Tag Archives: Christmas

Obamacare, the long Christmas and Inauguration Day

With its embedded links this post is a kind of ambitious round up. It comes on the twelfth day of Christmas and a time for  dealing with cold weather in Louisiana. January 6, 2017 the votes of the Electoral College have been certified on the Feast of the Epiphany. I have written about the Epiphany before and about the bridge between Christmas Season and Carnival Season. I have discussed much of the meaning of Christmas as I see it in an unpublished novel, several chapters of which I have included in this blog as well. I am not celebrating in great style this year, I covered some plants against the cold. i smoked a cigar and shared some hot cocoa in two different occasions with two different friends  –and the day is not over just yet.

 

I started typing this post  today on the Feast of the Epiphany — January 6. My thoughts included the following Epiphany related thoughts, “I love to go to Mass on that day but it did not seem to be likely this year. I love a lot of things I do not do. I love to buy a King Cake but probably won’t make that happen either. ” This was also the same January sixth when there was cold weather that needed to be dealt with and when I had to help a friend at the library delete a Facebook account. Then while I had already been thinking about the certified votes I had a chance to hear and see some of them during the break between typing and editing here.

Donald Trump ran in part on the promise that people would start saying “Merry Christmas” again. (I have blogged a good bit about Christmas and love it plenty well.) My sister’s recent blog post about a Christmas tree.  But about much more than a Christmas tree. But like many things Christmas is a complicated matter if you look at it hard enough. The holiday season is not the only thing in contention (having ended for most Americans but not all). The new assault on an airport in Florida has many Americans facing this day with familiar and not festive feelings.

 

There has been a bit more fuss than usual in this certification day in Congress. I also noted a greater awareness in the morning news shows that this was the day assigned for the Congress to certify the Electoral Votes of each State.  However, the protests appear to have been ineffectual,the process moving the President -Elect one step closer to being President. The heritage of representative government and electoral governance and Western Civilization are linked in complex ways. But when we think of Greek roots of Democracy we must remember Greek roots of organized Royalist Monarchy and Aristocracy as well. The Greek ideas of the role of the One, the Many and the Few are beyond what I can discuss today but Greece continues to yield up new wonders from its storied past .I remain convinced that our Constitutional tradition needs to be both relatively conservative and dynamic. I have spelled that out here and here — at least in brief. I have said much more in other places in the blog. But this is the star of a new year and the start of a new Presidential administration is on the way and I am in no position to exert influence of any kind. One of the issues in this transition relates to the nature and state of race relations in the United States of America. Two stories frame this debated and reported struggle. One story is the sentencing phase of the trial of Dylan Roof, convicted of the Hate Crime killing of the people known as the Charleston Nine:

  • Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd (54)
  • Susie Jackson (87)
  • Ethel Lee Lance (70)
  • Depayne Middleton-Doctor (49)
  • Clementa C. Pinckney (41)
  • Tywanza Sanders (26)
  • Daniel Simmons (74)
  • Sharonda Coleman-Singleton (45)
  • Myra Thompson (59)

While only one of these was a politician several were leaders in the Black Church communities int he region. Dylan Roof gives every evidence of being a militant and selective terrorist. The other story is that of the hate crimes committed by four African Americans against a white guy of limited capacities which was broadcast on Facebook Live. these things remind us all of the racial tensions and animosities that exist in this country.

Those extreme situations only underline and bookend the much large tensions that involve race and other factors in more complicated ways. The Obamacare issues and the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act are only part of the overall struggle. people who do lots of work for which they are not paid at all or are paid far less than one can survive on are taxed and fined to pay for the most irresponsible, expensive and uncontrolled medical economy in the world  on behalf of those privileged to have had good jobs are willing to admit that they have no work at all. Our society is deeply corrupt in countless ways that rest heaviest on those most victimized by Obamacare. the repeal will likely benefit not those people as much as the richer people who will pay less for the healthcare insurance premiums under a new regime and the more successful small business people who may see their deductibles go down. For some people it may always seem like Santa Claus is coming on Christmas to those watching, for others like the winter in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia — very cold and brutal with no Christmas in sight. The middle fifty percent are the ones who can really afford to get excited about arguing the merits of the plans put forth.

For me this portends to be a very bleak year. But the actual Christmas that is ending has been better than average. I would like to hope for a happy New Year as well. But I am not there yet….

 

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Advent, Christmas, Donors Dinner and My Time

This morning I stopped by the hospital to visit with my uncle who is recovering from emergency surgery to remove his spleen. I was working om lawn and garden projects and went with my mother to his house when he was stricken with the kind of sudden attack which caused us to urge him to call an ambulance. I waved the firemen who arrived first to the correct door and later the ambulance as well. But did not know until much later what exactly his situation was. His trauma was the biggest event of the past few days and he is still in my prayers. Tomorrow morning I am also scheduled to return to the seven o’clock a.m. eucharistic ministry. So I am on the computer at a time when I would often be participating in the anticipated or vigil mass.

But the night before last, Thursday (December 1, 2016) I attended the annual Family Missions Company Donors Dinner. It is an event that I have often attended and  Family Missions Company is an institution that I have posted about before in varied contexts. It was a blessing to be there, hear the various reports both financial as well as the outreach reports of various missions and missionaries. the food was good and I rejoiced in the outing as well.

 

This is a nice start to the process of continuing Advent and starting to celebrate Christmas. But I also want to recognize the fairly bleak and gloomy feel that has come to dominate the holiday season for me over the years. I have posted a variety of things about Advent over the years — here, here and here. I have also posted about Christmas here , here and here for example. But today I simply have to say that I have a lot to consider as I deal with the disappointing realities of my life this Christmas. Sunday evenings I often eat supper with my parents and last Sunday evening we dressed the Jesse tree with ornaments from Old Testament events and lit the Advent wreath and said the Advent prayers. I enjoyed this just as I enjoyed the organization specific tradition of singing the hymn Joy to the World at the end of the Donors Dinner activities. But the holidays are hard on some people and for me more hard than not in recent years and a little harder every year.

But it is not over yet. Nor is the fact of my own relative happiness or unhappiness very important. Jesus’s birth matters to me. The investment I have made in Christmas trails some glory in the dark valley of my present and future. And although this season seems like gloomy and depressing and even dreadful prospect for me personally that is not the sum and total of all that the season is… there will be the memories of good times as well.

Christmas Story: The first chapters of a working draft of my New Novel of Jesus’s life

An image showing the basis of all this Christmas celebration.

An image showing the basis of all this Christmas celebration.

This has to be read in linked portions or it might crash this site. Here is the first chapter.  Then the second  chapter, the third chapter  and the fourth chapter as well as the fifth chapter are here in links. This is as you can see a bit of Christmas longer than this little passage. If you are still reading then continue with the sixth chapter, the seventh chapter, the eighth chapter, the ninth chapter, the tenth chapter and the eleventh chapter. You will becoming in for a long home stretch now with chapter twelve, chapter thirteen, chapter fourteen, chapter fifteen, chapter sixteen and chapter seventeen. Merry Christmas and Happy Feast of the Epiphany.

My niece's early Christmas can be remembered but not recaptured.

My niece’s early Christmas can be remembered but not recaptured.

Christmas and New Year’s Eve 2014: Overview

DO I LOVE CHRISTMAS?  I found myself asking myself that question this year a few times. I do not keep it as well, enjoy it as much or find as much hope as I did in years when I could face the suffering associated with the season differently than I find I can now. But I do love Christmas. I hope I will find a way to love this particular Christmas and so will you whoever you are.

Me in front of a Christmas lights nativity scene shot by one of the proprietors on my phone as I walked into the Donors Dinner.

Me in front of a Christmas lights nativity scene shot by one of the proprietors on my phone as I walked into the Donors Dinner.

There is a lot to post about and yet not the kind of post to write which fills me with drive and inspiration. I believe in Christ and in Christmas. There is no shortage of  joy in which some memories are lit despite the abundance of sorrows and shadows in the past as well. Christmas will always matter and be important to me.

I like the original Charlie Brown Christmas Special which in the most secular reaches of American popular Christmas culture  reaches out with a reading of the Gospel of St. Luke and the Infancy narrative which  so beautifully captures all of the essence of Christmas.  The classic Christmas story is contained in the second chapter of Saint Luke’s Gospel verses two through twenty. It does not seem like so many words for such a big holiday. This first big quote comes from a translation known as the New International Version of the Bible. Later quotes from the other Gospels come from the New American Bible Translation.

The Birth of Jesus

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)3 And everyone went to his own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

 

An image showing the basis of all this Christmas celebration.

An image showing the basis of all this Christmas celebration.

To write of Christmas is to write of so very much. To write even of the Christmas Days I remember is surely to write of a subject that could fill a book well enough.  When books are needed I think first and foremost of the Gospels. My heart is still moved by those glad tidings. Not so moved as the  heart ought to be perhaps but moved. What does it mean?  Surely, it means several things but what is the spiritual original context?

The first chapter of the Good News of Jesus Christ According to Saint John tells us:  “In the Beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” After telling a few words of how this mystery operates John assures us that God sent John the Baptist who was not such an eternal being to prepare the way for this Word.  This great mysterious Divine being  had come into Earth and history and is at the heart of the Gospel.  The fourteenth verse gets to the crux of the matter. This being is not a visiting angel or elemental principle, rather:

“And the Word became flesh

And made his dwelling among us,

And we saw his glory,

The glory as of the Father’s only Son,

Full of grace and truth.”

Saint John then is the Evangelist who tells us the most clearly of the Divine Nature of the Christ and how his coming into human flesh through the nature of pregnancy and birth and family brought the Divine and Human into One in Jesus Christ. According to Saint Matthew’s Gospel in the first chapter and eighteenth birth this incarnation of the Divine Word happened in a very specific way:

Now, this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.

When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,

but before they lived together,

she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.”

Matthew will soon tell us of how Jesus is born in Bethlehem and visited by the Magi. But all of the story of how they got to Bethlehem and how Mary found herself with child by the Holy Spirit are found in Luke’s Gospel.  Luke is really the Christmas Evangelist above all others.  In the first chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel he describes the Angel Gabriel visiting Mary and her conversation  with him as the time when the Holy Spirit was revealed to be coming upon her. Pregnant she visits her cousin Elizabeth the now pregnant  but long barren wife of a priest at the Jerusalem temple.  She stayed there to  help her cousin be helped and to witness the birth of Jesus’s cousin John who is in the early chapters of all four Gospels.  She and Joseph marry after (according to Saint Matthew) angel had instructed him on the nature of the holy child.

I think of all that Christmas is and not only its origins or even its spiritual aspects.

The quotes from the centuries since the  first Noel which appear in this post are previously collected. Some I read in their original context and some I did not but they come from Goodreads, Brainy Quote and Bartlett’s Famous Quotations.  I will also note that my own writings about Christmas in this blog include this year’s offering here and here. Also earlier years led me to write this and this. These last two posts are not all I have written here they are a good enough sample for those inclined to read them.

Most Americans and most residents of Christendom believe Christmas is and should be a very good occasion. Benjamin Franklin stated, “A good conscience is a continual Christmas”. Franklin expected all his audience to think Christmas was a very nice thing to have.  Hope, peace, rest and good food have meant a lot to many people.   On this holiday of well-known practices one can base deeper meaning and higher hopes as Washington Irving wrote “Christmas is a season for kindling the fire for hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.”  We all want to find a little Christmas we can keep well if we are honest with ourselves. This is most true for Christians but also for to others who catch the scent of the season.

But we also know it is not easy. Not always do we w feel bettered by the season. Sometimes the most we can do is agree with Lake Woebegone writer Garrison Keillor — “A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together”.

I have run lot of errands and I have bought lots of things on behalf of other people.  I have seen others buying and selling some I think were well enough aware at the  donation boxes for toy drives, Salvation Army kettles and in dealing with lines and hassles that they did not want the holiday to make them too selfish or too materialistic. They and I were aware of the idea in the classic children’s Christmas story.

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Even those more interested in Chanukah or Chinese New Year could know that whatever Christmas they kept should be a bit real.  Without having heard it they were concerned about Benjamin Franklin’s other famous quote about Christmas: “How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few, His precepts!” We mostly hope there is some real Christmas joy in the homes where we mark the day.

Mom with a Christmas tree in a previous year. Today she is scheduled to buy a tree.

Mom with a Christmas tree in a previous year. Today she is scheduled to buy a tree.

The great novelist who gave us the Christmas Carol was perhaps a conflicted Christian at times but he was a man serious about Christmas. It was Charles Dickens I think who wrote his own vow in Ebenezer Scrooge’s vow “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”  We can remember the best we have seen of giving and receiving between families and children. Those things remind us of the best of the shopping part of the holiday.  In our memories too we remember innocent joys of gratitude and wonder from our own dawn of awareness of the holiday. A chronicler of the American frontier and children’s writer Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote: “Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.”

We all have a sense of how gifts connect and live across generations.

We all have a sense of how gifts connect and live across generations.

 

But we know the shopping for loved ones is not enough. even the toydrives are not enough.  Maraboli is one of many writers who reminds us ot the teaching of the Man we honor as a baby just now. There is more to do:

Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty,

“Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

 

Christmas is noted by all of us in different ways. None of us perfectly and I do not think parties, drinks and flirting are out of place.  My better Christmases involved more of such things. But let us remember Christmas in all its mysteries.  Merry Christmas to you all.

My niece's early Christmas can be remembered but not recaptured.

My niece’s early Christmas can be remembered but not recaptured.

Then when we get to New Year’s Eve maybe our party will be based on hopes and joys built to carry us into the new year in a more sturdy way. I am not feeling all the glee of the season’s best impulses but yeas I do believe in them.

Christmas is a Coming and a 2016 Presidential Preview

An image showing the basis of all this Christmas celebration.

An image showing the basis of all this Christmas celebration.

It is still a bit too early but “Merry  Christmas and  Happy New Year!”  This post mixes Christmas wishes with political discussions. That is surely not every one’s cup of tea. It is not always mine. But this blog combines such themes as they are combined in the passage of time in my life. This blog post is another one of those. In some ways it is perhaps an admission that neither  one’s Christmassing nor one’s political life are all that they should be. I have been opposing much of Obama’s agenda in this blog and it certainly seems to have slipped back a few notches in the most recent election.  This Christmas we as Americans can see that the world is in flux. We can hope to find our way forward through these holidays and the coming year without a great catastrophe but we can also know that there are crises afloat and afoot. Americans can find some solace in the stresses endured by the Holy Family on that first Christmas.

Mom with a Christmas tree in a previous year. Today she is scheduled to buy a tree.

Mom with a Christmas tree in a previous year. Today she is scheduled to buy a tree.

I have not had an exemplary early Christmas and Advent and by some measures I am spoiling whatever moral or religious value it had be sharing it with you. This year I made some new ornaments to replace the missing ones in the old set my parents hang on the Jesse tree which is one of the only objects I still have from when I was married. I also put a few dollars into the Salvation Army kettles out and about, donated a few gifts to the toys programs at dollar stores and discount stores  and posted a bit about Advent. I also went to religious services and participated in the Advent rituals around the wreath and Jesse tree at home.

The celebration of Christmas rates some substantial coverage on the White House’s official website. You can link to some of that coverage here. Wikipedia takes note of the White House Christmas tree tradition here.  So, perhaps mixing up the elements of a Christmas blog post and an early presidential politics blog post is not such an odd idea after all.

Santa Claus is a powerful Christmas symbol in America today.  Santa is certainly part of the landscape of my holiday.

Santa Claus is a powerful Christmas symbol in America today. Santa is certainly part of the landscape of my holiday.

 

Even for a conservative Catholic Christian like me it is getting closer to the time when one might say “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year”. I have used the word “Advent” in two blog posts (as well as the word Christmas in one of them). None of these posts have been as seasonal as some other I have posted here, here and here in previous years. It is also early be discussing the Presidential election of 2016 but  I am doing that as well.

We all have images of what leadership should look like which are not simple portrayals of reality.

We all have images of what leadership should look like which are not simple portrayals of reality.

 

The reality of our political life is such that the Presidency is currently our biggest symbol and most important feature of our political life. What we have in our society is a dearth of many of the symbols of the cohesion and sharing of our social values with one another in the way that a great holiday can unite a nation and a society. So Christmas and its presidential aspects have a lot to do with our awareness of ourselves as a people and as a society that stands out as existing in some real way in the world. With ISIS executing American hostages almost continually, Russia flying more military sorties than it has since the Soviet Union was at the height of its Cold War assertiveness, the North Koreans mobilizing large cyber resources against us and real decay of US stature in Europe we are either likely to say what does our Christmas unity matter or we are likely to say that the unity we express is not the most important national concern. That is of course unless we are like millions of Americans who have very little concern for foreign policy. It is also true that some of us think of Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Mankind as a particularly relevant sentiment in times like these. The Angels greeting which came with that sentiment at the first Christmas was joined to their adoration, “Glory to God in the Highest!” Many Americans will be going to a variety of churches to honor God as they celebrate Christmas. Others will go to other places of worship to celebrate other holidays – including Chanukah which is a holiday Jesus’s family would have known. But Nativity scenes and even Christmas trees have become a set of lightning rods in the controversies about Christmas in public life. That discussion in return has become a big part of the discussion of religious expression in public life. What Presidential contenders will think about faith is increasingly a political issue that can be seen from many points of controversy.

Me in a shot by one of the proprietors on my phone as I walked into the Donors Dinner.

Me in a shot by one of the proprietors on my phone as I walked into the Donors Dinner.

While the President plays the role he does in pardoning turkeys, lighting the National Christmas tree and seeking to embrace a holiday theme that resonates with the nation it is not impossible to think of the Presidency of the United States as part of our Christmas landscape. When we do there is a sense of the way that our society does and does not function which forms part of our  vision of both the holidays and the politics of our nation. So who is likely to be the next President of the United States of America?

 

 

Christmas has long been a political and legal battlefield. The assault on Christmas has been part of the story but so has the defense of Christmas in public life. In the chart featured below which may still have some currency even though I believe it is based on data from before the 2014 Congressional elections we have two Republican contenders for the Presidency in 2016 who have about equal shares of prospective primary votes. One is Mike Huckabee who regardless of what he might say if asked about Christmas is a former Protestant Christian ordained minister who clearly has a likelihood wanting to keep the tradition of honoring the birth of Christ as a nation.  The other is Rand Paul who, regardless of what he might say about Christmas is deeply committed to a libertarian point of view and politics. Such libertarians often find themselves in alliance with Atheists, some other religious groups and liberals of particular strip in undermining America’s traditional Christian holidays.

Early December 2014?

Early December 2014?

There is a lot of shaking out to do if these numbers mean any thing before any Republican can claim the nomination.  But it does indicate perhaps the streams of thought that are shaping the country as regards finding a religious root for values expressed by America’s  “right” in politics.

What then about the left? Where does the other side of American  political energy come down on our connecting with the roots of Christianity.  Unlike the possible GOP nominees, Hillary Clinton has tended to tower over her challengers for the 2016 Democratic nomination. Some people are saying that candidates like Elizabeth Warren are poised to show explosive growth but it would take a lot of growth to challenge  Clinton in the primary.

Joe Lieberman who ran with Al Gore was not a Christian but a Jew who seemed to tolerate a good deal of public Christmas. Mitt Romney belonged to what most scholars consider to be a post-Christian religion but it is one that celebrates Christmas as an American holiday and the birth festival of Jesus Christ. Many presidents have been devout Christians: Washington, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, Woodrow Wilson, John Kennedy and half a dozen others are clearly men who in my opinion must be seen as Christians entirely. Whatever they did not achieve of the Christian ideal is not because they did not adhere to that faith and religion. Richard Nixon was reared as a Quaker and (though many American Quakers seem pretty much to be Christians) Quakers as a whole are not a Christian faith but one which grew up among Christians.  It is hard to say what Nixon was when he was President. With men like Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and  a few others it hard to say where they stood in terms of religious classification and identity.

So that brings me to Clinton. She is a favorite enemy of the Christian Right and other religious people in American politics and she may well deserve it. She has a background which is mostly verifiable: Clinton was reared a Methodist Protestant Christian, belonged to a Senate Prayer Group and has spoken at Prayer Breakfasts.  Her profile may seem different to American atheists than to most other people. Here is an atheist site evaluating Clinton’s background and religious values.  It is hard to know how  she would deal with Christmas.

 

Early December 2014? Whenever this is it is Clinton's race to lose at that moment.

Early December 2014?
Whenever this is it is Clinton’s race to lose at that moment.

Christmas and even religion are important but most religious people realize that religion connects to how they see all the world and does so in complicated ways. Real issues like how to evaluate science, how to evaluate ethical policies and how to make peace are informed by our religious background, point of view and  activity. We see this with political issues from funding homeless shelters, to stem cell research to the use of enhanced interrogation techniques. But it goes beyond that.

I am a Christian and many of my blog posts are explicitly Christian.  But my thoughts about science are in connection with my religious thought. So my scientific areas of discussion do seek or do have a harmony with my faith. Here, here and here are some examples.  So my choices of how to use resources here and elsewhere are in connection to my religious values. I do accept and embrace pluralism in America. I see a kind of pluralism in America and the structure of the universe.

The truth about all of life is that it is a bit interactive and interactive and multifocal.  That means that what we do affects what  we see done and there are many other active people and forces creating the continuous drama that is the universe, playing out the great game — or whatever other metaphor might work for you.  Increasingly one  may disagree with what the meaning of different part of the drama or game may mean, how much they will matter or who should care. For example some scientist are feeling sure that they have just recently  found the key to working out the meaning and structure of dark matter in the universe.

I am very interested in Astronomy but probably my use of space exploration money would place low priority on this research until  a better theoretical framework was developed. That also has something to do with Christmas. So Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Whether or not you are a Christian or an American I think the American experience of the holiday has something to say to us all. Chinese New Year and Chanukah are different indeed but they also represent a reaching for unity, meaning, celebration and often family.  Not just a reaching for money, power and resources. A society with no spiritual moorings seems very close to shipwreck to me. I hope we will never see America in such a condition.

 

An Election in the Days of Advent and Christmas 2014

Happy Advent! Christmas is approaching and today as the final election between Bill Cassidy and Mary Landrieu takes place both politics and liturgical seasons are on my mind.  There is a lot of Christmas and Advent in this post and also some politics.  This post is mostly written and prepared before the final results are in and I predict Cassidy will win. Landrieu beat him in the primary and I voted for her, I voted for Cassidy in this election and sent him some money after first explaining in a post in a campaign site some of my concerns.  I did not want Cassidy to win in the Primary but I do want him to win now. He should do so because Maness was mostly to his right and Maness voters will vote far more for him than Landrieu. The wonder of Christmas and Advent’s time leading up to it have a place in my thinking about everything including today’s election.  I live my life in the context of these seasons of the Church, life and culture. Notwithstanding the nature of this blog, it might serve me well to devote this post solely to  the election. We all know that we elect people into office in a certain time and place but maybe we do not think religious seasons have much to do with it. Advent and its target — Christmas remind us of the importance of parts of life that do not vary as much as electoral politics. Goals like peace on Earth, Goodwill to mankind, Glory to God, Justice and truth in human affairs and charity to the needy.

Mom with a Christmas tree in a previous year. Today she is scheduled to buy a tree.

Mom with a Christmas tree in a previous year. Today she is scheduled to buy a tree.

There is so much to cover in current events today. It is not a slow news day. Today, Luke Somers whose name sounds like mine and who like me has sometimes made his living with words and photographs was killed. Long in captivity with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula he was killed during a failed rescue attempt. That story deserves attention and you can learn some facts here. This happened after his family pleaded publicly for his life in a stirring video message.  NASA has returned to real heavy lift rocketry and that is very important in this blog.  The landfall of Typhoon Hagupit in the Philippines affects a country with importance to me, my family and the United States of America.  Beyond all that there is the race itself between Cassidy and Landrieu.  This race may well deserve a book and certainly the overall election cycle could use a lot of analysis. Knowing who voted for whom and why can shape our future.  Racial demographics alone could demand several good blog posts.

The voting booth remains a powerful part of our society.

The voting booth remains a powerful part of our society.

 

With all of that to do I should probably either ignore the current events of the day or pick a few of them or certainly leave out comments on Advent. But this is another . There are riots and protests sweeping the nation over Brown, Garner and police relations with the Black community. I have dealt with the issues of this election cycle  in previous posts found here, here and here. So here I can maybe afford to take a bit of a different view.

We all have images of what leadership should look like which are not simple portrayals of reality.

We all have images of what leadership should look like which are not simple portrayals of reality.

Last night I was at a large gathering made up of mostly voters and the election was never discussed. Advent was discussed, the Philippines, China, India and many other places. But not electoral politics. It was the Family Missions Company 18th Annual Members and Donors Dinner. I took some pictures and had one taken of me in front of the venue.  I know some people in the group are active in their parties.  But last night dealt with the issues that we all must face in different terms and in a different way. It was more the spiritual than the temporal side of our lives.

Me in a shoy by one of the proprietors on my phone as I walked into the Donors Dinner.

Me in a shot by one of the proprietors on my phone as I walked into the Donors Dinner at Magdalene Place.

In the coming days there will be  more to blog about in the political world. But one notable fact about this election of the next United States Senator from Louisiana is that the election is  being held on December 6. The sixth of December fall square into Advent.  Lord Hylton my sometimes correspondent, wrote a post on Advent in the House of Lords blog and my comments on it can be found here. Lord Hylton serves in the upper house of the British legislature which is Parliament. Our election is for the upper house of our legislature which is Congress. Where is America to find the answers to the struggles it faces? I am fairly sure the Gospel of Jesus Christ must be a big part of the foundation for a useful discussion in this country even if not in every country.  But this idea is increasingly out of sync with our laws and procedures as a society. The Senate ought not be a Church but neither should it be a faith-free institution.

America faces many challenges in this its own country and in the world. It faces huge challenges over time. How will those challenges be met. In the observance of Advent we remember in abbreviated symbols each of the challenges  of the Old Covenant before the coming of Christ. We ought then to be prepared to face our own challenges better and to better celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ. One of the things that emerges in my comment on Lord Hylton’s post is the shift of power and wealth from the Eastern Mediterranean to the West. These issues and facts across history continue to affect us in many ways beyond Advent or even religion. An example of some of those issues can be seen here for those who wish to think about the issues.

But of course most of our lives are sufficiently challenged with current problems we need not look through much of a historical lens to feel that we can understand. we confront these issues in charitable ventures, private enterprises, family and in politics.  It is the same world where all these things are working and aspects of our lives connect. So it is Advent as we elect this Senator. Part of my experience this Advent was attending the Family Missions Company Donors Dinner on the evening of the fifth of December. I have discussed this briefly and could say more.

A picture I took of my table at the Donors Dinner

A picture I took of my table at the Donors Dinner

Today Family Missions had a Swamp Games Celebration. I got a few pics of that but did not participate directly. Like a lot of other things this event is a celebration which may evolve into something more in future years. It has a bouncy castle for children this year and a course laid out with available objects inspired by The experience of my brother Joseph, my brother-in-law Kevin and others in participating in the Warrior Dash this year. It seemed  like a pretty cool event. There are also barbecues and Advent prayers going on.

The course and the racers were visible from most sides of my home. This is across the back fence and some family land.

The course and the racers were visible from most sides of my home. This is across the back fence and some family land.

The home team of my brother, brother -in- law and nephew among others seem to have defended their honor and turf fairly well against all comers in this friendly competition among various parts of the company. We call an election a race and there are similarities between the two things.  How hostile should an election be?  What is the line between political conflict and civil war? This is a big shift in Congress. America’s future is not so clear in various respects. Cassidy will probably win. But whoever wins the Senator will have to face the Lame Duck  Congress in their old job and then a whole new set of challenges in the time after this Christmas.  I hope all my readers who can vote will. But I also hope we will remember that there is more to this time of the year than our politics.

The Church near the Donors Dinner last night.

The Church near the Donors Dinner last night.

We all have struggles ahead of us to keep a good Christmas. They vary from person to person.  But these lifelong concerns matter just as much as the political events of this time and this set of issues. O come Emmanuel! May you all soon have a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year! But for now may you find life a bit more reflective and worth waiting for than usual. I hope the values of patience and reflection fins some good place in our Senate as well.

 

 

The Feast of the Epiphany, end of Christmas and start of Carnival Season

This is a very vug day for me in the year. Though in the USA we celebrated Epiphany and the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child and Holy Family on Sunday. This feast is many things we remeber Jesus and the Holy Family going into Egypt where advanced stuies in Judaism, Greek Science and Paganism, Buddhism and other parts of the worlds ferment have influence on the child and family. We see Christmas end and the official church go to ordinary time while many Catholics got carnival’s slow start. Twelfth Night tonight was a huge feat in colonial Louisiana but not much today. Conservative families who are well organized will plan to box up and prep or have a party that includes some boxing up. In addition they will also have the first of the King Cakes honoring the three kings. Whoever grts the slice with the image of a baby representing Baby Jesus must throw the next party or in more modest groups bring the next cake to the routine gathering.

Today I will concern myself with some ordinary work but also go to a basketball game and keep Epiphany in my heart. Maybe I will keep it a bit in the open as well — we shall see. Carnival season runs to Mardi Gras which means Fat Tuesday and is the day before the austerities of Ash Wednesday and Lent take hold.

Merry Christmas and Christmassy Thoughts

My brother Simon Peter Emmanuel Summers was born on Christmas Day. We will have a family birthday party for him and one of our cousins in which we will also wrap another Christmas Party for the family. The Posada will be the central ritual at this party. I have to rush through this blog to get to that next event.
Last year at Christmas oddly enough I took a break from blogging from the middle of Advent until nearly the end of the twelve days. This year I hope to do a little better. Not for the last time in this blog: Merry Christmas!

I have already blogged that the play which was both public and well-organized on the one hand and a family affair on the other hand and which is a Christmas tradition was a success.

https://franksummers3ba.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/the-play-was-great/

I blogged that I would be going to the play. It was a Christmas related post.
https://franksummers3ba.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/i-will-attend-god-is-with-us-in-new-orleans/

I blogged about other Christmas season events.
https://franksummers3ba.wordpress.com/2010/12/16/christmas-is-a-coming/
Even before this I had some posts about all the holidays of the season which I will not link here.

Here is a post I wrote for my Facebook account Profile on December 22,2008. I may get out an original post today or tomorrow. But if I do not then this is fairly valid:
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone who reads this note. This is a season when we try to turn our attention to the best things in life and about life at many levels. The celebration of Christ’s birth is a powerful foundation on which a complicated cultural structure has been built and is being built still. I am blessed to be in a house with a Christmas tree, a nativity set and two turkeys in the refrigerator. I have a pile of gifts for my family that needs to wrapped and though they are not as nice as I wish they were I am pleased and proud to have them there. I got out fewer cards than I would have liked but more than many years. I have sent gifts out early enough to friends overseas that they could get them by Christmas Day or else have already gotten them. Other than a back plaster, some allergy pills and being out of shape I have few signs of ill-health. There have been quite a few years in my life when almost none of these good things and certainly not all of them would have been true. For my own Christmas present my parents paid for my three nights at the Sheraton in New Orleans, my attendance at the Southern Historical Association and a new suit for my sister’s wedding. That puts this Christmas in the well above average financial value section of my life’s course. In addition, I will still have a stocking and something to unwrap under the tree. I will have the presence of most of my family on the BIG DAY and of almost all of them during the twelve days. So it is true to say that I am aware of all these things and grateful for them and that makes this a good Christmas. On the other hand as for many other people it will be a difficult Christmas.

This is a tough Christmas for me but Christmas is still very special. It is a holiday to which I have always devoted as much time, energy and resources as I could. It is a time to recognize the birth of Jesus Christ. At Christmastime many of us can hardly help reflecting on all the things we might have hoped for at Christmas and did not get or hoped to be and did not become. People are aware of failed marriages and estranged friends and they are not always able to put things back together again or even sincerely regret the choices that ended those relationships but they still feel the end of those things and the absence of their good fruits during the holiday season. This Christmas is both better and worse than usual in that specific regard. At Christmas we have a whole bunch of images and memories and dreams that build up and are associated with that day and season. For me there is the fact that I was married on December 19 to a woman born on December 31. This season my sister will marry a man born on December 18 and they will be joined on January 2, 2009. It will be both easier and better in many ways and harder and worse in many other ways for those old dates paired in the now distant past to be overshadowed and reversed in sequence in the present and future.

We may not always know exactly how we wish things were or even feel strong enough to articulate how we think things are wrong but many of us see the lacks and voids in our lives at Christmas. W see faces that we hoped would be around in our minds’ eyes. We think of traditions that have gotten lost and we maybe even regret the loss of a spiritual purity we felt in some half remembered mass or  other worship service. We wish our choices and talents had enabled us to provide more for those small people who we would most like to see overwhelmed with delight. We may even remember the way previous Christmases were affected by wars or natural disasters in big and small ways we cannot change.

Yesterday, on the last Sunday of Advent, as I attended Saint James Chapel at Esther, Louisiana I found out that my overweight 44-year-old self with arthritis could not handle standing very well after I had stood all through mass. I stood through the mass because I had trouble finding my ankle braces and left without bringing a chair. There were no pews because Hurricane Ike had destroyed them with a flood just as Hurricane Rita had destroyed their longstanding predecessors not so long ago which left us without pews for Christmas that year as well. I have many memories of standing at relative attention for many hours at a time. But those memories are lies when translated to the body of a much heavier man who works out less and has fewer resources for recovery. Sometimes familiar holiday pain is harsher and sharper in a given year that we had expected or than our memories had prepared us for.

There have been years when I was able to buy a bicycle, or jewelry or something else that might be extraordinary for the recipient. There have also been years when there was little more than baked goods from our home kitchen that my ex-wife and I could put on our list. This is a year when the gifts are between those two posts on the lower end. But many of us still long to be able to do more and have a bit more flair. I have never bought the trendiest gifts but like the scarf I bought Anika for her birthday I have tried to buy classic gifts that would last and bring joy. However, I did not just come back from nearly a year of shopping in China this year.

In the movie When Harry Met Sally there is the theme wanting be with someone to kiss at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Most of us don’t want to stand alone beneath the mistletoe either. While I have not mentioned her directly in these notes before I remember watching When Harry Met Sally on DVD in my apartment with my Chinese girlfriend (who spoke very good English) and the thing she could not help saying was “How many couples are there in this movie?” , what she meant was how many times did the principal characters end up with somebody else before they ended up together. For some of us the holidays are about such a sensation being repeated again. There is certainly little sexual naiveté in modern neo-Communist China. What impressed her was the idea of a fiction or fantasy with so many false starts. Those of us who are getting older alone notice the rough edges getting sharper. This year I ran across a couple of nice women in the USA and the thing that I most note about the encounters was how little chance I felt existed of us sharing eggnog this holiday.The layers of disappointment build and one feels that Christmas is a reminder of all we don’t have right.

But, whether it was at the Christmas Concert I attended, or in Church or in a child’s hug we celebrate the birth of human baby boy who is somehow God-With-Us. This Emmanuel who is Jesus Christ ends up in a stable partly because his Royal Birth brings him to a decaying and overcrowded town where his royal ancestor David had his clan seat. There wise men, whom tradition knows as kings, would bring him gifts and they would have to be used to run into Egypt and live probably in the largest Jewish Community outside of ancient Israel, Alexandria. There he would learn the Greek which with Hebrew and Aramaic would be vital to his ministry later in life. He would thus escape the last great established King of Israel who was known to kill anyone who might be a threat of any kind. Wise in the world, cruel, treacherous, a master builder seeking redemption in building a great temple where Jesus would later preach this man’s name was Herod the Great.  Herod was near the end of his rope and life as this boy was born. A child with ties to the freest Jews , those of Galilee, the powerful priestly clans of Jerusalem and the most honorable of all royal houses — that of David — this child was a threat before Royal Eastern mystics came asking for him. It was with Herod’s collapsing dynasty divided into four small realms by the Romans that the adult Jesus would have to contend. We remember that Holy Family on the run. We look at all the good days they hoped for and we make what we can of angels singing to shepherds. Somehow, if we try we, find that God is with us too and we also can find peace and goodwill. We can put aside our sorrows and sing “Glory to God in the Highest” as we remember that First Noel. Then we can go out and try to bring a little Christmas to the world and into the rest of our year. I do not think that Christmas ought to be too theological. A little Santa Claus and a little of Holy Bishop Nicholas, a little tree and a little nativity scene can all make a more complete Christmas. The odd blend of the Charles Dickens Christmas Carol has its place. But Jesus certainly is the reason for the season.

Was Jesus born around Chanukah? I can assure anyone that there are no certain reasons to say he was not. It is true Christmas gradually emerged as a decent party to replace Roman Pagan feasts near this date. But that is much less than proof that there was no tradition linking his birth to Chanukah. In fact there are passages in the New Testament that could (or could not) suggest that he was  in fact early on marked with the Maccabean legacy perhaps by the time of his birth as well as other factors. There is great evidence  and abudant that Jesus tried to wield that part of his people’s heritage in with all the parts he inherited. Even big themes we never look at in those terms could be part of that reality. “Whatever came to be in him found life, life for the light of men. The light shines on in the darkness — a darkness that did not overcome it… the real light which gives light toevery man was coming into the world”. John 1:4-5, 9 (New American Bible). This theme of light is repeated many times by Jesus and his followers and was probably overdetermined. That is also why the Patriarch and Metropolitan Ordinary Bishop of Rome and Proto-Primate of the West whom we mostly call the Pope felt pastorally that as culture was becoming Christian then Christmas should replace the Feast of the Invincible Sun , Sol Invictus.    If one chooses to see then Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem is constantly referenced. It is the City of David and Son of David is how he is most often addressed. Bethelehm is also the House of Bread in Hebrew and Bread is a constant motif of Jesus’s teaching and ministry.   It might well have been seen as his part of his favored birth. Regardless, this is Christmas for us and we ought to say at least once this season “Happy Birthday Jesus!” Even if we only say it in our hearts.

End of Facebook Note….

This year my arthritis is better (today and lately anyway) than in 2008. Social, financial, familial and other matters of the heart have continued their downward trajectory for me overall. But I am still trying to  stay in the game. And wish a Merry Christmas to all those of goodwill who read this post.

I will attend “God is With Us” in New Orleans

My mother Genie Gremillion Summers wrote a Christmas play which has been peformed quite a few times before some sizable audiences in several countries as well as in more hurried and small scale fashion. My sister Sarah Summers Granger (formerly Sarah Summers Spiehler) has adapted and directed the play to be performed by a homeschool troupe. She has a long history with drama including directing a homeschool troupe in the performance of “Shakespeare to Go” last year. Her children my nieces and nephew Alyse Elizabeth Spiehler, ANika Spiehler and Soren Spiehler have all acted before and will all be in the cast of this production. My father, brother Simon and I will be joining others from here near Abbeville to travel to New Orleans to see this play God is With Us. I am looking forward to this and it is certainly a very apt and real part of my Christma.