The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

ON TRUE CHARITY

When I first met Br. Thomas, OSF I was struck by the fact that he spoke infrequently and then only softly, but he listened avidly to each person who spoke and with a great intensity – as though that person’s words had the import of a final earthly utterance.  Perhaps that was natural for him or perhaps it was an acquired skill he had developed.  He had spent over twenty years ministering to those who came to the hospice that his Franciscan priory maintained for those who were dying.

I couldn’t imagine the strength of his and his brothers’ faith to be able to deal on a daily basis with those who came to that hospice – knowing that none of them had long to live and none would leave on their own.  Perhaps that is less a testament to his view of life than it is a statement about my shallowness of spirit.  This reverent man made me feel vey humble by his gentle, taciturn demeanor.

Those who minister without fanfare to the sick, the poor and the dying must hold a very special place in God’s love.  That the mendicant orders have been with us for centuries demonstrates that despite the contentious nature of so many of us, there are at least some who are willing to contribute to them so that they can carry out their much needed, good works.

Another order, The Little Sisters of the Poor which also maintains hospices, has been in the news lately because of their position regarding provisions of the ACA and their refusal to compromise their religious principles.  Like their brother Franciscans, their charity and care is not reserved to those who are Roman Catholic.  Their compassion is open to all those who are at their final moments, irrespective of creed or lack of one.

 

 

Deo gracias! Deo gracias!
Adam lay ibouden,
Bouden in a bond;
For thousand winter
Thought he not too long.
Deo gracias! Deo gracias!

And all was for an appil,
An appil that he tok,
As clerkès finden
Written in their book.
Deo gracias! Deo gracias!

Ne had the appil takè ben,
The appil takè ben,
Ne haddè never our lady
A ben hevenè quene.

Blessèd be the time
That appil takè was.
Therefore we moun singen.
Deo gracias! Deo gracias!

(Anonymous, 15th century)

At this time of year, most of us feel obligated (or if you prefer, inspired) to go out and buy presents for friends, loved ones, or ourselves.  I’ve tried to reign in the temptation to spend, spend and spend more by enacting a simple rule.  For every dollar that I spend on gifts (and I mostly now make my own rather than finding them on store shelves) I donate an equal amount to charities which truly represent the spirit of Christmas, not just at this season but throughout the year.  Nevertheless, there are some people for whom a store bought purchase seems most appropriate.

One of the sites which offers the shopper an opportunity to reduce her or his out of pocket costs is eBates.  The site allows a person to link through their site to over five hundred well known and more obscure internet retailers and earn rebates on their purchases which range between two percent and as much as fifty percent.  They also offer a program for members who refer new members in the amount of five dollars per referral.   My referral link is listed below:

http://www.ebates.com/rf.do?referrerid=4cwCeH%2FFsKXfalPzt9zdgA%3D%3D&eeid=26471

If you are not familiar with the program, I encourage you to take a moment and review its features and benefits.

The reason for my making what is my first “commercial” appeal in nearly 900 posts is simple.  I will take any referral bonuses and combine them with my own contribution and donate those to The Little Sisters of the Poor – this being my designated charity for the year.  I hope you will contribute to that effort.  Or, if you’re already an eBates member, I’ve attached a link to their website so that you might read more about their good work and perhaps consider making a donation to them directly.

http://www.littlesistersofthepoor.org/

I wish all of my readers a blessed remainder of Advent and the joy of a wonderful Christmas.

THE SOUNDS OF CHRISTMAS

What is a celebration without good music?  It’s rather like having an exquisitely prepared punch bowl, filled to the brim with a delightful sparkling beverage and no ladle to serve it.

The following piece, “O, Beautiful Star of Bethlehem,” though not one of the traditional carols, is the inspiring and most famous composition of American, R. Fisher Boyce.  Though it is less than one hundred years old, perhaps you will add it to your play list and help it become one of your family’s traditional Christmas tunes.

Here it is performed in a jubilant, “revivalist style” arrangement by the consummate all male soprano group, Chanticleer.

HOT COCOA AND SANTA CLAUS

In our era of global warming it may seem odd that the country has just experienced one of the coldest early December’s on record.  Fortunately, Las Vegas escaped the torturous weather that the Midwest and East Coast have been experiencing.  But still, when you’re just coming off 110 plus degree weather a drop to the 20’s invokes a mental need to stay warm.  And for me that means making some hot cocoa.

As I was about to take a sip it suddenly struck me.  There may be truth in wine – but in cocoa there is political correctness.  I mean consider, a blending of white milk and chocolate cocoa.  But then I realized that there was something missing.  Cocoa didn’t reflect our Asian citizens – so I went to the cupboard and pulled the yellow food coloring and added a few drops.  But then I realized our Native American citizens had been left out of the mix – so I added some red food coloring.  And then, just in case there are aliens living among us I added a few drops of green food coloring. 

Fortunately, food coloring does not affect the taste of food – however, the result of this politically correct doctoring resulted in a beverage that looked sort of off purple and not particularly enticing.  But I hate to waste food so I forced myself to drink it and pretended I was enjoying it.

As a child I remember my introduction to cocoa.  Mom had taken me to Macy’s to get a photograph with Santa Claus.  There were lots of us little tykes in line, waiting our turn to ask Santa to grant our Christmas present wish.  Santa encouraged each of us to climb up on his lap and whisper our request in his ear.  And then he would signify his understanding with a hearty, “Ho, Ho, Ho.”  We all loved Santa.  He was white – but not all of us kids were.  Then he would give each of us a hug and would help us back on our feet.  It was a wonderful childhood memory.  When we got home, Grandma had a nice steamy cup of cocoa waiting for us.

Perhaps it’s a slow news week – but I noticed that Aisha Harris, a black female guest who works for “Slate” opined on MSNBC that having a white Santa Claus is an expression of racism.  The obvious absurdity of this probably needs no elucidation from this writer.  Ms. Harris is mistaken in her assertions – simply because having a white Santa is not racist – it is sexist. 

Consider that of Fortune 500 companies, only 4% of the CEO’s are female.  Apparently that same misogyny exists at the North Pole in the not-so-hallowed halls of Santa, Inc.  But here comes karma.  If U. S. regulations don’t put Santa out of business, Ms. Harris’ profound belief in global warming, should it come to pass, will certainly accomplish the job.

Fortunately, in a few weeks we will re-consign Santa and his entourage back to the recesses of our minds for another year.  Hopefully that will enable Ms. Harris to turn her attention to resolving other problems which don’t really exist.  And to help her out, I’m sending her my special politically correct recipe for hot cocoa.

I hope she enjoys it.

THE CHALLENGES OF A MODERN CHRISTMAS

In our small apartment in New York there was very little room for extraneous things like Christmas trees – but somehow we managed to have one every year.  It was certainly nothing like the mammoth that appeared in Rockefeller Center, but it was fresh and new and smelled piney.

Mom had embroidered a beautiful tree skirt replete with cherubs and Wise Men and candles and there were several boxes which I presumed contained the gifts that the Magi had brought to the baby Jesus.  In addition to being decorative it was very functional.  It collected the pine needles which began dropping from the tree due to the low humidity in the apartment.

Of course, one of the great traditions was trimming the tree.  We had a small supply of ornaments which had been used for years.  And then there were some wonderful lights.  My favorite were the ones that contained oil and which  bubbled when the contents had been heated by the electric current.  They were probably dangerous and have no doubt been outlawed by some government agency in the interest of the public good.

The best part of our tree’s decorations were the Christmas cards which were strung with red or green yarn and placed strategically to fill in the gaps where there were no ornaments or lights.  There were a lot of cards as people seemed to enjoy sending them just as much as we enjoyed receiving them.  And the cards were beautiful and mostly religious in their theme.

Over the years I’ve noticed that the number of cards I have received has declined substantially.  I don’t think that this is attributable either to the demise of some of those who included me on their Christmas card list or that I’ve managed to irritate a lot of people.  No, I still get a lot of cards – but most of them are sent electronically and reside on my computer.  Most of these contain the ever so banal wish, “Season’s Greetings,” and a number are animated.  One person whose mental health I have questioned sent one last year that included fornicating reindeer.  Well, I guess it’s the thought that counts.

So as I looked at my tree, I couldn’t help feel that it was a little bit bare – devoid of the usual Christmas cards that I had enjoyed in years past.  And I tried to find a way to correct this deficiency.  Then it occurred to me.  Since I had a lot of electronic cards on my hard drive, all I needed to do was pull the laptop from my office and put it on my tree.  So I removed the star from the top of the tree and attempted to replace it with the computer.  This created a few problems.

Even a small laptop is weighty and was more than the top branches could support, so I tried to prop it up by supporting it with several brooms.  While this worked, it didn’t have quite the aesthetic look I was trying to achieve.  Furthermore, I found that even with this makeshift solution it was very difficult for me to do any work on the laptop while standing on a stool.  The pressure of my fingers typing tended to cause the laptop to shift and I was concerned that the laptop and perhaps the tree itself might topple over.  So I came up with a solution to this conundrum.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has wonderful Christmas cards.  They always put together a collection of various images from years past and box them for sale.  And as it is close to the end of the season for Christmas cards, I was able to order four boxes of wonderful religious cards at a discount which I should be receiving next week.

What I intend to do is send myself one from each of the people who sent me an electronic card and write a wonderful and warm Christmas greeting from each of them.  When they’re delivered, I’ll pull out the needle and the yarn and place them on the tree, just as my family did when I was a child.

And now that I’ve resolved this challenge to the outward displays of Christmas, I can turn my attention back to its essence.  That there was a child born who changed the world and who gave us a message which each of us is expected to observe.  That we are to conduct our lives in Peace and with Love for our fellow men and women.

THE OLD COUPLE AND THE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS

It was probably three years ago last spring that I first noticed them.  They were an old couple in their late 70’s, walking hand in hand down the street – out for their evening stroll.  It was early evening as Gracie and I drove by on the way to the dog park and I remember an involuntary smile coming over my face as I saw this little expression of their affection for each other.

Although I’ve only seen them while driving, I feel as though I know them well.  Their faces, heavily creased by their years speak volumes about the lives they have led.  I am certain that they come from eastern Europe because they have the sad look of those who have spent most of their lives in a totalitarian state.  Perhaps they are from a former Soviet Socialist Republic, Ukraine or Georgia.

I’ve met many people over the years who escaped from the grip of communist regimes, from Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Latvia.  They are grateful for their freedom.  But the years that they spent being told how to live and what to think are so deeply ingrained that their new found freedom does not seem to be able to completely overcome these early formative memories.  It always shows in their eyes.

One day I saw Vladimir, or so I’ve named him, walking without his wife whom I’d named Olga.  As I drove by my heart missed a beat as I worried whether Olga were ill or had passed away.  And then I didn’t see either of them for more than a month.  If I knew where they lived I would have stopped by to see if there were anything that I could do for them.

Fortunately, a few weeks later I saw them once again walking down the street, hand in hand.  I remember breathing a sigh of relief.  All was well.  There they were, with that same slightly tired look on their weather worn faces.

When I first moved to Las Vegas I was amazed at the gusto with which people decorated their homes in honor of the Holidays.  The Thanksgiving leftovers had barely been put away when my neighbors’ front lawns were filled with step ladders and plastic inflatable penguins and reindeers and strips of light were being put up on the eaves of the houses.

There was little in all this which suggested Christmas – no crèches or angels or wise men – but to each his own.  There was at least a spirit of celebration.  But I’ve noticed that over the last few years that has changed.  And I see on the faces of my neighbors fewer smiles and more visages that resemble those borne by my old couple, faces filled with care and tiredness.

While in years past virtually everyone made an attempt to decorate his home with some sort of display, it is amazing that as I pulled into the gate this evening I was struck by how dark the neighborhood looked.  The only lights came from the street lamps.  I doubt this is in deference to any sort of political correctness which sucks out the joy from all celebrations unless they are found on the approved list.

No, I suspect that this lack of enthusiasm reflects the sense of malaise that emanates from Washington.  That a majority of us now believe that we are led by a man whom we do not believe is honest and that even more of us believe to be incompetent and that we are coming to believe we have lost our direction and, in large measure, have lost a sense of hope.

While the war on Christmas continues unabated in our school programs and in our public displays, those of us who still believe in the miracle of humility – which is the essence of the Holy Day – can look for the old couple in our own neighborhoods, holding hands as they slowly walk down the street and remember that as long as there is one person who is grateful for the holiday we call Christmas, hope is still alive and can still work miracles – if we are willing to receive them.

THE REAL THANKSGIVING

The final assembly at school before the Thanksgiving Holiday had concluded.  As in previous years, we students put on a presentation about the Pilgrims and that first day they recognized for solemn Thanksgiving.  And they had much for which to be thankful – mostly at the hands of their neighbors the Native Americans who had rescued them from likely starvation.  This program, which our parents attended, always concluded with the following hymn:

It never occurred to me that Thanksgiving day had not been celebrated continuously since the Pilgrims arrived in 1620.  I also was unaware that the Pilgrims when they had first arrived on these shores were primarily responsible for their own dire situation.

When they first arrived in the New World, the Pilgrims adopted a communal way of governance – “To each according to his needs.”  Sadly, even five centuries ago, there were some who did the work and others who benefited from the labor of their fellows.  It was only when the “communal land” was divided up and allocated to each family that the young colony began to prosper – as people took responsibility for themselves.  That is a lesson that does not fit well into the present political, statist mindset.  Nor does the fact that it is to a loving God that we are addressing ourselves with our songs of thankfulness.

Since George Washington first proclaimed his statement of thanksgiving and President Lincoln designated a day of National Thanksgiving as an official holiday, the fact that it was to a Divine provenance that we as a people were to offer our thanks was a clear and constant theme.  That was recognized in our school program and no one whether Christian or Jew, agnostic or atheist seemed to object.  At least I never heard from those who might have.

My family also recognized this in our small Thanksgiving ritual dinner by inviting those who had no families of their own to share our meal and be a part of our family.  Before Dad would begin carving the turkey, he would express his gratitude for the blessings he had received and would invite everyone around the table to do the same if they chose to do so.  Only when the last person had spoken would we begin to eat.

In my own way I tried to carry on some variation of this tradition.  For many years a number of us from the church in Chicago where I was a parishioner would wake up early and by four o’clock in the morning we would be working to prepare a complete traditional Thanksgiving meal that we would would serve to almost two hundred homeless people at a local shelter.  When the last person had been served her or his plate, we would sit down with them and join them for this special meal.

But it was a sad realization that while we had fed these people for one day, we had done very little to change their lives.  And it was difficult to hold on to a sense of Thanksgiving as we looked out over this ragtag, unwashed group of people, many of whom were recovering from their evening sedative of cheap whiskey or bad wine.

If there were any sense of hope it came from the few who turned to us and with sad but grateful eyes said, “Thank you,” as they left to return to their cardboard shelters – insufficient protection against the biting, blowing cold winds.  But in the back of our minds we knew the fate that they had chosen, willingly or not, and knew that there was a warm apartment and a comfortable bed waiting for each of us.

It seems to me that over the years we have done everything within our power to secularize, anesthetize and sterilize Thanksgiving.  It might better be described as a “Day of Carbohydrates and Gluttony, enhanced by a thorough immersion in football and concluded with a bout of  mindless midnight spending at the mall.”  Although I would be remiss not to note that in their attempt to suck the lucre out of the consumer’s purses and wallets, stores are opening even earlier than usual.

Given our abandonment of principle and our attempt to turn the sacred into the profane, it does not surprise me that a group of atheists, unmindful of the basis on which America was founded, have selected the Friday following Thanksgiving to launch a billboard campaign, boasting their credo, “Good without God.”  I should suggest that for the sake of consistency, they should have spelled God with a lower case “g.”

The great thing about living in America is that everyone is entitled to his opinion – and I am delighted that this atheist contingent have the ability to offer theirs.  I take no offense at their ministrations.  But, in the spirit of American fairness, I do expect the same courtesy that they receive from me and others who have a religious mindset when it comes to expressing ourselves and our beliefs.

Now if that were to come to pass, that would truly be a reason for Thanksgiving.

DEFENDING YOUR LIFE

On this Veteran’s Day, all Americans should offer a prayer of gratitude for those brave men and women who have given of themselves by serving in our armed forces.  They are the defenders of our country and fulfill one of the most fundamental Constitutional responsibilities conferred by the Founding Fathers on the Federal government – the protection of the nation from foreign intruders.

Many have fallen in the task.  Many more have returned home shattered in body or mind by their service.  Most have never heard those of us who have not served say so much as, “Thank you for your service.”  Almost all of us take them and their role in protecting the nation for granted, and that is a terrible shame.

As a child growing up I had an image of the armed forces that was pretty much formed by television.  Phil Silvers as Sgt. Bilko, Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle and, of course, the indomitable Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway in “McHale’s Navy” presented us with a light-hearted look at our men in uniform.  Perhaps we needed to laugh to distract us from the serious business in which they were actually involved.

Several days ago I saw an interview with R. Lee Ermey, better known as “Gunny” who is a retired Marine turned actor.  You might remember him for his portrayal as the hard-nosed DI from the 1987 movie, “Full Metal Jacket,” the story of a platoon’s training during the Vietnam War.

The interviewer asked him, “What do you consider the biggest problem that America is facing?”   Ermey responded, “There are too many people who are willing to sit around and collect a paycheck from the government rather than go out and earn one on their own.”  He’s on to something there.

One of the most touted “benefits” of Obamacare is that people will supposedly be able to have their insurance “subsidized,” that is if they don’t make too much or too little money.  Those who are doing well and contributing to the economy will get nothing.  Those who do nothing and feed at the public trough will get Medicaid – which provides next to nothing.

Our politicians in Washington talk about subsidies as though they were the children of Israel, wandering around the desert and a merciful God miraculously provides them with manna.  But we all know the truth – that is that subsidies are merely a way for those who do not have to get something from those who have earned what they have.  It would be fairer to refer to this as a tax rather than a subsidy.  And, of course, if the “tax” is insufficient to cover the subsidies we will just put the deficit on our National Credit Card balance.

Ermey was a fortunate man.  He recounted that when he finished his time in the Marine Corps he was sitting around the house when his father said, “If you plan on sitting on your duff you’re mistaken.  Go out and earn your keep.”  And he did.  As he explained it, he got a “lousy” job and then got a second one that was just as bad.  But he had the dignity of working and paying his own way.  And those lousy jobs led to better ones and then others that were still better.

It’s been forty years since we ended conscripted military service.  During that time the number of Americans on some form of public assistance has skyrocketed.  Some of those who receive supplemental food assistance and are the beneficiaries of other welfare programs have become enrolled as a result of the lackluster economy.  For others it is the inevitable result of family tradition.

Perhaps it’s time that we re-thought our position on having an all-volunteer armed forces.  Instead of encouraging a life of indolence, would we not be doing them and society as a whole a favor by going to our eighteen year old welfare recipients and telling them, we want you to, “Be – All that you can be.”  The discipline and skills that they would learn in a military environment would serve them well for the rest of their lives.  And the taxpayers would actually get a return on their investment.

Who knows, the mere suggestion of having to spend a few years in the armed forces might actually get a few of them “off their duffs” and out in the workplace.  And that would be a good thing in and of itself.  Whether that actually happens will, of course, be up to Congress and the Commander in Chief.

Since there is such a high correlation between welfare recipients and crime, particularly in our inner cities, we might just transform some of these young men from their present direction of threatening your life to defending it.  And for that, all of America would be grateful.

Tag Cloud