Friday, December 31, 2004
It wasn't always that uncertain, however. As you might have figured, in my misspent youth New Year's meant only one thing - football. (Well, two things actually - football, and the end of Christmas vacation.) Back then I'd spend New Year's Eve watching the Bluebonnet Bowl, then getting ready for the Big Day - the Cotton, Sugar, Rose and Orange Bowls. I'd map out my strategy, figuring out which games to concentrate on, almost always picking out one game in particular to concentrate on. Some years I'd bring my portable TV from my room and set it on top of the big TV in the living room, so I could watch two games at once. (For more affectionate reminiscences of New Year's football past, see this column from Michael Bradley at SI.com.
But times have changed, and as you all know, we have to change with them. As my interest in football has wained, I've had to look elsewhere for my New Year's jollies.
Perhaps my most memorable New Year's Eve was a couple of years ago, when I took my friend Gary out to lunch for his birthday. We drove down to Red Wing, to the Veranda at the St. James Hotel, for a half sandwich and soup. Gary never made a big deal out of his birthday, coming as it did on New Year's Eve, but I thought he might be planning something big for the following year, which would be the big five-oh, and I asked him about it.
"Nah," he said, "but we might do something in a couple of years for my 50th."
"What do you mean?" I said. "You're 50 next year."
"No I'm not. I'll only be 49."
"No," I said. "You're 49 now."
"I'm 48," he said.
"You were born in 1953," I pointed out.
"And that makes me 48," he insisted.
"Gary, trust me," I said. "I know how this works. You're 49 now, you're going to be 50 next year." At this point there wasn't much I could do other than diagram it for him. He looked at the evidence for a few moments and was silent. Finally he sighed.
"Ah, crap," he said. "You're right."
"I'm sorry," I said helpfully.
"I feel like I've just lost a whole year," he said.
"You always did say there was no such thing as a free lunch," I reminded him.
"Yeah," he grumbled. "All this one cost me was a year of my life."
It's to Gary's everlasting credit that he was able to see the humor in the situation, albeit not as quickly as I did, since I was cackling about it all the way home. As soon as he dropped me off, I called his wife, Judi.
"When your husband gets home," I said, "ask him how old he is today."
You might think she would have hesitated at a weird request like this coming out of nowhere, or at least asked what it was all about. But all she said was, "OK, I'll ask him." She'd had plenty of experience linking weird and Gary.
I remind him of this every couple of months, and it's always good for a laugh ("at my expense," he says ruefully). I've related the story to my co-workers, one of whom asked him, when he came up to the office for lunch one day, if he was the one who didn't know how old he was. You might think that Gary puts up with a lot having me for a friend, but it works both ways, trust me.
I just got off the phone with him a few minutes ago, wishing him a happy birthday. "I'll be 51 this year," he said. "I know how old I am this time." He assumed I'd be writing something about this for the blog. To tell you the truth, between you and me, the thought hadn't even occurred to me until he mentioned it.
But never let it be said that I don't take Gary's advice...
A Happy, Happy Birthday, my good friend! And Happy New Year to all of you from the Hadleys! We'll talk to you again next year!
UPDATE: I made it to midnight. My ailing wife, suffering from a virus of some type, only made it to midnight Eastern time - long enough to see the ball drop before she dropped into bed.
Thursday, December 30, 2004
Rose - Texas
Fiesta - Utah
Sugar - Auburn
Orange (the only one that really matters) - Oklahoma
And remember, as always my predictions are worth what you pay for them.
Fr. Z spoke of the importance of the family unit. Of all the ways in which the Savior could appear, God demonstrates the importance of the family by choosing to have Him born into a human family consisting of a man and a woman. Not only does this therefore represent the perfect form of family, in its construction it also mirrors the three in the Holy Trinity. The family, therefore, must be understood as a creation of God Himself.
Then there was the oft-misunderstood passage in Colossians 3: 18 – 21 where St. Paul speaks of the need for wives to be “submissive” to their husbands. (“Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”) These four verses are part of the optional “longer” form – were they read in your parish on Sunday? A lot of parishes omit them, so as not to “offend” anyone in the congregation. Well, we read them, and Fr. Zuhlsdorf spoke to them.
Where critics focus on the “submissive” portion, often accusing St. Paul of misogyny, they generally overlook the following clause, where husbands are admonished to love their wives. Fr. Z speaks of this love as a sacrificial love, a love dedicated to the spiritual improvement of the other, a love which causes the husband to sacrifice, to work, to protect and defend his family. This sacrificial love, which exists not exclusively but uniquely in the family, mirrors the love of Christ for His bride, the Church, and as such is instrumental in the implementation of God’s plan for the family.
It is the love of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross, the love of St. Joseph's protection as he whisks his family into Egypt to save them from Herrod. It is the love of which St. Therese writes when she says "true love grows by sacrifice and that the more thoroughly the soul rejects natural satisfaction, the stronger and more detached its tenderness becomes." All in all, a pretty tall order to which St. Paul calls husbands, don't you think?
Now, to me this explains to a great deal the importance of the attack on the family. We all know how marriage is under attack today by homosexual activists, those who advocate polygamy, and more. Understanding the importance that God placed on the family helps to explain why this is a source of danger to liberals. Tear down the family, and you tear down the building blocks of society as we know it, the foundation upon which so many of our mores are constructed.
As parents are separated or drawn away from their children, you eliminate them as first teachers of their children (and, of course, their first obligation as teachers is to teach the Faith). You eliminate the role that fathers play in the lives of their families as supporters and protectors, and we certainly see how the male has been replaced by the government. We see the absence of the male in so many black families. We see the dignity of the man being stripped away. Likewise, woman, are often forced by our economic system to choose between career and family, or are told they can “have it all.” Increasing numbers of stay-at-home moms point to the widespread failure of this attitude. Add to that our increasingly materialistic consumer culture, which calls on us to reject any form of sacrifice in favor of instant gratification. Not just "have it all," but "have it all now!" Is it any wonder that such concepts now seem quaint and antiquated?
Eventually, by redefining and tearing down that perfect unit, we can proceed with tearing down the dignity of man through abortion and euthanasia. Without the stability of the family, human beings become statistics, units of commerce, measured in a utilitarian way. With no one to care for them, protection for the unborn, the sick and the elderly drifts away.
I’m sure none of this is new to most of you. But it never hurts to have a potent reminder, and this is what Fr. Z provided in his homily.
This brings us to a TV program called The Christmas Show Christmas Show which was broadcast last week on the Bravo and Trio cable networks. The show contained some fascinating highlights from old Christmas shows (among which: clips of the elves from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer doing commercials for General Electric, and brief excerpts from the original 1950s TV broadcasts of Amahl and the Night Visitors), and provided occasionally insightful commentary into the effect television has had on our culture’s perception of the Christmas celebration. But overriding the entire production was a smirking, cynical, mincing distain for the family.
Traditional portrayals of the family unit were met with arrogant, know-it-all condensation. An eye-rolling “give me a break” attitude was reserved for celebrities who tried in the face of reality to present a united family in front of the cameras, even though they might all go their separate ways once taping stopped. Everyone from Judy Garland to Andy Williams to Bing Crosby came in for their share of scorn.
Look, we all know how corny these shows could be (diabetics should be especially careful when watching some of them). Sure it was good business to show yourself as a good family man (or woman), and especially in those days any hint of scandal could result in poisonous, career-damaging publicity. But at the same time these shows understood something about what America expected and considered important in a family, and they felt an obligation to present it. Maybe it was as fake as the bleached corn flakes they often used as imitation snow, but at least they tried to hold the family up as something other than an object of sarcastic ridicule.
The Holy Family represents a model for emulation; the perfect family unit. Not all of us come from such a family, and best efforts occasionally fall short. Nonetheless, there can be no question that this is the model which God created for us; it is the love which God has for us that is reflected in the love family members have for each other, and it is the model to which we should aspire.
It explains why those who want to change society aim first for the family, for as the family goes so goes everything else. And it explains why we must fight for the family, and keep on fighting – in this upcoming new year, and always.
For those interested in learning more about Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, he is moderator of the Catholic Online Forum.
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Rainbow Sash has been fairly controversial in this archdiocese. Some bishops, such as Cardinal George in Chicago, have refused Communion to members of the group “on the grounds that they were using the Eucharist to make a political statement against church teaching.” Others, including Archbishop Flynn, have given Communion to the members, saying they didn’t want to use the Eucharist as a weapon. Archbishop Flynn has added “sash-wearers would not be denied Communion because members of the movement had assured him in writing that their presence was not in protest of church teachings.”
There’s a lot to be said on this issue, probably too much for one post. What I want to focus on here is this excerpt of the newspaper article.
Archbishop Flynn said he discussed the issue in a private meeting in early December with Cardinal Francis Arinze, head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.
He said Cardinal Arinze agreed that it was a complex problem requiring clear teaching and pastoral sensitivity. The archbishop said he was not asked to change his policy.
“I got the clear understanding that this is recognized as a very complex pastoral issue which must constantly be looked at in all its ramifications,” Archbishop Flynn said in an interview in mid-December."
And here is the part I don’t understand:
Archbishop Flynn said it was recognized that U.S. bishops have come to different conclusions about how to respond to Rainbow Sash members who present themselves for Communion, but he said he got no sense that the Vatican was pushing for a single policy on this.
Now, what I don’t understand is this: everyone involved seems to agree that the Church teaches against homosexual behavior. In the article, Archbishop Flynn is quoted thusly: “We all stand very strong in our teaching concerning human sexuality, and what is right and what is wrong, and the teaching of the church concerning homosexuality, the teaching of the church concerning marriage between one man and one woman.”
So at least in this case, everyone seems to be on the right page. Therefore, if this is true, why shouldn’t there be a single policy on this? Seems pretty clear-cut to me.
Reception of the Eucharist is not a right, it’s a privilege. In order to receive in good conscience, one must be in a state of grace, i.e. no unconfessed mortal sin. While it’s true that you can’t read a man’s mind or know what’s in his heart, you most certainly can draw conclusions based on their outward actions. Generally, in our don’t ask-don’t tell atmosphere, the priest has no way of knowing the inward disposition of communicants. Under those circumstances, he’d have no choice but to give Communion, and that’s fine. But here we’re talking about people who’ve publicly declared their position, and back it up by wearing these sashes.
Now, if Rainbow Sash isn’t challenging church teachings, why are they wearing their sashes in church? Why be so demonstrative?
My point is not to argue with the Archbishop here. As I said, you could write an entire book about that question, and I’ll probably write more about it later anyway. (N.B. Considering the recent fiasco involving Cardinal McCarrick’s “interpretation” of Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter regarding administering the Eucharist to pro-choice Catholics, I would be very interested in knowing exactly what Cardinal Arinze actually said, rather that what the newspaper or Archbishop Flynn says he said. Could be the very same thing.) Anyway, I don’t want to be putting words in anyone’s mouth.
But my question stands. If the church recognizes homosexual behavior as being wrong, why isn’t there a uniform policy on how to handle administration of the Eucharist to those who publicly identify themselves with a policy at odds with church position? It can’t be right in one diocese and wrong in another. As the good priest Fr. John Paul Echert has pointed out, the truth can’t contradict itself. And yet here we find ourselves. Is it any wonder the sheep are confused when the shepherds don’t seem to know what direction to take them?
A couple of weeks ago we were in Chicago visiting our friends the Crawfords. They wanted to show us the City at Christmas, so we spent several days driving around looking at decorations and lights and seeing how suburbs can transform themselves into nostalgic small towns at Christmas time. Naperville was one of the nicest, with a display in every store window and a Nativity scene on the main street. Yes, my friends, a real, honest-to-God religious symbol of the season right in town.
Of course we had to see the windows at Marshall Field's on State Street. This year it was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Oh, pardon me - not dwarfs. Seven little men. Wouldn't want to offend anyone. We bundled up and braved the winds of 50 mph along with scores of other hardy souls to ooh and aah at the magical scenes in each window. Then we reached the window with the first hint of the Prince. It was a sort of painted silhouette since he was hiding in the bushes peering at the lovely vision that was Snow White. The prince was, well, less lovely than the one I had envisioned reading the fairy tale as a child. I suppose we all have our own fantasies, but this one was decidedly modern. "Say, what's with the spiked hair?" exclaimed my friend Gary. But we pushed on to see if, once again, Snow White would eat the poison apple. She hadn't gotten any smarter and ended up in the deadly sleep, waiting to be awakened by..."hey," Gary shouted, "that's Clay Aiken!" Sure enough, the prince, once he was seen in his full 3-D glory, was indeed a dead ringer for the popular singer.
There were other departures from my memory of the Grimm's tale. The dwar..sorry, little men, were in fact little men, little multi-cultural men instead of fanciful characters with big noses, scraggly beards and big floppy hats. And now, instead of working in a dank, dark, dirty iron mine, they labored in a diamond mine. Okay, every ancient story has different interpretations. But it wasn't until we got back to Minneapolis and went to the 8th floor auditorium of Marshall Field's (or Dayton's as many of us still call it) to see the diorama in all its splendor that we experienced the full impact of the updating to the story.
There were the seven little men and the same spiked-hair prince, who now was diorama life-size and wearing what every royal prince naturally would wear - blue jeans. Seems princes these days have either fallen on hard times or are trying to move with a more populist crowd. The wicked step-mother was played by a different mannequin, this time deserving the once-held titile of "fairest of them all." The one in Chicago couldn't even have fooled the mirror by wearing a bag over her head.
And what about the mine? Well, this workplace was a little less labor-intensive than the one the seven used to whistle their way to. The Diamond Mine was an upscale, hip disco club. No picks and shovels for these guys. No sir. Now it's turntables and strobe lights. And Donna Summer.
I suppose the people who put this all together thought that they were being very clever. Clever isn't always a good thing. Neither is this version of Snow White.
It did remind me in places of things that I saw in the Ring. No, not Tolkein. Wagner. Honest. After Snow White had ingested the poisoned apple, the dwarfs made a bier where they laid her to rest forever, as they supposed. It was a breath-taking scene of deep blue with silvery snow all around, Snow White in beautiful repose and the dwarfs lining the stairway, mourning. Snow White awaits her hero who will awake her with a kiss.
In Die Walkure, Brunnhilde, after disobeying her father Wotan's directive to fight against Siegmund, is sentenced by Wotan to be cast out of Valhalla and lie in a magic sleep until some man comes along to wake her. Wotan casts this spell upon her with a kiss. (In the next opera of the Ring cycle Siegfried awakens her with a kiss.) In the DVD version we have Brunnhilde is atop a rock, ringed with fire in a scene much like the Marshall Field's Snow White surrounded by snow. Although Snow White is awakened with the prince's kiss and they live happily ever after, things are rarely as easy in Wagner. They are rarely that easy in real life either, although we do all have the chance for eternal happiness.
And this is where the similarities of the fairy tale of Snow White and fairy tale, or heroic saga, of the Ring of the Nibelungen really touch hands. These characters are archetypes. These stories are the stories we have told and retold from the beginning of time. We tell stories to try to explain the world we live in. We change them, we see them in different ways, we try out different versions to try to learn why we are here and what we're supposed to be doing. Many of these stories are meant to have a moral meaning, to teach us concepts such as duty and loyalty, faith and love.
Snow White made two other mistakes before eating the apple by letting the disguised wicked step-mother near enough to her to cause her harm. Each time the dwarfs were able to save her. The third time they could not. The hag floats the shiny red apple before Snow White and she succumbs. Snow White's punishment was to sleep until the prince comes to save her. Brunnhilde's punishment was to be banished from Valhalla and to sleep until her prince came. Eve's punishment, after being tempted by the serpent and eating the apple, was to be banished from Eden and to pass this curse to her descendants until the Prince came to save us all.
And what about redemption? Two seasonal characters leap to mind: Scrooge and the Grinch. Our stories are still trying to show us that while we live it's never too late to repent and reform.
We all, whether we accept it or not, are made in the Creator's image and we have a natural instinct to reach out toward that Creator, to try to grasp what it is that eludes us so often, so much. Our stories from the most ancient times have been used to try to understand this.
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
Monday, December 27, 2004
Couldn't have put it better myself! :) Although I do like jazz...
*Or NCPR - National Communist Public Radio - as Joe Bob Briggs once put it.
Friday, December 24, 2004
I thought for awhile about what would be an appropriate post to close with, and I decided on this, one of my favorite passages, the prologue to the Gospel of St. John. And with that, my wife and I wish all of you out there a blessed and very merry Christmas, and we'll see you next week.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was made nothing that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men: and the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness to give testimony of the light, that all men might believe through him. He was not the light, but was to give testimony of the light. That was the true light which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them He gave great power to become the sons of God: to them that believe in His name: who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
When I saw a news report the other evening of children being taught new words to a song we've sung for years - "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" - I was saddened to hear "We Wish You a Splendid Holiday."
I know now that it's just a matter of time that the "Merry Christmas" greetings will be gone. Look around your town. Notice the "Holiday" greetings and not "Christmas." It's happening right before our very eyes.
Start singing the songs; go down the streets of America singing to your heart's content. Get some of those wash-off markers that these kids use to write on their car windows when they're rooting for their hometown football team. It's easy to do, and if a torrential rain washes it off, write it on there again.
We've got to get this message out. "Go Tell It On the Mountain . . . that Jesus Christ is Born." Sing it, speak it, be a billboard for our Lord.
The story of this "Baby Jesus" alone has brought about more goodwill at this time of year than any other day we celebrate. How can we sit back and allow Him to be snuffed out of our lives?
Is it Jesus, or is it His followers that the "offended" don't like? What kind of revulsion galvanizes one to campaign so vehemently against the mere mention of His name, the mere singing of a carol, or the mere visual of a sign that says "Merry Christmas?"
I can listen to my own boss at work use some of the vilest words and follow up with, "Excuse my French." I may cringe inside at his damning of God's name, but I tolerate it. So if you don't like me wishing you a "Merry Christmas," I'll say, "Excuse my joy." You may cringe that I celebrate the birth of Jesus, but just tolerate it.
I cannot be concerned that "Merry Christmas" offends you. If I'm not careful, the day will come when saying I'm a Christian will offend you.
I'm offended that you're offended. How about that?
When we get to a point that we can no longer take part in a tradition we hold dear, we have no choice; we either defend that tradition or we give it up to those who say NO. That's it . . . period. So, which will it be?
I'm not giving up my "Merry Christmas" joy to anyone. If I know of someone that celebrates another holiday during this time of year, I will be glad to wish them whatever holiday they want. Just tell me what it is and I'll shout it to the world and wish you a grand celebration.
Lileks has had some very interesting thoughts on this subject this week as well. See this example, in which he rebuts comments made by blogger James Wolcott. Don't bother to look at Wolcott's site; Lileks repeats the relevant comments in his post.
Someone asked me why this is such a big deal now, when we all know "Merry Christmas" has been systematically stamped out for years. It's because we're starting to fight back, and the other side can't stand it. That means it will get much worse, but that also means we have to fight all the harder. Get angry about this, folks, and then as I said earlier, pray for those people who hold Christians and Christmas in so much scorn.
Thursday, December 23, 2004
The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux
In that same old TV Guide I cited a few days ago (December 27, 1969), there’s an interesting article by Melvin Durslag – “The Annual Howls Over the Annual Bowls.” Seems that way back in 1969, there were people, former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Dodd among them, who thought the bowl situation had gotten way out of hand. There were now 12 – count ‘em, 12 – bowl games on TV. Can you believe it?
Imagine how Bobby Dodd would feel today. We now have not 12 but 28 bowl games, starting with the New Orleans Bowl on December 14 and ending with the Orange Bowl on January 4. Someone figured out that there were now so many bowl games, only two or three bowl-eligible teams would be left out. Whereas bowl games were once seen as rewards for outstanding seasons, today over 25% of the teams playing in bowls had 5 losses (out of 11 or 12 games). I don’t know about you, but it’s really hard for me to work up any enthusiasm for watching a game between teams with combined records of 12-10, played before an announced crowd of 30,000, many of whom came disguised as empty seats.
Bowl games started out as inventions of local tourist boards looking for ways to bring in more tourist dollars in the winter. It shouldn’t be surprising, therefore, that even then money was a major component. The Rose Bowl, the granddaddy of them all, was designed by the Tournament of Roses Committee to augment the chariot races and ring toss events that followed the parade. Winter vacation getaway destinations like Miami and New Orleans soon followed, and the race was on.
Even now, most bowl games look not only at the record of the teams, but also at the number of fans that are likely to follow along – fans that can be counted on to spend plenty of money while they’re down there. The University of Minnesota, which has had a couple of good seasons recently, probably got stiffed out of more prestigious bowls because they have a small traveling base of fans, which ultimately means less money coming into the city’s coffers.
But believe it or not, there was a time when bowl games weren’t as big a deal as they are now. In the early 1960s, Ohio State refused an invitation to the Rose Bowl because the faculty thought there was too much of an emphasis on football. Georgia Tech players turned down a game one year because their Christmas vacations had been disrupted two years in a row and they were tired of it. Notre Dame had a no-bowling policy until 1969, because bowl games interfered with exams (they changed the policy when the academic calendar was altered).
Until the late 60s, the bowls didn’t even count toward picking the national champion. That was done at the end of the regular season by the AP and UPI, and the bowls were seen more as exhibitions. As legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes saw them in Durslag’s article, they represented “a player’s just reward for hard work during the season.”
The problems arose when the national championship team lost in the bowl. It was even worse if they were beaten by a team which had its own claim to being number 1. For that team, it was a case of winning the battle, losing the war; beating the number 1 team might earn you acclaim as the people’s champ, but it doesn’t take up much space in the old trophy case.
Eventually, of course, the old system was scrapped and the wire services started choosing the national champion after the bowl games. While this wasn’t without its own problems (for example, AP and UPI sometimes chose different teams, thus creating a split national champion), at least all the games were played before the voting was held. The ultimate goal was a national championship game between the top two teams. This did happen on occasion, but not very often, because many of the best teams were committed by conference contract to playing in specific bowl games.
Thus, the desire for a national championship game, and the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) was born. About this, the less said, the better. Frank Deford had a recent article which puts it better than I could ever hope to.
You’ve probably figured out by now what’s at the bottom of all this chaos. That’s right, money. Bowl games are cheap programming for ESPN, the network that covers most of them and created many of them to fill their prime-time schedule. They’re also cheap advertising for corporate sponsors, the proliferation of which has robbed most games of any semblance of identity (the classic Champs Sports Bowl, for example*).
The NCAA gets big bucks for selling the rights to the BCS (Fox recently shelled out $80 million for four years’ worth). The schools and conferences involved in the games stand to make windfalls, thanks to those networks and corporate sponsors. Think the University of California is upset with the BCS bumping them from the Rose Bowl to the Holiday Bowl because they’d rather have spent New Year’s in Pasadena? Try the difference between $2 million and $14.5 million instead.
The players don’t get paid for playing, of course. But before you feel too sorry for them, don’t forget the free scholarships, not to mention who-knows-what from some of the school’s more energetic boosters.
What we’re left with are often meaningless games between mediocre teams in front of lethargic and sparse crowds. The matchups are often uninspired (most of them are locked in by pre-arranged deals between conferences and bowls), and there are always at least a couple of teams claiming they deserved better.
Obviously the answer to all this is a playoff. They’ve been talking about one since, well, this 1969 TV Guide article, where the idea was already being bandied about.
But there are just too many egos involved, and too many bowl games to satisfy, not to mention the money. If it was impossible to take care of everyone when there were only 12 bowls, imagine what it’s like when there are 29. Check out this excerpt from the Durslag article:
The minor games get ordinary-to-weak ratings on TV. They are offered for incidental amusement, serving mostly as promotional gimmicks for the communities sponsoring them. Heat from such promoters is believed responsible for the tabling last spring of a national playoff proposal at a meeting of the NCAA Executive Committee. A disgusted coach remarked: “The bowl people are doing what’s good for them. We favor what’s good for college football.”As I’ve said before, the more things change…
Was the old system unfair? Sometimes. But you know what? Life can be like that sometimes. What we’re seeing now is an unholy alliance between those who counsel mediocrity – the “everyone’s a winner” group – and those for whom money is the bottom line.
Keep it in mind tonight when you watch that gripping Fort Worth Bowl matchup between Marshall (6-5) and Cincinnati (6-5). Enjoy!
* The Champs Sports Bowl, previously known as the Blockbuster Bowl, the Carquest Bowl, the Micron PC Bowl, and the Tangerine Bowl, and played first in Miami, and now in Orlando.
Monday, December 20, 2004
A 10-year-old boy opened the conference praising Khomeini for reviving "pure" Islamic thinking and saving the religion from being conquered by the West. The boy called President Bush "the greatest enemy of the Muslim Ummah," CBS-11 has learned.
It sounds as if not everyone participating in the conference realized what the theme was going to be, so we should be careful painting with a broad brush. Nevertheless, this sounds to me like another wake-up call for America - but I wonder how many will just press the snooze button again...
An interesting exchange on the Dallas Morning News blogsite followed (registration may be required to link to the DMN blogsite, but you can read about it in this link), featuring the typically reliable Rod Dreher.
Many, many thanks to my friend Mark Peterson for bringing this to my attention (he wonders why, to the best of his knowledge, we haven't heard about this in the MSM. Sharing information is the way we're going to keep informed!) and to Jihad Watch for the link to the Dallas Morning News info.
UPDATE: Rod Dreher has more on this at The Corner (December 21), including a link to Wednesday's DMN editorial on the event.
Saturday, December 18, 2004
Anyway, the editorial in this issue discusses filmmaker Jerome Katzman and his new movie, Angel, Angel, Down We Go, which is described as "a putdown of the Establishment and just about all the cherished mores of Western society. It mocks motherhood, the flag, sexual fidelity, orthodoxy and fatherhood. It wallows in unrepentant murder, corruption, seduction, flagellation and homosexuality. It is, Katzman proposes, a satanic distillation of the latent evil in all people, and it explains - at least to his satisfaction - why fils of putdown, brutality and erotica have become commercial pacemakers." In words that eerily resemble those of Willie Stark, Katzman says, "I think the basic nature of man is not good, but bad...We (have to make films that) satisfy the baser appetites in man in order to have him do the good things that he does."
If you've been to the movies lately, you're probably thinking "what's new in this?" And it does sound a lot like the kind of junk you see at the multiplex. In fact, it's probably tame, campy entertainment compared to what passes for cinema today. However, what got me to thinking was this quote from Katzman - "I feel a strong conviction that pictures today have to throw away all the rules to get people away from the tube." Substitute the word "cable" for "tube," and you have a perfect description of what's happened to television today. Remember a few years ago when Steven Bochco tried to justify the explicitness of NYPD Blue by saying networks had to compete with cable? It's only gotten worse since then. Watch the networks try to copy the success of shows like The Sopranos. Cable TV has won justifiable praise for some of its series, but they're adult programs, in households that (presumably) pay extra to get access to it. The networks, on the other hand, are free, public airwaves. The recent spade of fines by the FCC testifies to the direction network programming is going.
None if this is news. But what I find particularly intersting about editorial is TV Guide's clearly disapproving reaction to all this. The editorial sarcastically concludes: "Man is essentially evil. He gets rid of that evil by watching depraved, revolting Katsman films. What's left is good. Ergo, Jerome Katsman is performing a public service by producing such movies." Would TV Guide say the same thing today? I subscribed to the magazine for over thirty years before I finally got fed up with the soft-core porn covers, the salacious content, the lascivious profiles of the latest scantilly-clad starlet describing her current ground-breaking series noted for its sexual frankness.
Which just goes to show that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Movies have stayed the same, television has become the same, and TV Guide just goes along for the ride.
Thursday, December 16, 2004
It wasn’t a very smart move from a public relations standpoint. We won’t know until after Christmas whether or not it hurt them financially, and even if there’s a drop in sales we can’t know for sure that there was a cause/effect relationship, but considering the amount of criticism that they’ve gotten, you can’t think it was a very bright thing to do. You have to ask yourself if you’d want the people responsible for making that call to be in charge of your company. At least we’ll find out if there’s really no such thing as bad publicity.
Apparently Target has a policy against allowing solicitations in front of their stores. For years they’ve made an exception for the Salvation Army, and now they’ve decided not to. Many reasons for this decision have been bandied about, from union regulations (continuing to allow the SA to solicit would open the door to union solicitations) to the fear that other, more divisive groups would petition to be allowed, to the idea that Target is anti-religious, to the simple thought that Target wants to keep their customers from being harassed as they enter the store.
I don’t pretend to know what the answer is, although I’ll offer some speculation at the conclusion of this piece. But first some visual observations:
Drive through downtown Minneapolis during the month, and you’ll see Salvation Army bell ringers on many street corners. Sure, you might see an occasional pamphleteer somewhere along the line, but you can get around them easily enough. And mostly what you see in December is the bell ringer.
Of course, downtown corners are still public places. But aside from the noon hour, not very many people go shopping downtown, at least in Minneapolis. Downtown has been replaced by the suburban mall, and this is the crux of my argument.
Shopping malls have become the modern public square, the secular house of worship, the place where people go to hang out. Pages and pages have been written about this as a sociological phenomenon, so I’m not going to argue the point; let’s accept this as a given. If so, one could make a compelling argument that the parking lot, indeed the entire area around the store up to the entrance, does not really belong to Target. Oh, it belongs to them legally. They pay property tax on it, they’re responsible for the maintenance, they plow the lot and shovel the walk during the winter. But figuratively, this area belongs to the public. It’s an open space, a landmark, a meeting space, a short-cut on the way to other places.
Put simply, the public has a vested interest in areas like this, an interest that comes into conflict with the legal rights of the landowner. I’m not necessarily carrying this argument to a legal conclusion, merely a moral one. Target may be able to do whatever they want with access to their store, but does that mean they should? Or does the public have rights as well, even when it comes to private property?
Again, I’m no lawyer (I don’t even play one on TV), but FWIW here are my two cents: If Target is afraid that other groups will want to solicit in front of their stores, then the answer is – let them! Let ‘em all come if they want. The more the merrier.
Of course, you can have some regulation of this mass solicitation: for example, don’t allow them to actually overtly solicit. Let them stand there with their kettle or their pamphlets or whatever else they might have, but tell them they can’t approach the public unless the public approaches them first. Last time I looked the Salvation Army didn’t really “solicit” anyway – they just kind of stand there and ring their bell, maybe wish you a Merry Christmas, but they don’t usually ask you straight out for money. Let everyone else play under these rules. You can have your informational flyer, but you can’t give it to anyone unless they ask for it first. I would hope that groups could adhere to this mild restraint of freedom of speech – after all, it’s better than not being allowed there in the first place. (And it might not hurt them to be less aggressive – it’s always a bad idea to drive away potential customers. Although someone ought to tell this to the people who operate mall kiosks.) For strip malls, let these groups gather on the sidewalk at a reasonable distance from the store’s entrance. For enclosed malls, the spot would be outside the mall entrances.
My wife asked about abortion protesters, as they’re often restricted in their activities outside abortion mills. This is true, and such restrictions are just as ridiculous as Target’s policy. A consistent application of the policy would give them a lot more freedom than they have in many places.
So who’s afraid of the Salvation Army, besides Target? Come one, come all, I say! Besides, I have an idea that there’d be less traffic outside the store entrance than you might think. Here’s why:
Have you been to your neighborhood grocery store lately? I have. Every week, in fact. And what to my wondering eyes should appear in front of that store each week but a Salvation Army bell ringer. The first question I asked was this: why isn’t there anyone else in front of the store? After all, I assumed if you allowed the SA, you’d be swamped with groups demanding your money, yet, the only person outside the store was a lone bell ringer.
Where are all these other groups? You’d think they’d all be camped out in front of a grocery store – regardless of the effect of superstores, a grocery store is still a pretty high traffic area – people gotta eat, you know.
So if you buy into this “allow one, allow them all” idea, then there are two possible answers: one, nobody else is asking, and two, the grocery store makes an exception to allow the SA.
And that begs this question: if a grocery store can do it, why can’t Target?
My wife, who hasn’t quite bought into my concept of public/private space, said this was the most compelling argument on the issue she’d seen.
We’re left with one final thought – is Target (and all other corporations with similar policies) discriminating against religious organizations? Think about it. There is, after all, no mention anywhere in a Target store of Christmas. (Don’t get me started on that again!) You can only judge groups, as well as individuals, based on their public actions, and while the last thing I want to do is accuse Target of being anti-religious, what other explanation can there be? If there is one, I’d be happy to hear about it, but it had better hold more water than the other arguments I’ve seen, or at least be more consistent.
As for the Salvation Army (for you’ll recall this is where the whole discussion started), it certainly doesn’t appear that Target’s decision was made because of the SA’s position on abortion and birth control. It appears to be a case of doing the right thing for the wrong reason. But if this whole sordid affair leads to an examination of the SA’s position, and a possible change in their stance, then it will be another example of God working in mysterious ways.
Mind you, this won’t necessarily prevent me from shopping at Target, unless I find out something conclusive on the issue. But it does bring into focus the larger question of the public gathering space. Target may own the parking lot, but it belongs to the public.
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Buckley, who recently won the Thurber Award for humor, is near the top when it comes to political satire – I saw him in person a couple of years ago and regretted not asking him if it was more difficult to write satire nowadays, seeing as how it seems pretty hard to top the absurdity of what you hear on the evening news. No Way to Treat a First Lady might not be his best but it’s still a great read, and I’m looking forward to his recently published Florence of Arabia.
On the other hand, there are only flashes of grim humor in Warren’s relentlessly dark and somber novel of corrupt mankind, and since this was my first encounter with Warren, I’ll be focusing the balance of my attention in his direction.
I bought All the King’s Men over twenty-five years ago for a college lit class I soon dropped. I kept the book, though – I was reading a lot of political fiction back then (Seven Days In May, The Manchurian Candidate, Convention, Full Disclosure, to name a few), and knew it was something I’d read one of these days.
The years passed and more books followed – Fail Safe, The President’s Plane is Missing, the entire Advise and Consent series, All the President’s Men (I know, it’s not supposed to be fiction, but…), and still All the King’s Men was on the bookshelf. As I grew older and my outlook on politics soured, I moved into political satire – Christopher Buckley, P.J. O’Rourke – but it wasn’t until recently, when I’d run out of Nero Wolfe mysteries, that I decided to finally give Warren a try.
All the King’s Men, the fictionalized story of former Louisiana governor Huey Long, is what you might call “serious” fiction (just look at the number of reviews on amazon.com from students who’d been assigned to read it). It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947, and was adapted into a movie that won the Best Picture Oscar two years later. As such, it has all the gravity that one might expect. But it has more, much more. It has language.
The book has recurrent themes – motion, for example (the motion of cars down the highway, the motion forward in the quest for knowledge and the journey both away from and towards God, the motion of heading toward one’s destiny while at the same time trying to escape from it). And always, there’s the underlying question of good and evil (at one point, Willie Stark, the Huey Long character, comments that all good comes from evil because evil is all there is to work with).
Perhaps because of the novel’s basis in fact, the ending has a preordained feeling that allows Warren to concentrate on other elements of the story. It is true, as many critics have pointed out, that Warren digresses from time to time – in particular, two sub-stores go far afield from the main narrative, and in the hands of a lesser writer you might even forget what he’d been talking about before.
You have to constantly remind yourself that the man is a poet; otherwise, you’re going to keep wondering why it takes him two pages to describe a scene that could just as easily be boiled down to two paragraphs – if, it fact, it has to be included at all. This means you’re going to have to get lost in the language as much as you do the plot. If all you’re interested in is how it’s going to end, watch the movie. And yes, on occasion the florid language gets a little tedious – at times I couldn’t be sure that I wasn’t actually reading someone’s parody of Warren’s style (you know, like the Bulwer-Lytton contest).
This can make the book frustrating reading at times – and yet, just when you’re ready to flip ahead a few pages to get back to the story, you run into something like this:
So maybe she was up in the room trying to discover what her new self was, for when you get in love you are made all over again. The person who loves you has picked you out of the great mass of uncreated clay which is humanity to make something out of, and the poor lumpish clay which is you wants to find out what it has been made into. But at the same time you, in the act of loving somebody, become real, cease to be a part of the continuum of the uncreated clay and get the breath of life in you and rise up.
You might expect to hear this from Bishop Sheen, but it’s not likely you’ll encounter it in Term Limits or Absolute Power. And that’s my point. As far as telling the story is concerned, it might not have been worth 20 pages just to get to this paragraph. But sometimes the value of writing lies not in plot development but in the sheer pleasure of reading the printed word on the page.
Which brings us to this question – All the King’s Men is generally considered one of the great political novels ever written, if not the greatest. But is it really a political novel? I suppose if you’re comparing Warren to Vince Flynn or David Baldacci, then the answer is no. There’s not enough “action” in “the corridors of power” – or in the bedroom, for that matter. (Not that the two aren’t mutually exclusive, and sex does play a pivotal role in All the King’s Men – it’s just that you don’t actually see it.)
But what this book does, however imperfectly at times, is tell you about the human condition, about human nature and what makes people tick. And that is really what politics is all about. It doesn’t take place in a vacuum (although we can be forgiven for thinking that one does exist, between the ears of most politicians), and it’s the elements that go into making up one’s character – where you live, when you live, your friends, family, neighbors, those you love and those whose love you lose – that doom Warren’s characters, almost from birth, to act in the ways they do.
Politics doesn’t occur in a vacuum; the people involved in it are, whether they want to admit it or not, part of the larger world. This is the difference between a political novel (Balance of Power, for example) and a novel about men and women in politics.
Does this mean we have to look to the past, to books like All the King’s Men and Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent, in order to discover the future of the political novel? For a long time I’ve wanted to see what the post-modern (for lack of a better word) political novel would look like. By this I mean books that don’t fall into the thriller genre as most political books today do, written by today’s contemporary novelists, written about people whose identities are not defined by what they are – by what office they hold – as much as by what they are made up of.
Using those terms, the first book that comes to mind is Tim O’Brien’s haunting and disturbing In the Lake of the Woods, followed by Don DeLillo’s equally disorienting Libra. You might be able to make a case for Joyce Carol Oates with The Assassins or Black Water, though I wouldn’t push the point. I thought that John Calvin Batchelor’s Father’s Day might be one, since Batchelor had quite a post-modern reputation, but unfortunately it turned out to be (IMHO) a load of junk.
What I’m looking for is someone who will do for politics much as Paul Auster did for detective novels with his stunning New York Trilogy – turn it on its ear. If and when that happens, the results should be interesting. Notice I said “interesting,” which is not necessarily the same thing as “good.”
Or maybe it’s already happened – I’d welcome hearing from readers with any nominations. No pun intended, of course.
Thursday, December 9, 2004
In particular, I have a vague recollection of watching his Christmas show one year when I was still in single digits and we lived in the double bungalow on 28th Street and 31st Avenue in south Minneapolis. I seem to recall it was Christmas Eve, and I was thinking how this was a great way to spend the time waiting for family to come so we could open presents, which we did on the 24th. In later years I remember how delighted I was later in life to find out that Bob McGrath on Sesame Street had been one of the stars with Mitch.
I don’t know if reruns of his show would hold up today, or if we’d find it hopelessly hokey and outdated. But for us boomers, this CD is guaranteed to bring back affectionate memories of Christmases past, and it really should be a part of your Christmas music collection.
This time it’s the corporate “Holiday Luncheon.” Of course, we ought to be used to that kind of terminology by now, but here’s what makes this one interesting, and perhaps even more irritating – the subtitle, “A Celebration of Diversity.” The events being commemorated are Ramadan (Islam), Diwali (Hinduism), Christmas (Christian), Hanukkah (Jewish), and Kwanzaa (African American). A short description of each is included in the flyer handed out to employees announcing the luncheon. Not surprisingly, the description of Christmas is accorded less space than any of the others.
What are we to make of this? Let’s start with Hanukkah. For many years, it has been celebrated alongside Christmas as if it were the Jewish equivalent, despite the fact that it is a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar. Last year, John Derbyshire at National Review Online shared these insightful comments (page down to December 22) from a correspondent: “[O]ne of the main reasons Christmas has been marginalized and even the word 'Christmas' is disappearing from public discourse is because Hanukkah has been elevated to a position out of all proportion to its traditionally minor significance. And the success Hanukkah has enjoyed in gaining public recognition has inspired the more recent success of Kwanzaa, Ramadan, and other winter festivals in gaining prominence in America, all at the expense of Christmas.”
While it’s customary to include Hanukkah in “Happy Holidays,” what about Ramadan? That was October 15, which seems to be really stretching it to include it in a December celebration. Diwali commemorates the “triumph of righteousness, knowledge and enlightenment over ignorance, sorrow and spiritual darkness.” One can’t help but think that for Hindus, belief in any of the other faiths included in the celebration is a sure sign of “ignorance, sorrow and spiritual darkness.” Then, of course, there’s a prime competitor to Christmas - Kwanzaa, an event celebrating not diversity but divisiveness, which as Derbyshire describes, "was invented out of whole cloth by a violent 1960s criminal-radical thug, employs a language spoken by the ancestors of practically no black Americans at all (and a language which owed its own prominence to its use as a lingua france for Arab slave traders), celebrates the fruits of harvest at a time of year when nobody in the world is harvesting anything, [and] promotes communistic values." Read this devistating review by Richard Rosendall for more details.
Well, it certainly is a diverse group, but it’s hard to see how honoring these five dates amounts to a celebration of diversity. In fact, most of these events commemorate a lack of diversity – Kwanzaa is an exclusionary event, limited to African Americans, and Diwali and Ramadan celebrate revelations that would seem to put believers at spiritual odds with non-believers. What we have here is a mini-United Nations of faith celebrations. It’s also like the UN in that it attempts to force these five into some kind of common ground. It’s like trying to mix oil and water.
There is one exception, of course. One event that is diverse, inclusive, meant for everyone, both inside and outside its given group.
The event, of course, is Christmas.
In the words of the “Holiday Luncheon,” Christmas “[c]elebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.” As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Savior was born for all, not just for a select group. While Christians understand that acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is essential for salvation, we don’t believe this message is only for Christians. It’s for the whole world, for anyone who wants to hear and believe. While the Jews were originally to be the initial beneficiaries, the ultimate plan was to extent the benefits to all, regardless of race, creed, sex, or national origin, and it becomes the duty of every Christian to spread the word, to make sure as many people as possible can hear it. The sacrifice to which this birth inevitably led was all-encompassing, the Blood “shed for you and for all (pro multis, for the multitudes) for the forgiveness of sins.”
A truly diverse group, in other words, and if this event alone doesn’t qualify as “A Celebration of Diversity,” I’m not sure what does.
And yet, the sole rationale for a “holiday” event, the only reason for its existence, is to deny the very mention of the word Christmas and to minimize, if not completely eliminate, its meaning.
Ironic, isn’t it?
Some will point out that Muslims, for example, also believe in one God. But they see that God as Allah – Master. Jesus referred to God as Abba – Father. And there’s a fundamental difference right there, between compelling belief and inviting it. Ah, but we could spend days discussing the implications of this. I’ll try to stick to the point.
I guess what really gets me is this continuing attempt to lump these events together and give them some kind of moral equivalence. They take such obvious pains to minimize Christmas to the point where it’s only considered an equal with the others (if that), as if they have the same meaning and significance, not only within each individual group but for all groups.
If individuals belonging to other groups or faiths want to celebrate particular events, well and good. There should be no attempt to prevent them – this country does believe in religious freedom (at least for non-Christians). But can we really, in good conscience, look at the numbers of adherents and their contributions to American culture and say that these days deserve equal billing with Christmas? As Derbyshire’s correspondent put it, “Neither Hanukkah nor the other winter festivals have anything to match even this very tiny portion of all the great art inspired by or associated with Christmas. However, once we admit that Hanukkah should be treated as the equal of Christmas, despite the fact that its significance in Western culture is close to zero and its significance in traditional Judaism is minor, we really cannot complain about Kwanzaa or Ramadan.”
I know what you're thinking. “It's only religious tolerance,” some will respond. No it isn’t. Tolerance doesn’t mean the same thing as equality. This is political correctness.
Compare this to a political convention, where the party has to make sure every faction has their say at the podium. The party may say they’re all “important.” But there’s no misunderstanding the pecking order – smaller, less significant groups get stuck on C-SPAN and go up against Regis Philbin, while the big names – Clinton, Ahnold, Kerry and Bush – they get the prime-time network coverage.
But imagine the Republicans had Bush speak at 3 a.m., while giving the prime-time network coverage to some obscure county commissioner running for re-election. See what I mean? When push comes to shove, political parties don’t try to pretend all groups have the same importance, carry the same weight and significance. And neither should we.
I know these rants of mine against Corporate America might strike some as odd, coming as they do from a conservative. Believe me, I’ve never forgotten that, as a friend of mine put it, “corporate America does produce jobs, after all.” And I still prefer capitalism to the other kinds of –isms out there.
But you notice that I always capitalize the word Corporate. I’m talking about an ideology unto itself, a way of group thought and group speak that I believe is extremely damaging to this country. It’s companies that don’t care about using pornography to advertise their products as along as people buy them, and television networks that don’t care what they show as long as people watch. It’s calling deviant behavior normal in order to court favor from special interest groups and make a buck off them, using corporate funds to support the abortion industry, and providing benefits to “domestic partners.” It’s all this and a hundred things more that call to mind the words from the Book of Wisdom, “But he considered our existence an idle game, and life a festival held for profit, for he says one must get money however one can, even by base means. For this man, more than all others, knows that he sins when he makes from earthy matter fragile vessels and graven images.” (Wisdom 15:12-13) And recall also the words of our Lord Himself, Who said, “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes!” (Matthew 18:7)
There are a lot of them out there, and they are the worst enemies that capitalism has, because they turn people against them, and the people start to wonder if there’s a better way. They force governments to regulate them because they can’t or won’t regulate themselves. And for all of us who do believe in a Christian form of capitalism, who think it’s better than the alternative, it’s up to us to do something. That’s why we speak up, we boycott, we call attention to the fact that something is not right. We run the risk of being mocked – called old-fashioned, fundamentalist, intolerant, mean-spirited. We may not be able to do much, but we do what we can – do it with love and charity in our hearts and words – and leave the rest in God’s hands.
It’s also why sometimes we don’t go to “free” lunches. We know the price of a free lunch can be too high a price to pay.
Wednesday, December 8, 2004
For those of you in the Twin Cities, go see Sarah at the Minnetonka (near Ridgedale) Borders Bookshop Cafe. She makes a fine Sugar-Free Milano Mocha. Smooooooth....
Books and coffee. Does it get any better?
My friend Badda-Blogger is a pretty bright guy, so when he told me about the allegorical implications of Frosty the Snowman, I had to sit up and take notice.
I’d always enjoyed the cartoon in something of a nostalgic way, as part of the memories of Christmases past. At that, I thought the plot was kind of thin. I mean, a kid thinking they can take a train to the North Pole on Christmas Eve? Without bringing any money? And then there’s the phony magician, the talking rabbit, and – well, you get the picture. You didn’t watch Frosty for the drama, you simply basked in its warm sepia glow.
But then Badda asked me if I’d ever noticed how the story of Frosty was an allegory for the life of Christ.
“What?” I think I said.
“Sure,” he replied, and proceeded to document the ways:
- His birth occurs in the dead of winter, much as Christ's birth is symbolized with the evergreen in winter (and obviously suggests miraculous life from a dead or virginal womb).
- Frosty always says, "Happy Birthday!" when he comes to life...strongly suggesting a birth... and the tradition of birthdays probably comes from the celebration of Christ's birth.
- Frosty’s self-sacrifice, going into the greenhouse to save Karen’s life even though he risks melting in the heat, much as Christ the Savior suffers and dies on the Cross.
- The resurrection – Santa opens the door to the greenhouse and the winter winds sweep into the room, bringing Frosty to life, in the same way that the Holy Spirit (often portrayed in the Bible as a wind) enters the Tomb.
- Frosty goes to the North Pole with Santa in his sleigh, as Christ Ascends into Heaven. Frosty returns every year with Santa (“I’ll be back again some day,” he sings in the song.) Christ, having been seated at the right hand of the Father, will come again in glory.
Interesting, hm? Of course, Badda added, “some folks will read that and think I'm making too much out of a tenuous connection. Those people may be right, but I only say that to be polite. It would be too much of a coincidence, otherwise. It's obviously magicked-up (or kid-story-ified) to make into a neat little story for children, but the inspiration is obvious. The producers might not have wanted to make a Christian story, and that's certainly possible... however, they clearly used the Christ story as inspiration."
All of a sudden, the story starts to make sense, and what until then had been a fairly one-dimensional cartoon (literally, given that the rest of the Rankin-Bass cartoons were done in that three-dimensional animation) has become, in fact, a much deeper and more complex parable. Now, maybe this is like Pink Floyd and the Wizard of Oz in that everyone in the world already knew about this and I’m just finding out. I’d be interested to hear if anyone out there has noticed a similar religious vein to the story. And I’d love to be able to ask Arthur Rankin, Jr., the producer, if either he or Romeo Muller, the writer of the story, had any intentions of this.
If not, of course, it’s just another example of how the Lord works through even the most common and ordinary means.
P.S. Here's a pretty neat website!
Tuesday, December 7, 2004
Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men
And welcome to those of you who are joining us via her link. We hope you'll come back often, and that you'll be free with your comments! As you might have suspected, we're not shy when it comes to controversy...
I agree generally with James Lileks' comments in his Back Fence column on Christmas songs that appeared in last Sunday's Star Tribune. Click here for that column. However, we part company with The Little Drummer Boy. I think he's intentially, for the sake of humor, missing the point.
I'm not one to wear my heart on my sleeve. I rarely cry except when my bare toe comes in contact with something more immovable than itself, say a wall or bedpost. But the other day on the way to work I was listening to the song on the radio and found tears coming to my eyes when I realized that here was the embodiment of Christian humility and the command to pray constantly by offering ourselves and everything we do to God. The little drummer boy has nothing but the talent that God gave him to offer back to Him. And he does so humbly, wondering if it is "fit to give a King." But then "Mary nodded" and the boy began to play. He was rewarded when the baby smiled at him.
How we all would like the baby to smile at us, saying, "Well done good and faithful servant." This can happen to us when we offer our own talents, however great or small they may be, in the service of the Lord. And in this season of Advent we can contemplate how to play our little drums all year long.
There used to be another station that played Christmas music, too, billing itself as "Christmas in the City." Now, they play a tune or two in between their regular fare. Each year the airtime on this station for seasonal songs has shrunk, like the Grinch's heart moving the wrong way. First it was only slightly noticeable. Then, they only played "holiday" or "winter" songs, leaving out the overtly religious carols. Except for instrumental versions or Enya singing Silent Night in Gaelic, so no one would be offended by the lyrics.
It's a religious holiday, no matter how much the secular world would like to pretend otherwise. I'm so tired of having to tiptoe around someone else's sensibilities. What about mine? If I were Jewish I could celebrate Hanukkah. If I were black, I could celebrate Kwanza. If I were Moslem I could celebrate Eid ul-Fitr. But because I'm Christian I can't celebrate Christmas. At least not in public. I have to say Happy Holidays or Season's Greetings. It was such a pleasure to listen to the live broadcast of the Christmas concert from St. Olaf College on public radio last weekend. It didn't pretend to be anything other than what it was - a glorious, joyous celebration of the impening birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. If this station wants to broadcast programs that celebrate the other holidays, fine. Please do. At least they had the courage to air something for Christians. At least I got mine.
I enjoy all the secular aspects of the season, but I take Christmas seriously and it must include the "reason for the season." Each year at Christmas Eve dinner we read Luke 2:1-20. We go to Midnight Mass (11 central). As a singer, I can't count the season complete unless I hear Handel's Messiah.
I think that others take it seriously too. Many years ago I sang with a chorus that was part of the Portland Symphony Orchestra's Magic of Christmas concerts. Over the years the concert schedule grew to include 11 concerts over two weekends. Most of the shows were sold out as people took time out of their busy schedules to doll up in their finery and attend a joyful, fun - magic - presentation of Christmas music with orchestra, chorus, soloists, bell ringers and boy choirs. Audiences eagerly awaited the show every year - almost as much as the chorus did. We were a dedicated group of volunteers who rehearsed for weeks and couldn't wait to sing ourselves hoarse. To this day you can wake me out of a sound sleep and I can sing the soprano part of the Halelluah Chorus from memory. We had fun, but we took it seriously. Partly it was because we had professional attitudes but for many of us, it was a way to play our little drum before the King. When a new conductor took over the reins of the orchestra one year, he decided to make some changes. He came from an orchestra that played around with Christmas, didn't take it quite so to heart. He included a song, the name of which escapes me now because I'm sure I've tried to ban it from my memory, that made fun of Christmas. Honestly, we tried to rehearse it. Some of us cried. Some of us were angry. All of us threatened to quit. The song was quickly replaced and the concerts went on, pleasing the audiences and the participants. To his credit, the conductor caught on rapidly and never tried to do that again. To make up for his previous faux pas, the next year he programmed Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus and conducted it in a beautifully deliberate manner which we had never experienced before. It was exquisite. And so is any act that pays homage to God in such a humble, prayerful way.
Monday, December 6, 2004
But right now I want to focus on the question of whether or not Catholics should contribute to the Salvation Army. According to Catholic Newsnet, the American Life League, and ETWN the Salvation Army is not a pro-life organization.
The Salvation Army's own website carries the following statement. While it certainly does not condone abortion, it ultimately defers the decision to the woman, her family, and "pastoral, medical, and other council." An excerpt:
The Salvation Army deplores society's ready acceptance of abortion, which reflects insufficient concern for vulnerable persons, including the unborn. (Psalms 82:3-4)
The Salvation Army holds to the Christian ideals of chastity before marriage and fidelity within the marriage relationship and, consistent with these ideals, supports measures to prevent crisis pregnancies. It is opposed to abortion as a means of birth control, family planning, sex selection or for any reason of mere convenience to avoid the responsibility for conception. Therefore, when an unwanted pregnancy occurs, The Salvation Army advises that the situation be accepted and that the pregnancy be carried to term, and offers supportive help and assistance with planning.
The Salvation Army recognizes tragic and perplexing circumstances that require difficult decisions regarding a pregnancy. Such decisions should be made only after prayerful and thoughtful consideration, with appropriate involvement of the woman's family and pastoral, medical and other counsel. A woman in these circumstances needs acceptance, love and compassion.
When an abortion has taken place, The Salvation Army will continue to show love and compassion and to offer its services and fellowship to those involved.
Forgive me, but does this sound something like the "personally opposed, but..." politician?
Here is the organization's statement on birth control. For Catholics, this statement should be even more clear-cut. Excerpt:
The Salvation Army supports the desire of many married couples to limit the number of children in their family and believes that there are morally acceptable, contraceptive solutions available to achieve this end.
The Salvation Army encourages the use of birth control methods that are contraceptive (i.e. that prevent conception) versus the use of methods that are abortifacient (i.e. that prevent implantation after fertilization). The Salvation Army is opposed to abortion as a means of birth control.
The Salvation Army does not oppose sterilization as a means of contraception. However, because it is generally irreversible in nature, such a procedure should be undertaken only after full consideration is given to spiritual, moral and practical ramifications.
I bring this up because I think there’s a lot of confusion about this. For example, Brian Saint-Paul, the editor of Crisis magazine, recently sent out an e-newsletter criticizing Target for their decision and expressing support for the Salvation Army and the work they do. Surprised, I emailed him with the information on SA’s abortion stand. I received a very gracious and considerate response from him, stating that he was going to update his earlier e-letter. When this becomes available, I'll post it on the site.
My point here isn’t to pick on Brian or any of the other Catholics who financially support the Salvation Army. Nor is it to toot my own horn – after all, I’m only reaping the benefit of someone else’s research. Rather, it’s the lack of communication on this issue. Catholics need to know the positions taken by organizations to which they lend financial support, especially religiously based ones (and remember, the Salvation Army isn’t just a religious charity, it’s actually a church). And the public needs to know this as well. There’s no doubt that the Salvation Army does a lot of fine charitable work. I was once a bell-ringer for them myself, many years ago before I knew about their policy. And that’s why you have to ask yourself the question – doesn’t their policy play right into the hands of the pro-abortion lobby’s argument that abortion is a charitable, indeed a merciful, thing to do, in the case of "tragic and perplexing circumstances"? Is this really the message we want to convey?
If the Salvation Army is no longer in support of abortion or birth control, they need to state this publicly, along with the supporting evidence, because the statements to which I've linked come right off their website.
And in the meantime, Catholics need to know what groups like the Salvation Army really stand for. This blog, and other blogs like it, is one way to accomplish it.
What’s that, you say? You’ve never heard of The Story of Christmas? Well, to tell you the truth, until a few months ago neither had I. I first discovered it while I was looking through an old 1963 Christmas Week TV Guide that I’d purchased to add to my collection (we’ll talk about that another time!). In it was a feature story on an upcoming special called The Story of Christmas. Specifically, the article talked about one segment of the program, an 18 1/2 minute animated sequence depicting the story of the Nativity done by artist Eyvind Earle, who had previously worked at the Disney studios on such movies as Fantasia and Sleeping Beauty. Now, The Story of Christmas is a pretty epic title for any program, even a television show, and an additional close-up in the program listings led me to believe that even then, the show must have been considered a big deal.
It was clear that the animated Nativity story was the centerpiece of the program. The color pictures in the TV Guide were striking, and the more I thought about it, the harder it was to believe there wasn’t more information out there. I Googled Earle’s name in hopes that perhaps there were more pictures, or even some footage, of the Nativity film. (As it turns out, Earle was actually quite famous for his Christmas card designs). Well, no luck in finding that, but I found something even better – this, from the Tennessee Ernie Ford website, of all places, which just goes to show you how terrific the Internet can be for finding out this kind of thing.
I’ve always thought that TV Guide was about as good a snapshot as you could get of what the social culture was like at any given time (see also this). Movies like Going My Way paint a vivid portrait of what our country used to be like - not necessarily a picture, but more like a painting; an idealized image perhaps, but the making of the image itself is a product of its time. But while they may show how Christmas used to be celebrated, it’s television, in the form of variety shows like The Story of Christmas and the old Bing Crosby specials (hokey though some of them may be) that demonstrates how Christmas was commemorated once upon a time; or, as the song says, they tell the "tales of the glories of Christmases long ago."
What makes the music last long after you're grown is something you sensed when you were a kid, a wistful tone that almost makes you sad to say goodbye to the Christmas not yet come. As an adult, you hear the sadness between the notes, the sense of loss for the Christmases of childhood. But the notes themselves are cheerful and offhandedly wise. As a kid you leaned forward into that mood; as an adult you look back to find it. And you meet right there, in the opening notes of each song.
Read the whole thing here. (Note: registration may be required.)
Wednesday, December 1, 2004
Christopher Buckley, No Way to Treat a First Lady
Work/life balance is not their birthright. Sorry, but the company’s shareholders probably aren’t concerned about their hobbies or outside interests. To carve out a job role that doesn’t interfere with their other life needs, they should find a way to achieve their balance that has positive (or at least neutral) impact on business results. Encourage them to be a top contributor, to stay at the cutting edge of their profession. This will give them some bargaining chips for the flexibility they crave.Well. I’m not quite sure what bothers me most about this paragraph – the condescending nature of it, or its sheer stupidity. After trying to figure out just how to address this mess, I finally decided the best way was simply to go step-by-step.
Work/life balance is not their birthright. Sorry, but the company’s shareholders probably aren’t concerned about their hobbies or outside interests.
There is such an arrogance about this statement. Oh, I suppose technically they’re right. In my pocket copy of the Constitution I don’t see the right to a balanced life anywhere (unless it’s next to the right to privacy that guarantees you the right to an abortion).
But look at what the words are saying. You don’t have the “right” to a balance between your home life (hereinafter referred to as “real” life) and your work life. We all suspected that most employers felt this way, but you seldom get to see it printed in black-and-white like this. The Catholic Church has always affirmed the dignity of work, as far back as “Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of Labor)” by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. And yet it’s hard to see how, when you’re confronted by an attitude like this, you can find much dignity in what you do.
For an opposing viewpoint, let’s take a look at what Pope John Paul II said regarding the dignity of work in his 1981 encyclical “Laborem exercens (On Human Work)”
But above all we must remember the priority of labor over capital: labor is the cause of production; capital, or the means of production, is its mere instrument or tool. (#12)
Yet the workers' rights cannot be doomed to be the mere result of economic systems aimed at maximum profits. The thing that must shape the whole economy is respect for the workers' rights within each country and all through the world's economy. (#17)
As Pat Buchanan once said, America needs to worship at a higher altar than the bottom line. When an employee is viewed merely as a statistic, an economic commodity, rather than a human being, then the system loses moral credibility. I’ve often thought that one of the turning points in capitalism came when we started moving away from “Personnel Department” towards “Human Resources,” turning the employee away from his personhood and instead into a resource, like a roll of Scotch tape.
To carve out a job role that doesn’t interfere with their other life needs, they should find a way to achieve their balance that has positive (or at least neutral) impact on business results.First of all, it’s clear that in the mind of whoever wrote this atrocious paragraph, “other life needs” are optional – something that only a few of us have. Furthermore, it’s a pretty distasteful thing to have other needs, isn’t it? How dare you! Don’t you know that you should only live to work? Again, the Holy Father writes:
We must pay more attention to the one who works than to what the worker does. The self-realization of the human person is the measure of what is right and wrong. Work is in the first place "for the worker" and not the worker "for work." Work itself can have greater or lesser objective value, but all work should be judged by the measure of dignity given to the person who carries it out. (Laborem exercens, #6)
Not to this company, apparently. Let’s look at that last sentence again:
“To carve out a job role that doesn’t interfere with their other life needs, they should find a way to achieve their balance that has positive (or at least neutral) impact on business results”
Hmm, that’s what I thought it said – your work life takes primacy over your personal life, and your personal life must be adapted to cause the least possible interference with your work life.
See how easy this is? Let’s continue:
Encourage them to be a top contributor, to stay at the cutting edge of their profession. This will give them some bargaining chips for the flexibility they crave.
Boy, you have to hand it to the author – writing something like that really takes guts. The best way to achieve a balance in life is to become a workaholic! That may not be what it actually says, but let’s read between the lines. How many companies are enlightened enough to realize that “top contributor” is not synonymous with “long hours”? In response, let’s look at an excerpt from the Labor Day 2001 Pastoral Message of Bishop Michael Saltarelli, Diocese of Wilmington:
Workaholism is a specifically American form of spiritual lukewarmness rooted in the consumerism of our culture. Seeing our careers and work life as a way to holiness prevents us from turning our work into an idol that alienates us from our faith, our spouses, our families and ourselves. Workaholism results in a damaging fallout. Marriages fail or are strained. Children do not receive the attention and nurturing they need. Families experience little or no time together. Family meal times rarely occur. Family celebrations are few and far between.
Ironically, I heard of a company that recently had an internal promotion asking everyone to make a commitment to spend one day eating dinner with their family. This while the same company specializes in producing food products designed to make it as easy as possible to eat on the run without being bothered by such annoying things as “family time.” This chicken-and-egg question – whether companies are responding to or creating such needs – is something we can pick up another time.
It doesn’t have to be this way, of course, and there’s encouraging evidence that some companies are breaking out of this mold. Best Buy is in the process of rolling out a new way of looking at productivity and the workplace, as was pointed out in a November 8 Minneapolis Star Tribune article about ROWE, which stands for Results-Oriented Work Environment.
"Most employers should be able to say, 'All right, this is your job. This is the value created by your job. It is a full-time job, but if you can get it done in 25 hours well, mazel tov, congratulations,' " said Paul Rupert, a workplace flexibility consultant in Washington, D.C. "But the number of companies in which that scenario happily plays out could be counted on one hand.”
According to the author of the article, ROWE came out of Best Buy’s attempt to answer the question: How can we be the employer of choice?
Workers responded with a chorus of "We want to be trusted to do our work the way we feel is best for us, that can get the best results," said Cali Ressler, who leads work-life programs at the consumer electronics retailer. "They also said, 'We want to be able to balance our personal lives with that work.' "
This coincides nicely with the following comment from the Holy Father:
Workers not only want fair pay, they also want to share in the responsibility and creativity of the very work process. They want to feel that they are working for themselves -- an awareness that is smothered in a bureaucratic system where they only feel themselves to be "cogs" in a huge machine moved from above. (Laborem exercens, #13)
Don’t get me wrong – the employee has definite obligations to the employer, many of them found in the Ten Commandments. When you’re at work, your time belongs to the person who’s signing your check. If you’re getting paid for work you’re not doing, that’s stealing. As the Pope says, “Work remains a good thing, not only because it is useful and enjoyable, but also because it expresses and increases the worker's dignity.” And therein lies the rub. The employer has responsibilities to the employee as well, the responsibility to treat him with the dignity befitting a person, not simply a resource. Part of that dignity is to create a workplace in which the employee can deal with what it means to be a person – problems at home, problems with loved ones. Even, heaven forbid, problems in maintaining the proper balance between work and home. Bishop Saltarelli:
By contrast, workers find the connection between faith and work more difficult to make when they feel that management lacks integrity or does not respect the opinions and ideas of the workers. In those cases, people are more apt to see work as a means of economic survival and not as God's gift.
Well, why shouldn’t they? I had a boss tell me once that the only thing the company owed you was a paycheck, and that if you weren’t willing to play by those rules you were free to leave, because that’s all you owed the company as well.
In conclusion, there’s an important message here, one that, however unintentionally, this particular Human Resources document brings up: Just because the company owns your time, it doesn’t mean it owns your life or your soul. That’s a message all too often lost on Corporate America.
For the complete text of the Holy Father's encyclical, click here.