A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

So Why Wasn't Christmas That "Merry"?

We Buddhists do not have "holidays" in the same sense that many cultures do. The special days, such as Saga Dawa--the traditional day of the birth, death, and enlightenment of Shakymuni Buddha--are viewed as particularly auspicious days for practice of Buddhist rituals, or of any other wholesome activity, where the merit of so doing is multiplied. But we think of both the New Moon Day and the Full Moon Day in the same way, and an auspicious day to us implies a day where we do more of our real religious work than usual, rather than one where we rest from our labors.

What this means, practically, is that I am one of those pernicious folks for whom "Happy Holidays" means the same thing as "Merry Christmas". One of those folks, in fact, against whom many Christians are "fighting back" (at least on Fox News!) to stem the tide of our innate propensity to bulldoze chreshes in public places and ban Christmas Carols referring to Christ, leaving a parched American savanna of nothing but 50% Christmas Eve sales, Burl Ives singing "Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas!", and department store Santas with particularly cheap and tacky red plush and spectacularly unconvincing false beards. Oh, yes, and one of those folks trying to substitute Kwanzaa in its place!

Now if this seems a little exaggerated to you when applied to jolly old Joe Claus with his real beard and his Buddhist cohorts, you're correct. It is a little exaggerated. It is even a little exaggerated when applied to the other supporters of John Kerry in the last election, who, the pollsters and pundits tell us, believe overwhelmingly that religion should be "a private matter."

But it is a fact that our Christmas this year was far from Merry. And it was far from Merry even on my three favorite Conservative Religious Blogs: The Anchoress, One Hand Clapping, and La Shawn Barber, all of whom, one would presume, are in the vanguard--"muscular Christians" as they used to be called, "fighting back" on Fox News, The Washington Times, and Town Hall, and spreading the Good News of Incarnation and Salvation.

I even noted this to Reverend Sensing of One Hand Clapping:

I cannot forbear remarking that I see very little in the way of "good tidings of great joy" even on the blogs I read that are overtly Christian. They frankly seem subdued even in your Sermons for Advent.

The good Reverend was far too busy to reply, but his Christmas Eve sermon was on the dark, foreboding, and mysterious opening to the Gospel of John, rather than any stories of the Babe in a manger or Wise Men bearing gifts. There are no Christmas carols which I remember on the Word being made flesh, and decking the halls with boughs of holly or burning a Yule Log about it seems a little lese majeste, as if one were to put miseltoe above Christ Pantocrator.

The Anchoress is in the middle of slowly losing a brother to illness and coping with her own stress and grief, and her family's, as a consequence. She suffered what she called a "crash and burn" on the day after solstice--a massive abreaction of tears and guilt in the middle of overwhelming Christmas chores that, were it commonplace for her, I would diagnose as the symptoms of a Holiday Depressive. (For the record, I am inclined that way myself, so such abreaction is not unfamiliar to me.) This has been followed by a bout of bronchitis.

And it did seem to me a cautionary tale of how so many in America work themselves far too hard to "enjoy" Christmas, and have no psychological reserve left if by chance something arises which is not enjoyable.

In Ohio we were lucky, the usual and conventional yearning for a white Christmas was spectacularly fulfilled with a Level 3 snow emergency on Christmas Eve, and I strongly suspect the forced home-bound seclusion by candlelight which this induced prevented many a Holiday Depressive abreaction. There is an old saying--a green Christmas fills the churchyards--which, if no longer literally true, still has profound psychological meaning.

La Shawn's immediate pre-Christmas message and its Merry holiday spirit can merely be quoted without comment:

When liberals lecture the rest of us about helping "the weak and the downtrodden," they're referring to increased funding for social programs, not unborn life. Real charitable. Who could be more weak than a growing baby dependent on his mother for protection and sustenance?
Why does such a profane and perverse "right to choose" trump that? This is the result of backward and muddled thinking in our post-modern times, but so exquisitely human! Back in the day
people were killing babies; today we're still killing babies. People will always kill babies. The reasons vary. Sometimes it's population control or child sacrifice to the gods, etc. Today women cry, "Our bodies, our decision!"

There is poison in all our veins, the poison of a politics which cannot compromise. There is no concorde that maketh merry among the poisoned. Too bad. It would be very nice to have it back.

In 2000, my primary teacher, the Ven. Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, abbot of the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra monastary in Woodstock, New York, inaugurated a regular ceremony for the new millenium called First Light, which makes the traditional Tibetan offering of many butter lamps, with the merit dedicated to the cause of world peace. He'll be doing it again on January 1, 2005. If you'd like, light a candle and join him. I will be.

Happy New Year.


Blogger The Anchoress said...

Joe, this is a really excellent, insightful and big-hearted post (and for the record, I did think of my crash-and-burn as a cautionary tale, too...sigh) that really needs to be seen by many. I'll do my part by linking to it, and perhaps by responding with some further thoughts. Without question it was, for everyone I know, a rather darkened Christmas, this year. The carols seemed (to many of us) to begin too early, and to play too loud, and most of them had less to do with a midnight clear and more to do with a jinglebell rock. There is no hope or comfort in that. The ugly political "say 'Christmas, or ELSE' movement - still unresolved so I guess we'll see it next year as well - didn't help. And it is interesting that Sensing mentioned the opening of John's Gospel, because all through the last days leading up to Christmas, and those immediately following, the opening verses of that Gospel have been running thru my head like a taped loop. The Earthquake almost seemed expected, in that mood. I'll likely flesh out my thinking on this over at my own blog. Good writing, Joe.

12:57 PM  
Blogger The Anchoress said...

Btw...it is not unusual for Buddhists and Catholics to have a hand extended in mutual understanding, as I am sure you know. Thomas Merton was only the most famous western contemplative to find much value in Buddhism, and I've read several small books (I'll have to dig them out and find the author's names again) by Tibetan monks who equally appreciate some aspects of Christianity.

I remember reading about two Tibetan monks who visted the famous Benedictine Monastery, Stanbrook Abbey, in the UK - way back in the late 1950's. They'd visited, ostensibly, to discuss printing with that world-famous printery, but they stayed for Vespers and afterwards, one of the monks said to the Abbess, "This is the real thing; I never knew that such an ideal could exist in England...."

The Abbess, likewise, was very taken with the prayer wheel one monk used as he chatted with her in the parlour. He related as how some Buddhist farmers would put the wheel in the river while they worked, so that the water could continue to turn the wheel, thus continuing the prayer. She loved that, "that just like our days, here, in Stanbrook..."


In a world where so many are at odds over so much (and where you and I routinely disagree about this and that) there is some comfort in knowing this, mmm?

1:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mir here. I had a joyous Christmas, but there was sadness, too. We lost mom in May, after five years of her decline to a cruel illness. She had intractable pain for two years. It was enough to break any heart. So, we missed her. The table was not as full as it should have been. We are now "orphaned" of parents. BUT...in another way, it was happy, because we appreciated each other MORE. We're the remnant. We're what remains on earth of our mother and father having loved. And there were little ones. Only two, but there is that. We sang old songs from the old country. We sang my mother's favorite songs, Christmas and secular. We ate traditional food. We hugged and we kissed. I felt regret for not having loved more and vowed to lvoe better. We danced traditional dances. And we remembered that Christmas is all about hope and new life. Some life passes, new life comes. And even in those who have passed--like Mom--they have a better, grander, wider, more wondrous life than those of us left behind. Separation is a temporary sorrow.

So, we had joy. I had joy. I sang and I meant it. I looked up and saw ordinary stars (as ordinary as wonderful stars can be) and remembered a miracle star and that one day it will appear again. The Morning Star saying it's a New Day.

So, despite my sorrow over the war and loved ones lost to me and to others, and loved ones suffering, like the Anchoress's beloved "S", despite my desire for a better world for us all at a time that seems awfully dark, I had joy. I have it still, and even the terrible pictures from Indonesia and Sri Lanka can't erase it. I think maybe there's grace in it.


5:46 PM  
Blogger MerryMadMonk said...

Commercialization of the Christmas season. Been around for a long time. Does seem to get more aggressive each year. But I can and do pretty much unplug from that aspect.

War. That definitely impacts merriment.

I think 9/11 will be with most of us for the rest of our lives. The anticipation of the next attack is a shadow that hangs over us. The calendar of holidays and historical markers offers potential dates for the next attack -- as do major gatherings of people such as at sporting events, shopping malls, political rallies. How many of us did not wonder whether the DNC/RNC conventions would be targets. How many of us did not wonder if the next attack would come on Election day? Thanksgiving? Christmas? New Year's Eve? And around the corner, the Inauguration, the Super Bowl?

It's a new reality. We are still adjusting to it. It can whittle the spirit.

Then there's usually something a little sad about Christmas -- we remember Christmases past and those who are no longer with us or those who should be with us, but aren't or can't be for one reason or another (and if one of those reasons is that they are deployed in a dangerous place, or that they are comatose, near death, that makes it harder).

"I'll Be Home For Christmas" -- especially as sung by Frank Sinatra -- is, for me, one of the saddest songs in the world. I guess you have to hear it while knowing there's no way you're gonna be home for Christmas .. and that you might never get home for Christmas again. I love that song .. if that makes any sense.

The thing that has the most potential to sap merriment from my Christmas is the open hostility to Christianity in this country .. the open intolerance to my way of life. It's unsettling to know that there is more tolerance for Christianity/Christmas in the Republic of Korea than in my own country.

Having said that, I had a Merry Christmas this year. I suppose it helps to be living here in "Jesus-land".

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