Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Friday, December 28, 2012


Josh Marshall worries that someone somewhere has put a list of gun owners on the web, and then he mentions this which only proves he really doesn't know anything about guns at all:

A lot of people are divided about this, it seems. A number of people have asked whether this isn’t the same as if we published the names of women who get abortions. It’s an interesting hypothetical. But I think the answer is relatively clear cut: my owning a gun affects my neighbor in a way that a woman having an abortion simply does not. Whether you think about it in terms of self-defense (this person has a firearm in their harm and can defend against an intruder) or simply safety (there’s a gun in that house, maybe I don’t want my kid playing there), owning a gun is not just something that affects those around you. That’s a lot of the point … certainly if self-defense is part of the aim. Current law seems to recognize this. After all, there’s a reason why this information is in the public domain in the first place — the newspaper just made it easier to access.


My neighbor of twenty years ago kept rifles in his house, and hand guns.  Not an arsenal, but two or three total.  His house was just across his driveway from my house, and my daughter's bedroom was on that side of my house.  I didn't worry about my daughter playing in their house (she was only a year old when we lived there).  I worried about him firing that gun at an intruder (why he said he kept them; he didn't go hunting) and the bullet smashing through the walls of his house and then the walls of my house and maybe through my daughter.

Which is why I'm not so concerned when newspapers publish the names of gun owners.  After all, I can buy a gun at a gun show so long as I have the money.  But I have to show ID to the pharmacist to buy Sudafed at my local pharmacy, and if I try to buy more in too short a span of time, I'll be refused the purchase.  Somebody might stock Sudafed in order to cook meth, but my box isn't going to go off and wound or kill my neighbor.  Yet I could stockpile thousands of bullets, if I chose to, and no one would ever need to know.

Until I decided to use them for a crime.  Which, of course, is why I can't stockpile Sudafed.  But the government keeps track of when I buy it.

What's wrong with this picture?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmastide 2012

There is nothing I can give you, which you have not; But there is much, very much, that while I cannot give it, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant. Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within reach, is joy. There is a radiance and glory in the darkness, could we but see, and to see we have only to look. I beseech you to look. Life is so generous a giver, but we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly, or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love, by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel's hand that brings it to you. Everything we call a trial, a sorrow, or a duty, believe me that angel's hand is there; the gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Our joys too: be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts. And so, at this time, I greet you. Not quite as the world sends greetings, but with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you now and forever, the day breaks, and the shadows flee away.
--Fra Giovanni 1513

More Christmas Music!

It's all here.

Putting the "X" back in "Xmas"



Or:  Have trod, have trod, have trod....

 Alright, since somebody started this, let's try the history lesson one more time.

American history, anyway.  As I've said before, the Puritans didn't like Christmas at all, and they knew how to denounce it in ways that would make Bill O'Reilly pop a vein:

"Into what stupendous height of more than pagan impiety...have we not now degenerated! [Christmas out to be] rather a day of mourning than rejoicing, [not a time spent in] amorous mixt, voluptuous, unchristian, that I say not pagan, dancing, to God's, to Christ's dishonour, religion's scandal, charities' shipwracke and sinne's advantage."
A proper history of Christmas in America would take note of the fact the Santa Claus myth in America, and the taming of the holiday, had everything to do with Clement Clarke Moore, and nothing whatsoever to do with religion.  (Read the poem again, and aside from the word "Christmas," I defy you to find any reference to religion in it).

There lives a dearest freshness deep down things....

I can appreciate the impulse to "inject religion" (i.e., Christianity) into Christmas (what other religion does it have to do with?), but this would certainly be the result:

A few sentences in, they began interrupting me with questions. “Where’s Galilee? Who’s Herod? What’s Myrrh?” I deferred the questions to my wife. She made a beeline for Wikipedia. When my children asked why Jesus appeared to have two fathers – God and Joseph – I couldn’t help thinking of the old controversy over school libraries carrying books about kids with gay parents. By the time I had finished trying to explain the visit from the Magi, I was seriously regretting this. Far from providing context, I had confused them.
I'm wondering which translation he used, to begin with.  Probably one trying to stay as faithful to the KJV as possible.  But the reference to things like "myrrh" is the least of the problems here.  The major problem is:  this is like trying to teach your kids something about European culture by reading them "The Waste Land."

Religion is a shot through with two major themes:  meaning, and belonging.  The irony of the ending to "The Waste Land" is the Sanskrit prayer:  Shantih shantih shantih.  Eliot explains it is the equivalent to "the peace that passes all understanding," but a foreign language prayer (well, it is Indo-European, so there is that root) from a foreign (to Europeans) religion in an English-language poem is not designed to promote peace of the soul, but simply to pass well beyond understanding, along with the rest of the poem.  It suits the context, in other words, but its a poor place to start a conversation about either religion or European culture.

One could shift to the more overtly Christian poems such as the "Four Quartets."   But there again, without the context of notions of "sin" and "redemption," or even "Christ" and "visions," the attempt at explanation breaks down simply because you have no frame of reference to work from.  I know as an English teacher that works like "Paradise Lost" or "The Dream of the Rood," or even the references to Cain in "Beowulf", make little sense to students not raised in a Christian church, even though they've lived their whole lives in an ostensibly "Christian" environment.  Adam, Eve, Eden, the flood of Noah, David and Goliath, the two Nativity stories:  none of these are cultural touchstones for the entire generation, or the generations coming up, if indeed they ever were.  And there's nothing wrong with that.

The irony of putting the "Christ" back in "Christmas" is that, first it ignores the other end of the word, which was a Puritanical objection:  it is just shortening of the word "Mass," which the Puritans rejected as too Roman Catholic (and if you think the anti-Papist strain in American culture is dead, then you need to get out more.  500 years after Luther, it's alive and kicking.)  The other irony is that the "X" was never meant to be the English letter, but the Greek chi, or the first letter in the Greek version of "Christ."  Hard to put back in something that never left.

Or was never there in the first place; the Puritans were right, after all.  The observance of Christmas has never had much to do with Christianity, and always had much to do with local culture.  (and if you're going to tell me it was all stolen from the pagans, just stop it.  Right now.)  If you want to observe a religious holiday, God be with you.  But try to find a Christian church open on Christmas Day (yes, another of my hobby horses), even if Christmas is on a Sunday.  The holiday has become almost exclusively a secular affair.  Few Christian churches will put a tree in their worship space; some may decorate the Advent wreath with greenery.  Most will put up a nativity scene (especially funny in light of the fact most Protestant churches despise the Roman and Orthodox practice of picturing saints and using icons and other religious images of people.  Protestants will make allowances for a very Anglo Jesus, but all but the staunchest Protestant congregations include a nativity of some sort on their grounds, if not in their worship space). 

So can we enjoy Christmas as a secular holiday?  How can we not?  Can we observe it as a Christian holiday?  Be my guest.  I'll join you.  But inject it into someone's holiday who has no context for it whatsoever?

Bah!  Humbug!


 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Masters in this hall

Masters in this hall, hear ye news today.
Brought from over the sea and ever I you pray.

Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell sing we clear!
 Holpen are all folk on Earth, born is God's Son so dear!
 Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell sing we loud!
 God today hath poor folk raised and cast a-down the proud.

 Going o'er the hills, through the milk-white snow,
 Heard I ewes bleat, while the wind did blow.

 Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell sing we clear!
 Holpen are all folk on Earth, born is God's Son so dear!
 Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell sing we loud!
 God today hath poor folk raised and cast a-down the proud.

 Then to Bethlem town, we went two and two,
And in a sorry place, heard the oxen low.

 Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell sing we clear!
 Holpen are all folk on Earth, born is God's Son so dear!
 Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell sing we loud!
 God today hath poor folk raised and cast a-down the proud.

 Therein did we see, a sweet and goodly may
 And a fair old man, upon the straw she lay.

 Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell sing we clear!
 Holpen are all folk on Earth, born is God's Son so dear!
 Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell sing we loud!
 God today hath poor folk raised and cast a-down the proud.

 And a little child, on her arm had she,
 "Wot ye who this is?" said the hinds to me.

 Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell sing we clear!
 Holpen are all folk on Earth, born is God's Son so dear!
 Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell sing we loud!
 God today hath poor folk raised and cast a-down the proud.

 This is Christ the Lord, masters be ye glad!
 Christmas is come in, and no folk should be sad.

 Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell sing we clear!
 Holpen are all folk on Earth, born is God's Son so dear!
 Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell sing we loud!
 God today hath poor folk raised and cast a-down the proud.



Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve 2012-Midnight

Hodie Christus natus est.

Friday, December 21, 2012

O come, O come Emmanuel....

Windhorse says:
I firmly believe we are watching the decline of a great nation because a significant part of its citizenry - and I don't make this claim lightly - cannot wean themselves from idolatry. On a practical level, many, many Americans value the Second Amendment over the First Commandment, among other forms of prostration to false idols like money and tribal identity.
I was watching "The Hurt Locker" the other night, for the first time.  And I noticed that almost everybody in the movie had a gun.  They were all carrying openly, though some people were using their guns in hiding.  Indeed, having a gun seemed to make you, not protected, but a target.

Having a gun certainly didn't keep you from getting shot.  Lots of people, even "good guys," got shot even though they had a gun in front of them.

Police officers carry guns; and they get shot.  Police officers are trained in shooting, and they fire wildly.  Police in New York fired at a man from a distance of 8 feet.  They fired 16 shots, and hit their target 7 times.  Where did the other 9 bullets go?   A police officer in the Houston area fired three shots at a man from a distance of 15 feet.  He struck him once.  Where did the other 2 bullets go?

Police officers get shot, too.  They carry guns, but still they get shot, and sometimes killed.

In every incident where a person is carrying a gun "for protection," it seems they end up shooting someone who doesn't have a gun.  The Zimmerman case is a famous example; but there was a case in Houston, where the shooter videotaped his own violent assault.  Recently, a man in Florida opened up on a car full of teenagers because the car radio was too loud for his tastes.  He felt so threatened he drove off, after he'd emptied his revolver.  In all those shots, he only hit one person; but one was enough.  Another man shot a fellow patron at a pizza parlor, for complaining about the wait in line.  He was "threatened," too; by the man's fists.

How is society better off by letting people carry guns?  Presumably all of these people had "training" in order to carry their guns.  I can remember when NRA gun safety specifically said "Never point a gun at anyone."  I was admonished on that point the very first time I picked up a gun owned by a friend.  Today on NPR an NRA safety instructor quoted his rules for gun safety, and they included "Never point a gun at something you don't mean to shoot."

Which is a world away from never pointing a gun at another human being; and a world away from what used to be sensible gun safety rules.

And flag and Nativity scene.
The whole concept of a "War on Christmas" is at one with the idea that the world is at war with us, and we must arm and defend ourselves.  And it is all an idolatry, with our needs and wants as the real idols (what else is new?).  The struggle, as ever, is really with ourselves.  This is the "spiritual issue" involved in questions of evil, but it is an issue all too often too close to home for many of us to take up seriously.

Per your many remarks to this end, I have finally been disabused of the notion of progress.

I would call this unfortunate, indeed, except that  I'm no longer enamored of the "notion of progress" myself.  Nothing happens in spite of us, and "progress" is largely a chimera that means "we like the present and wish it to continue, because it is providing us with so many benefits."  That, in fact, is the position and the posture of so many gun advocates today, who aren't really advocating guns so much as they are advocating power:  power through profits, power through politics, and even (though they are loathe to openly admit it), power through bullets.  The latter is, indeed, illusory, and people like Wayne LaPierre know it.  But the symbolism of the gun has served the NRA and other groups well, and they will not soon give it up.  Nor have they waited for "progress" to come around to their way of thinking; they have worked diligently for decades to bring "progress" to them.  It's time we set aside the comforting notion of progress, and took up the realistic notion of struggle.  Because that is, among other things, the message of Advent:  preparing for the struggle that will come, has come, and will come again.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas in Texas


The Texas Legislature, in its infinite wisdom, cut $5.4 billion from funding for public schools in 2011.  This action prompted 600 Texas school districts to sue on the grounds public schools are so poorly and inequitably funded that is violates the state Constitution.  Violating the state Constitution is no mean feat, and the last lawsuit to claim such violations ended up giving us the completely screwed up school funding system we have now.  Which the Lege only made worse the last time they were in Austin, which was 2011.

Now the GOP leaders of the Lege, in their infinite wisdom, want to give more money to private schools, because education should be all about "choice."  It's an argument that blithely ignores the choice private schools get to make about who can enter their classrooms and who can't, which is why private schools consistently claim to do better by their students; it's largely because they select the better students in the first place.  The GOP also wants the power to close down underperforming schools more quickly; an interesting power, since the Lege makes sure in as many ways as it has that even well-performing schools are as underfunded as possible, and that the system of funding is as inequitable and as inadequate as they can make it.  They also want to allow students to cross district lines to go to other schools, a proposal that is laughable in Texas were school districts are independent.  "Independent" means each school district raises taxes within its boundaries to pay for the education of students living within those boundaries.  Unless the Lege is going to increase funding dramatically for all school districts, or pay the difference so the cost of educating Johnny in a school where is parents don't pay taxes is offset, this plan will either never pass the legislative process, or prove such a nightmare all 1265 Texas school districts will have to sue the State.

And into this mess steps State Rep. Wayne Bohac, R-Houston.  What is his solution to this crisis?  Win the War on Christmas.

No, I am not kidding.

State Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) pre-filed legislation to protect the freedom of Texas Independent School Districts to acknowledge and educate students on the historic and cultural roots of traditional winter celebrations and holidays such as Christmas and Hanukkah.


 The “Merry Christmas Bill,” which is expected to receive bipartisan support, affords students, parents and educators the right to celebrate on school property with displays associated with those holidays, including Menorahs, Christmas trees and Nativity scenes.  The bill also clarifies the right of school districts and their staff to use traditional winter greetings such as “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Holidays” on school grounds.

That this will last about 5 minutes even in the state courts (which are obliged to follow the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court on matters of Constitutional law) probably won't occur to anyone.  That this is a grotesque waste of time in a legislative session that occurs for only 6 months every two years, certainly won't occur to anyone.  That there is nothing preventing students or parents, or even teachers, from saying "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Hannukah" (what?  No Kwanzaa?) will not even slow down this legislative juggernaut.  That his Supreme Court citations are distinguishable on the simple grounds neither case involved a public school where attendance is mandatory (nobody has to go look at public decorations on public property) won't occur to anyone, either.

But it's all good, because Bohac "... is a lifelong district resident and strong supporter of local public schools, having authored the state’s “School Supplies Sales Tax Holiday” that allows parents and students to purchase school supplies and clothing tax-free."  Yeah.  A sales tax holiday.  That's done a great deal to improve Texas public schools.  A sales tax exemption on all purchases below $100 on a limited set of items, that does little more than boost sales for retailers in August.

Well, at least he's not arguing that we should arm teachers.

Thanks, Dwayne.  You're a mensch.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"To his grim idol"

I have family members who, many decades gone now, came home to find a large boulder in their living room; and a boulder-sized hole in the ceiling and roof of their house.

Someone nearby was doing some blasting, and in a "Use enough dynamite there, didya, Butch?" moment, sent the offending rock hurling through space to land in their house.  Fortunately, no one was home and the damage was soon repaired.

But the response was not to build a boulder-proof shield over their house, on the odd chance this would occur again.  The response was to make sure whoever is handling dynamite and conducting blasting operations does it with more control and more good sense.  You would think that would be the response to the massacre in Newtown; but the response seems to be: we must put shields over our schools to keep the boulders from falling in.

Schools as "gun-free zones" are blamed for school violence.  Unarmed teachers are blamed for school violence.  Lack of security at the schools is blamed for school violence.  Lack of armed guards patrolling the schools is blamed for school violence.  The fault is in where we put the house, not in the guy handling the dynamite.  The fault is in not making the house boulder-proof.

What's wrong with this picture?

After Timothy McVeigh found it difficult to buy explosives, but easy to buy fertilizer, we didn't respond by making all federal buildings bomb proof.  We responded by controlling the ability of individuals to buy large amounts of fertilizer.  Had we responded by turning all federal buildings into inaccessible fortresses that could withstand even another truck full of fertilizer and kerosene, who would have thought this reasonable?

This idiocy reached what I can only hope is its nadir with Lucinda Roy's argument on Diane Rehm's show that compared school children to $10,000 in unguarded cash.  Ms. Roy's thought experiment involves removing every child from every classroom and replacing them with $10,000 in cash, left at their desks without armed guards.  This, she says, would be considered outrageous, and yet it is comparable to the treatment of our children in schools now where, she insists, they are not safe.

It honestly doesn't get more ludicrous than that.  But Ms. Roy is a professor at Virginia Tech, so we should take her seriously; or at least honor her personal experiences.

How about we do neither?

We control access to automatic firearms.  We control access to explosives.  Why can't we control access to semi-automatic weapons and the bullets that make them functional?  We can't suck all of the guns out of the hands of private citizens.  We can't stop any one person anywhere who wants to walk into the nearest school and start shooting.  But we can make it so much more difficult in ways that will actually work rather than banning rifles with pistol grips or bayonet mounts (two of the definitions necessary to be an "assault weapon" under the expired ban).

Alternatively, we could turn our public schools into fortresses and then cower in them, afraid of the world outside, afraid of what strangers might do, in the name of "security."  What lessons would we be teaching children in such places? 

We'll ban "assault weapons" (whatever the hell those are), and high-capacity magazines.  And the ones already loose in the country?  Well, maybe in 100 or 200 years, they'll have rusted away and no longer be a threat.  After all, it's not like we can control access to the things that make guns go "boom!"  We can do it with dynamite.  We can even do it with fertilizer.  But not with guns; never with guns.  Never, ever, with guns.

When it comes to guns, we even blame the victim.  Or women; we could blame women.

Maybe Garry Wills is right; maybe we have found our Moloch.



"Clap Your Hands for Herod"


NORTH RICHLAND HILLS — Texas Gov. Rick Perry indicated Monday that he supported allowing teachers and administrators to carry concealed handguns in response to the Connecticut school massacre that left 20 children dead.

Local school districts should decide their own policies, Perry said. But if someone has obtained a concealed-handgun license, he said, “you should be able to carry your handgun anywhere in this state.” He clarified that private property owners should be allowed to impose their own restrictions.


We
little children in our shifts
long since washed clean
of bloodstains
have gathered together
as we were instructed
and are making ready to greet King Herod

For us the massacred innocents
a special place was kept in heaven
Here there are woods
full of undergrowth and game
and grey caves we may creep into

We the smallest of the dead
once believed in our ignorance
that King Herod
was a wicked man
who had us killed
from mere brutality and lack of heart
But we were told:
Look at the woods you are living in
even the smallest song-birds
snap up insects coloured like the rainbow
to be fattened
for the wild cat's jaws
little snakes swallow mice
big ones rabbits and hares
and when the wolf that devours the sheep
falls sick he is torn to pieces by his brothers
And so it is with the plants and flowers
one strangles another's growth
seizes its piece of earth
and share of the sun

Worse by far
is it among human beings
who besides animal malice
have hatred one for another
and the cunning
to perfect their power to kill

These things they said to us
and we pale-faced little angels
gulping in terror
cowered closer to the tree-roots
and gave thanks
that here in these woods thirsting for blood
we were not really alive
and they went on:
There is no love among men
nor in the world of the living
But King Herod
loved above all else
you little mortals white as the lamb
and therefore freed you from life
that you might be spared
its limitless horrors
Be grateful to your deliverer
and if he comes among you
greet him with clapping and song

And there were among us some
who at that moment cried out
that in life there is love
their palms kept the memory of it
and that King Herod
was a foul murderer
who ought to be quartered
with a butcher's axe
and his parts
thrown to the wild beasts
but others of us
stopped their mouths
for we were full of joy
and gratitude towards the king
and we wept
fears of remorse for the lies and slander
in which we had come to believe
and we lifted up translucent hands
in thanksgiving for the truth shown to us
and we are gathered here for the last time
around the sacrificial altar
preparing to sing praise
and waiting to clap our hands
for Herod

who is coming to kill us once again

--Josef Hanzlik, tr. Ian Milner

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"But at the coming of the King of Heaven...."

When the basiliea tou theou comes, it will not come by force, or politics; but neither will it come by force.  It will come by change; by the willful and deliberate recognition of justice and peace.  And it will be a day of destruction for the powers of this world.

We have bought with our entire national soul the notion that the sale of anything legal in this country exists in a morality-free zone that protects the product from the consequences of its use. But that formulation broke down on tobacco. It can break down on guns. Too much of our entire national economy is based on violence — physical violence, emotional violence, environmental violence, economic violence — and there is too much profit to be made out of the production of violence. You want the violence to stop, break the people who are getting rich off it. Break their fortunes and you can break their power. The money comes first. It always does.
The world will provide the violence. As at first, that may be yet again a sign of what is to come, and why it is so necessary. Not that it should be; not that it is a necessity; but simply because that's the way the world chooses to be.  Because the basiliea tou theou is not about peace first; first it is about justice.  And the powers of the world that will be cast off their thrones will not go quietly.  But we are charged with making them go.  We are charged with breaking their fortunes, and their power.  Not through force; but through love.  And we have to break their fortunes, or we will ever have to live with their power:

Whose that knocking on the window,
Who's that standing at the door,
What are all those presents
Lying on the kitchen floor?

Who is the smiling stranger
With hair as white as gin,
What is he doing with the children
And who could have let him in?

Why has he rubies on his fingers,
A cold, cold crown on his head,
Why, when he caws his carol,
Does the salty snow run red?

Why does he ferry my fireside
As a spider on a thread,
His fingers made of fuses
And his tongue of gingerbread?

Why does the world before him
Melt in a million suns,
Why do his yellow, yearning eyes
Burn like saffron buns?

What where he comes walking
Out of the Christmas flame,
Dancing, double talking:

Herod is his name.


--Charles Causley

It can even begin with through our love for our children.  Even our children who are not slaughtered like lambs, like innocents.  We can do this.  We can stop this.  No one else has to die.  And we don't have to live this way.  We don't have to accept that the world must be this way.  Because it doesn't have to be this way.  We don't have to be hostages to fortunes.

Advent--December 18

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

 --Matthew 1:18-23, KJV


When Joseph was an old man,
An old man was he,
He married Virgin Mary
The Queen of Galilee.
He married Virgin Mary
The Queen of Galilee.

Joseph and Mary walked
Through an orchard good,
There were cherries, there were berries,
As red as any blood.
There were cherries, there were berries,
As red as any blood.

Then Mary spoke to Joseph
So meek and so mild:
"Joseph, gather me some cherries,
For I am with child."
"Joseph, gather me some cherries,
For I am with child."

Then Joseph grew in anger,
In anger grew he,
"Let the father of thy baby
Gather cherries for thee!
"Let the father of thy baby
Gather cherries for thee!

Then Jesus spoke a few words,
A few words spoke he:
"Let my mother have some cherries,
Bow low down, cherry tree."
"Let my mother have some cherries,
Bow low down, cherry tree."

The cherry tree bowed low down,
Bowed low down to the ground,
And Mary gathered cherries
While Joseph stood around.
And Mary gathered cherries
While Joseph stood around.

Then Joseph took Mary
All on his right knee,
"My Lord, what have I done?
Have mercy on me."
"My Lord, what have I done?
Have mercy on me."

Then Joseph took Mary
All on his left knee,
"Pray tell me, little Baby,
When thy birthday will it be?
"Pray tell me, little Baby,
When thy birthday will it be?

"On the Sixth day of January
My birthday it will be,
And the stars in the elements
Will tremble with glee."
And the stars in the elements
Will tremble with glee."

As Joseph was a-walking
He heard an angel sing,
"Tonight shall be the birth time
Of Christ our King."

Monday, December 17, 2012

Taking the issue Head On


I freely admit to being driven a bit obsessive by this topic, but honestly, who are these people?

The practical consequence of living for nearly two-and-a-half centuries under the almost universally benevolent protection of the Second Amendment is a society in which there are hundreds of millions of guns, in which 47 percent of families and nearly as many Democrats as Republicans own guns, and in which the dissent over the sacrosanctity of gun rights is heard largely because of the overrepresentation in the media of the coastal, urban Left. Those upset with the order of things are welcome to try, and doomed to fail, to repeal the Second Amendment via the constitutional process. But the guns of America aren't going anywhere any time soon, and generic calls to "do something" - even insofar as doing something is desirable - must reckon with this fact.
 No, the guns aren't going anywhere any time soon.

So tax the ammunition.

Tax the ammunition.

Tax the ammunition.

Apply directly to forehead, and then

Tax the ammunition.

You have a right to bear arms under "the almost universally benevolent protection of the Second Amendment," but even the most rabid gun nut has to acknowledge, you don't have a right to shoot them.

Tax the ammunition.

Tax the ammunition.

Tax the ammunition.

And a ban on "assault rifles"?  As soon as you can tell me the functional difference between a semi-autmoatic "assault rifle" and a semi-automatic "deer rifle."  And what does such a ban do to get the guns out of the house of Mama Lanza, so young son Adam can't use her "assault rifle" to kill kindergartners?

Tax the ammunition.

Tax the ammunition.

Tax the ammunition.

Advent--Dec. 17

Music here.

O Wisdom, O holy word of God,
you govern all creation
with your strong yet tender care
Come and show your people the way to salvation

O Lord, through your Son you command us, no, you counsel us to ask, and you promise that you will hear us so that our joy may be complete.  Lord, I am making the request that you urge us to make through your Wonder-Counselor.  Give me then what you promise to give through your truth.  You, O God, are faithful; grant that I may receive my request, so that my joy may be complete.

Meanwhile, let this hope of mine be in my thoughts an don my tongue; let my heart be filled with it, my voice speak of it; let my soul hunger for it, my body thirst for it, my whole being yearn for it, until I enter into the joy of the Lord, who is Three in One, blessed for ever.  Amen.

--Anselm, 11th century

Louie Gohmert is a f*cking idiot


On February 24, 2005 David Hernandez Arroyo Sr. opened fire on his ex-wife and son in front of the Smith County Courthouse in Tyler, Texas.  It was a courthouse, so of course police were there, and there was a shootout.  Mark Allen Wilson intervened, but Mr. Arroyo was wearing body armor.  Mr. Wilson struck Mr. Arroyo several times, to no effect, and Mr. Arroyo eventually killed both his ex-wife and Mr. Wilson, and was only killed by police after a high speed pursuit.

I mention this because Louie Gohmert mentioned it last summer in the aftermath of the Aurora, Colorado shooting:

 GOHMERT: OK. It does make me wonder, with all those people in the theater, was there nobody that was carrying a gun that could have stopped this guy more quickly? I mean, in Tyler, Texas, my home town, we had a shooter come in over a domestic matter and just start shooting people. And it was a guy with a concealed carry—he got killed, but his shooting at this guy caused him to run and no doubt saved a lot of lives. He was hero.

Mr. Wilson probably saved Mr. Arroyo's son's life.  But Arroyo didn't run because of Mr. Wilson; Arroyo exchanged fire with Wilson, then walked up to Wilson and finished him off, exchanged more gunfire with the police, and finally fled the scene.  Mr. Wilson got himself killed.  The police fired more than 116 rounds, and had a trained sniper on hand.  Mr. Arroyo had body armor.  He killed two people, and three police officers were wounded.  He was finally shot in the back of the head at close range, after a car chase.  It wasn't a movie; it was real life.  In real life the "heroes" die.

I mention all of this, because Mr. Gohmert is loose again:

GOHMERT: Having been a judge and reviewed photographs of these horrific scenes and knowing that children have these defensive wounds, gun shots through their arms and hands as they try to protect themselves, and, hearing the heroic stories of the principal, lunging, trying to protect, Chris, I wish to God she had had an M-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands and takes him out and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids. [...]

I have heard, once again, although at this point anything I've heard about the Newtown shootings that didn't come from the police is suspect, that Adam Lanza was wearing body armor.  Perhaps he wasn't, but if he went to the school expecting to eventually face a police SWAT team, perhaps he was.  Given the outcome of the Tyler courthouse shooting, why does Mr. Gohmert think two people spraying bullets in a crowded elementary school  would be such a good idea?  Why does he think storing a gun at a school is a good idea at all?

It can only be because Mr. Gohmert is dumber than a box of rocks.  I'm amazed his brain generates enough electricity to allow him to walk, much less think.  Even the NRA understands enough about gun safety to know you do not keep guns in areas where there are large numbers of children for hours at a time.

Hopefully it will take him about as long as last time to apologize.

This man is an embarrassment to the country.  An international embarrassment, no less.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Truly Modest Proposal


In the wake of Friday's mass killing at an elementary school in Connecticut, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Sunday that she plans to introduce an assault weapons ban bill on the first day of the new Congress.

"I'm going to introduce in the Senate, and the same bill will be introduced in the House -- a bill to ban assault weapons," Feinstein said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

And the problem will be solved, and everyone will go away happy and satisfied.

No.

Tax the ammunition.  It was Sen. Daniel Moynihan's solution, and it's still the only one that works.  Make it more expensive to fire a gun than to purchase one.  Dry up the amount of ammunition available, in all its forms (including reloading elements like buckshot and bullets).  It's still available, so it's not like a ban, a prohibition.  But the black market is not going to make it cheaper; not for something people will want so badly.

Tax the ammunition.  You may have a right to bear arms; you certainly don't have a right to fire them.

Tax the ammunition.

Tax the ammunition.

The guns are out there.  You'll never get them back.

 Tax the ammunition.

Tax the ammunition.

Tax the ammunition.

Chuck Schumer is gridlocked:


New York Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) said on Sunday that when entering the gun control debate, the left must "admit there is a Second Amendment."

"We've been gridlocked," he said on CBS's Face The Nation. "We need a new paradim because both sides are in the corner and they could come to the middle. Those of who are pro-gun control have to admit that there is a Second Amendment right to bear arms... once we establish that there is a constitutional right to bear arms we should have the right admit, and maybe they'll be more willing to admit, that no amendment is absolute after all."
This is the paradigm shift.    There is a 2nd Amendment.  You do have a right to bear arms.  You do not have a right to shoot them.

Tax the ammunition.

Tax the ammunition.

Tax the shit out of the ammunition. (h/t to Windhorse, in comments)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

News as Gossip: A diatribe

When I went to bed last night, we knew this much about the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut:  the shooter's name was Ryan Lanza; his mother was a kindergarten teacher who died in her classroom with her class at her son's hands; he had killed his father, too, in a separate location; the shooter  was let into the school building in apparent violation of school security standards; and 18 children and 8 adults were dead.  And Mike Huckabee was an ass.

When I woke up this morning, most of this wasn't true.

What happened?  The news reports didn't rely on police reports (which, as of the time I write, again has not issued any definitive statements about the shooter beyond his name and a request to leave the families of the dead alone).  The news reports relied on gossip; on hearsay; on reports 'corroborated" by other people who had heard the same thing.  At least, that's the only conclusion we can draw right now.

CNN and FoxNews gained year end fame again for mis-reporting the ruling by the Supreme Court regarding "Obamacare."  FoxNews famously misled its entire audience about how the Presidential election would turn out.  And now this, with MSNBC and AP and every other news outlet covering itself in ignominy.  It pales in comparison to the tragedy, of course; but it also makes the tragedy that much worse.  There will be people who go to their graves convinced that Adam "Ryan" Lanza's mother was a teacher at the school, that he was allowed into the building, guns and all, and that this killing had something to do with a family dispute.  Now we're being told Mrs. Lanza was a gun collector, and that the guns used were expensive handguns owned only by collectors and/or the wealthy.  Is this true?  Have the police released this information?  The last press conference I saw, the CT State Police insisted they were tracing down the registered owners of the guns used in the crime.  Barely an hour later, MSNBC reported the guns were registered to Adam Lanza's mother, the 'gun collector.'

But is this true, or false?  And by the time we find out, how many versions of the truth will be circulating about this story?

It is bad enough such crimes happen and that they inspire others to commit such crimes.  Is there a link between this shooting and the mall shooting a few days earlier?  If there is, it can only be in the news coverage, in the massive attention paid to senseless violence when it occurs to white Americans on such a public scale.  As Melissa Harris-Perry pointed out this morning, over 400 Americans have died in Chicago in gun violence as of September; statistics say 32 Americans die of gun violence every day.  But they aren't mass shootings and they don't predominantly involve white people, so....

Maybe this isn't the time to say this.  Maybe this isn't the time to point out the egregious failings of the media.  Surely Mayor Michael Bloomberg is right, and this is a time for action, not words.  It is certainly not a time for still more abstract discussions about causes and effects and "violence" as if it were a force all its own, and the "desire to know" as if that,too, were are force of history or something "larger than us" to which we must all bend and sway.  I'm as disgusted by the media frenzy for any scrap of noise they can justify publicizing as I am by the thought of one human being slaughtering so many other human beings, especially children, before apparently realizing what he had done and killing himself.  I am as dismayed by our society's acceptance and glorification and employment of violence as the root and basis of entertainment as I am by our acceptance of violence in everyday life, so long as it isn't OUR everyday life.  I am wearied by the discussions of abstractions about "mental illness" and talk (on NPR yesterday) about how violence just seems bad but in the grand scheme of things isn't because statistically schools are safer  now than they were in the '90's.  Tell that to the grieving parents of Newtown.

Or the talk of what really causes such violence. It's caused by poverty, or local gun laws, or political preference.  If the latest stories about Adam Lanza are true, if his house was large and the guns he used expensive, then we are down to considering not his mental health, but only who he voted for in November.

Poppycock.

The problem with gun violence is guns.  Period.  Guns do not protect you from guns.  That stupid response should die now, and the morons who promote it should be shamed out of human society.  And the ammunition of guns should be taxed.  Now.

It should cost more to fire a gun than to purchase one.  Period.  Drive the price up on the open market, it won't go down on the black market.  Perhaps sell it tax free at licensed shooting ranges with strict access to bullets sold and fired, so none can leave the range.  Or just let shooting ranges fall silent; that wouldn't bother me, either.  Just tax the stuff.  You may have a right to keep and bear arms; no one can seriously argue you have a Constitutional right to fire one.

Do not speak to me of hunters and "responsible gun owners" and the like.  I know such people, too.  But these are the people we are responding to, or not responding to:

The “tactical” turn is what I want to flag here. It has what I take to be a very specific use-case, but it’s used - liberally - by gun owners outside of the military, outside of law enforcement, outside (if you’ll indulge me) of any conceivable reality-based community: these folks talk in terms of “tactical” weapons, “tactical” scenarios, “tactical applications,” and so on. It’s the lingua franca of gun shops, gun ranges, gun forums, and gun-oriented Youtube videos. (My god, you should see what’s out there on You Tube!) Which begs my question: in precisely which “tactical” scenarios do all of these lunatics imagine that they’re going to use their matte-black, suppressor-fitted, flashlight-ready tactical weapons? They tend to speak of the “tactical” as if it were a fait accompli; as a kind of apodeictic fact: as something that everyone - their customers, interlocutors, fellow forum members, or YouTube viewers - experiences on a regular basis, in everyday life. They tend to speak of the tactical as reality.

 And I think there’s a sense in which they’ve constructured their own (batshit insane) reality.

One in which we have to live.
I am tired of living in their world.  I am tired of what they are doing to the real world.  And I think the "Error of the Year" was pronounced prematurely, and given to too few news outlets.

And I think we should all shut up, and think of the dead, and spare a thought for the living, and whatever comfort we can give or offer them.  May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep the hearts and minds of all who lost friends, family, loved ones, or who had persons they love who were wounded, in the knowledge and love of God and the comfort of Christ be with them.  Or at least this.

Even Mike Huckabee deserves the peace of God; although he is still an ass.

Update:  this morning on NPR they reported the speculation that the shooter perhaps suffered from Asperger's Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.  There is no evidence whatsoever for this, but it didn't stop the reporter from talking about the speculation for the next five minutes, and wrapping it into a discussion of "mental illness."

I don't think this is ever going to stop. 

Advent-December 15


See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.  You too must be patient.  Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.

James 5:7-8

A legend tells that when the almighty Lord
Proclaimed to Moses his eternal word,
He in a vision showed to him likewise
The treasures that lie stored in Paradise.
And at each one in turn the heavenly voice
Spake:  "This the treasure is, that shall rejoice
His soul who freely gives alms, and here
His portion is who dries the orphan's tear."
Thus one by one were all to him made known,
Until unnamed remained but one alone.
Then Moses said:  "I pray thee, what is this?"
And answer made the Lord most High:  "It is
The treasure of my mercy, freely given
To those who else were treasureless in heaven."

--Talmudic legend

Behold, I cam coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay for all what they have done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end."

Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.

"I, Jesus, have sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches.  I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star."

The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come."  And let the hearer say, "Come."  And let the thirsty come, let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

The one who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon."  Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!

--Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20

To listen--in faith--to find one's way and have the feeling that, under God, one is really finding it again.

This is like playing blindman's buff:  deprived of sight, I have, in compensation, to sharpen all my other senses, to grope my way and recognize myself as I pass my fingers over the faces of my friends, and thus find what was mine already and had been there all the time.  What I would have known all the time was there, had I not blindfolded myself.

--Dag Hammarskjold

On that day
You need not be ashamed
of all your deeds,
your rebellious actions against me;
For then I will remove from your midst
the proud braggarts,
And you shall no longer exalt yourself
on my holy mountain.
But I will leave as a remnant in your midst
a people humble and lowly,
Who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord:
the remnant of Israel.
They shall do no wrong
and speak no lies;
Nor shall there be found in their mouths
a deceitful tongue;
They shall pasture and couch their flocks
with none to disturb them.

--Zechariah 3:11-13

You who believe that the Son of God once came to us;
you look for him to come again.
May his coming bring you the light of his holiness
and free you with his blessing.

May God make you steadfast in faith,
joyful in hope, and untiring in love
all the days of your life.

You rejoice that our Redeemer came to live with us
as one of us.
When he comes again in glory,
may he reward you with endless life.

--Roman rite

Friday, December 14, 2012

Too early to talk about


Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!  Jeremiah 9:1

At 9:30 ET this morning a man entered an elementary school in Connecticut and started shooting people.  As I write, we still don't know how many were shot, or how many of those were children.  We do know the gunman is dead.  I presume his fatal wound was self-inflicted.

It is unimaginable that this should happen, even though this is not the first time a school has been the site of gun violence in America.  It is unimaginable that we cannot do something about this, that the wealthiest country in the world cannot afford healthcare for all which would provide mental healthcare for all.  That alone would not eliminate such violence; but surely it would lower the rate.  It is unimaginable that we don't at least tax ammunition in private hands to the point it would cost more to fire the gun than it would to own it.  It is unimaginable that we do nothing about this kind of violence, except attack the people who say we should do something about this kind of violence.

It is unimaginable that this would happen 10 days before Christmas.

First grade teacher Kaitlin Roig, 29, locked her 14 students in a classroom bathroom and listened to "tons of shooting" until police came to help.

"It was horrific," Roig said. "I thought we were going to die."

She said that the terrified kids were saying, "I just want Christmas…I don't want to die. I just want to have Christmas."
Return, O God of love, return,
Earth is a tiresome place;
How long shall we thy children mourn
Our absence from thy face?

--Early American hymn

 O Saviour, rend the heavens wide;
Come down, come down with mighty stride;
Unlock the gates, the doors break down;
Unbar the way to heaven's crown.

O Father, light from heaven lend;
As morning dew, O Son, descend.
Drop down, you clouds, the life of spring:
To Jacob's line rain down the King.

O earth, in flow'ring bud be seen;
Clothe hill and dale in garb of green.
Bring forth, O earth, a blossom rare,
Our Savior, sprung from meadow fair.

O Morning Star, O Radiant Dawn,
When will we sing your morning song?
Come, Son of God! Without your light
We grope in dread and gloom of night.

Sin's dreadful doom upon us lies;
Grim death looms fierce before our eyes.
Oh, come, lead us with mighty hand
From exile to our promised land.

--Frederich von Spee, 17th century

Rend the heavens and rend our hearts.  Whatever it takes, we need it now.  It is unimaginable that we are still waiting for God to come and save us from ourselves.  Whatever relief there is from this horror, we cannot seem to provide it.

We can't even seem to talk about how to prevent it.

Advent--December 14


IN an age which offers a variety of escapes from the human condition, Christians are more than ever a sign of contradiction.  They continue to believe that the search for God must begin with the acceptance of the human.  They believe this because it is in the stable of humanity that God has come in search of us.

In the human experience of Jesus, God became available to us as the depth of human life.  Thus, a Christian believes that the experience of ultimate meaning comes not from a leap out of the human condition, but a journey through its dark waters.

--John Heagle

When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them.
The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.
Turn again our captivity, O Lord, as the streams in the south.
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.
He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.

--Psalm 126 (KJV)

Rise up, Lord, in defense of your people,
do not hide your face from our troubles.
Father of orphans,
wealth of the poor,
we rejoice in making you known;
may we find comfort and security 
in times of pain and anxiety.

--Liturgy of the Hours

The Uruguayan political prisoners may not talk without permission, or whistle, smile, sing, walk fast, or greet other prisoners; nor may they make or receive drawings of pregnant women, couples, butterflies, stars, or birds.

One Sunday, Didasko Perez, school teacher, tortured and jailed "for having ideological ideas," is visited by his daughter Milay, aged five.  She brings him a drawing of birds.  The guards destroy it at the entrance of the jail.

One the following Sunday, Milay brings him a drawing of trees.  Trees are not forbidden, and the drawings get through.  Didasko praises her work and asks about the colored circles scattered in the treetops, many small circles half-hidden among the branches.  "Are they oranges?  What fruit is it?"  The child puts her finger to her mouth:  "Ssssshhh."

And she whispers in his ear:  "Silly.  Don't you see they're eyes?  They're the eyes of the birds that I've smuggled in for you."

--Eduardo Galeano

Thursday, December 13, 2012

We interrupt this blog to bring you the following paid political announcement:

Let’s unpack this a bit. We all know Republicans want to spend less money. So the  construction of the debate appears, on the surface, to be a pretty simple continuum based on policy preferences. Republicans like Mitch McConnell say government spending is “out of control” and would, at least ideally, like to bring it into line with revenue entirely through spending cuts. Democrats like Obama endorse a “balanced” solution with revenue and taxes. Right-thinking centrists, like the CEO community and their publicists like Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, think we should cut deeply into entitlement spending while also raising tax revenue. (VandeHei, in a video accompanying his execrable story, asserts, “There’s money to be cut everywhere.”)

There really isn’t money to be cut everywhere. The United States spends way less money on social services than do other advanced countries, and even that low figure is inflated by our sky-high health-care prices. The retirement benefits to programs like Social Security are quite meager. Public infrastructure is grossly underfunded.
That's the nut of a truly excellent analysis of the current "fiscal crisis" by Jonathan Chait.  The basic point is, the Republicans have one choice, which is to follow Paul Ryan and "[kick] the crap out of the poor."  Or you drastically cut defense spending (which is really what the "fiscal cliff" is all about, at least so far as the GOP is concerned).:  unless you eliminate social spending (Medicare being, in some ways, the least of it).  "So, ... if you’re not willing to inflict epic levels of suffering on the very poor, there just aren’t a lot of cuts to be had out there."

The other fun part of the analysis is the evisceration of the execrable Bowles-Simpson "plan".  To start with, it was never a plan.  It falls apart from there, and includes lovely links to things like this:

 Bowles-Simpson seems to have been put together backwards.  Instead of starting with a plan about what the federal government should no longer do and then determining the savings from the smaller number of employees that would be needed to do what's left to be done, with limited exceptions the plan focuses on the reduced workforce but makes few assumptions, suggestions, or recommendations about what services the government should no longer provide.  The assumptions it does make don't appear to justify the cuts in the number of employees and contractors.
 Most of the thinking about the budget is along these lines:  not only is the problem ill defined, but the solutions don't really make sense:

Republicans and even many centrists like to endorse taking away Medicare benefits from people like Warren Buffett. But even defining “Warren Buffett” at a level way below Warren Buffett’s income level yields pathetically little money. (The very rich have a vastly disproportionate share of income but not a vastly disproportionate share of entitlement benefits, which means taxing them produces way, way more savings than reducing their social spending.) This is why the spending side of the fiscal cliff negotiation is so discouraging. The potential cuts on the table range from fairly painful steps like reducing the Social Security cost-of-living index to even more painful steps like raising the Medicare retirement age, and none of them would save all that much money — certainly not on the scale that Republicans want.
 Of course, taxing the rich won't solve things because there are so few rich, as a percentage of the population; but means testing Medicare to keep the rich out of it will solve our problems, despite the fact there are so few rich.  Right?

And besides, Social Security doesn't contribute to the deficit.  At.  All.  

This all becomes more interesting with the GOP threatening to debt ceiling increase.  The debt ceiling is simply Congress accepting that it has to pay the bills it has already agreed to incur.  Using it to cut future spending is ridiculous, because the past spending was done by Congress in the first place.   And if anyone really doubts the problem with government spending is NOT defense spending:

NORQUIST: We got lots of things Obama claims to be for, and we will make — we, the Republicans in the House and Senate — will make him actually make those spending restraints, in order to get the continuing resolution out [for] a week, two weeks, a month. Obama will be on a very short leash, fiscally speaking, over the next four years. He’s not gonna have any fun at all. He may decide to go blow up small countries he can’t pronounce because it won’t be any fun to be here, because he won’t be able to spend the kind of cash he was hoping to.

Because if we learned anything under Bush, it's that war is free.  People, on the other hand, are too damned expensive!

Get back to your shopping.  What're you, at war with Christmas or something?

December 13--Lucy

Lucy died during the persecutions of Diocletian at Catania in Sicily, being beheaded by the sword.  Her body was later brought to Constantinople and finally Venice, where she is now resting in the church of Santa Lucia.

Because her names means "light," she very early became the great patron saint for the "light of the body"--the eyes.  All over Christianity her help was invoked against diseases of the eyes, especially the danger of blindness.  The lighters of street lamps in past centuries had her as a patron saint and made a special ceremony of their task on the eve of December 13.

Saint Lucy attained immense popularity in medieval times because, before the calendar reform, her feast happened to fall on the shortest day of the year.  Again because of her name, many of the ancient light and fire customes of the Yuletide became associated with her day.  Thus we find "Lucy candles" lighted in homes and "Lucy fires" burned in the open.  In Scandinavia before the Reformation, Saint Lucy Day was one of unusual celebration and festivity because, for the people of Sweden and Norway, she was the great "light saint" who turned the tides of their long winter and brought the light of day to renewed victory.

A popular custom in Scandinavia on the eve of December 13 is for children to write the word "Lussi" on doors, fences and walls.  With the word always goes the picture of a female figure (Saint Lucy).  The purpose of this practice in ancient times was to announce to the demons of winter that their reign was broken on Saint Lucy's Day, that the sun would return again and the days become longer.

"Lucy fires" used to be burned everywhere in northern Europe on December 13.  Into these bonfires people threw incense and, while the flames rose, trumpets and flutes played to greet the changing of the sun's course.  These fires were greatly valued as a powerful protection against disease, witchcraft and dangers, and people would stand nearby and let the smoke of the incense reach them, thus obtaining the desired "protection."

--Francis X. Weiser

Lucy, whose day is in our darkest season,
(Although your names is full of light,)
We walkers in the murk and rain of flesh and sense,
Lost in the midnight of our dead world's winter solstice
Look for the fogs to open on your friendly star.

We have long since cut down the summer of history;
Our cheerful towns have all gone out
like fireflies in October.
The fields are flooded and the vine is bare;
How have our long days dwindled,
now the world is frozen!

Locked in the cold jails of our stubborn will,
Oh hear the shovels growling in the gravel.
This is the way they'll make our beds for ever,
Ours, whose Decembers have put out the sun;
Doors of whose souls are shut against the summer time!

Martyr, whose short day sees our winter and our Calvary,
Show us some light, who seem forsaken by the sky;
We have so dwelt in darkness that our eyes are screened and dim,
And all but blinded by the weakest ray.

Hallow the vespers and December of our life,
O martyred Lucy:
Console our solstice with your friendly day.

--Thomas Merton

My candle burns at both ends;
it will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends--
It gives a lovely light!

--Edna St. Vincent Millay

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

December 12--Our Lady of Guadalupe







God saw the world falling to ruin because of fear and immediately acted to call it back with love.  God invited it by grace, preserved it by love, and embraced it with compassion.

--Peter Chrysologus, 5th century


The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well.  Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts.  For theirs is a community composed of human beings who, united in Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, press onwards toward the kingdom of the Father and are bearers of a message of salvation intended for all.  That is why Christians cherish a feeling of deep solidarity with the human race and its history.


--Vatican II, The Church in the Modern World

"Where are you going?" asks Mary of Juan Diego.  He is stopped in his tracks.  He leaves his "important" plans and becomes her messenger:  Build a church where the cries of the poor and the oppressed will be heard.  The bishop hears these gospel-laden words with shock and disbelief.  Signs, tangible signs, to know if this is true:  That is his demand.  But the words that the Indian brings are the answer.  The church must turn its institutional attention from its needs to listen to the solitary voice of one poor man.  It is a voice caught up in cultural traditions, old Indian ways, unpurified beliefs.  Juan Diego's nervous intensity comes not from self-interest but from the faith that his voice and prayer have been heard by God.  The words he speaks are the answer to his prayers.

What Mary has asked of the bishop is not meant to cause a division among the servants of the Lord.  It is not a condemnation of strategies or theologies.  Rather, it is a word of direction to move from the status quo operations of the day and to build up a place where the prayers, the cries, the heartbreak of people can be heard.  The place becomes symbolic of the fact that a mestizo church emerges from these birth sufferings of a conquered people.  The temple is symbolic of the age-old, faithful word of God  to be with the people.

Guadalupe's significance is both word and symbol.  She provides the answers to the prayers of her faithful people:  "God is with you!"  Her very appearance, as of the poor, aligns her with them.  Guadalupe's proclamation can be seen as God's option for the poor.

"Where are you going?" echoes in the life of God's poor to this present day.

--Arturo Perez


They've come to sing in your honor
from the desert and the forest.
From valleys deep in the mountains;
they make a joyful chorus.
They've brought their drums and their dances,
ancient ways their parents taught them;
Their village saints and their banners,
ev'ry group mad sure they brought them.

O Mother dark and lovely
hear the poor who come with their song;
Lead them into Jesus' kingdom
where they truly do belong.

From Vera Cruz and Nogales,
from old Taxco with its fountains,
Tehuantepec, Zacetecas,
and Durango in the mountains;
The come from humid Tampico,
Matamoros near the river,
From the ranchos deep in Sonora
where the cottonwoods still quiver.

They dance to show they love you,
out of faith and deep emotion,
They offer flowers and candles
as a sign of their devotion.
The children run and are laughing
all are sure that you still love them,
While parents weep out of gladness,
for you picture's there above them.


--Willard F. Jabusch

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Advent-December 11

Peace is more than the absence of war.  It cannot be reduced to the maintenance of a balance of power between opposing forces nor does it arise out of despotic dominion, but it is appropriately called "the effect of righteousness" (Isaiah 32:17).  It is the fruit of that right ordering of things with which the divine founder has invested human society and which must be actualized by humans thirsting after an ever more perfect reign of justice.

Peace cannot be obtained on earth unless human welfare is safeguarded and people freely and trustingly share with one another the riches of their minds and their talents.  A firm determination to  respect the dignity of others and other peoples along with the deliberate practice of  love are absolutely necessary for the achievement of peace.  Accordingly, peace is also the fruit of love, for love goes beyond what justice can ensure.

Therefore, all Christians are earnestly to speak the truth in love (cf. Ephesians 4:15) and join with all who love peace in pleading for peace and trying to bring it about.  In the same spirit we cannot but express our admiration for all who forgo the use of violence to vindicate their rights and resort to those other means of defense which are available to weaker parties, provided it can be done without harm to the rights and duties of others and of the community.

Insofar as all are sinners, the threat of war hangs over them and will so continue until the coming of Christ; but insofar as they can vanquish sin by coming together in charity, violence itself will be vanquished adn they will make these words come true.  "They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not life up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore."  (Isaiah 2:4).

--Vatican II, The Church in the Modern World

The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.

And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.

Therefore thou hast forsaken thy people the house of Jacob, because they be replenished from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers.

Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots:

Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made:

And the mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself: therefore forgive them not.

Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty.

The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.

For the day of the LORD of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low:

And upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan,

And upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills that are lifted up,

And upon every high tower, and upon every fenced wall,

And upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.

And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.

And the idols he shall utterly abolish.

And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats;

To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?
--Isaiah 2 (KJV)

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, 
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock, 
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

--T.S. Eliot, "The Waste Land"

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.

Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.

Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.

No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint.

Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.

--Reinhold Niebuhr

Monday, December 10, 2012

December 10--Thomas Merton

The Advent mystery is the beginning of the end of all in us that is not yet Christ.

--Thomas Merton


MERTON'S most important experience in his whole Asian trip came at Polonnaruwa. He went to visit the giant Buddhas and took a series of superb photographs of them.

I am able to approach the Buddhas barefoot and undisturbed, my feet in wet grass, wet sand. The silence of the extraordinary faces. The great smi les. Huge and yet subtle. Filled with every possibility, questioning nothing, knowing everything, rejecting nothing, the peace not of emotional refutation. . . that has seen through every question without trying to discredit anyone or anything-without refutation-without establishing some other argument. For the doctrinaire, the mind that needs well-established positions, such peace, such silence, can be frightening. I was knocked over with a rush of relief and thankfulness at the obvious clarity of the figures. . . . Looking at these figures I was suddenly, almost forcibly, jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things, and an inner clearness, clarity, as if exploding from the rocks themselves, became evident and obvious. . . . I don't know when in my life I have ever had such a sense of beauty and spiritual validity running together in one aesthetic illumination. Surely, with Mahabalipuram and Polonnaruwa my Asian pilgrimage has come clear and purified itself. I mean, I know and have seen what I was obscurely looking for. I don't know what else remains but I have now seen and have pierced through the surface and have got beyond the shadow and the disguise.

That was on December 4. . . . [On December 10, after addressing the conference in Bangkok,] Merton had lunch and did disappear to his room, commenting to a colleague on the way about how much he was looking forward to having a siesta. In a long letter later written by the delegates at the Conference to Dom Flavian what then occurred was expressed in the following words: "Not long after he retired a shout was heard by others in his cottage, but after a preliminary check they thought'they must have imagined the cry.

"He was found at the end of the meridian (afternoon rest) and when found was lying on the floor. He was on his back with the electric fan lying across his chest. The fan was still switched on, and there was a deep burn and some cuts on his right side and arm. The back of his head was also bleeding slightly."

Perhaps any death brings with it both a sense of surprise and a sense of its inevitability. There are always those, and there were many after Merton's death, who feel that it somehow "had to be like that." Merton had, from time to time, both spoken and written comments that suggested that his death might come early. Some of his friends commented on the extraordinary, almost Zen-like way that death had come to him. Fewer people than one might expect noted that he died on the same day as the great Protestant theologian Karl Barth, and it was a measure of the ecumenism in Louisville, which Merton had been instrumental in promoting, that Catholics and Protestants there united in a joint memorial service for both of them.

Many years before Naomi Burton had made the suggestion, humorously, that Merton was accident-prone. "I couldn't help noticing that it's your visitors who get locked out of the church, and your server who forgets things, and your vestments that get caught in the folding chair. . . . I find your incredible adventures with nature and with publishing extremely endearing." Perhaps Merton was accident-prone; perhaps, like many intellectuals, he tended to get lost in his thinking, and absentmindedly forgot about the dangers of touching electrical equipment with wet hands; perhaps the fan was merely faulty. Perhaps, however, he had finished his life six days before at Polonnaruwa and was called to the God he had loved and served so well.

--Monica Furlong

The sermon I gave [at the conference on monasticism the morning after Merton's death] was a moment of talkinga bout Merton's search for God.  When a monk enters a monastery, what is asked of him is "Are you truly seeking God?"  The question isn't "Have you found God?"  The question is "Is he seeking God?  Is his motivation highly involved in that search of who and what God is in relationship to us?"  It's not philosophical--its' existential.  And Merton, to me, was a great searcher.  He was constantly unhappy, as all great searchers are.  He was constantly ill at ease, he was constantly restless, as all searchers are--because that's part of the search.  And in that sense he was the perfect monk.  Contemplation isn't satisfaction--it's search.

--Rembert Weakland

Charm with your stainlessness these winter nights,
Skies, and be perfect!
Fly vivider in the fiery dark, you quiet meteors,
And disappear.
You moon, be slow to go down,
This is your fill!

The four white roads make off in silence
Towards the four parts of the starry universe.
Time falls like manna at the corners of the wintry earth.
We have become more humble than the rocks,
More wakeful than the patient hills.

Charm with your stainlessness these nights in Advent, holy spheres,
While minds, as meek as beasts,
Stay close at home in the sweet hay;
And intellects are quieter than the flocks that feed by starlight.

Oh pour your darkness and your brightness over all our solemn valleys,
Your skies:  and travel like the gentle Virgin,
Towards the planets' stately setting,

O white moon full as quiet as Bethlehem!

--Thomas Merton