• Finding the Perfect Gift

    • Posted on Dec 25, 2016
    Christmas Day column in the Courier--fun for one and all, at least toward the end.

    Every year we give and get gifts large and small, expensive and simple, heartfelt and routine.  Every year we give or get only one or two—if we’re lucky—perfect gifts. 

    Some years we give or get none, though we might receive plenty of wonderful gifts. 

     Perfection eludes most gifting.     

     So what’s the perfect gift?  First, what it is not, then what it is. 

    The perfect gift has nothing to do with giving exactly what’s asked for.  That’s just fulfilling a wish, which gets appreciation and gratitude, but not the wonder and joy of a perfect gift. 

    The perfect gift is seldom merely money, though that’s easy—for those who have it—and usually appreciated.   But it’s hardly perfect.  Anyone with money can give some away and relieve the challenge of gift-finding.  

     The perfect gift is not a yearly package from a Christmas gift company—nuts, cookies, fruitcake, whatever.   Such predictable yearly gifts are appreciated, but hardly perfect.  Think homemade vs. store-bought. 

    Nor is the perfect handpicked gift predictable—the same ties or shirts or candy every December 25th. They’re often appreciated, but none dare call them perfect. 
    The vast majority of gifts, you see, fall far short of perfection.  They’re what we mostly give as gifts on Christmases and birthdays. 

    So it’s a major challenge to find and give a perfect gift.  Consider:  

    The giftee never thinks to buy the perfect gift for him/herself.  It’s either too extravagant, too unusual, or too outside expectations.  A gourmet catered dinner, say, for someone who loves food but seldom goes out. Damn the considerable expense—make it among the best meals ever.    

    The perfect gift reveals the giver’s understanding of the giftee’s desires and needs.  Rare and expensive season tickets for the concertgoer or sports fan; surprise long-distance train tickets for a rail travel lover; a special Sioux ceremonial healing stick for a devotee of Native Americans. (The latter was an actual perfect gift I saw given just a few days ago, and the giftee could hardly contain his delight.)

    Finally, the perfect gift amounts to a perfect storm of choices—about the giftee’s personality, the budget, the mix of beauty and usefulness, degree of surprise, and timing.    

    This year, I did receive the perfect gift, and I was so pleased that I shared it on Facebook, and exclaim about whenever I use it.   

     It has all the attributes of a perfect gift:  unusual, nothing I would have bought for myself, surprise, and shows that the giver (my daughter) understands my personality and needs.   It’s slightly crude, but that fits my personality too, so no problem. 

    The gift?  Three rolls of China-made toilet paper with all the sheets imprinted with the unmistakable mug of—well, you can guess.   

    I plan to use it all through the holidays and share with relatives, most of whom will be aghast.  I’m hoping for amused, though.   

    Happy Holidays, and here’s hoping for a sanitary New Year.  

    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Holidays
    • Humor
    • Christmas
  • The Power of Prayer to Exclude

    • Posted on Dec 04, 2016
    Today's (12-4-16) Courier column.  The perennial issue of praying at secular gatherings deserves attention occasionally.  

    If  “freedom” means anything, it means freedom to pray and worship in your own way, on your own time, with whomever shares your views.   This seems like common sense to me, and beyond disagreement. 

     Yet it’s inevitably a hot button subject, and people have argued about it ever since “Separation of Church and State” emerged as a founding principle of our Republic.  

     So why is public prayer at secular events still controversial? 

    Years ago, I sat in on a meeting of a Cedar Falls High reunion committee.  At least one member wanted to offer a prayer at the reunion.  That would mean a Christian prayer, since they were predominately Christians.   

    It seemed to me that a religious prayer, whether Christian or not, would be inappropriate, even at a reunion.  After all, we never prayed in school as part of class, and not all of us were Christians, or even believers.  In effect, they were asking us all to participate in the prayer-maker’s religion.   

     More recently, a colleague wanted to offer prayer at a faculty function.  I was against it because not all faculty are Christians.   Some are Jewish, some Buddhist, some atheists. A Christian prayer excludes them.  

    Therein lies the problem.  Some religious people stay convinced that everyone who believes rightly will join their religion.  To them, religious diversity smacks of heresy.    

    Some deeply religious people, in fact, remain convinced that their world is in danger of being destroyed by non-believers.  They feel obliged to pray at public events to stem the non-believer tide.  To me, that’s the heart of their concern for public prayer at secular events.  

    They insist that our culture has been degraded because public schools “banned” prayer. Yet schools never banned prayer as such. Students could pray to their heart’s content silently or voluntarily.   Only official school-sanctioned prayer was banned because it violated the U.S. Constitution.   The Supreme Court ruled on that in 1962, and several times since. 

    Put simply, private prayer is your own business; public prayers belong at gatherings of believers.  

    Here’s the rub:  Dozens of religions worldwide claim to own and know the truth. 
    Their group lives and dies for their one right way. Some openly proselytize to expand their influence.   

    Yet there is no one right religion.  There never has been and never will be, no matter how fervently believers pray and hope otherwise.   

    People blithely ask whether I believe in God.  My only reply has been “Which God?”  There have been dozens, each deeply believed in, each lived and died for over the centuries.    

    We live in an interconnected world of different beliefs, races, ethnicities, gender and sexual preferences, languages, cultures—all of whom expect and deserve a place at the table.  That’s why diversity in education at all levels makes sense.   

    Living in a homogeneous bubble won’t cut it anymore, and if a school behaves like a provincial village, it’s doing students a disservice.  And when religious prayers are offered at secular events, there’s automatic exclusion.    

     That’s wrong.  

    Go comment!
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“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

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