Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas and beyond

For years I was one of the writers of “The Spoken Word” for broadcasts of the Mormon Tabernacle choir. I would write a mini sermon every other week or so. At Christmas time I would look for a new insight or perspective on this holy event. The more I looked the more there seemed to be. The humble working folk in the sheep pastures were the first to receive the “tidings of great joy.” The angels gave them and us the proper order to receive the heavenly gifts: First “Glory to God,” then follows peace and good will. Babies are the hope of the world, not the problem. The tiny hands of this little one would one day heal the afflicted and minister to the miserable. This helpless baby would eventually be more powerful than the marching legions of Caesar Augustus and one day conquer every foe, even death. The insights and applications of the brief account in the book of Luke chapter two are limitless.

The venue didn’t lend itself, so I never rhapsodized on the Jolly old Elf in the whiskers and red suit, and his signature greeting, “Ho, ho, ho, merry Christmas.”

But the two scenarios may have more in common than I had supposed. “Ho, ho, ho,” can be an antidote for the Christmas stress, blues, disappointment, guilt, and other non festive spin-offs that can afflict us sometimes on this happy holiday.

Dr. Rallie McAllister if Kingsport Texas wrote of the beneficent effects of laughter. Among other things, a burst of laughter sends out electrical impulses that set in motion natural tranquilizers and painkillers, and produce feelings of pleasure and well being.

They also subdue the body’s “fight or flight” reactions. These reactions weaken the body’s defenses and slow down healing. At the same time laughter boosts the body’s immune system and helps protect us from viruses and other ugly bugs.

Laughing is also good exercise. It works the diaphragm, lungs, and abs, the face and chest. It increases the blood’s oxygen level, improves circulation, and blows stale air out of the lungs.

After the knee slapping and wheezing have subsided the body calms down. Blood pressure drops and we relax. Sometimes this contented state lasts for 45 minutes or so.

As with many other virtues, we can improve by emulating children. Three year olds laugh an average of 300 times a day, according to Dr. McAllister. By adulthood we have economized down to a more Scrooge-like daily 15.

Some people mourn over the disconnect between the peace on earth, good will toward men, promised by the angels on that holy night, and the hate and strife so prevalent in the world then as now. Laughter might be an antidote for that. A daily regimen of hearty ho, ho, ho’s, might help us fulfill the promise of the angels. We could at least have more peace within ourselves, and good will to other people.

Have a merry Christmas.

Home Teaching and Home Learning

In the church of Jesus Christ of-Latter-day Saints (Mormon) we have a program called Home Teaching. Every family has two men (one of them may be as young as 14) to visit them in their home, inquire about their situation, and help them in whatever needs they have. The service takes many forms. I have been on roofs cutting away big overhanging limbs, under floors thawing frozen pipes, babysitting a house full of miniature Pekinese puppies, consoling a widow whose husband had just committed suicide, and shoveling significant cubic yards of snow off walks and driveways. I consider home teaching one of the most authentic ways to demonstrate one’s discipleship of Jesus who “went about doing good.”

Home Teachers also teach. They bring a lesson of instruction and inspiration every month. Sometimes they teach other things to you if you prod them a little. I did. I said to my home teacher, “You are a man of natural intelligence and extensive learning. You are also honest and unflinching in your views even in the face of opposition. I respect that.

“You also hold views on many subjects that are essentially opposite from mine. As my home teacher, I want you to teach me why you believe these things, and I don’t. We need to have a serious discussion; even a debate. And to help me understand your positions, let me be you, and you be me.”

He agreed. It was a mind and emotion stretching experience. I think I might have scored a B or maybe stretch it to B+. Some things I assumed he believed because they were part of the package I had created for people I consider to be in this category. I carefully filed this package in a convenient place in my head. I pull it out and use it to pigeon hole people when I am too biased, uninformed, or too busy to examine them as unique individuals.  The prepackaged opinion approach didn’t seem to work this time, because I was being him, and I know I am an individual, so I had to assume that he was too. I found he didn’t exactly fit the mold I had created, I had to adjust it to fit his opinions.  They sometimes turned out to be uncomfortably close to my own.

There were other things, however in which he held positions so opposite to my strongly held opinions that I had a hard time spitting them out.  If we had had a polygraph there, I would have blown every fuse in the box.  A couple of times I unconsciously reverted to my own opinions under the pressure, and he laughed.

Neither of us made a convert out of the other. Mostly we agreed to disagree.  But that is better than duking it out in the parking lot.  I thought and felt some new things which, I believe, is a working definition of learning.

I may be a step ahead of the saying attributed to Jack Handey, “Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way, you’ll be a mile away from them, and you’ll have their shoes.”

I also learned that nobody is perfect and since I am pretty much a nobody, I should be pretty much perfect. I’ll try that on my home teacher.