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

Monday, December 31, 2018

The President Ends The Year





A) He can't go to Mar-A-Lago, but don't let that ruin your fun. Don't think of his misery at all.

B) The POTUS has no idea how taxes or finance (or money, for that matter) work.

C) Good fences still make good neighbors. The irony of Frost's line is lost on him, of course. And he especially forgets the first line:

"Something there is that doesn't love a wall."

Indeed, the whole poem is a reflection on the impermanence of walls.  Maybe that's a worthwhile year-end meditation.

Meanwhile, in Trumpworld

Who is going to introduce him to match McConnell?

New Year's Eve 2018



Time is told by death, who doubts it? But time is always halved--for all we know, it is halved--by the eye-blink, the synapse, the immeasurable moment of the present. Time is only the past and maybe the future; the present moment, dividing and connecting them, is eternal. The time of the past is there, somewhat, but only somewhat, to be remembered and examined. We believe that the future is there too, for it keeps arriving, though we know nothing about it. But try to stop the present for your patient scrutiny, or to measure its length with your most advanced chronometer. It exists, so far as I can tell, only as a leak in time, through which, if we are quiet enough, eternity falls upon us and makes its claim. And here I am, an old man, traveling as a child among the dead.

We measure time by its deaths, yes, and by its births. For time is told also by life. As some depart, others come. The hand opened in farewell remains open in welcome. I, who once had grandparents and parents, now have children and grandchildren. Like the flowing river that is yet always present, time that is always going is always coming. And time that is told by death and birth is held and redeemed by love, which is always present. Time, then, is told by love's losses, and by the coming of love, and by love continuing in gratitude for what is lost. It is folded and enfolded and unfolded forever and ever, the love by which the dead are alive and the unborn welcomed into the womb. The great question for the old and the dying, I think, is not if they have loved and been loved enough, but if they have been grateful enough for love received and given, however much. No one who has gratitude is the onliest one. Let us pray to be grateful to the last.
--Wendell Berry, Andy Catlett: Early Travels

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Keeping up with the Joneses

Old news. This was reported in January of last year (2017). It's a rent house in D.C.

You can see the height of the wall in those pillars; and the reason for the wall in the guard station. All ex-presidents get Secret Service protection. By the way, the wall looks like this:

Not exactly a 2000 mile barrier meant to be too tall to get over.  Good fences may make good neighbors, but that's not an argument for a 2000 mile Berlin Wall. This is, however, the latest attempted argument, which tells you they got nothin'.

Good News!

Reality:  it's a one-time paycheck.

"Thanks for the sour persimmons, cousin."




First Sunday after Christmas 2018

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

61:11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

62:1 For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.

62:2 The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.

62:3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Psalm 148

148:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!

148:2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!

148:3 Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!

148:4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

148:5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.

148:6 He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

148:7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,

148:8 fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!

148:9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!

148:10 Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!

148:11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!

148:12 Young men and women alike, old and young together!

148:13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

148:14 He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!

Galatians 4:4-7

4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,

4:5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.

4:6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!"

4:7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Luke 2:22-40

2:22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord

2:23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord"),

2:24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."

2:25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.

2:26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah.

2:27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law,

2:28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

2:29 "Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;

2:30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,

2:31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

2:32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

2:33 And the child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.

2:34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed

2:35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed--and a sword will pierce your own soul too."

2:36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,

2:37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.

2:38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

2:39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.

2:40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

In an ideal world, this would be presented with music: interwoven with song, with only the lack of harmony to tell you when one had stopped and the next started. In an ideal world, you would hear this, not read it, and it would be part of a continuous presentation, a flow, a harmonious whole. In an ideal world this would be presented in a gathering of the faithful, and the context would be clear, and the audience's expectations fairly predictable. But while this isn't an ideal world, there's no point pretending this is a sermon and you are a congregation and we all have come to this point from an experience shared over the past 30 minutes. This isn't an ideal world, but that doesn't mean it's so broken this cannot be shared, anyway.

There should be music to start this, to lead us into this song of Isaiah:

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.
and that music would, ideally, make us think of Mary's song, her Magnificat:

My soul extols the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has shown consideration for the lowly stature of his slave. As a consequence, from now on every generation will congratulate me; the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name, and his mercy will come to generation after generation of those who fear him. He has shown the strength of his arm, he has put the arrogant to rout, along with their private schemes; he has pulled the mighty down from their thrones, and exalted the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, as he spoke to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever. (Luke 1:46-56, SV)
Isaiah sings for Israel; Mary does, too. Isaiah cannot keep silent. Mary can't, either. Isaiah tells Israel history is over, that soon it will all change; that's Mary's song, too. How funny, then, that after that song, Mary is as silent as the grave. Mary, like Simeon, is lucky. Rather than hearing the story second hand, years later, she has seen God as a baby. She has seen what can never be seen again, and the rest of us are left to look for God in other places, in other ways. "Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word." But not us; not yet. No peace for us, not dismissal.

This day is all wrong for us. The Nativity itself is all wrong for us. Today is the day to remember the Holy Innocents, the ones slaughtered by mad Herod. This is the day to sing laments:

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
bye, bye, lully lullay.

...

Herod the king in his raging,
charged he hath this day,
his men of night, in his own sight,
all young children to slay.

Then woe is me, poor child, for thee!
And every morn and day,
for thy parting not say nor sing
bye, bye, lully lullay.
1500 years later, and we were still remembering it. 500 years after that carol, and we have almost forgotten it all together. There is the dimmest echo in Simeon's words to Mary: "...and a sword will pierce your own soul too." The story pierces the soul of anyone who remembers it, especially at this time of year. So here we are, the ashes of Christmas Day not 72 hours cold, the angels's news of the miraculous birth still ringing in our ears, and already death has returned to the picture, even in Luke's gospel. Just when we thought we were safe for the 12 days of Christmas.

It's the Nativity; we get it all wrong. We emphasize the Virgin birth, as if the preserved virginity of Mary were the miracle, when in fact it is merely the sign. It's our knowledge that gets in the way, which is not to say ignorance is a path to faith. But our knowlege mislaeds. Until the discovery of cells and microbiology, procreation was thought to come from planting the man's seed (which could be seen, even "spilled") in the woman's womb where, like seed in soil, it could grow into another human. Mary, then, was a receiver of God's "seed." Her virginity was proof the child was holy, not solely human. It was a sign, a semeia. Mary's virginity wasn't a miracle; it was simply logical.

So we miss the point of Mary, and we misunderstand Paul's word to the Galatians, We should surround it with a song, too, because it is no less special than the story from the gospels. Pick, if you can, Benjamin Britten's tune for Robert Southwell's words:

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.

Now, listen to Paul:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!"
Listen, because the babe is your brother! Listen, because this birth means you, too, have been adopted of God! Listen, because this is very important; this goes back to Mary and Joseph and to our misunderstanding this whole story!

Even as the man's seed was important, his paternity could only be established by his action. Then, as now, we always know who the mother is; but the father has to identify himself. The practice that prevailed in Luke's day was for the father to make the son his heir by naming him. Zechariah does it for John, and recovers his speech and sings the Benedictus in praise. Mary sings when Elizabeth recognizes her as the mother of their saviour. The angels sing to shepherds, so happy are they at the birth. And Simeon sings the last song, which is a warning. And Paul? He makes this birth one for all of us, by the language of adoption, the Roman practice of adoption where the father names the child, and so makes that child his heir. It is an adoption already present in this story from Luke.

Which is no more historically accurate than the moving star that led the Magi, than the census that brought the Holy Family to Bethlehem. The ritual Luke describes simply doesn't exist in Jewish practice. This isn't history; it's gospel. It's good news, not the news. Luke puts it here to show the mensch and the virgin publicly acknowledge as their child the god. They don't think of him as a god, of course. They are astonished at what Simeon says; and who wouldn't be? Matthew's Magi bring frankincense and myrrh, aromatics used for perfuming a corpse before burial. Luke's Simeon tells Mary that what her Magnificat predicted will come true, and the sword will pierce her own soul, also. What a plaster saint Mary would be if she didn't love her first born. What a cold piece of fish she would be, if she didn't weep for what became of him. What a strange person she would be, if she didn't wonder at what Simeon was saying to her, and tremble. A mysterium tremendum, indeed. Still, you have to wonder: didn't the shepherds tell her anything? Didn't she wonder why smelly. dirty men were coming to look in awe and wonder on the birth of another peasant child? If she kept all these things in her heart, did she never take them out and wonder at them?

My love, my pride, my treasure, O
My wonder new and pleasure, O
My son, my beauty, ever You
Who am I to bear You here?

The cause of talk and tale am I
The cause of greatest fame am I
The cause of proudest care on high
To have for mine, the king of all
Oh, there is too much bitter and sweet here, too much joy and sorrow blended together, too much salt among the sugar:

"Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."
There is so much pleasure there, but this is a death chant, a song by a man who knows he will not live to see this happen, but still he knows it is true. You don't need to know anymore than these words to know what he is addressing. But he also speaks to the astounded parents:

"This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed--and a sword will pierce your own soul too."
Ponder that: a sign that will be opposed so the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. Consider how much our opposition tells others about us, tells much more than we might want them to know. "Advent is the beginning of the end in all of us that is not yet Christ," Thomas Merton said. Frightening what that could mean, what secrets could be revealed. It stirs a mysterium tremendum, what might yet occur. But we are children adopted by God. What do we need to fear? "For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations." Do you see what we have to look forward to? Even Simeon and Anna rejoice: not for themselves, but for the nation, the peoples, the children yet unborn. We can still do that. Instead of looking backward across 2000 years and trying to decipher what happened and what it means for us, we should look forward to what the future will be now that this has happened. We should sing out like Isaiah, or Mary. We should close with a Te Deum. Te Deum Laudamus is a better prelude to a benediction than "Silent Night" and burning candles. If you don't know the words to that one, Psalm 148 is a good choice, too:

148:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!

148:2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!

148:3 Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!

148:4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

148:5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.

148:6 He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

148:7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,

148:8 fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!

148:9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!

148:10 Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!

148:11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!

148:12 Young men and women alike, old and young together!

148:13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

148:14 He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!
Amen, indeed.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Killing the Innocents

This is a posture we associate with ancient Rome, or with Herod. A standard of care applies even to POW's in wartime.
Felipe Alonzo-Gomez contracted influenza in Border Patrol custody. And fault in the death of Jakelin Caal lies far more with policy than with parents.

Saturday Morning In The White House (an interlude)



Please note the time stamps. Who is writing these tweets, and who is making these phone calls?

Christmastide 2018


In the reception of the poor and of pilgrims
the greatest care and solicitude should be shown,
because it is especially in them that Christ is received;
for as far as the rich are concerned,
the very fear which they inspire
wins respect for them.

The Rule of St. Benedict

YET if His Majesty, our sovereign lord,
Should of his own accord
Friendly himself invite,
And say 'I'll be your guest to-morrow night,'
How should we stir ourselves, call and command
All hands to work! 'Let no man idle stand!

'Set me fine Spanish tables in the hall;
See they be fitted all;
Let there be room to eat
And order taken that there want no meat.
See every sconce and candlestick made bright,
That without tapers they may give a light.

'Look to the presence: are the carpets spread,
The dazie o'er the head,
The cushions in the chairs,
And all the candles lighted on the stairs?
Perfume the chambers, and in any case
Let each man give attendance in his place!'

Thus, if a king were coming, would we do;
And 'twere good reason too;
For 'tis a duteous thing
To show all honour to an earthly king,
And after all our travail and our cost,
So he be pleased, to think no labour lost.

But at the coming of the King of Heaven
All's set at six and seven;
We wallow in our sin,
Christ cannot find a chamber in the inn.
We entertain Him always like a stranger,
And, as at first, still lodge Him in the manger.

Anonymous, 16th century.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Holy Innocents



Santa Claus is for children, and Christmas Day is for children; but the whole story of Christmas is not.

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)
I was scolded once for forgetting that Christmas, publicly, is for children; that children are present in the church, and must be protected from the realities of adult life. It was right and proper that this should happen; the pulpit I preached from was not my own, I took liberties I had no right to take. But Advent and Christmas are seasons steeped in mystery and the whole of the human story, from joy to misery, from peace to pain. We shield our children from these truths, so we can shield ourselves. We pretend God is only about love and peace and our happiness, and complain that the God of Israel is a god of blood and thunder, while the God of Jesus is a god of babies and rainbows. Neither simplicity is true, and the simplicity of the Christmas story, that it begins with the Annunciation to Mary and ends with the angels singing Gloria to the shepherds, is too simple to be true, also. Luke tells one story of the birth, where the power of the state forces the Holy Family to Bethlehem but that power merely fulfills the expectation that the redeemer of the line of David will come from the ancestral home of David. Matthew tells the other story; the story of Herod's fear and insecurity. This is the part of Christmas the world doesn't celebrate. This is the part of Christmas we ignore, for the sake of the children, we tell ourselves; but it's really for our sake. Just as we don't want Advent blighted with the deaths of the innocent, we don't want Christmas spent remembering the Holy Innocents.

This is truly the Church's portion of Christmas. Appropriate to the interests of the church, Walter Brueggeman would call Herod's concerns the theology of scarcity, and point out it's a very old game, even in Biblical history. It is a game we blame on God; but it is one entirely of our making, and it ties the story of the Holy Innocents to our secular observation of Christmas, and our cri de couer for someone to tell us what Christmas is all about. This story, is what it is all about.

The Coventry Carol captures this story in one medieval play; it is the only remnant of the story that still makes it into our Advent and Christmas music, though we may not always recognize the story and the reason it is a "Christmas carol." In another medieval play, “The Play of Herod,” they the story even more seriously. To portray the story from Matthew, 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. This is Matthew telling us to believe this birth occurred, because the world is not kind to saviors, even when they are babies. The world does not seek salvation, but its own contentment; and it does not react well to mystery.

So Rachel cannot be comforted, but that is not where "The Play of Herod" ends. It ends where it should: in holy 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
Or, to return to Luke:

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.
But Simeon turns to Mary and says:

And 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;

(Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
Even in Luke's more beautiful, more popular version, we cannot escape it: the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God, and the penetrating mystery at the heart of the season, just as the year begins again.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Christmastide 2018



Christ Climbed Down

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck creches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
Pennsylvania
in a Volkswagen sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
and German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody's imagined Christ child

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carollers
groaned of a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated wingless
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary's womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody's anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest of
Second Comings

Lawrence Fehrlengetti

[The commentary is from a few years back, but I've decided to keep it intact.]

I was just teaching this poem, one that has been around long enough almost to become a cliche, as familiar a feature of some Christmas observances as Scrooge and Charlie Brown, and reading it aloud I realized what a wonderful meditation on the mystery of the Incarnation and Advent it is.

I'm still puzzling out why we rush through Advent and make haste to get to Christmas, only to throw the whole thing in the garbage on December 26th and hurry our way through to a drunken stupor on January 1st morning, but I have some ideas about it. Fehrlengetti's poem is clearly about that, about all the preparation and the things that, in Linus Van Pelt's wonderfully ironic phrase, "really brings Christmas close to a person." But only when you read it aloud do you capture the chorus-like repetition of the first four lines, and realize how each repeat of those lines sets you up to expect another layer of the modern observance of the last month of the year. The first lines drop like a stone into our understanding of the Nativity and the Crucifixion, of Christmas and Easter, and the rest of the poem describes those ripples that stone makes in our consciousness.

It starts with the Christmas trees, then spreads outward from there to the people: first the "cornball relatives," then the Bible salesman (as if the word of God needs marketing!), then the advertising Magi, and from those religious circles out into the secular world of Santa and Bing Crosby and Radio City Music Hall (bringing their Xmas show to Houston this January! Some things never change, even after 50 years.)

But just when you expect the whole thing will end with a "J'accuse!," with another Christ-cleansing-the-temple moment, with Jesus climbing down to declare "You suck!" and running away to avoid the glitter and twinkly lights, it does something else entirely, and instead returns us to the mystery of the Incarnation. The poem isn't about criticizing modern society after all. There are really only a few ironic lines, and they aren't really so ironic as they are honestly descriptive. The poem is about the eternal mystery at the heart of the religious holiday which still beats at the center of all this busy-ness and concern. It is an observance of peace in the midst of clamor, of wonder in the midst of the quotidian.

It's good to remember it is still, at least on the liturgical calendar, Christmas.

Merry Christmas, y'all.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

St. Stephen's Day (a/k/a Boxing Day)


First, the reason for the feast day.  It commemorates Stephen, the first martyr of the church:

54 When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. 55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.  (Acts 7:54-60)

We remember this, if at all, because of the song:

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even;

Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight,
Gath'ring winter fuel.

'Hither, page, and stand by me,
If thou know'st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?'

'Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence,
By Saint Agnes' fountain.'

'Bring me flesh and bring me wine,
Bring me pine logs hither,
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear them thither.'

Page and monarch forth they went,
Forth they went together,
Through the rude wind's wild lament
And the bitter weather.

'Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.'

'Mark my footsteps, good my page,
Tread thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.'

In his master's steps he trod,
Where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

Which, if turns out, was written in 1853 to a 13th century tune.

The carol was written for the Feast of St Stephen, better known as Boxing Day. And it celebrates the long tradition of charitable giving on the Second Day of Christmas.

That "long tradition" is something else we've lost in America, thanks to the Puritans who despised Christmas and all traditions surrounding it.  As for Wenceslaus, he had a rough time of it:

Duke, martyr, and patron of Bohemia, born probably 903; died at Alt-Bunzlau, 28 September, 935.

His parents were Duke Wratislaw, a Christian, and Dragomir, a heathen. He received a good Christian education from his grandmother (St. Ludmilla) and at Budweis. After the death of Wratislaw, Dragomir, acting as regent, opposed Christianity, and Wenceslaus, being urged by the people, took the reins of government. He placed his duchy under the protection of Germany, introduced German priests, and favoured the Latin rite instead of the old Slavic, which had gone into disuse in many places for want of priests. Wenceslaus had taken the vow of virginity and was known for his virtues. The Emperor Otto I conferred on him the regal dignity and title. For religious and national motives, and at the instigation of Dragomir, Wenceslaus was murdered by his brother Boleslaw. The body, hacked to pieces, was buried at the place of murder, but three years later Boleslaw, having repented of his deed, ordered its translation to the Church of St. Vitus in Prague. The gathering of his relics is noted in the calendars on 27 June, their translation on 4 March; his feast is celebrated on 28 September.
There's a surprising amount of death on the Christian calendar after the celebration of the birth of the Christ-child.  It's almost a reminder that "peace on earth, goodwill toward" all, is nit so much a gifts a hope that we have some part in.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

It wasn't such a bad day

if you ignore the national disgrace. (For a man too old to believe in Santa Claus, he sure believes in a lot of serious delusions.)

OTOH:


Christmas 2018


Christ Child Lullaby


My love, my pride, my treasure, O
My wonder new and pleasure, O
My son, my beauty, ever You
Who am I to bear You here?

The cause of talk and tale am I
The cause of greatest fame am I
The cause of proudest care on high
To have for mine, the king of all

And though You are the king of all
They sent You to the manger stall
Where at Your feet they all shall fall
And glorify my child the king

There shone a star above three kings,
To guide them to the king of kings.
They held You in their humble arms
And knelt before You until dawn.

They gave You myrrh they gave You gold
Frankincense and gifts untold
They traveled far these gifts to bring,
And glorify their newborn king.

My love, my pride, my treasure, O
My wonder new and pleasure, O
My son, my beauty, ever You
Who am I to bear You here?

Christmas Day 2018



As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow,
Surpris’d I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty Babe all burning bright did in the air appear;
Who, scorched with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed
As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.
“Alas!” quoth he, “but newly born, in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I!
My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns;
The fuel Justice layeth on, and Mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men’s defiled souls,
For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
      So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.”
      With this he vanish’d out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
      And straight I called unto mind that it was Christmas day.

--Robert Southwell

Christmas Bells



I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
    And wild and sweet
    The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
    Had rolled along
    The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
    A voice, a chime,
    A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
    And with the sound
    The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
    And made forlorn
    The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth," I said;
    “For hate is strong,
    And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
    The Wrong shall fail,
    The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Christmas Day 2018


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 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

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Service 2018


I.  Organ Prelude

II.  Adeste Fidelis

III.  Invocation

IV.  Gloria, Mozart

V.  Hymn

VI.  Scripture  St. Luke 1:5-45

THERE was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.

8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,

9 According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. 11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. 14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. 15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. 16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. 17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. 19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. 20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.

21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless. 23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.

24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, 25 Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.

26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. 36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing shall be impossible. 38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

39 And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; 40 And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. 41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: 42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

VII. Magnificat (St. Luke I:46-55)

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.

50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

54 He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;

55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

VIII.  Scripture St. Luke 1:56-67

And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.

57 Now Elisabeth's full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son. 58 And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her.

59 And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father. 60 And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John. 61 And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. 62 And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called. 63 And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all. 64 And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God. 65 And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea. 66 And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him.

67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying

IX.  Benedictus (St. Luke 1:68-79)

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people,

69 And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David;

70 As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:

71 That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;

72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant;

73 The oath which he sware to our father Abraham,

74 That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear,

75 In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.

76 And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;

77 To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins,

78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,

79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

X.  Scripture St. Luke 1: 80; 2: 1-9

And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. 2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. 6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid
him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

XI.  Annunciato Angeli (St. Luke 2:10-12)

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

XII.  Scripture St. Luke 2:13

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

XIII.  Gloria (St. Luke 2: 14)

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

XIV.  Scripture St. Luke 2:15-28

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

22 And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; 23 (As it is written in the law of the LORD, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) 24 And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.

25 And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. 26 And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ. 27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, 28 Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,

XV.  Nunc Dimmitis (St. Luke 2:29-32)

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:

30 For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,

31 Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;

32 A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

VI.  Scripture St. Luke 2:33-40

And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. 34 And 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.

36 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; 37 And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. 38 And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

39 And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. 40 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.

XVII. Gloria Patri

XVIII.  Apostle's Creed

XIX.  Collect and Festival Prayer

XX.  Hymn

XXI.  Epistle

XXII.  Offertory

XXIII.  Lord's Prayer

XXIV.  Te Deum Laudamus

XXV.  Benediction

XXVI.  Postlude

I have never thought of Christmas Eve as a time for a sermon.  Putting the sermon at the center of every worship service is a very Protestant idea, but even Protestants love the Service of Lessons and Carols of the Anglican Communion, and it eschews a sermon in favor of almost sola scriptura.  And there's the Lutheran v. Reformed split in Protestantism all over again:  the emphasis on liturgy in worship, v. the emphasis on the intellectual presence of God's word.  I stand uneasily with a leg in both camps, and whenever I led a Christmas Eve service I found it hard at first, and then easier later, to leave the sermon out.  But tonight....

This is what we have stayed awake for; and probably we will be asleep again when it happens.  This is what we were supposed to go out into the dark for; and probably we will stay with the sheep and attribute the angel's song to too much wine and too many late nights.  We will stay in and stare at the lights in our house rather than at the lights in God's sky, and we will miss the notice, busy as we will be worshiping the work of our own hands.  Even if we saw the star, even if we recognized it, would we set out, leave everything behind, find out what it meant, discover the new king, we who don't believe in kings at all anymore?  Would we fall down and worship, would we seek the home in Bethlehem, the feeding trough in the home invaded by smell shepherds coming late at night to tell us what they heard, sounding drunk and foolish and illiterate and not at all the right sort of people to be there.

Would we be the right sort of people?  Would we feel comfortable with the peasants in Bethlehem?  Would we wonder if we should have brought a gift, standing with the magi and their treasures?  Or would we just stay home, and stay asleep while wide awake.  If Joseph had not slept, would he have dreamed?  If we dreamed like Joseph, would we listen?  Or sleep in later that morning?

Christmas was once a public spectacle.  It still is for some churches:  word of the birth of the Christchild, of the first miracle of Christianity, is whispered from worshiper to worshiper at midnight.  Do we even bother to go out at midnight?  Isn't it too late, too cold, too much trouble?  We know how the service ends, do we really need to see it again?  Do we go to church on Christmas Day, even if Christmas comes on a Sunday?  Or do we stay home?  Isn't staying home easier?  Isn't staying asleep while wide awake easier still?

This time, for this occasion, we should wake up!  We should be fully awake!  We should run to the manger for the chance to see.  We should join our friends, not just our family, in worship and praise!  Christmas was once a public event, a spectacle, even.  The Puritans in England and then New England condemned it because it was kept in drunkenness and revelry, but at least it was still kept publicly!  Today Christmas is a family affair, a private matter, set around a tree and decorated with wrapping paper, or it is a failure and we despair.  Christmas is a time to be sad that you are alone, when the message of the gospels is that you are not alone, that none of us are alone, that each of us is our brother's keeper, our sister's friend, that there is nothing we need more surely and completely than each other.  What madness is it that we divide ourselves into units at this very time of year when we should be opening our doors to everyone, playing host to the world as we like to think we would have hosted the Holy Family so many centuries ago.  It us Los Posados played all over again, a metaphor for our times.  We are all inn keepers, and none of us have any room for those we don't know.

So this Christmas take joy, and let your spirit walk out among your fellow men, and take the spirit and the season and even the reason for the season out to those you don't know, out to those you don't see, out to those whose cries you never hear.  Make this a Christmas you will remember, by remembering them.  Honor the journeys of Christmas, of the Holy Family, of the Magi, of the shepherds, by making a journey of your own.  It will take you to a strange and new and wondrous place.  Glory to God in the highest!

Amen.


The service is from the Evangelical and Reformed Hymnal.

Christmas Eve 2018

Bah! Humbug!


(I promise Christmas gets better around here, mostly because I won't be near a computer for a week or so.)

And like a jackass in a hailstorm, he doesn't have a clue what he's doing:



And What Does Texas Think?



I've seen this before:  the people furthest from the problem, with the least knowledge of the situation, never ask the people involved what solutions might be best.  No one asks teachers how to improve public education (teachers are the problem, amirite?).  No one asks students how to get guns out of schools (what do kids know, amirite?).  And no one asks people on the border of Mexico what good a wall would do:

“Trump has done some good things with immigration, but he’s 100 percent wrong about the wall,” said Dob Cunningham, 83, a lifelong rancher and retired Border Patrol agent who owns hundreds of acres abutting the border in Quemado, north of Eagle Pass. “I haven’t found anybody — and I know people from Nogales [Arizona] to Brownsville — who wants that wall.”

Statewide, 61 percent of Texans oppose building a wall, while 35 percent support it and 4 percent don’t know or declined to answer, according to a poll conducted in April by Texas Lyceum, a nonprofit leadership organization.

Residents of the Lone Star State who live, work and play along the international boundary with Mexico say they are happy that the Trump administration’s plans to quickly build the wall have encountered complications in Washington.

Yeah, but whaddo they know?  They just live there!

(And yes, that's a very long contract.)

Santa Clause is NOT coming to town!



Government is partially closed for Christmas (Border Patrol and TSA agents will soon be working without pay.) and this fundamental misunderstanding of the post World War II alliances is what the POTUS is worried about.

Saying it in all caps makes it true!  Besides, French President Macron said:

“An ally should be dependable… I very deeply regret the decision made on Syria.”

And for the burn:

“The only forces fighting against terrorism in the Sahel region are the French forces”, Chad’s Déby said, praising France’s military presence.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump has figured out who Brett McGurk is:

Of course the source of is ire is "Little Bob Corker."  Yeah, that nickname's gonna leave a mark!  If we were on the playground, maybe.

In financial news, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (Treasury is closed for the foreseeable future, too) is on the beach in Cabo (good optics!) calling bank presidents to tell them to remain calm.  Turns out they were calm, until Mnuchin called.  And now stories come out that Trump wants to meet with the Fed Chairman (who is on the Board of Governors, a sort of first among equals as Chairman.  Seems his position is rather like that of the Chief Justice, who must be appointed to that role by the President; the Justices don't draw lots or something.  It may be Trump can remove Powell from the chair, but he can't kick him off the Board of Governors, who actually decide interest rates.  Trump doesn't understand that, but everyone else does.  The kid is reloading his shotgun, and no one in Congress seems inclined yet to take it away from him.), so this is not a good look the day before Xmas, for anybody:
Yeah, that's the problem:


Santa, meanwhile,is stuck in the White House:
Dreaming of ignoring Art. I of the Constitution:

Christmas Presents!


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 also spread to the West and because very popular towards 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 statutes 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.
-Francis X. Weiser

I had that quote ready to post, and checked it.  Now I'm posting it in connection with this post, which I won't even quote from; it needs to be read in its entirety.  I've posted about the paradeisbaum before. Time to go beyond that, and the post at Thought Criminal takes us there.

I was going to post this, too, sometime today; but it being nearly Christmas, I'll stuff the goose (so to speak) and add it.  This morning I found a post about Christmas movies and their relationship to social justice.  And then this, about the radical nature of the birth of the Christchild.  The latter concept I've mentioned before, even this year.  But nothing in either of these articles touches on the truly radical nature of the Magnificat, not to mention the fact the announcement of the birth comes, in Luke's version, to shepherds, not to the rich and powerful.  There's political reasoning there, too, if you look at what Herod does with that information in Matthew's version.

Lastly, there was an article at The Daily Beast about how American churches are failing largely because they are too concerned with social justice (or consumed with pedophile priest scandals), an article that aims as objectivity in the beginning (only Africa is showing increased interest in Christianity, because of fundamentalism), but drops that veneer of respectability in favor of good old American evangelicalism and fundamentalism (which young people are abandoning, too, though the article won't bother to mention that).  It's of a piece with another article by the same author about what ails Texas (turns out it's liberals moving to the Lone Star State; millennial liberals, the worst kind!).  I may yet write about that (I know you're excited!.  Or not.).  The guy writing these articles is a particular kind of Texas goober, so it could be fun.

Or I could be charitable; it's Xmas, after all.

Advent 23 2018

Farewell, Advent, Christmas is come!
Farewell from us both all and some!

1. With patience thou hast us fed,
And made us go hungry to bed;
For lack of meat we were nigh dead;
Farewell from us both all and some!

2. While thou hast been within our house,
We ate no pudding nor no souse, [pickled pork]
But stinking fish not worth a louse -
Farewell from us both all and some!

3. There was no fresh fish, far or near,
Salt fish and salmon was too dear;
And thus we have had heavy cheer;
Farewell from us both all and some!

4. Thou hast us fed with plaices thin,
Nothing on them but bone and skin;
Therefore our love thou shalt not win;
Farewell from us both all and some!

5. With mussels gaping at the moon
Thou hast us fed at night and noon -
Just once a week, and that too soon!
Farewell from us both all and some!

6. Our bread was brown, our ale was thin,
Our bread was musty in the bin,
Our ale sour before we did begin
Farewell from us both all and some!

7. Thou art of great ingratitude
Good meat from us for to exclude:
Thou art not kind, but very rude -
Farewell from us both all and some!

8. Thou dwellest with us against our will,
And yet thou givest us not our fill,
For lack of meat thou wouldest us spill [want to destroy us]
Farewell from us both all and some!

9. Above all things, thou art so mean
To make our cheeks both bare and lean.
I wish you were at Boughton Blean!
Farewell from us both all and some!

10. Come thou no more, here nor in Kent,
For if thou do, thou shalt be shent; [ruined]
It is enough to fast in Lent;
Farewell from us both all and some!

11. Thou mayest not dwell with none estate,
Therefore with us thou playest checkmate;
Go hence, or we will break thy pate!
Farewell from us both all and some!

12. Thou mayest not dwell with knight or squire,
For them thou mayest lie in the mire;
They love not thee, nor Lent, thy sire,
Farewell from us both all and some!

13. Thou mayest not dwell with labouring man,
For on thy fare no work he can,
For he must eat both now and then,
Farewell from us both all and some!

14. Though thou shalt dwell with monk and friar,
Canon and nuns once every year,
Yet thou shouldest make us better cheer,
Farewell from us both all and some!

15. This time of Christ's feast natal,
We will be merry, great and small,
And thou shalt go out of this hall;
Farewell from us both all and some!

16. Advent is gone, Christmas is come;
Be we merry now, all and some!
He is not wise that will be dumb
In ortu Regis omnium. [At the coming of the King of all things]

--English Carol, 15th century