Saturday, December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas
This is the first of what I hope will be a long line of Christmas Day blogs. I had a whole essay planned out in my head, thought through in detail over the past few days—but I wanted to save the actual writing for Christmas Day itself. Little did I know that the events of Christmas Eve would completely change what I had to say. Luckily, the new thoughts can still tie into the articles I intended to include, so hopefully this won't be too disjointed. Before you read what I have to say, I want you each to know how grateful I am that you are visiting my site. I don't have nearly the readership of the Glenn Reynolds or Andrew Sullivans of the world, but fundamentally I blog to be read. It is my readership that keeps me coming back, and that encourages me to do better each time (yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I often fall short of improvement, but what can you do?). So thank you for your presence—and Merry Christmas to you and all of your loved ones.

When I was a little boy, Christmas Eve did not mean very much in the grand scheme of things. At about 3:00 I had to put on my little khaki pants, my little navy blazer, and a tie, to head over to the church for choir rehearsal. We would rehearse for an hour and a half or so, before singing the choral prelude, followed by the Christmas Service itself. Afterward, we would go to the house of some fellow parishioners and stay until around the time that people started leaving to go to the midnight mass—at which point we would go home, and my brother and I would head to bed.

Most of this, in my mind, simply led up to the next morning. That, of course, was the entire point of the holiday: presents. I was young enough that I didn't really care about the religious aspect of the day. "Sure, baby Jesus was born, and he was God or something, right? Now, what was that about a new computer game?" I was the stereotypical, consumer-driven American automaton.

Over the past four years or so, however, I've grown quite a bit spiritually. I'm still an Episcopalian, as I was raised. I love the tradition, particularly of the high church with its chanting and incense and so on. And I love Christmas for those reasons—because I am back in the church where I was raised, singing the hymns I know, with my family and the people I grew up around. That's comforting. It feels good. Christmas, yes, is a time of love and family. Of showing one another how much we care.

But I love Christmas even more because of itself. I love the way it inspires me to introspective questions of faith. I love the way I am so confident in my belief that millennia ago, a baby was born to a virgin woman—and that baby was fully God and fully man, come to earth to save us from ourselves. This used to be a big sticking point for me, as it really sounds like a science fiction tale. But more and more I find myself unable to accept a world without God. As a fellow Episcopalian put it this week: "Of course, the human mind can be deceived. But there are some matters in which internal human experience can neither be usefully dissected nor practically gainsaid. One may refuse to accept that there is a meaningful concept of God as one may refuse to accept that there is a meaningful concept of beauty or love. But what is such a refusal in balance with the kiss of your soul mate, or the playing of a Bach cantata, or the overwhelming awareness of God's guidance and care?"

And we can debate the usefulness of Christmas in a secular society, as I've done for about two weeks now, or what actually happened over two thousand years ago, or even why we celebrate Christmas when we do, but none of it, none, even approaches that central theme of this date. We are able to spend it in love with family and friends because God has granted us that ability. In His infinite love, we are given leave to love one another, to tolerate those who disagree with us, and to find happiness in the simplest things, be it a holiday snowfall, a warm bed, a kind gift from a loved one, or even just a day off from work. We are free, thanks to His kindness, and we must always remember that the only thing he wishes of us, the only way he expects us to repay him is with peace and goodwill towards men.

I'll leave you with my favorite gospel passage, in my favorite translation. This is Luke, chapter 2, verses 1 through 14, and, as Charlie Brown learns in A Charlie Brown Christmas, it is what Christmas is truly all about. This is how God came into the world, and whether you believe in it or not, this is what the miracle of Christmas is all about:

1And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
2(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
3And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David)
5To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
6And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
7And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Important enough for a Christmas wish
This is something of which I hope to see more.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Adorable
This is one of the most adorable things I have ever read.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Ummmmmm...
Oops.

Dumber than fiction?
Here is a true scan of the New York StateU. S. Electoral College 2004 Certificate. If you can't figure out what's wrong, look closely at the name chosen for President. Apparently, John F. Kerry got 31 fewer electoral votes than we expected. No, wait, 32, thanks to that mystery faithless elector in Minnesota.

Electoral College voters were disenfranchised! Where's Jesse Jackson when you need him?

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Another Christmas Round-Up
Don't try to tell me that it's about the commercialization of christmas; it's about much more than that.

Say 'Merry Christmas' while you still can: "In one New Jersey school district, the annual trip to see Dickens's A Christmas Carol has been cancelled after threats of legal action. At another New Jersey school, the policy on not singing any songs mentioning God, Christ, angels, etc, has been expanded to prohibit instrumental performances of music that would mention God if any singers were around to sing the words. So you can't do Silent Night as a piano solo or Handel's Messiah even if you junk the hallelujahs." That's just absurd, and pathetic—and completely unrelated to commercialism.

And EJ Dionne gets his fisking: "But while the old Dionne would have written about the need to make space for the religious in public life, today's column makes only a glancing comment about intolerance among the anti-religious and spends most of its column-inches denouncing those who want to see some mangers, trees, and actual Christmas carols as 'pounding' those of a different tribe."

UPDATE [12/22/2004 - 10:20]: Lileks responds to a fisking of his earlier christmas column. Once again, he does a great job of expressing my interest in the subject: "For that matter I suspect that 98.025 of the population has no trouble with Merry Christmas shouted long and loud and clear this time of the year. Why, then, do the retail giants and big corporations seem to get a frozen Joker-smile when you bring it up? Yes, I know. Macy's says 'Merry Christmas' in tiny type on their website; dandy. But Southdale, the nation's first enclosed shopping mall, hung MERRY CHRISTMAS in six-foot tall letters in 1963. This year? Not a word. Big candles, though. If you don't think that's an interesting development, or wonder why it happened or what it means, fine."

Let me make it clear once and for all: I do not feel in any way threatened by society's current unwillingness to say "Merry Christmas," or by the exclusion of Christmas from public life. Why am I not threatened? Because I am strong enough in my own faith that I don't need everyone around me to share or even recognize it to bolster my self-confidence. Like Lileks, however, I find this evolution of societal rules interesting; and perhaps a little more severely than Lileks, I find it sad. I think it's too bad that so many are disturbed by the traditional public display of the Christmas season. I think it's silly, and ignorant, to pretend that singing a Christmas song in a public school is a dangerous activity. I think we are reaching the point where we so shelter our kids that in a few generations they will be unable to deal with the real world. We are overly protective of every aspect of life now, and so worried about offending other people that we go too far. When you can establish for me that Christmas is a dangerous influence on non-Christians, I'll shut up. But in the meantime, it's silly to be so hyper-sensitive.

I think I've figured it out
Finally, I think I understand why the Left can't figure out how to win elections. Amazingly, the clue came to me from Daily Kos's musings on why the President won reelection: "The left is already working to build it's own version of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy -- the $300 million annual machine that developes the conservative message (think tanks), disseminates it to the public (Fox News, Rush), and trains their leaders in how to wield it."

So, what did I gleam from this? The Left just doesn't get that they already have their own mass-dissemination system—that the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy rose in response to the fact that we were out-messaged at every turn. What develops the liberal message? All of academia. What disseminates it to the public? The entire news media aside from Fox News and conservative talk radio. It's the last step that they never got right: training their leaders how to use it.

As long as they continue to deny their strength, they'll continue to fail to make use of it. Which, of course, is fine with me.

Monday, December 20, 2004

More on Christmas
John Leo: "Some PC people have begun to argue that even 'Jingle Bells' is a church-state no-no. Santa Claus, a totally secular figure, is controversial because he was originally based on St. Nicholas. Horrors . Then let's ban the word goodbye, which evolved from 'God be with you.'"

Right on target. This is going to ridiculous lengths, and we are to the point of protecting the minority at the expense of the VAST majority. 95% of Americans celebrate Christmas in some form or another. Can we get past the 5% and realize that if they are strong enough to insist that we stop celebrating in public, then they are strong enough to deal with that celebration?

I want to get back to the old way of doing things. How would I know what that was like? Well, my standard is pretty low—I just want to get to the point where, in church, on Christmas Eve, the person in front of me turns and says "Merry Christmas." These days, everyone is so conditioned to avoid that awful 'C' word that, even in that context, I am more likely to hear "Happy Holidays."

UPDATE [12/21/2004 - 12:22]: My posting on DailyKos has led more than a few critics of conservative theory to visit my blog, and comment on this post specifically (they're too lazy to scroll down, apparently). This, in turn, has spawned frustrated responses from me. As a result, James has mad a very accurate observation

Sunday, December 19, 2004

A Personal Record
According to my Site Meter counter, I'm about to hit 10,000 visitors since this site's inception.

UPDATE [12/19/2004 - 21:43]: I crossed 10,000 at 9:38 PM Eastern. Congratulations to me.

Blue-state Living
It ain't cheap: "One index of cost-of-living differentials shows that an income of $130,000 in Connecticut is equivalent to $90,000 in Oklahoma. That means families at those incomes are equally well-off and under standard tax theories about fairness should pay the same share of their income in taxes. Currently, a family of four making $130,000 pays $20,450 in income taxes, or 15.7%, while the family making $90,000 pays $8,450, or 9.4%. If both families were taxed at the Oklahoma rate, the Connecticut family would pay $8,200 less."

Somehow doesn't sound quite fair to me.

Pretty Cool
Sometimes it feels really good to be an American.