike. Is that hot, or what?

In other words, Harley seems anymore like a brand that doesn’t have a lot of “there” there. Still, my I tip my leather cap to them for creating such an American myth. I love that they’re made in Milwaukee, a cool town I once lived in. And I can even say that my dad used to ride one—until, legend has it, he wrecked it in a head-on collision.

In closing, I do hope Harley fans are having fun in Hog heaven. And yet I ask, have you ever seen a Harley-head smile?

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Mexico, You Make Me Sick

Posted on: Thursday, March 28th, 2013
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A meager 6-day BreakAway was all the Gods were willing to offer in atonement for this heinous, interminable winter. And though I really shouldn’t complain, I will—as the retreat became Dickensian in a fractional way: 5/6 the best of times, 1/6 the worst:  after I brought home a case of severe E. coli (along with some charming souvenirs).

I’ve spent many moments trying to pinpoint what food (or water or ice) item made my body go much further south than Mazatlan. But I blame myself.

This winter-blues daddy-o has taken the M train at least 6-8 times now with nary a scary fart. So it’s no surprise that my one-time divine canons of foreign-country travel hygiene washed away years ago, while even Guidebook 101 common sense seemed superfluous.

All to say, I had a great time. Travel is MUCH more fun (and relaxing) when you don’t worry about the dangers that lurk around every corner, cocina, and ceviche. So in celebration of that free-spiritedness we all crave—that may work forever or fail you at any moment—here are some ways to throw caution to the ill wind and maybe, just maybe, make yourself sick in Mexico.

  • Drink the water. Oh sure, you could always buy your own bottle. But doesn’t every hacienda worth its peso already purify their own?
  • Underhydrate. I always—always!—carry water and sip. But I guess I took a vacation from that practice, too.
  • Drink too much. Their wine lists are lousy. And I don’t love most Mexican beer. But smiling Mexicanos kept bringing me more anyway.
  • Eat raw fish. Tuna? Mahi? Scallops? Shrimp? Sure. They’re abundant.  And so fresh they don’t need flame. Throw in a few more I can’t pronounce. Refrigerators are cool, but not always visible there.
  • Eat whole fish. Nothing better. Just keep scraping that flesh right off the bone and eat everything but the eyeballs.
  • Eat big salads. Finally! Some eateries are serving ample, fancy veggies. Some say skip the salad course when south of the border, but, naaaaahhh…
  • Take leftovers home. Why not? They might be your lunch sitting poolside tomorrow!
  • Buy pre-prepared meals at the OXXO (think 7-11). They look pretty good. They’re cheap. And God knows you don’t go to Mexico to cook!
  • Eat ingredients that generally disagree with you. I hate onions and garlic. And they hate me. In Mexico, everything includes onions and garlic.
  • Get tons of sun. Mexico has an endless source. And they share. We vacationers are just making up for lost shine.
  • Skip washing your hands or using antiseptic. What if the water’s not pure? BYO Purell! (If you think of it.)
  • Shake hands a lot. Donald Trump doesn’t do it, and calls it barbaric. For the rest of us, though, it’s typically just low-risk politeness.
  • Eat and drink at several venues a day. After all, you can’t cross a street without stumbling into another bar—and many are truly alluring.
  • Use toilets anywhere and everywhere. Hey, when you gotta go, you gotta go.
  • Sleep erratically. Those waves are LOUD! Anyway, who goes to the coast to spend those precious hours in bed?
  • Repeat daily. (And nightly.)

Funny thing is, at about the time that Mr. Belly started mumbling, we were sitting in Mazatlan’s best restaurant, Topolo, eating a divine invention that included about five pounds of chopped raw ahi, wasabi, ginger, avocado, capers, cuke—and NO onion or garlic! It went perfectly with Negra Modelo.

Some sad, aging woman was quizzing the waiter about their water and ice and all, “I was just sick for a week!” Moments later, an email arrived from an elder rellie who wondered if he should come to Maz for a golf gathering, “Or is there too much food-borne illness?”

I pooh-poohed such paranoia, slurped some more silky tuna, and ordered another cerveza. The rest is a blur, though I remember a delirious 103-degree fever followed by the worst travel day ever.

Back home on the still-snow-covered tundra, Mr. Belly is gradually moving beyond Gatorade and rice. Meanwhile, Mr. Heart can’t wait to get Back to Mexico.

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Today’s Teens = Time-Strapped+++

Posted on: Thursday, November 29th, 2012
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Ideally, the teen years should be a time of finding your freedom, growing with gusto and hanging with friends (no, not the app). Sadly, those “Happy Days” have devolved instead into an extended chapter of school stress, sports madness, and window-dressing for college. If this is how we prepare our kids for the Real World, we may be failing.

In the local paper today, writer Aimee Blanchette profiles some “Superscheduled” high-schoolers aspiring to be super-achievers—with possible pit stops not only at the coffee shop and energy-drink stand, but also in mental breakdown, illness, and insomnia disorders.

The article barely mentions the straw breaking many a youth’s back (and bank): digital devices and addiction. I mean, have you seen how students study these days? It’s not easy—and often takes three screens (TV, laptop, phone) just to get started! At least 75% of teens have their own phone toy now.

  • Hey, we parents suffer too!

Let’s not get lost in a rant here. But really, has anyone written the story about parents who have compromised or surrendered their career (and other) hopes to, instead, drive drive drive, coach, fund-raise, serve pasta feeds, sell concessions, and usher their kids to lessons and injury-fixing doctors? For this, we needed higher degrees?

Has anyone done the research on the less-privileged students whose parents can’t drop everything to make their future rosy and their high-protein meals mobile?

Has anyone proven within a reasonable doubt that all this chasing super-performance truly amounts to success in future years? Does this student earn more money? Create more innovations? Attain more contentment? Make the world a better place?

Or do they just burn out? Let’s not even get started on the epidemic of high-school athletes who quit because they’re just sick of it (perhaps literally). Or the age-old risk of high-test teens turning to substance abuse to escape agony and find ecstasy.

  • Will it matter in 10 years?

At any age, that’s a good question to ask yourself when you’re worrying about something—but especially when you’re over-working on something. We Americans are obsessed with believing that whatever we’re doing is profoundly important. And right. And urgent.

Well, try this chill pill: Maybe it’s not. Get over yourself—before it’s too late. This website promotes finding one’s passion in free time, travel, and career breaks. Yet most folks don’t even take advantage of their modest vacation days.

Even superscheduled superachievers still face setbacks like super-recessions. 50% of college students are living at home. 21% of college grads have boomeranged back to their hometown bedroom. Too many are flipping burgers at McBurger or greeting bargain hunters at TarMart.

Meanwhile, student debt has surpassed credit card debt. Something is broke(n) here, indeed.

Anyway, shouldn’t college be not only a time to learn about making millions, but also a time to learn about pleasure, exploration, and growth? Heck, you’ve got your whole life to work and worry. Let your higher education be a big punctuation mark. A period. Of evolution. Transformation. And hedonism (if not then, when?).

  • LWWY

Thank God we have boy bands like One Direction to sing us carefree, bouncy songs like, “Live While We’re Young.” Youth flies away fast enough as it is; why become a fretful curmudgeon before your time? THAT kind of precociousness is not a gift!

“We’re about to make some memories,” sings One Direction. Kids, make sure those memories include beaches, banter, and laughter—not just libraries and calendar-dependence.

Or as the multi-dimensional thought-leaders 1D summarize the whole high-stakes quandary,

Don’t overthink; just let it go.”


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Posted on: Friday, March 2nd, 2012
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Once upon a time, people grew their own food and played in the sunshine and sat around talkin’ story.  Nowadays, most of us choose instead to stare at screens and tap on plastics and text to invisible “friends.”

Fine.  Whatever.  LOL.  Nostalgia will get a guy nowhere and may, in fact, cause an incurable case of modern-day isolation.  That’s too bad.

The most vulgar part, though, is the sh*t-storm known as SPAM.  You can run, but you cannot escape.  You can Google cures, but the ill wind will blow again.  You can flee your devices screaming for mercy, but the demons will only find you again—in greater numbers than ever.

As for me, I’m getting pummeled and bullied to the tune of 100s a day now, and have called in pest control experts that, I hope, will arrive before I off my puter forever.

Meantime, a-holes who ought to be tortured and then hung by their skin, and then tortured some more, continue to blast me with inane offers for hook-ups, detox, drugs, debt reduction, and $1500—always $1500—as if that measly amount of money could make a mogul like me bite.

That said, if given the chance, I’d bite into these schmucks til they were bloody and begging for mercy, and then I’d throw them in to the salt pits and laugh (and then pee) in their faces.

It may have taken decades, but WE THE PUBLIC were able to more or less stop junk mail, telemarketers, and even doorknob solicitors.  If the internets are as vacuous and uncontrollable as they presently appear to be, we will not likely be so lucky in stopping SPAM.

You can’t make this stuff up.  So I leave you then, with a stool sample from one of the morons who disturbed my peace today.  At least it opens with two magical words:

  • Possible Unplugged:

The risen factory aids the agenda with the psychologist endeavor. A nose reverts without a highway. The imperative sacks the optical regime. The helicopter correlates the stone. The alias walks past the poorest doe.

The reactor previews the unified school. Why can’t the yeti flame the biggest breath? The debate foams under the specialist. The extremist search loses behind the college. A house paces each slang on top of a second love. Each wound drawback migrates within the loading arch.

How does the atom pass the needle? The raid arrests the witch. The dustbin knights the abused roof. Around the worldwide compromise degenerates a vital waffle.

A gravitational rat rockets. A crossword suffers without the pronounced leg. A delicious accident speaks. The frantic standpoint speaks. The unseen stunts the assistant near the noble outline.

How can a shortest chat wash? A stream saves a rumor within the mixed festival. A cumulative gold fashions the iron. Over the kernel yawns the downhill. The riding starter paints a back.

How will the cumbersome sequel discard his biscuit? How can another transformed sentient flip? A wisest throughput gutters the romance. Can a gang yield a stressed century?

An upstairs stems whatever referenced agent against the courage. The expiring theme stunts the temperature. The seal trips below the electron. Any inadequate venture pounds down upon a committed restaurant.

Possible Unplugged:  was such jibberish even possible before the WWW?  And now I get hundreds a day.  Insane, indeed.

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1 Bad Apple?

Posted on: Thursday, January 12th, 2012
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A few days ago, Apple inspired me.  Not in the usual way—with fresh innovation that changes the world—but a with an indifference and boorishness that makes Burger King charming.  Now that Steve Jobs has gone to the other side, I wonder if anyone considers the other side of the ubiquitous Apple influence.

Apple stores differ.  But mine (in Rosedale Mall) is usually more noisy and uncomfortable than a school bus.  They make you wait and want you to hang around.  But even a simple stool can be impossible to score.

Sure, many great people work at Apple.  But sometimes, the Apple attitude turns sour—and takes devotees with it.  What have I experienced or pondered?  Behind the sweet products and branding, here are some unpleasant flavors that can linger…

  • Rude. If an employee (genius?) is smarter than the customer, that’s great.  But when the employee gets short—or forgets basic greetings manners, that’s foul.
  • Arrogance. Rude’s older cousin often shows up (especially on the phone)—and seems to enjoy making others feel inferior, slow, or uncool.
  • Cunning. Apple’s marketing represents American materialism at its best (or worst).  No entity has consistently made us crave the fruits of what’s newest, next, or better.  If you don’t keep up?  They may make you feel 1.0—or lock you and your old gear out of their party.
  • Conniving. Sure, some Apple products perform amazingly for their price—even if it’s usually more than the competition (if there is any).  But like buying a car, the spending only begins with the purchase—and Apple has mastered the art of trapping you into upgrades, replacements, repair, and more more more.
  • Self-important. Beyond the mercenary, what, exactly, has Apple done to exemplify generosity, compassion and valor?  Some might say Steve Jobs was no Bill Gates.
  • Narcissistic. Examples are everywhere, but a friend’s Christmas story was particularly personal:  This year, at his large family holiday gathering, about 75% of the people were staring down at their screens.  He missed the good old days, when “just us” was the point.  What lexicon did Apple push for most of the products?  i.  i.  i.

But enough ranting.  For now, let’s not even bite into the new waves of research about phenomena like tech addiction, texting while sleeping, and online shopping while drunk—to say nothing of the challenges digital-mania presents to parenting, teaching, coaching, and the grand old art of civil conversation…the kind some Apple folks don’t have time for.

Mr. Jobs and Apple changed the world.  For better AND worse.

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What’s the Hurry?

Posted on: Monday, October 3rd, 2011
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  • On the freeway, dude in the pick-up behind me talks on his cellphone, snarfs a sandwich, and tailgates like we’re attached until I leave the lane.
  • Downtown, woman in high heels texts while j-strutting through frantic traffic.
  • At the supermarket, suburban Momma barks at her bluetooth while ignoring her kids and budging to the front of the 10-item line (with 22 groceries in her cart).

Just another day, right?  Does anybody ever catch up, slow down and smell the fall colors any more?

5 ways to stop rushing

  1. In the morning, upon waking up, stay in bed a while, and decide to do something (that isn’t on your to-do list) soothing that day.
  2. Mid-morning, go outside for a walk, bike ride, or any other exercise bit.
  3. At lunch, before you munch, give thanks, and remember the many that are hungry.
  4. In the afternoon, when you’re feeling sleepy anyway, take a silence break—meditation, catnap, siesta; doesn’t really matter what you call it.
  5. Before bed, unplug and play some mellow music, or just listen to some if you’re musically challenged.

As for me, the days that I don’t do some of those things (among other ‘habits’) are the days that feel lost—no matter how much I accomplished.

Seems modern-day survival relies on speedy multitasking.

But how much of that obsession actually amounts to anything?  How can we so value productivity yet admit we dislike our jobs, go deeper in debt, and suffer from crippling unemployment?  Wouldn’t it be great to recalibrate our collective priorities?

Maybe we’d use our time differently.  Maybe we’d take our time—literally—now and then.

Big-time BreakAways can wait.  But small-time breaks always await—and demand far less energy than they give back.

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They Paved Paradise…

Posted on: Thursday, September 8th, 2011
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Downtowns are supposed to be places where we can walk, gawk and escape our routine.  Make some celebration.  Stumble on an odd adventure.  And feel the beat of the streets.  When traveling—whether to New York or to Tokyo—who doesn’t wander, eyes agog, to take it all in?

  • Diversity ≠ danger

I took this picture in the spring of 1981.  After an all-night Greyhound ride from Chicago, I awoke in Minneapolis and took my first stroll down notorious Block E.  The Prudes That Be said it was squalid and scary—and thus eventually tore everything down to erect a mall that has failed.

To me, Block E buzzed with verve and authenticity; even the signage sings, if at times a raunchy tune.  So I hung out there now and then.  After attending Game 7 of the 1987 World Series, I ended up in Moby Dick’s and witnessed astonishing elation and conviviality.

  • Now the Hard Rock crumbles…

23 years later, the soul-less, mammoth mall that replaced Moby’s and all the rest is now nearly empty.  Hard Rock will close by the end of the month.  Generic chain joints like Applebee’s, Hooters, GameWorks, and Panchero’s are already gone.

Perhaps the saddest twist of fate is this:  The new owners who bought the building have big plans of tearing this iteration down to erect a $200 million casino and hotel.

If this is progress, call me old-school.  Like dog poop that you step in and then spread it all over, the porn and strip joints they shut down have simply moved a few blocks to other locations; at least they used to be mostly on one block (which anyone could avoid and where cops and bouncers were abundant).

You could get “a whale of a drink” at Moby’s and get a dang-good-and-cheap “filet de boeuf” at 2 AM at Best Steak House.  If the new owners get their way, you can feed your gambling addiction and their pockets instead.

  • Pictures preserve memories, if nothing else

Like all good career break and travel advocates, I’m also an unprofessional photographer.  Today’s news reminds me why.  There’s nothing fancy about this image.  Yet it becomes more precious as the years pass—both because it rouses inimitable memories, and because it preserves a vanished scene.

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A (Patriotic) Year in Tunisia

Posted on: Wednesday, May 11th, 2011
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DSC_0959_2Throughout the Middle East, nations roil like boats lost at sea while trying to figure out this thing called democracy.  They look to a beacon called USA for guidance, while simultaneously dissing our unsavory ways.  Tunisia offers an illuminating path for us, though, as thousands of youth there embark on a “patriotic year.”  

I heard this story on All Things Considered and found it quite inspiring; you can read the article here, or listen, if you are so inclined…

  • Protecting the…revolution                       

Demonstrations broken up by tear-gas, daily.  70 new political parties.  Countless citizen organizations.  A regime that’s ousted yet threatens to force their way back into power.  Sounds like just another day on Santa Monica Boulevard—NOT. 

We’ve much to learn from our faraway compatriots.  Here, we host two political parties that share only one love in common:  A love for gridlock.  Seems many American lives are lost in gridlock too, while a brave few dream of a debt-free life and something like a Gap Year. yet stay stuck in their swamp.

  • Imagine passionate patriotism in America

What might happen if a wave of American youth dedicated a year to improving our deteriorating land and demanding results from our government?  We could use that kind of grass-roots, kick-butt patriotism around here—not just the flag-in-the-lapel kind. 

Oh sure, it might get in the way of Facebook and Modern Warfare 2.  But imagine how savvy and mighty our society might be if we could recapture the passion, like our friends in Tunisia.

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Online = Service Dearth

Posted on: Friday, January 28th, 2011
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DSC_0590Isn’t the internet great?  Sometimes yes, sometimes not so much—like when you need serious assistance.  In the past week, I’ve gotten trapped in enough online snares to miss the good old days of Ma Bell Hell.  Here are just a few of these head-banging incidents…

Gift card / sports store. One offspring gets a gift card, so we go to the store.  As these things go, we find $200 worth of stuff though the card value is only $100…

Them: After ringing us up, the checker says, “Oh, this is an online gift card.  We don’t accept those in the store.”

Us:  “Hmmm, is there anyway around this?  We only came in bacause of the gift card.”

Them:  “No, but you can put back all your merchandise and then go buy it online, if it’s there…”

Autopay form / department store credit card. Autopay is a win-win-win, right?  It makes life better for the store, the customer, and the environment.  So when the online sign-up failed to function, I called the store…

Us (after a long, long wait and punching many digits—which eventually needed to be repeated to a Human):  “Hi.  I’m unable to complete the autopay form online, so you could mail me one?”

Them:  “Actually, for your convenience, you can just print it from our website.”

Me:  “Okay, but I’m not at my computer now, and my my printer needs ink.  So could you kindly just mail it me?  I’ll take it from there…”

Them:  “Actually, we don’t mail that form.  What number may I fax it to?”

Me:  “Actually, my fax isn’t hooked up and I’m not at the office.  Can’t you please just mail me one?  Or ask someone who can?”

Them:  “Well, we don’t do that, but let me talk to my supervisor.”

L o n g                              w a i t

Them:  “Okay, just this once, my boss said we can mail you one.  It might take a few weeks tough.  How else may I help you today?”

Vendor recommendation / municipality. The gardening to-do list takes a break during winter, yet dormant plants and a blanket of snow make it the ideal time to take down a dead, old ash.  My municipality prefers that you use vendors that have a proper local license, so I try to comply.  When my usual cutter does not appear on the online list, I call in…

Me:  “Hi.  I’m wondering if you can tell me if a tree service is still licensed and recommended by my fine city.”

Them:  “Great!  But actually, you can just find that information online.”

Me:  “Yes, I’m on that page right now, but my vendor is gone.”

Them:  “Oh.  Well, we may be behind on keeping that list current.”

Me:  “Great!  So tell me, should Grizzly’s Tree Care be there?  They always were in the past…”

Them:  “Hmmm, let’s see.  Ya, sure.  They’re current on the license and everything.  Go ahead and use them; they do good work.”

Us:  “Yes, I agree.  Nice to know someone does.  Thanks for your ‘help’”.

Having just returned from a BreakAway in Mazatlan, I’m temporarily smitten by the notion that, in some places, real people still offer unplugged service—and don’t just bat you back to your cold, lonely screen.  Because they probably don’t even have one.  Because they value things like human contact, attention, and having a job.

Thanks for listening.  I have to go now—to pay a bill online, renew an Apple service online, and resolve a payroll discrepency online.

Wish me luck.

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The Annual X-mas Rant

Posted on: Sunday, December 26th, 2010
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DSC_0127Christmas has come and gone.  Again.

Beautiful; we still take a few days to BreakAway from our jobs, routines, and rat race.  With any luck, we even reflect, rest, and renew old ties.

But the party is far from over.  Now comes the clean-up, the bills, the weight-loss angst, and the withdrawal from holiday hype.

  • What happened?

What’s happened to this sacred season, anyway?  What’s happened to our culture?  I mean, in an era of unemployment, austerity, and alleged rethinking of values, the season’s headlines obsess about retail sales.  It would appear that Christmas has become Growth Engine #1—and I’m not talking spiritual growth.

Meanwhile, I can’t remember the last time a Christmas carol lilted through a public school.  The radio and mall soundtrack is all “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Let it Snow.”  The Christian denominations are losing souls and houses of worship as fast as other religions are gaining them.

  • Where the GAINS are

Oh sure, you can find a few expanding strains of Christianity.  And they are likely to be heavily political and opinionated (in ways that may not agree with the Beatitudes).  Or they preach the poppy ME message of Prosperity Theology: “Make Me Rich.”  As uber-triumphant (and uber-rich) Reverend Joel Osteen puts it:

God has said that he will open the windows of heaven and pour such blessing that you will not be able to contain it!”

  • Self. Ish.

Oh well, people are just trying to be happy, right?  And when that’s the goal, it may be better to receive than to give.  Better to focus on a personal path than consider sacrifice for world needs or relationship growth.

But the truth (if there is one) of “happiness” may hide in big-hearted, old-school stories like Christmas, not just new-age websites, shopping malls, and self-help shelves.

Search “self help books” on Google and get 191,000,000 links to explore.  Search “self help” on Amazon and ponder 155,000 “results.”  The first “result” is a book with a title that starts, “When Am I Going to Be Happy?…”

Well, “happy” may be a simplistic, self-absorbed pursuit, anyway.  Jesus never promised happiness.  That’s just what we now ask of Christmas, spirituality, and so many things.  And of course, successful living in these times is all about the asking, not so much the sharing.

Was there ever a day when Christmass meant more than merriment, Macys, and money?

I believe.

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