Big people, little gifts

by Robert Nanninga

riving by the harbor side, I saw one of those huge billboards that said "JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON." Yeah. Right.

Sorry gang but I don't buy it - not any more. Don't get me wrong: I am very aware that Christmas is the day we mark the birth of Jesus Christ. This is a beautiful tradition that people celebrate with all sorts of community events, midnight mass, caroling, and nativity pageants.

In fact, my first time on stage was playing one of the Wisemen in the Baptist church in Baycliff, Texas. I can remember it now: there I was, wearing a beautiful costume my Mimi (that's grandmother) had made for this very occasion. We stood staring at a baby doll with a bunch of other second graders while all the big kids, who were dressed like angels, sang hymns for an hour.

In those days we knew why we were celebrating. We also knew the few gifts we received represented the giving of gifts by the three aforementioned wise men. What made them wise? I have also heard them referred to as "The Three Kings." Kings of what? But I digress.

I no longer subscribe to that particular faith system, but I do recognize that this is a very spiritual time for Christians, and rightly so. One that should not be marred by gross commercialism. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I somehow doubt the three kings went to the mall to shop for myrrh.

If Jesus is really the reason for the season, I challenge all Christians to reclaim Christmas as a time of spiritual renewal, not maxing out the Visa. Christians should put the same amount of energy into an anticapitalist Christmas campaign as they do Pro-Life rallies and media boycotts. Jesus ran the money changers from the temple. Isn't it time we did the same?

I am firm believer that gifts should give back to the community. Once upon a time, Christmas was seen as a time of giving, not getting. Baywatch Barbie pales in comparison to teaching your daughter the power of community service. That important lesson would serve her the rest of her life. The gifts that Jesus gave during his lifetime live on today: the gifts of compassion, forgiveness, and love. Material objects were not his bag.

Here in America, we have been brainwashed to think spending money is the way we prove our worth. "Mommy and Daddy love you so much we are going to bury ourselves in debt." The child replies, "Thank you mommy and daddy, but you better get me a Safari Barbie with her own lion cub!"

At my parents' house they will bury the dead tree with so many brightly wrapped packages that one wonders if any trees remain standing. Like clockwork, they will start complaining about how much they spent on us ungrateful kids about the time the Christmas ham hits the table. Just part of their ritual, I guess.

This year I gave a gift to the entire planet and San Diego in particular. The good news is, I wasn't alone. As part of the San Diego Earth Day Community Renewal and Restoration Project, 90 of us spent the day at Torrey Pines State Reserve pulling the dreaded sea fig from the marsh east of 101, and repairing trails in the park above the bluffs.

Students from Torrey Pines and Carlsbad High schools pitched in, to the point that the rangers were astonished at how much we accomplished. This, by the way, was a multi-ethnic effort, proving we can all get along when we focus on more than ourselves. Personally. by the time I left I was tired, sore, and walking on clouds of accomplishment.

At last month's Sherman Heights restoration event, little girls in white party dresses were picking up litter along with women with strollers. Staff from Councilman Juan Vargas' office participated in graffiti removal, as the Sherman Heights Community Center rallied around the effort. People for Trees were doing what they do best: planting environmental awareness in the minds of their neighbors. This is a true example of the community giving back to itself.

By taking the time to give gifts of service, you will be making a stand for what Jesus Christ was all about, the gentle stewardship of all around him.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is the little gifts that mean the most, a tree planted will last much longer than the current Disney plush toy or the foot massager you think your spouse just can't live without. And I'll say it once again: the "Salad Shooter" is the work of the Devil.

This year, before you work yourself up into a spending frenzy, give yourself permission to give from the heart and not your wallet. If Jesus is truly the reason for the season, let us concentrate on healing the sick, feeding the poor, and taking care of the less fortunate. Community service is a gift to the future. A gift that Jesus Christ would gladly accept.

Robert Nanninga can now be heard as the co-host of Earth Talk on KCEO AM1000 every Wednesday between 7 and 8pm. Call in and be heard.