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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cafeteria Catholic?


It makes me feel better that I never shop at Home Depot:

A major Republican donor, Langone told CNBC in a story published online Monday that wealthy people such as himself might stop giving to charity if the Pope continues to make statements criticizing capitalism and income inequality.

Langone described the Pope's comments about a "culture of prosperity" as "exclusionary" statements that may make some of the rich "incapable of feeling compassion for the poor."

Langone, who is leading an effort to raise money for the restoration of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan said he relayed these concerns to Cardinal Timothy Dolan in New York. Specifically, Langone said he told the church leader he spoke to a donor who could give millions of dollars to the cathedral project but was worried about the Pope's "exclusionary" remarks.

Exclusionary?  You want exclusionary?

Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone.  You know the commandments:  'You are not to commit adultery; you must nor murder, or steal; and you are not to give false testimony; you are to honor your father and mother.'"

And he said, "I have observed all these since I was a child."

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You are still short one thing.  Sell everything you have and distribute (the proceeds) among the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  And then come, follow me."

But when he heard this, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.

When Jesus observed that he had become very said, he said, "How difficult is it for those with real money to enter God's domain!  It's easier for a camel to squeeze through a needle's eye than for a wealthy person to get into God's domain."  (Luke 18:13-25, SV)

That Jesus; always making the rich incapable of feeling compassion for the poor.  Or for Jesus, for that matter, who wasn't rich, either.  And, just to pile on:

What keeps you from giving now? Isn't the poor person there? Aren't your own warehouses full? Isn't the reward promised? The command is clear: the hungry person is dying now, the naked person is freezing now, the person in debt is beaten now-and you want to wait until tomorrow? "I'm not doing any harm," you say. "I just want to keep what I own, that's all." You own! You are like someone who sits down in a theater and keeps everyone else away, saying that what is there for everyone's use is your own. . . . If everyone took only what they needed and gave the rest to those in need, there would be no such thing as rich and poor. After all, didn't you come into life naked, and won't you return naked to the earth?

The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry person; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the person who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the person with no shoes; the money which you put in the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help, but fail to help.

Basil
4th Century

The large rooms of which you are so proud are in fact your shame. They are big enough to hold crowds--and also big enough to shut out the voices of the poor....There is your sister or brother, naked, crying! And you stand confused over the choice of an attractive floor covering.

Ambrose
4th Century

The crowds would ask him, "What should we do?"

And he would answer them, "Whoever has two shirts should share with someone who has none; whoever has food should do the same....I baptize you with water; but someone more powerful than I is coming, whose sandal straps I am not fit to untie.  He'll baptize you with [holy] spirit and fire.  His pitchfork is in his hand, to make a clean sweep of his threshing floor and to gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he'll burn in a fire that can't be put out." (Luke 3:10-11, 16b-17, SV)

And then back to Jesus again:
 
There was a rich man whose fields produced a bumper crop.  "What do I do now?" he asked himself, "since I don't have any place to store my crops. I know!  I'll tear down my barns and build larger ones, so I can store all my grain and my goods.  Then I'll say to myself, "You have plenty put away for years to come.  Take it easy, eat, drink, enjoy yourself."  But God said to him, "You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded back from you.  All this stuff you've collected--whose will it be now?"  That's the way it is for those who save up for themselves, but aren't rich where God is concerned.

He said to his disciples, "That's why I tell you:  don't fret about life-what you're going to eat--or bout your body--what you're going to wear.  Remember, there is more to living than food and clothing.  Think about the crows:  they don't plant or harvest, they don't have storerooms or barns.  Yet God feeds them.  You're worth a lot more than the birds!" (Luke 12: 16b-24, SV)
There was this rich man who wore clothing fit for a king and who dined lavishly every day.  This poor man, named Lazarus, languished at his gate, all covered with sores.  He longed to eat what fell from the rich man's table.  Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.  It so happened that the poor man died and was carried by the heavenly messengers to be with Abraham.  The rich man died too, and was buried.

From Hades, where he was being tortured, he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off and Lazarus with him.  He called out, "Father Abraham, have pity on me!  Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water to cool my tongue, for I am in torment in these flames."

But Abraham said, "My child, remember that you had good fortune in your lifetime, while Lazraus had it bad.  Now he is being comforted here, and you are in torment.  And besides all this, a great chasm has been set between us and you, so that even those who want to cross over from here to you cannot, and no one can cross over from that side to ours."

But he said, "Father, I beg you then, send him to my father's house--after all, I have five brothers--so that he can warn them not to wind up in this place of torture."

But Abraham says, "They have Moses and the prophets; why don't they listen to them?"

"But they won't do that, father Abraham," he said.  "However, if someone appears to them from the dead, they'll have a change of heart."

Abraham said to him, "If they don't listen to Moses and the prophets, they won't be convinced even if someone were to rise from the dead." (Luke 16:19-31, SV)

Damn you rich!
You already have your consolation!

Damn you who are well-fed now!
You will know hunger.

Damn you who laugh now!
You will learn to weep and grieve.

Damn you when everyone speaks well of you!  Recall that their ancestors treated the phony prophets the same way.  (Luke 6:24-26, SV)
Jesus was such a buzz kill on the rich.  How are they expected to feel compassion for the poor now?  Good thing the cathedral is St. Patrick's, or rich people might not give any money to it at all.

Of books and covers and judgment....

It's so lifelike!

Speaking of narratives:  Joan Walsh tells me that "Duck Dynasty" is a fake; that the Robertson clan is a bunch of yuppies dressing up as rednecks to make an extra buck.

I dunno.  Her evidence for that is pretty weak, actually.  Check the pictures here:  Are these guys rednecks?  I've known people who look like that, but have the most retrograde attitudes imaginable.  The people I've known would make Phil Robertson look positively open-minded and tolerant, as well as Christian and loving.

Then again, I've known people who look a lot like ZZ Top, who are as Christlike as you could ask; and some of those people were atheists.

Is it all just fake?  And what difference does that make, really?  Some people take the statements of the Robertson clan very seriously, especially if where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  Richard Kim points out our treasures are involved, too; especially narratives about rednecks and white trash and what is "reality" on television.

The point is, we don't really care about the reality on TeeVee; we care about the reality we want to see on TeeVee.  So, are the Robertson's fake rednecks, or fake yuppies?

Does it matter?


Monday, December 30, 2013

We never step twice into the same narrative....

I may not agree with him on everything, but I like this guy...

I'm sure Sara Palin will take credit for this, but whatever:

"Duck Dynasty is not a show about one man's views. It resonates with a large audience because it is a show about family… a family that America has come to love. As you might have seen in many episodes, they come together to reflect and pray for unity, tolerance and forgiveness. These are three values that we at A+E Networks also feel strongly about," the statement said. "So after discussions with the Robertson family, as well as consulting with numerous advocacy groups, A&E has decided to resume filming Duck Dynasty later this spring with the entire Robertson family."

Huffington Post tried to sum up the whole situation, start to finish, in one sentence that went on a bit too long for my taste.  I can say it in two words:  "Money talks."

Is anyone surprised?

And speaking of shorthand this is pretty much why I'm read to give up on news and any bloggy references to it:

 Gregory says that this is a "significant story because it changes the narrative," and you know that's a big deal, because we take The Narrative and put it on an altar and sacrifice virgins to it, and anything that changes The Narrative must have mighty and powerful magicks!
Yup.  And it's tiring keeping up with it.  Especially when the Narrative creates crap like this:

 Conrad Alvin Barrett was arrested and accused of punching the unnamed victim last month and filming the assault. Barrett allegedly showed the video to a man outside a restaurant who he didn't realize was an off-duty investigator. In the video, the attacker approaches the elderly African-American man, asks him "How's it going, man?" and proceeds to punch him before laughing, saying "knockout" and fleeing in a vehicle. Barett has been charged with a hate crime.
Three guesses where Mr. Barrett gets his "Narrative," and the first two don't count.

On the other hand, who doesn't enjoy the sound of Cardinal Dolan telling Paul Ryan His Holiness the Pope really doesn't care what the runner-up to the office of Vice President thinks about economics?

 “The guy is from Argentina, they haven’t had real capitalism in Argentina,” Ryan said (referring to the pope as “the guy” is a nice folksy touch.) “They have crony capitalism in Argentina. They don’t have a true free enterprise system.”
And a reminder that Ryan is just from Wisconsin:

"What he says is that the dollar is money, if the economy becomes our God, that's idolatry," Dolan said. "There's only one God and money ain't it, Okay? Money is morally neutral. It's how we use it that makes it sinful or good."

Dolan said that Pope Francis probably shrugged off criticism about his economic views, just as he reacted to being named Time Magazine's Person of the Year.

"He said, 'Time magazine? I'm more worried about timeless things.' Okay? So that's the way he is," Dolan said. "He shrugs and says, 'Well, thanks. Who cares?'"

The Narrative is a great brown god; and denial is not just a river.

And so this is Christmas....

"She looked over his shoulder..."

Maybe the idea that "freedom is not free" can be traced back to Homer and the Shield of Achilles.  The shield, famously, was decorated with scenes from the daily life Achilles and the Greeks knew.  W.H. Auden reimagined it, in terms that seem oddly appropriate in this season when we celebrate the Prince of Peace (although more commonly all we celebrate is commerce and our own convenience):



The Shield of Achilles

  by W. H. Auden
    She looked over his shoulder
       For vines and olive trees,
     Marble well-governed cities
       And ships upon untamed seas,
     But there on the shining metal
       His hands had put instead
     An artificial wilderness
       And a sky like lead.
 
A plain without a feature, bare and brown,
   No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,
Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down, 
   Yet, congregated on its blankness, stood
   An unintelligible multitude,
A million eyes, a million boots in line, 
Without expression, waiting for a sign.
 
Out of the air a voice without a face
   Proved by statistics that some cause was just
In tones as dry and level as the place:
   No one was cheered and nothing was discussed;
   Column by column in a cloud of dust
They marched away enduring a belief
Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief.
 
     She looked over his shoulder
       For ritual pieties,
     White flower-garlanded heifers,
       Libation and sacrifice,
     But there on the shining metal
       Where the altar should have been,
     She saw by his flickering forge-light
       Quite another scene.
 
Barbed wire enclosed an arbitrary spot
   Where bored officials lounged (one cracked a joke)
And sentries sweated for the day was hot:
   A crowd of ordinary decent folk
   Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke
As three pale figures were led forth and bound
To three posts driven upright in the ground.
 
The mass and majesty of this world, all
   That carries weight and always weighs the same
Lay in the hands of others; they were small
   And could not hope for help and no help came:
   What their foes like to do was done, their shame
Was all the worst could wish; they lost their pride
And died as men before their bodies died.
 
     She looked over his shoulder
       For athletes at their games,
     Men and women in a dance
       Moving their sweet limbs
     Quick, quick, to music,
       But there on the shining shield
     His hands had set no dancing-floor
       But a weed-choked field.
 
A ragged urchin, aimless and alone, 
   Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
   That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
   Were axioms to him, who'd never heard
Of any world where promises were kept,
Or one could weep because another wept.
 
     The thin-lipped armorer,
       Hephaestos, hobbled away,
     Thetis of the shining breasts
       Cried out in dismay
     At what the god had wrought
       To please her son, the strong
     Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles
       Who would not live long.

I have nothing to add, except that "what the god had wrought/To please her son" is the world created by the insistence that might makes right, that war is peace, that freedom is only possible because warriors are our national shields.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Happy Christmas!



I have this on a record album (yes, an LP!) of Christmas music I bought in college the first semester I was away from home (home being about a 30 minute drive away, mind you). It is scored for organ solo, and played in a much more lugubrious manner than this version by the Boston Quartet. In spirit, in fact, it's more like the Doors version:



Anyway, for nearly 40 years now I've associated the organ solo version with Advent and Christmas because, as the album notes say, there is joy and celebration in the Christmas season, but there is also mystery.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Massacre of the Innocents 2013



The Nativity story is a good story. Bound up with it is another story, one that barely gets noticed outside the liturgical church calendar. It is very short, tied tightly to the Epiphany, and occurs almost entirely off-stage:

"When Herod realized he had been duped by the astrologers, he was outraged. He then issued a death warrant for all the male children in Bethlehem and surrounding region two years old and younger. this corresponded to the time [of the star] that he had learned from the astrologers. With this event the prediction made by Jeremiah the prophet came true:
'In Ramah the sound of mourning
and bitter grieving was heard:
Rachel weeping for her children.
She refused to be consoled:
They were no more.' " (Matthew 2: 16-18, SV)

The power of the state is part of this story: for Luke, it is the census that forces Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, and her "great with child." For Matthew, it is Herod's fear and insecurity.

In the medieval play “The Play of Herod,” they take this massacre as seriously as the coming of the Magi, as the birth of the Christchild. An angel is sent from God to console Rachel, but she refuses even the aid of God. She refuses all comfort. Of course she does; she is a grieving mother; her children are gone. What comfort can be offered to her? This is real; this has happened. What else could be felt, except bottomless grief, except the sucking, horrible pain of loss?

This is not Matthew reaching for yet another scriptural reference to support his nativity story. This is not Matthew trying to shore up his tale with yet another appeal to authority. This is Matthew telling us he has no words for this horror, and he must borrow words just to be sure we feel it as it was felt by those grieving mothers and fathers. This is not Matthew telling us this is true, because scriptures predicted it. This is Matthew telling us someone else, someone earlier, described it, caught the horror of it, knew what it felt like. This is Matthew telling us this is real.

Don’t confuse “real” with “true” here. True is what the evidence says you have to accept. Matthew doesn’t offer evidence, because Matthew isn’t concerned with proving this to be true. Matthew offers us Rachel, refusing all consolation, because for this story, that reaction is real. Can you feel it? Then you know what Matthew is talking about. You know the character of the people Jesus is up against, and Jesus at this point, no more than two years old. Matthew is reaching here, not for authenticity, but for reality. If this child is truly who Matthew wants to say he is, this is how the world would react. If the birth of kings are the only important births worth noticing (and in Matthew's day, they were, an idea borrowed from the Egyptians. Even the celebration of the birth of Christ would be criticized as Egyptian, and so pagan, for the first few centuries of the church), then this birth must disturb the world, at least the world represented by Herod.

If you know Benjamin Britten's "Ceremony of Carols," perhaps these words will start to insistently pound in your head, as they do in mine:

This little Babe so few days old,
Is come to rifle Satan's fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake,
Though he himself for cold do shake;
For in this weak, unarmed wise,
The gates of hell he will surprise.

With tears he fights and wins the field,
His naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows made of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns cold and need,
And feeble flesh his warrior's steed.
His camp is pitched in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall;

The crib his trench, hay stalks his stakes,
Of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus as sure his foe to wound,
The Angels' trumps alarum sound.

The words are Robert Southwell's, but Britten sets them to an insistent, pounding rhythm, gives them a sense of urgency that threatens to break with sense and almost induce panic. In Britten's version the words rush out, tumbling over each other in their potency, their sheer physical need to be spoken, rising to a crescendo on the last line as the Angel's trumps alarums sound. That is the noise that wakes Herod from his comfortable dream.

In "The Play of Herod," as I said, they took these words very seriously, and that in a day when no Christians were truly being persecuted anywhere in Europe for their beliefs. We only imagine persecutions today; we comfort ourselves with our sense of martyrdom. But if we do so, once again, it is all about us. Rachel cannot be comforted, but that is not where the play ends:

Did they somehow invent a happy ending? Nothing of the kind. The ending is not happy, it is a great mystery. For there is a Te Deum sung: "We praise you, God, we confess you as Lord." The greatest chant of praise. This is sung by Mary and Joseph, processing through the audience, but they are joined in their song and procession by the animals and the angels, by the shepherds, by the lamenting Rachel and the parents of Bethlehem, and they are joined by the soldiers and their victims and by Herod. Knowing that (Hopkins again)

we are wound
With mercy round and round. . . .

they all, incarnate God and all creation, even death, tyrants and martyrs, all process and all sing praise. And we sing too, and find ourselves in the procession.

"Today we can't imagine it. We take our Christmas with lots of sugar. And take it in a day. Though we've been baptized into his death, we have little time for or patience with how that death is told at Christmas, a death that confuses lament and praise forever. And no wonder we are careful to keep Christmas at an arm's length. What is Herod in these times?"--Gabe Huck
It isn't about us; and it isn't about our triumph, and life is not supposed to be sugar-coated and dandy just because we now "believe in God." We don't want there to be a cost to everything, especially to what we want, but that makes us Herod. We don't want to be Herod, but we don't want to acknowledge that there is a price to everything we want. We want to forget that. But Rachel can't forget. Jeremiah (whom Matthew is quoting), can't forget. Matthew can't forget. Not even Luke can forget. When Jesus is presented at the Temple, Simeon sings the last song in Luke, the Nunc Dimmitus, and it is the only song in Luke that is a song of death, but still a song of triump:

Now, Lord, you are releasing your servant in peace,
according to your promise.
For I have seen with my own eyes
the deliverance you have made
ready in full view of all nations;
a light that will bring revelation to the Gentiles
and glory to your people Israel.
And then he turns to Mary and says:

34And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;

35(Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
Why does this story never wear out? Well, in this case, because it is always coming about, again and again. Much like the Massacre of the Innocents. It is a part of the world we are called to redeem; called by the child in the manger, by the little two year old who threatens kings and whose life prompts horrors as well as blessings. "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace...." No, says the Lord; not yet. Not just yet. There is still much for you to do.

The Charlie Browniest

I'm with Charlie Brown.  This kind of thing leaves me thinking Bing Crosby and Andy Williams were Commies; or at least Commie symps.
who knew?


And of the stupid that accompanies it:
 
“There is a vocal minority that is offended at the rest of us who want to celebrate Christmas,” he said Tuesday on “Fox and Friends.” “Just because someone is offended doesn’t mean that they can shut down the religious celebration or acknowledgment of every other American.”
...
The congressman is among a growing number of conservatives who have vowed to resist "the war on Christmas" that they say threatens to turn the holiday into a secular celebration. Many of them have charged, for example, that it’s become less politically correct to use a Christmas greeting exclusively.
According to a Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll (remembering a patch of ice doth not a winter make, nor a single poll a valid conclusion) 67% of Americans prefer to hear "Merry Christmas."  I really can't believe we're having this conversation.  A majority of Americans even care about which tired cliche is used about the season in December?  I don't believe it.  And it's all just an excuse for things to get stupider:


In a sermon at his Cornerstone Church on Sunday, [Pastor John] Hagee warned that “Christmas is under attack in America” because government offices were greeting people with “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

“Humanists are now making the claim that Christmas was originally a pagan holiday,” he said. “Hey, dummy, look at the word: Christ-mas.”

“To all humanists and atheists listening to this telecast: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness will not be in danger in any way if someone says ‘Merry Christmas’ around you.”
The historical ironies there are too much for even this festive season.  But since I cannot say "Happy Holidays" or the clearly even more offensive "Season's Greetings!",  I have only one response left:



At least it contains the proper  illiberal phrase.  But since the War on Christmas ended on Christmas Eve, I can still enjoy the Twelve Days of Christmas in peace.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Here come da judge!

Pope Francis I says of homosexuals: who am I to judge?

Phil Robertson/Sarah Palin say of homosexuals:  I ain't judgin', the gospels do.

The Gospels say, of any act of judgment:  judge not, lest ye be judged.

Now, what was Phil Robertson quoting again?

N.B.  Speaking of judgments: Yup.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas II 2013

The Rebel Jesus, by Jackson Browne

All the streets are filled with laughter and light
And the music of the season
And the merchants' windows are all bright
With the faces of the children
And the families hurrying to their homes
As the sky darkens and freezes
Will be gathering around the hearths and tables
Giving thanks for God's graces
And the birth of the rebel Jesus

Well they call him by 'the Prince of Peace'
And they call him by 'the Savior'
And they pray to him upon the seas
And in every bold endeavor
And they fill his churches with their pride and gold
As their faith in him increases
But they've turned the nature that I worship in
From a temple to a robber's den
In the words of the rebel Jesus

We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why there are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus

But pardon me if I have seemed
To take the tone of judgement
For I've no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In a life of hardship and of earthly toil
We have need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure
And I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus

Christmas I

Jesus, Jesus, rest your head,
You has got a manger bed.
All the evil folk on earth
sleep in feathers at their birth,
Jesus, Jesus, rest your head,
You has got a manger bed.

Have you heard about our Jesus?
Have you heard about his fate?
How his mammy went to the stable
on that Christmas eve so late?
Winds were blowing,
cows were lowing,
stars were glowing,
glowing, glowing.

Jesus, Jesus, rest your head,
You has got a manger bed.
All the evil folk on earth
sleep in feathers at their birth,
Jesus, Jesus, rest your head,
You has got a manger bed.

To that manger came then wise men,
Bringing things from hin and yon.
For the mother and the father
and the blessed little son.
Milkmaids left their fields and flocks,
and sat beside the ass and ox.

Jesus, Jesus, rest your head,
You has got a manger bed.
All the evil folk on earth
sleep in feathers at their birth.
Jesus, Jesus, rest your head,
You has got a manger bed.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve--"Does the Master break down his own door to enter his home?"


I have never witnessed it, but I've been told of this tradition in the Orthodox church.

The model for the Orthodox service is the throne room of God, which is largely the model of the liturgical practice of Christianity (taken from Isaiah's vision of God, where the prophet is commissioned to preach to Israel on God's behalf). But in the Orthodox tradition, there is a screen between the altar and the people, the latter standing about as if in a king's court, waiting for an audience.

The priests conduct the service on the other side of the screen from the congregants. At midnight, a priest comes around one edge of the screen, and whispers to those standing there. In a wave, a ripple of sound and action, the Word literally becomes flesh again, as the message is passed from ear to tongue, and tongue to ear:

"Christ is born!"


Passing like wind over wheat fields, like ripples across water, like fire through grass:


Christ is born! Christ is born! Christ is born.

And so this is Christmas...

NTodd has made me think again about the connection between Christmas and Saturnalia.  Here's why most people think the two began as one:

For New Year, Posumus, ten years ago,
You sent me four pounds of good silver-plate.
The next year, hoping for a rise in weight
(For gifts should either stay the same or grow),
I got two pounds. The third and fourth produced
Inferior presents, and the fifth year's weighed
Only a pound--Septicus' work, ill-made
Into the bargain. Next I was reduced
To an eight-ounce oblong salad-platter, soon
It was a miniature cup that tipped the scales
At even less. A tiny two-ounce sppon
Was the eighth year's surprise. The ninth, at length,
And grudgingly, disgorged a pick for snails
Lighter than a needle. Now, I note, the tenth
Has come and gone with nothing in its train.
I miss the old four pounds! Let's start again!

Martial, tr. James Michie

The only problem is, that tradition had died out in Rome before the Feast of the Nativity got there in the mid 4th century.  And gifts weren't associated with Christmas, or even the Magi's visit, not gifts among peers as Saturnalia was practiced, until the 19th century.

As NTodd points out in two posts, gift giving went from wealthy to poor, not from equals to equals.  Even Clement Clark Moore saw the gift giving as from him to his children, his children replacing the demanding serfs and peasants of an earlier England.  The echo of those demands in children today demanding the "hottest" toy for Christmas is ironic.

Anyway, gift giving was not between peers, and it wasn't reciprocal.  Oddly, no one thinks of the Magi laying their gifts before Mary and Jesus and waiting in anticipation for what Jesus and Mary got them.  That cliche has become the anxiety of our age (it's made it's way into commercials to convince you to buy MORE Xmas presents this year, lest you be caught empty-handed and unable to reciprocate.  Which, of course, doesn't make it a gift at all, but simply another part of the economy.  Which the nightly news reminds us every day this time of year, is all that it really is.  Buy something for yourself, too; after all, you're peerless.)  There are connections made to the Magi, with gifts exchanged on January 6 (Epiphany) or with St.Nicholas (Dec. 6), but these are largely retrojections looking for support for modern practices.  Reciprocity came as a matter of industrialization.  Once merchants and manufacturers figured out how lucrative this could be, it couldn't be confined to children; it had to extend to spouses and family and even friends.

Which connects it to Saturnalia in the end, but only because the Romans got there first, not because we followed their path.  Given the structure of society, which is more Roman than we realize, especially in America, maybe that is inevitable.

Which gives a whole new meaning to the depressive side of the holidays, doesn't it?


Monday, December 23, 2013

Advent 23 2013


O Emmanuel, ruler and lawgiver, desire of the nations, savior of all people; Come and set us free, Lord our God.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Advent 22 2013


O Ruler of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart, O Keystone of the mighty arch of humankind: Come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Advent 21 2013

O radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal night, sun of justice: Come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

The Massacre of the Innocents


Ntodd puts me onto this, in which Sarah Palin out-Herods Herod:

Page 5: Here I learn something I didn't know and, if I were Sarah Palin, something I wouldn't want anyone to know. But Sarah hustles this fact to the front of the book because she sure as hell wants us to know it: Sarah surprised Todd with a "nice, needed, powerful gun" for Christmas in 2012. It was a "small act of civil disobedience," Palin writes, prompted by "the anti-gun chatter coming from Washington."

What was inspiring that anti-gun chatter in Washington in December of 2012? Oh, right: Twenty children and six teachers were shot dead in their classrooms by a deranged asshole with a "powerful gun." And before the grieving mothers and fathers of Newtown, Connecticut, could put their dead children in the ground, Sarah Palin ran out gun shopping. Buying Todd a gun in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary was "fun," Palin writes—and, again, an act of "civil disobedience." Because gun nuts are a persecuted minority.

This paragraph about gun shopping in December of 2012—one first grader at Sandy Hook was shot 11 times—ends with Palin bragging about her tits. I'm not kidding.

Thus is our national discourse on guns carried out:  a ittle act of civil disobedience which involved purchasing a consumer product whose primary function is to be lethal.  Civil disobedience, rather than be a moral act by violating an unjust law, becomes a petty act of buying a gun because somebody shot up a school full of children, and that means the black helicopters with their special gun-only magnets are coming.  It doesn't mean children's bodies shredded by bullets; it means a danger for you!  Which is pretty much how Herod took the news of the Magi.

As for the rest of what he says there, Mr. Savage speaks for me.  But the anecdote, be it about this December or last, puts me in mind of Thomas Hardy:

  Christmas: 1924

'Peace upon earth!' was said. We sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mass
We've got as far as poison-gas.

I doubt the latter portion of the Matthean nativity, the story that continues after the Magi leave, is much emphasized in Sarah Palin's church.  As I've said before, most Christians overlook it in the rush to pack up Christmas and put it away again before January 6, to move on to taxes and maybe Mardi Gras, and certainly Easter.  But her callousness especially makes me think of her spiritual ancestor:

When Herod realized he had been duped by the astrologers, he was outraged. He then issued a death warrant for all the male children in Bethlehem and surrounding region two years old and younger. this corresponded to the time [of the star] that he had learned from the astrologers. With this event the prediction made by Jeremiah the prophet came true:
'In Ramah the sound of mourning
and bitter grieving was heard:
Rachel weeping for her children.
She refused to be consoled:
They were no more.' " (Matthew 2: 16-18, SV)

Maybe that's more appropriate than Hardy.  I certainly think Sarah's response to Rachel weeping would be to applaud Herod for his "law 'n' order" stance.  I just know anything is more appropriate than her sickening anecdote, and her complete lack of awareness of what her reaction to the Newtown massacre really means.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Adventus 20 2013

O Key of David, O royal power of Israel, controlling at your will the gate of heave: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and lead your captive people to freedom.

Fight 4 Ur Right 2 B A Bigot!

And bigotry...you left off "bigotry"....

Alright, now they're just startin' to piss me off:

The statement said the Robertsons have "spent much time in prayer since learning of A&E's decision. We want you to know that first and foremost we are a family rooted in our faith in God and our belief that the Bible is His word.

"While some of Phil’s unfiltered comments to the reporter were coarse, his beliefs are grounded in the teachings of the Bible. Phil is a Godly man who follows what the Bible says are the greatest commandments: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart' and 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Phil would never incite or encourage hate. We are disappointed that Phil has been placed on hiatus for expressing his faith, which is his constitutionally protected right.... Again, thank you for your continued support of our family."

Hate; bigotry; there's such a sharp distinction between the two.  So what part of his "faith" was he expressing here?

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person," Robertson is quoted in GQ. "Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field.... They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
I've read Christian Dominionist writings that express the same "faith," the idea that blacks are not "entitled" to be treated like human beings; and the fact that it is bigotry wrapped in ostensible Christianity doesn't make it any less offensive or reprehensible.

And I don't see where his statements on homosexuality were any more "faith-based."

Phil Robertson lost his ability to be on a TeeVee show.  Boo-hoo.  He only had that ability because A&E carefully edited what he said and did to suit the "reality show" frame they wanted to broadcast.  If A&E had allowed Phil Robertson to be Phil Robertson, he never would have become this famous, or, now, this infamous.  He claims he is "a Godly man," and that he doesn't judge people, even as he judges gays and blacks.  But he isn't "judging" because he doesn't condemn them to hell; he leaves God to do that.  Anyone doubt he means God will condemn them to hell because they aren't "godly"?

Even in matters of "faith" society sets limits (and no, Charlie Pierce, this is not a violation of Mr. Robertson's other 1st Amendment rights, either).  I don't condemn Phil Robertson for his offensive ideas.  But I'm not real upset he may not return to the TeeVee screen.

Worse things have happened to people, whether Phil Robertson and his family know it or not.  I think, in the end, Alyssa Rosenberg got it exactly right:

There is clearly a market for an underserved audience of religious Christians who would like to see themselves reflected in popular media more frequently. And there is clearly a market for being horrified by other people’s behavior. But it is exceptionally difficult, in a reality television context, to separate out and wall off the part of someone’s personality that is attractive and media-friendly from the parts that are less palatable to a mass audience.
Welcome to the world, Robertsons.  It's a very, very big place.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Good to know there's nothing more important going on....


Any associations made with this picture are your own business....

I shouldn't bite, but I will:

What good is a Bill of Rights if it protects us (increasingly thinly) against government, but subcontracts the job of abridging those rights to every other institution that affects our lives and well-being?

Where the hell have you been?

Until the 14th Amendment, the first 10 didn't apply to states at all.  It was really only with the Warren Court that the Bill of Rights became, in any sense, rights we had as American citizens, against all contenders.  Even then, it's always been limited.

I have a right to speak my mind.  I don't have a right to keep my job because I do.  Sorry, but there it is.  'Twas ever thus, and examples like Phil Robertson don't change that.  Maybe  "The Bill Of Rights is supposed to be durable and universal" in your imagination, but it never has been and it never will be.  For reasons inexplicable to me, the 2nd Amendment has become universal and endurable for a handful of yahoos who have used it to reject any sane regulation of firearms in this country (why they don't lobby for access to fully automatic weapons is beyond me).  I actually heard a gun store owner in an NPR story say that the number of people killed by guns every year is so small it doesn't outweigh the benefit of FREEEEDUUUUUUUUUMMMMMMMMMMMMMBBBBBBBBBBBBBB! 

The man was so stupid he should have been bagged and tagged and not allowed anything sharper than a rubber ball for the rest of his natural life.

And, as I recall, Starbucks decided the 2nd Amendment did not give gun owners an absolute right to come into their stores and terrorize their patrons.  There was quite a kerfluffle over that tempest in a teapot.  So if "The Bill of Rights is...durable and universal," do we force Starbucks to let people bring guns to drink their coffee?  Hmmmm?

Should corporations determine who gets to say what when?  Probably not; but especially if you are a public figure thanks to a corporation, if your name and face are known because the corporation makes you famous and keeps you that way, well, as Harlan Ellison learned during his very short stint at Disney, which ended after he made one too many Mickey Mouse jokes:  "At Disney, you don't f*ck with the Mouse."

Should we change that because Phil Robertson is right:  he is white trash, a Louisiana coon-ass, a redneck?  Not sure that's the hero for 1st Amendment rights I want to rally around; or that I want to make the Bill of Rights "universal and durable."  I'd rather the corporation not make me confess to petty theft of office supplies, but I do think they are entitled to terminate my employment if I refuse to cooperate with their investigation of same.

Put this one back in the oven, it ain't done yet.....

Advent 19 2013



O Flower of Jesse's stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; rulers stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

Bonfire of the Yule Logs

Wrong yule log; but these are soooo delicious! 

"If you believe in free speech or religious liberty, you should be deeply dismayed over the treatment of Phil Robertson. Phil expressed his personal views and his own religious faith; for that, he was suspended from his job," Cruz wrote on his Facebook page. "In a free society, anyone is free to disagree with him--but the mainstream media should not behave as the thought police censoring the views with which they disagree."

Somebody wanna tell Sen. Cruz that Texas is a "right to work state" and unless you have an employment contract, you can be fired just because the boss is in a bad mood that day?

And if you do have a contract, as I'm sure Phil Robertson did, if you don't comply with it, you're in breach, and can be at least suspended?

It's one reason I've never put a bumper sticker on my car, or told my boss (except for one, and he enjoyed the argument; he's a Federal judge now) what my politics were.  It's a "personal view," but it would be grounds for canning me, even if it wasn't the 'reason.'

Will Sen. Cruz be as righteously dismayed over the fate of the Rev. Frank Schaefer, who expressed "his personal views and his own religious faith" by officiating at the marriage of his son and his son's partner?

Have I already reached my limit of eggnog today, that I act as if that's a serious question?

Adding:  I suppose this is free speech, too, which we all must stand silent before:

 “I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person," Robertson is quoted in GQ. "Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field.... They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
Your move, Senator Cruz. I'm gonna get some more eggnog while you explain why it's okay to talk trash about gays, but not about blacks....

little tree

"little silent christmas tree"

The Christmas Tree isn't of "pagan origin." In fact, of all things related to Christmas, it's probably the only one that is almost entirely a product of a Christian culture.

Not that it really matters; the insistence that "Christian" practices be pure and untainted by non-Christian (i.e., "pagan") practices is a silly one that dates back (again!) to the Puritans (see below).   Why we insist on keeping it up is another cultural practice very peculiar to Americans (equally peculiar is the idea that we are the world and our Christianity is world Christianity.  But that's another hobby horse....).


The tree is a seasonal decorative item.  Rather like the concept of communion, it springs not from some cultural icon co-opted by the new dominance of Christianity in the dark places of ancient history, but from Christian sources:  specifically, the Genesis story and the Paradeisbaum inspired by German morality plays and the veneration of Adam and Even in the Eastern church which spread, unofficially, westward.

CHRISTMAS Eve is the feast day of our first parents, Adam and Eve. They are commemorated as saints in the calendars of the Eastern churches (Greeks, Syrians, Copts). Under the influence of this Oriental practice, their veneration spread also to the West and became very popular toward the end of the first millennium of the Christian era. The Latin church has never officially introduced their feast, though it did not prohibit their popular veneration. In many old churches of Europe their statues may still be seen among the images of the saints. Boys and girls who bore the names of Adam and Eve (quite popular in past centuries) celebrated their "Name Day" with great rejoicing. In Germany the custom began in the sixteenth century of putting up a "paradise tree" in the homes to honor the first parents. This was a fir tree laden with apples, and from it developed the modern Christmas tree.

That first connection, to traditional stage decorations, is not to be overlooked.  The tree really is just a seasonal decorative item, just as Christmas in America is now just a time of year, with almost no connection to either Christ or the Roman Mass.

As Penne Restad documents it in Christmas in America, the small tree put up in German households on Christmas Eve (feast day of Adam and Eve) became the dominant feature of room-filling tableaus in 19th century America, tableaus complete with landscapes made of dirt hauled in for the purpose (think of Richard Dreyfus in "Close Encounters" hauling in dirt to build the Devil's Tower in his living room.  Now cover it with snow....).  It was never more than an excuse for decoration,  in other words.

There's also the fact that, at best, you are only likely to see "Chrismon" trees in Christian churches, and then only in the worship space of some Protestant churches.  You may find a decorated tree in a Christian place of worship, but odds are the decorations are specifically religious symbols, and even then the tree may (or may not) be up near the altar or pulpit.  It's a secular decorative item, not a religious "Xmas" item at all.

So the tree we get so manic about now is as American as Santa Claus and 24 shopping days 'til Christmas.

And while we're on the subject, no, Christmas is not Saturnalia sanctified.  It probably is taken from the Natali Invictii of Rome (at least when it started in Rome).  But it also started elsewhere on January 6, and where it was set on December 25th the reasoning had to do with the Day of Atonement and Zechariah's Temple duty.  You could look it up.  The idea that it was the Saturnalia is most likely from Increase Mather (or some other Puritan), who was no fan of Christmas to begin with, for reasons a lot of atheists and others sick of the holiday taking over the last 3 months of the American calendar might well sympathize with:
In the Apostolical times the Feast of the Nativity was not observed....It can never be proved that Christ was born on December 25....The New Testament allows of no stated Holy-Day but the Lords-day...It was in compliance with the Pagan saturnalia that Christmas Holy-dayes were first invented. The manner of Christmas-keeping, as generally observed, is highly dishonorable to the name of Christ." (quoted in Penne Restad, Christmas in America, New York:  Oxford University Press, 1995,  p. 14)
You want a war on Christmas?  Take it up with the Puritans.  Although that last sentence could have been uttered today, rather than 300+ years ago; if you still want to protect Christmas from commerce.  If you do, let me recommend Bill McKibben as your guide.

As for the word itself, that didn't come into use until 1038; at least, New Advent says that's the earliest recorded appearance of the word.  The feast first appeared in 354 in Rome; as early as 200 C.E. in Alexandria.  And as for "Xmas," well....we've done that.

O Paradeisbaum, O Paradeisbaum

And what brings Christmas closer to a person than a Christmas Tree?  We have several to offer at Chez Adventus, including the newest arrival:

Not a completely original idea, but we like to think we've made it our own, especially with the added decoration of pepper lights, one of the oldest (in terms of ownership, anyway) Xmas decorations in the house.

The cat admires it, too.

But of course, there are old standbys, including another Xmas decoration that actually pre-dates the pepper lights (well, all three of them do, if memory serves):

There is another cross-stitched Xmas tree picture available, but it isn't hanging up this year (the room where it usually hangs is about to be painted, so no Xmas decorations for you!), so it isn't available for the competition.  The date on that one is cut off; it's "1983," I think.  I'd have to go look again.  I don't know if that's older than Opus, or younger; but it wouldn't be Xmas without him; or the ceramic tree with a bulb up its....trunk.

But wait, there's more!

I never thought it was such a bad little tree....

And yes, there is a tree with ornaments on it:

The pride of the collection this year is even visible in the middle "branch." The familiar blue box.  Yes, yes it is....

A real tree was voted down, because of painting.  Well, that and the cat likes to eat it and then leave it on bedspreads around the house, and while I get to clean that up, the other residents just objected to the mess and bother, so....