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Today is Veterans Day, a day to honor all those who have served in the military. I’ve always appreciated veterans, despite my doubts that it’s possible to bring about peace through war. It almost seems quaint to believe that noble ideals still define this nation, but one of the most important is being able to speak one’s mind freely.

When I read an article about a US navy ship being menaced by a Chinese destroyer recently, I thought, Uh-oh. They’re trying to provoke us into a war! Then I read between the lines:  “The U.S. Navy will continue patrolling the disputed South China Sea, a top Navy official said Monday, after a Chinese destroyer came dangerously close to an American Navy ship during a ‘freedom of navigation’ sail-by near a Chinese-occupied reef.”

Hmm. “Freedom-of-navigation sail-by” must be military-speak for, we’re going to buzz by your claimed territory and say You’re not the boss of me!

If the military is fighting to protect our way of life, maybe we can fight for them as well by questioning authority. They’re fighting for my right to say that I’m concerned for the safety of those soldiers and I wonder if it’s worth it.

As China continues to build its own islands to establish yet another military base, it makes me wonder. Are they doing this because we keep poking at them? Or are we poking at them because they keep adding to their arsenal?

A country, a company, a cause – all are strengthened when people have a right to speak freely. To me, that’s what this holiday signifies. We can speak up because they stood up. And for that, we owe them a debt of gratitude.

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Once upon a time, I was a world-class grudge bearer. I’d harbor ill-will toward people who’d wronged me for years on end. But when I found faith again about ten years ago, I realized that there’s only so much space in your heart. If you only store the broken china and the ratty old throw rugs of the past, there’s not much room left for good things to come.

So I came up with a couple of personal policies.

  • If you say something to me that is factually accurate, I won’t get mad.
  • If you say something factually accurate, but say it in a “jerky” way (as we say in Jersey), I’ll respond immediately, while (hopefully) keeping my cool. I won’t harbor it in my heart ad infinitum, but will make sure you know that how you said it was not acceptable.

Get it out, or you store it up. Say what you have to say. If not? You put it on layaway.

Before you know it, that person will be doing that same thing again in the same way. But at that point, you’ll really be steamed. Why do they keep doing this? Don’t they know better?

Sometimes they do.

But what if they don’t?

Could it be that they don’t realize that most people don’t stand two inches from your face in a conversation? I had to gently correct one of my son’s friends who had that habit when he was younger. “Personal space, please, son,” I said. After that, he gave everyone space. I actually did him a favor by giving him this advice.

When somebody crosses a line, you’ve got the right to speak your piece, for your own peace of mind. You may even help them break bad habits they didn’t even realize they had.

In 1990, there was no such thing as accessibility for people in wheelchairs. The Americans with Disabilities Act was still an idea, and jarring action was needed. Word spread, and soon, disability rights activists made a shocking visual statement: they crawled up the steps of the capitol building, demanding that this law be passed. They stood up while on their knees.

In the 1950s, African-Americans were treated as second-class citizens. At the end of a long day on the job, Rosa Parks couldn’t take it anymore and refused to go to the back of the bus. She stood up while sitting down.

Memory Banda knew the path her family chose for her included marriage as a child bride in Malawi. Preparation for the wedding included an unthinkable ritual in which an older man deflowered her. When her own people encouraged this atrocity, she stood up and wouldn’t lie down.

Sometimes the right thing to do when you’re being held down is to stand up. Change doesn’t always come through “proper channels.”

It’s been said that for every problem, there’s a solution, but for those living without basic needs or those not being treated properly, the in-between time can be a living hell. It can also be a time of growth; a period in which change is gestating.

As people of faith, we bring our troubles to God. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6 NIV) This is the time of abiding.

But there comes a time when we are expected to act. Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love. (1 Corinthians 16:13-14 NIV) This is the time of deciding.

It takes a decision to do what’s right. Small things, like checking on an elderly neighbor in a heatwave. Larger things, like what the Miami Coalition for the Homeless is doing: helping homeless people right on the streets with food and medication assistance.

There’s a time for abiding and a time for deciding. The time in between? That’s life.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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