One of my Christmas traditions is walking out to the street on Christmas morning to see if there are any kids riding new bikes. I have to tell you, it’s been a while since I’ve seen any. It’s true there aren’t as many children on our street as there were 20 years ago, but there are some, and once again this year, I didn’t see any bikes. None of the many news reports on how today’s kids just stay inside and play video games bears witness to the truth like this admittedly unscientific survey. Which is a shame, because there are some really cool bikes out there today. When I was young, waking up Christmas morning and finding a shiny new bike waiting was just about the epitome of giftdom. It was impact on two wheels. And you had a better-than-fair chance of wheeling out the door and finding at least a couple of friends in a similar state of newly-enhanced mobility. And mobility was what we had. As they say, it was a different time. I would take long rides all over south Jackson and beyond, and I don’t remember ever telling my mother I was going. I remember once riding halfway to Raymond, a distance of maybe 10 miles, without ever mentioning that I would be gone all afternoon. (Note to my kids – no, I would not have been cool with you doing this!) Regardless, next Christmas morning I’ll be out there, looking up and down the street to see if there’s a new bike being wheeled about. Hope, as they say, springs eternal.
Winter in Mississippi is different from winter further north. The low tonight is forecast to be 18F. It rarely gets that low – maybe two or three times a year – and honestly, we don’t know what to do about it. After we’ve put the faucet covers on, we’re pretty much clueless. When it gets this cold, I’ll throw a tarp over my swimming pool pumps and stick a 100-watt lightbulb underneath and leave it on all night. I have no idea if this is necessary, but it does keep me from waking up at 2AM and wondering if my pumps are freezing up. In the morning, we get up and go to work, and freeze all day, because few of us own proper coats, not like the ones Midwesterners have. Most of what we have are glorified windbreakers. We might have some gloves and a ski cap, but finding them is a problem. They’re usually on a closet shelf behind the racquetball equipment that hasn’t been used since 1983.
And this is for dry cold, nothing falling from the sky. Cold rains are OK, we come home from work and stay inside the rest of the night, curled up under a throw in our comfy chair, only getting up to kick the dog out the door to do his Outdoor Thing, so we don’t wake up in the morning to find an Indoor Thing. If there’s any chance of ice, we know exactly what to do. Go to the grocery store and buy all the bread, milk, and bottled water we can find. If ice actually falls, or God forbid, snow, we’re out of response options. Typically we just curl up in a fetal position and wait for the sun to come out.
Yesterday President Obama and the Republicans worked out a deal on extending the Bush tax cuts from 2001. They also threw in a “temporary” reduction in the payroll tax we pay for social security, dropping it by two percentage points. So now we’ll pay even less in taxes, without giving up anything. We’ve come to believe we shouldn’t have to. It’s really a pretty sweet deal – we just keep shoving this massive debt off on you. You’ll be paying on this long after we’re dead, buried, and cursed by you a dozen times over. There’s a fair chance that the United States you’ll know will be crippled by this debt, but hey, we don’t like paying taxes, and we punish anyone who says we should. Oh sure, some of our politicians talked about cutting the deficit in our time, but that was just posturing to get elected. So we’ll keep spending, and cutting taxes because we come up with these nice theories that say cutting taxes will somehow increase the amount of money the government takes in, and we keep on spending like we have even more money coming in. It’s really been a bizarre thirty years, if you stop and think about it, as we’ve piled up deficit after deficit. There was this president named Bill Clinton who actually did do something about the deficit – he even left office with a budget surplus – but the next president, George Bush, took care of that in short order. Tax cuts, you know. Have to cut taxes, give money back to the people. It sounds noble, except that – you guessed it – he kept spending like there weren’t any tax cuts. So, the debt got higher and higher. Anyway, I digress. We, as I said, have another deal on the way, cutting taxes more, sending you more debt, all nicely wrapped up with a pretty bow. Yeah, I know, you’d have preferred to have been able to spend your tax money on repairing roads and bridges, and building new schools, and keeping the military in tip-top shape. Heck, you might have even wished you could have had some tax cuts for yourself. That last will be hard for you to do, I suspect. Just the interest on what we’ve piled up will probably strain what you can afford in taxes. But, you know, tough. We like all this stuff we have. We just don’t like paying for it. That’s what you’re for. And, like I said, we’ll be dead. We won’t care, any more than we do now.
We The People
With Christmas approaching, the Methodist church turns to thoughts of Advent. For Methodists, the fourth Sunday before Christmas begins the church year. Advent is generally presented as a time of waiting and anticipation, symbolically representing the approach of the birth of Jesus. A former pastor offered a different interpretation – that of a period of darkness before the coming of the light. The Advent story obviously includes Mary, with what I suppose is the traditional teaching of a young woman with the dreams that a young Jewish girl would have had in ancient Israel, and having all of that changed through an angelic visitation. That was the gist of our lesson today, but as I sat listening, I started to wonder what sort of hopes and dreams a young Jewish girl would have had then. There would have been the corporate dream of the Jewish people, awaiting the long-promised Messiah, of course. But on a personal level, what would a young woman in Israel have to look forward to? Mary certainly didn’t come from a wealthy family, so she would anticipate marriage to someone who also wouldn’t be wealthy. Her life would probably center around raising and feeding her family. I don’t mean to trivialize marriage and family, but the thought came to me today that maybe she didn’t trade one dream for another. Maybe that sort of life wasn’t something you dreamed about, it was just what you assumed would happen. Maybe her anointing by God gave her a dream for the first time.