Sunday, December 15, 2013

"War" On Christmas

It's kind of hard to imagine a more idiotic idea.

I'm willing to bet that if you drive or walk through any area in and around your home, you will see windows ablaze with candles, trees festooned with lights, inflatable Santas, candy cane decorations attached to light poles, and a massive panoply of other signs that it is Christmastime. I'm certain if you tune to your favorite radio station, you will hear at least a handful of Christmas carols, in every genre of music imaginable. Every store will be swathed in exhortations to come inside and fulfill your holiday shopping list.

So to anyone ringing the klaxon to rouse the troops to do battle for the soul of Christmas, I have two words for you:

Bah! Humbug!

I hasten to believe that most people who shriek affirmations about the death of Christmas are simply parrots, squawking out timeworn phrases and a liturgy of offenses toward the holiday which is meant to signify the birth of Jesus Christ. I say signify, because we have no idea when Christ was born. Even our whole means of numbering years is based on the false assumption that would could know exactly what year the Christian Savior was born in.

The holiday, Christmas, is a fabrication, built by the early Roman Catholic Church to coincide with the pagan rituals of the Winter Solstice, to imbue the season with more of God's power. It was a not-so-subtle attempt to nullify the strength of other belief systems, and make it seem like it was God's will all along that there be a celebration at this time of year. As centuries passed and Catholicism spread, the trappings of other belief systems and other societies became enfolded within the aegis of Christmas, leading to the holiday we see today.

Except the holiday we see today is a bastardization of the true spirit and intent of the original holiday. And no, it is not the secular, First Amendment rights waving crowd that has done this, but the ordinary person, by losing contact with the ideas behind Christmas. It is ironic that in 1965, one of the most beloved Christmas TV specials, "A Charlie Brown Christmas," bemoaned the commercialization of the holiday and the loss of focus on its meaning. Almost 50 years later, and the same special rings as true now as it did then.

If there's truly a "War" on Christmas, it is fought by those who use it to their own ends, to settle political scores, to weaken the separation of Church & State, to promote Christianity over any other religious belief system. It is the proselytizers and profiteers who have declared war on the holiday, not those of us who would see each and every one of us celebrate -- or not -- it in their own way. Christmas has become an economic engine, a religious meat-grinder, a political cause célèbre, for those who are less interested in its meaning and more interested in the leverage it can afford them.

Nowhere is that more self-evident than with the subset of the season's political propaganda, the "Keep Christ in Christmas" movement, engineered to be the modern version of the bony finger of Dickens' Ghost of Future Yet to Come. This popular screed may be seen on the bumpers of cars in the parking lots of big box retail stores the day after Thanksgiving, as people swarm and surge forward to secure the consumer goods which are the "reason for the season." It is seen in popular media, as we are told that by forbearing Christ on his sacred day we are somehow bad people; right after, we are told that the President, the poor, the Liberals, and the immigrants are responsible for our pitiful lot in life, and they should be shunned and smacked down.

The fact is: Christ is not part of the Christmas we know it now. The Christ born in Bethlehem eschewed wealth, spoke of peace and justice, and most importantly, implored us to help those less fortunate than themselves. While many find Christmas an excuse to perform the charity that they cannot be bothered with the other 364 days a year, the whole lesson of Christ's birth and eventual death is lost to them. They see Christmas and its trappings as meaning, in and of itself, never stepping too far away from the comfort of their preconceived notions. Anyone who does not share their view is branded a traitor.

The other fact of import, which those who holler so maddeningly about the "War" on Christmas often ignore, is that Christmas is only one small facet of Christ's life. Christ should not be confined to Christmas, anymore than to Easter. The idea the young Jewish rabbi promoted was that we must do good work among the people every day, not just when it is convenient or useful. The stories of the New Testament tell us of a man who preached the gospel of love and compassion, and expected his followers not to preach, but to do. There is no better way to honor the birth of Christ, his life, or his death, than to follow in his footsteps, spreading love and charity wherever we go. Christ must not be kept in Christmas, but in our hearts.

So when the phrase "War on Christmas" passes someones lips, assume they are confused, show them compassion, and turn their rhetorical swords into charitable plowshares. If we show them, by example, the true meaning of Christmas, perhaps they will tire of the fight.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Madiba Smiles

When the jailer whistles
Madiba smiles

When the child plays
Madiba smiles

When enemies embrace
Madiba smiles

When sunshine touches his face
Madiba smiles

When Madiba smiles
The world smiles with him

Friday, November 22, 2013

11/22/1963

It did not last
That sunny day
The clouds came
Dimming hearts
A hero felled
By the arcs
Of copper gnats
Buzzing through the air
With furious energy
And murderous intent
The harbingers of a madman
Who made everyone
Know his name
By shooting the lights out
Placing a loving wife
And two beautiful children
In the dark
Along with a nation

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Dirty Dozen

One dozen years.

12 Septembers.

Cloudy ones. Cool ones. Rainy ones. Warm ones. Humid ones. None, quite like that day.

If we are enjoined never to forget, perhaps it is better to say we should remember, because memory works best where it is recalled always, and not left to languish until the page turns on the calendar.

Remember.

Remember the horror at watching it unfold live, in our homes, our offices, our schools.

Remember the panic, not knowing what was happening.

Remember the confusion, as events unfolded.

Remember the heroes, who drove toward the disaster.

Remember the helpers, who put aside their own fear to help others in need.

Remember the masses, streaming from the city, struggling to get away.

Remember the silence that fell as traffic stopped, trains stopped, people stopped.

Remember the shocking sight of buildings falling, debris flying, and people dying unseen.

Remember the moonscape left behind by clouds of cement.

Remember the frantic attempts to find survivors.

Remember the posters placed on every wall, every street corner, every door, every window, with names and pictures of the missing.

Remember the pile of twisted metal and smoldering rubble.

Remember the months of toil.

Most of all, remember that we came together, as a nation, unified in purpose.

Remember.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Syria: What To Do?

No choice can be clear. No choice can be definitive. Ultimately, we have no idea how any of the presented scenarios will impact Syria. Even simply remaining outside the problem and ignoring it is fraught with peril, if Syria falls to elements who have the intent of creating a paradise for fanatical & radical elements of Islam. What we're going through with Syria now is akin to situations that have sprung up throughout history, where some nations have had to determine whether intercession in the affairs of another nation were to their betterment or detriment.

This isn't about President Obama, or the partisan split in Washington, D.C., or even about military jingoism and the furtherance of failed Imperialistic policies. It comes down to this: how much do we care about the people of Syria? You can cloak this issue in any talking point you choose, wrap it in discord, fluff it with care & concern, but as each second ticks away, bodies fall. They've been falling steadily for two years. It's Syria's civil war but it's humanity's view of the future: are we willing to accept the wholesale slaughter of a nation by its government?

We're ones to talk. America has its own chemical weapons, America has killed thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions in war. We fought one of the bloodier civil wars in known memory. Where do we get off dictating who can do what to whom?

It's not really that simple, anymore.

Human history is replete with atrocity. Just in the last 100 years, tens of millions have been fed into the meat grinder that is geopolitical conflict and dictatorial overreach. We have now harbored weapons for close to seventy years that have the capacity to eradicate all human life on the planet. We have stood each other off with pointed sticks, cold steel, hot lead, the fiery hearts of stars, the insidious clutches of vile microbes, and the misty smoke of caustic chemicals. We have reached the pinnacle of destructive power. No amount of wishful thinking or eye blinking will make it all go away.

But we live in an unprecedented time, when technology has placed the happenings on our planet in our living rooms in minutes, and given us access to people globally in seconds. What happens anywhere is suddenly accessible at almost any moment, and people who were lines in a newspaper or on a map are now flesh-and-blood before us. Conflict and strife are no longer distant rumblings; the people involved in them are no longer strangers.

If we want peace, we have to make it. Preferably through forbearance, forgiveness, and friendship, but we must also accept that we, as a species, being on the cusp of breaking from the long, gloomy traditions of violence that plague us, cannot always simply toss aside the tools of war. If we must take up arms against a sea of troubles, let those who take them up do so with the noblest intent, despite whatever may have come before. Let a precedent be set that says we will end destructive conflicts with words, with gestures, with diplomacy, where we can, but we will not be afraid to end them as we must.

"Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent," Isaac Asimov wrote in his novel "Foundation," and it is definitive in its indictment of war mongering as a means to an end. That phrase, however, means more when yours is a society that is no longer locked in the shackles of conflict, when your leverage is not merely at the end of a gun barrel. Right now, we are incompetent, and remain so until we can tamp down the sparks that set alight the conflagrations that engulf races, cultures, countries, and creeds.

So let us choose wisely, but let us choose, and let us know that whatever the choice, there will be consequences and repercussions, unseen and unbidden. People will still die, but perhaps we can pave a better road to peace by showing our resolve to have peace. When it is over, we will bury the dead, ask forgiveness, and move on, as humans always have, hopefully wiser and more resolute not to let it happen again.