Don't Sub for Santa -- Fire Him!

FOR YEARS, I PARTICIPATED IN SUB-FOR-SANTA. I was always happy to be a part of this tradition and looked forward to it each year. Until a few years ago.

My church group was given the name of a needy family and a list of suggested gift items. One evening in early December, my group met at Shopko. An hour later we had filled four carts with with food, candy, staples and toys. We returned to the church where we wrapped the items and had an enjoyable evening chatting with other groups doing the same.

A couple of days before Christmas, we parked in front of the family's home. As we unloaded the gifts, I looked around. The neighborhood was humble, but clean. Christmas lights adorned most of the homes. There were two cars parked in the driveway, including a pickup truck. As we trundled our gifts toward the house, I recognized the kind of truck it was from my experience as a contractor: the father of this household was a carpet installer. A niggling question arose in my mind as we congregated at the front door. Carpet layers work hard. Very hard. But they also make a good living: around $300 a day. That's over $70,000 a year. The bag of gifts in my hand suddenly grew heavier.

The door opened and a Hispanic woman greeted us. Several children stood behind her, gawking. She spoke little English, but motioned for us to enter. As we did, I noticed the expensive marble tile on the entry floor and the well-furnished living room, complete with a large Christmas tree, already surrounded by presents. Since I speak Spanish, I told her who we were.

"Ya lo se!" she said. I know! Curious, I asked her how. "We signed up for this," she said brightly.

"Signed up?" I asked. "Where?"

"At the community center. They had a list for people who wanted Christmas and I signed up. I told them what gifts we wanted and now here you are!"

I grimaced a smile. Here was a prosperous immigrant family with their own home and two cars. There was no sign of dysfunction, trouble, or poverty here. Dad made a good living. And we were giving them Christmas because Mom had signed up for it.

I didn't say anything; my friends were not privy to my conversation with the woman. After singing a couple of carols and leaving, we bid each other goodnight. I saw the glow of happiness on the face of my friends and I was glad for them. But in the rearview mirror of my own car, I saw my face. I was angry. Angry because some feckless government bureaucrat, eager to be "of help" during the season, had institutionalized and ruined what should have been a personal, highly private charitable act, where someone sees someone in need and quietly answers that need. Instead, a sign-up sheet and a gift list was given to church groups around Salt Lake and we spent our money and time awarding someone the Christmas lottery.

Now, before you call me Scrooge, hear me out. Historically, Santa Claus did not give gifts. He kept a list of naughty and nice children and rewarded them according to their behavior. Good kids got nice gifts; bad kids got a lump of coal. Both were earned. But Santa now represents the getting of something for nothing. Giving someone a gift doesn't reinforce good behavior (being "nice") and may indeed reward bad behavior (teaching people to expect no-strings charity).

May I offer an alternative? Instead of hand-outs, let's give hand-ups. And I know some folks who do just that: OPPORTUNITY INTERNATIONAL ( For over thirty-five years, OI has made small loans to help people start their own businesses. Most loans are just $60 and 98% are repaid. The money is then lent to another worthy entrepreneur. Loan recipients form "trust groups," which bring together 10 to 30 entrepreneurs who elect leaders, receive training and pledge to guarantee each other’s loans. Because the group guarantee replaces the need for collateral, credit becomes available to those previously locked out from formal financial services.When clients build businesses this way, they set monumental changes in motion. Family income rises. Children are fed and go to school. Homes are improved. Lives are changed.

How many times have you wondered when you gave the panhandler a dollar what they were going to spend it on? With OI, you direct your loan to someone who not only values it, but will repay it and that money will then bless the lives of others.

I joined OPPORTUNITY INTERNATIONAL and I urge you to do the same. For as little as $25, you can change someone's life, and then that money, once repaid, will go to work again, changing someone else's life. You can make a one-time donation or choose a regular contribution schedule. And since OI has been at it, scandal-free, for decades, you know your investment -- for that's what it is -- is actually reaching the people who need your help. You're not teaching a man to fish and then taking your tackle home with you. You're loaning him the money to buy his own fishing pole, which he will repay. And then that money will help another man buy a fishing pole for his family. And generations of families will be affected.

Originally, Santa Clause had it right. Good behavior should be rewarded. This Christmas, I urge you to fill someone's stocking with a loan; give them a gift they will in turn give to another. Truly, a gift that keeps giving.

St. Nick will be proud. No coal for you!

I'm Not Anal . . . You're A Slob!

IN THE WORLD WHERE I'M KING, all my subjects would be allowed to say anything they wished, but they'd have to say it properly. They'd have complete freedom of speech, so long as they used correct grammar and definitions.

So when I hear people call me "anal" when referring to my non-slovenly lifestyle, I want to shout, "Off with their heads!" and send them straight to the dirty, dank, dreary dungeon: their own filthy bedroom.

First of all, there's the matter of definition. "Anal" is short for "anal retentive," which is a Freudian stage of child development when the infant's attention moves from oral to anal stimulation, where it then learns to control excretory functions. Freud theorized that children who experience conflicts during this period may develop the personality traits of orderliness, stubbornness, a compulsion for control, as well as a generalized interest in collecting, possessing, and retaining objects. Although Freud's theories on early childhood have been influential, modern research suggests that parental attitudes have a much more concrete effect on how an infant will grow up.

The key phrase here is "Freud theorized . . ."

In George Orwell's 1984, the totalitarian government pacified the populace by redefining words as their opposite meaning. War fell under the rubric of The Ministry of Peace and so on. In the real world, this tendency for the majority (or a powerful, vocal minority) to redefine previously acceptable behavior as deviant continues apace. Formerly lauded personality traits such as neatness, organization, and cleanliness, falling outside the ability or approval of the powers-that-be, are redefined as wrong and even sick. "Anal" is one such definition.

Now I'm perfectly willing to allow that the woman that lives in her tiny apartment with 35 cats is in trouble by any standard, most notably hygiene. Ditto the co-worker who sharpens all his pencils to the exact same length. No one is going to say these folks do not have issues. But to apply the term "anal" to them is incorrect and doubly so when applied to someone whose organizational and achievement skills are not extreme but merely surpass your own.

You see, we "order-freaks" are on to you slobs. We've been in your home, waiting for half an hour as you scurry around searching for your car keys. Ours we found hanging on the hook by the kitchen door, where we place them each evening as we come in from the garage after work. When you finally find the keys under a couch cushion, we're late for the movie and you wonder why we're, as my mom used to say, "fit to spit!" It's probably just as well that we are seated apart in the crowded theater; you don't want to hear for the thousandth time how your lack of organization (or dare I say consideration?) has once again made a simple evening a never-ending battle with inanimate objects from the car keys to the sitter's number, to where we parked the car, to getting napkins for the popcorn.

If cornered, you toss it off. "I'm too creative to be bothered with such mundane things!" you shout as you sort through the garbage can for your retainer. (Not too bothered, I hope, to make it to the ER for treatment for salmonella poisoning.)

You look around at my house and snort, "Does anybody live here?" as if slovenliness were a prerequisite for happiness. To a shrinking minority of us, order in our physical surroundings happily releases us from worrying whether those undies really need washing, allowing us time to ponder the wonders of nature, plot our next book, or reminisce on the good old days when cleanliness was God's next-door neighbor instead of his arch-enemy living across the street in a Silence of the Lambs basement.

But we fuss-budgets are generous sorts. We know that your life of confusion, memory loss, and disorder effectively punishes far more than we could. We know that when you smirk and label us as "anal," what you're really saying is that you're unwilling to master one of life's most basic talents: the ability to structure your world so you achieve your goals. Not my goals. Your goals.

That's too bad, because I want you to achieve your goals. I want you to experience the joy of getting there early, the self-satisfaction of finishing your homework in time to watch your favorite TV show, the pride of wearing matching socks. All that I want for you. But you've got to want it too. So start by ceasing to label the rest of us. We're not your enemies. We don't have a derogatory psycho-sexual term for your failings; to us, you're just a slob, and being a slob is not a personality disorder. It's merely a refusal to do what's next.

That's all we clean-mongers do. We do what's next. The dishes don't fill the sink because we rinse and stack. The remote doesn't get kicked into the pool because we don't take it out to the backyard in the first place. Our cavity got filled because we made the appointment with the dentist, wrote it down on the calendar taped to the fridge, and looked at it the night before as we raided the freezer for the Rocky Road, which was in there because we bought two containers, knowing that no matter what lies we tell ourselves, we're going to eat a whole half-gallon and so it's a good idea to have another one for the rest of the family.

We do what comes next and guess what: It becomes habit and soon we don't have to think about it anymore and that means we're free to think about everything else. Including what you want for Christmas. (You're paying attention now, aren't you?)

So next time you're tempted to call me "anal," remember: if you do, it will be just another reason you might not find something from me under your tree. The other is that you don't have a tree because you put off buying one until Christmas eve and they were all sold out. But that's your problem. I don't have one.

Okay, maybe one: I'm not king.

My Articles of Faith (part 3)

IN THIS THIRD POST, I WILL WRAP UP exposition of my core beliefs. In previous posts, I've discussed my view of the nature of God and man and our purpose here on earth. I will now turn to the individual I believe God has chosen who is best fit to guide our sojourn here and help us accomplish the purpose of our mortal existence.


I believe Jesus was mortal. He was a bodhitsatva, a soul who had mastered love over his lifetimes and was poised to transcend mortality, but instead chose to return to earth one final time, for an important purpose.

I believe Jesus’ purpose was to teach us to love. His Gospel is the shortest, straightest path to mastering love and thereby transcending mortality, which is the goal of all souls incarnated on this planet. When he says, "Come, follow me," he guarantees that if we emulate his example, we will master love and transcend mortality, just as he did.

I believe in error, not sin. Errors require correction; sin requires judgment. Because every mistake we make (willful or not) comes with an automatic, proportional, and negative consequence to our soul, when we are in error, we immediately begin the process of suffering for and learning from that error. Therefore, there is no need for an eventual judgment by God because perfectly proportional consequences are linked to the error and we instantly begin learning the connection between our error and its consequence.

I believe in individual consequences. Because each error has an immediate and proportional consequence, there is no need for a savior to "pay" for my errors. Jesus did not, and could not, die for my errors because (1) they have nothing to do with him—they are inflicted upon myself and upon other mortals, not God. I alone am solely responsible for them; (2) in the precise moment they occur, I begin suffering for them, whether I recognize it or not; and (3) it is contrary to God’s loving nature to ask or permit anyone to interfere with these natural and balanced consequences which I have caused and which accrue to me alone.

I believe Jesus is our example. Because of his transcendent status as a soul who learned all the lessons of mortality, Jesus is the ultimate example of our potential. Those who allow his perfect love to envelop them begin the personal processes of spiritual self-mastery. When that process is complete, any cosmic debt that might exist is, by definition, paid. Only the person in error and the offended person are parties to the process. There is no need or place for the suffering or forgiveness of a third party, including God and/or Jesus.

I believe that though Jesus did not suffer and die for my sins, he nevertheless died for a purpose. This purpose was to show his mastery of love and to stand as a witness of the same. By his death, he left a lasting impression on his disciples, who then took his Gospel to the world, giving all mankind the opportunity to hear, comprehend, and follow his example, if they so choose.

I believe in universal salvation. By "universal" I mean everyone, and by "salvation" I mean unhindered in progress toward godhood. There is no unpardonable sin because God is pure love and nothing, barring our own recalcitrance, can keep us from him. Our errors have profound consequences to our eternal souls, consequences which accrue immediately and proportionally. Yet once the error is comprehended and forsaken, forgiveness occurs immediately because God's love trumps judgment and we once again find ourselves on the path toward him. In this way God's plan is perfectly fair because it allows every soul unlimited progress, thereby demonstrating God’s key attribute: Love.


The preceding Articles of Faith can be condensed into the following syllogism:

Love transcends all limitations.
I am learning to love.
If I master love, I shall transcend all limitations.

* * *

Thank you for taking the time to read these very personal statements of belief. My intent in sharing them is not to offend or convince, but to encourage you to consider the foundations of your own life and then to live accordingly. For my part, I've found great solace in believing that I am an eternal soul with a potential limited only by my own desires and effort. I am grateful for the miracle of living in a benign universe with loving souls all around me who wish nothing but happiness and joy for me. When I ponder the eternities ahead of me, I sometimes grow faint and weary, but when I remember the eternities behind, I know I can do it. And that is when I know I've just heard the voice of God in my heart.

What a gift!