The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age
    Watt Childress's picture

    Baby, it's cold outside

    The rich inner experience of Christmas is coated with a sweet nutty blend of pop culture. Features for the holiday range from angels to elves, from wise men to talking snowmen, from Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to Rudolph, Prancer, and Vixen. Believers bask in the starry wonderment of Christ’s rustic birth while decking the night with merriments as bright as Las Vegas.

    Howdy Babe!

    Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with re-creating the first nativity scene. A deep chord is struck in me by that sacred gathering of angels, humans, and animals, all focused on the holy infant. This reverses the order of imperial power that’s exerted downward by rulers over men, women, and children. On one silent night, the most vulnerable becomes the most venerable.

    Christmas has changed since then.

    To fully convey our cultural progress, we need to cast the scene with pop media personalities. Justin Bieber would make the perfect angel. The shepherds should all be star athletes and country music celebrities. Candidates for the magi include Deepak Chopra, Spike Lee, and Johnny Depp (he could don a Persian version of his pirate outfit). The Virgin Mary would definitely be played by Bristol Palin. For a touch of ethnic authenticity, my pick for Joseph would be Eric Cantor, the new House Majority Leader and sole Jewish Republican in Congress. The animals would be animated by Pixar.

    And no, we haven’t forgotten. The cutest baby Jesus would be chosen by way of a contest among parents on American Idol. The whole thing could be done as a reality TV fundraiser for a popular national cause, like building more freeways or shipping more weapons to Israel.

    Something would still be missing, though. We’d need an entertainer to play Santa Claus. Glenn Beck could do the trick for many true believers, but he wouldn’t pass muster with liberals. If Dean Martin were alive he could wear the red suit, crooning to the masses while standing beside the manger.

    Are we having fun yet?

    Many who celebrate this season mourn the merger of the sacred and profane, just as politicians pause at opportune times to lament deficit spending. Like Charlie Brown, we’re prone to bemoan the commercialization of Christmas. Yet there have been bread and circuses surrounding the solstice since the time of the Roman Empire. And the seasonal Pax Romana is still accompanied by top-down oppression.

    Do the 80% of Americans who claim to be Christians really care? Sure, our ranks include folks who get riled up when retailers sport X-Mass signs or instruct cashiers to say “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” But do we order our lives and economy so as to care for the least among us?

    Fox News forbid. Judging from our priorities, it looks like Americans have more in common with Lucy than Charlie Brown.

    “Incidentally,” she says to Charlie in the cartoon holiday classic, “I know how you feel about this Christmas business, getting depressed and all that. I never get what I really want. I always get a lot of stupid toys, or a bicycle, or clothes, or something like that.”

    “What is it you want?” asks our favorite blockhead.

    “Real estate,” she replies.

    Ever eager to capitalize on our heart’s desires, Uncle Sam has played Santa to big business. Pumped up with government subsidies, the real estate market ballooned with risky speculation. Then, when the economy crashed, President Bush pushed legislators to approve a huge bailout for the largest speculators.

    President Obama recently pushed Congress to pass a deficit-diving tax deal that further enshrines our top-down priorities. A majority of legislators marched in lockstep, even though it potentially sets the stage for draconian cuts in public services.

    Behold the flow of power in the new Roman Empire -- from Wall Street to Washington down to the least privileged child. Is it Mammon we serve with our collective actions as we pledge allegiance to Jesus? Is our adoration of the holy babe an affirmation that God dwells among us, or a pageantry-clad prelude to child sacrifice?

    So the story unfolds according to a new world order. It’s cold beyond the plush warm digs of central casting; yet the in-crowd has no room for little people. Unless, of course, they offer a captive market or provide cheap labor making toys.

    Saint Francis would have us harken to a different story.


    It looks like Beck is already playing for the role of Santa Claus.

    Sick, but fun, Watt.  Though I can't think they'd let Spike Lee play; more like Morgan Freeman, maybe?   ;o)

    Someone just mentioned the Saint Francis story to me yesterday.  Apparently he was drawn to the story because of the animals that were present in the manager.  Although it does bring up an interesting side notion of a reversal of imperial power, which included Pope Innocent III, who had endorsed his Order a decade earlier.  For all of his anti-establishment spiritual positions, Francis reasserted the primacy of the Pope and his authority. It is difficult to find a Pope who had more political power than Pope Innocent and who represented more the legitimacy of the Empire. Of course, had he and his followers attempted to seriously undermine the Papal authority, they would have more than likely suffered the same fate of the Cathars and Waldensians.

    The history of humans has always been a mix of the profane and the sacred, the Empire in whatever its form propelled forward by the sell-outs and compromisers.  It has always been cold outside, it is just these days we have Beiber-fever instead of a Holy Crusade to make us think about the chill.

    I'm not so sure the Holy Crusade has been replaced, Trope.  I mean, aren't a bunch of Christians over in Persia this very second fighting a war or something?


    The difference one might say is that back then it was the distraction "they" wanted people to see whereas today it is what "they" hope one is distracted from seeing.

    If Christians would stop making Christmas a political statement, a person might actually come to know it's deeper meanings.  Yesterday as I was driving to work I saw a charming image silhouetted on the back of a minivan.   It was an outline of that manger scene with a star shining above.  I got the message, or so I thought.  As I pulled up to the minivan at a light, I noticed a text along the bottom, and when I was close enough to read it, I realized I didn't have "their" message at all.  "Keep Christ in Christmas" it commanded.  The possessed in the minivan, ... oh, ... I'm sorry, ... I meant the possessors of the minivan ... oh, ... no, ...I did NOT ... I meant, the possessed in the minivan, felt moved to look out at all the "others" in the world and demand they encounter their perversion of Christianity.   "They" assume that so many "others" are lost, for some reason.  In their hopelessness, they came to believe that "they" are the only ones left that know the meaning of the holiday, and "others" need to be directed to see things as "they" do.  It was simply a sad reflection of a frightened family declaring all is lost and if they don't get their magent on their minivan, the world ... no, worse then that, ... America, as "they" know it will come to an end. 

    Is it just me?  Do "others" find "their" magnets irritating and offensive?  Isn't there some arrogant assumption of stupidity on "their" part that "others" won't understand the image?   Frankly, my assumption is that "they" do not understand the image, the icon, if one would allow me that latitude.  I suppose it's just my personal Orthodox Christian history that sees that image with reverence for what it represents.  It spoke volumes to me as I first discerned what those lines and shadows represented.  There was no need for words.  To me, that image speaks for itself.  When I first rode up, Christ was in Christmas.  Then, "they" arrived and stood in front of the scene and made what "they" felt was a very important declaration, something that didn't need to be said at all.  There was an intruder at the scene, a political hawker, selling some FOX Spews message far removed from what I believe happened 2000 years ago, and something that I do not feel is the case today, not if 80% of people describe themselves as Christians. 

    If the magent had just the image, there would be Christ alone giving us a message.  To me, if one has any faith at all in this Biblical event, it is absurd to think any one of us could add anything to what came straight from the Son of God.  I might just get me one of those magnets and cut off the text at the bottom.  My faith tells me, you will find the meaning all by yourself, or maybe even one will be sent to you from above, one my earthly mind never even considered. 

    There is one thing, though, that is required if one is to have any hope of crafting an Orthodox icon. [And WOW!  what a firestorm one could create suggestign this is an "orthodox" icon anyway, but let's stay focused and allow me the latitude.]  There is a tradition that the name of the one protrayed in an icon be written on the icon, and it is only at that moment that an icon is done, that a mere painting becomes a holy icon.  So I might just put my own label on the image and, given our present circumstances, it might provoke a great deal of laughter at the abusrdity of the declaration I would make, the declaration made in the Bible itself, so it is again foolish to take any credit for it, as I just did.  At any rate,  I might just name the baby, Prince of Peace, knowing full well how far from that mission many self-described Chriistians have departed.  But, as I write this, I will express my faith and wish the readers peace anyway.  And I make no demand that they share my religion, but I am not hiding it either.  I'm just being me.  This is our greatest challenge as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, promoting "Peace on Earth and good will." 

    Bless you.  If there is no God, this was nothing but noise.  But just in case there is, and just because I would ask for this if there were...bless you.   Laughing

    Hi Gregor!! Merry Christmas to you with no strings attached!!! ha

    HO! HO! HO!  The same to you, my good friend!

    Bless you Gregor. Merry Christmas.

    Well said Gregor.

    Merry Christmas to you and Mary and the Chir'ren, Watt!

    Stardust I have been playing this for two full years now, third Christmas. I just LOVE her!

    Me, too!  I was trying to find that great Claymations "Chirstmastime's for the Jews"; i can't find it.  I sent you something better than Darlene, though.  Ha ha ho ho hee hee (as the Chink Said...)

    Beautiful! Thank you. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

    "On one silent night, the most vulnerable becomes the most venerable."

    What a wonderfully succinct measure of the Holiday.

    Now, could you translate it into American English for us, please?

    Merry Christmas, Watt! Great Tidings of Joy and Peace can be found in St. Francis' lessons about the Nativity.

    Merry Christmas, SJ.

    This may be one of those posts where my intention didn't come across as clearly as I'd hoped. For me, seeing God in a helpless little baby in a manger turns our standard social order on its head. The font of divinity isn't embodied in the emperor or king or religious hierarchy. It resides in the least among us. That seems far reaching in its implications.

    I wish that understanding had been more evident in my words. Maybe it's still lost in translation. Bless you for your honest feedback.

    No, Watt. I was being very sincere in appreciation for the message you presented here, and I understood it completely. Very well said. And it states very succinctly the lesson of the season.

    I was being just a bit snarky in asking for the translation, if only because this message of humility and peace is seemingly lost in translation as we go about our daily lives. (Think Fieth and Kristol and Co. gathered together to pray before the creche, seeking "Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men" and you begin to see what I'm saying.)

    You could not have been more clear in your communication, Watt. I was being a little bit too obtuse in my response.

    You get it, Watt. This I know. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

    You are an excellent wordsmith, SJ, and this reply brightened my evening. To be honest, it choked me up a bit.

    My attempts at communication often fall short of the mark, both in terms of transmission and reception. It helps to think things through again more carefully. And it's a blessing when I think I've lost and suddenly find more understanding.


    Hey, Watt. Great post. Just wanted you to know that Pastor Dave at the Astoria Presbyterian Church gave a Christmas Eve sermon very much like the first part of your post. He used different characters, with the same message. Great minds think alike?...

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