Saturday, December 26

Reflections on Christmas Day 2009

I woke up Christmas morning to temperatures in the upper 30s. The snow in the driveway had turned to slush. With a forecast of rain and temperatures in the low 40s and with the weather turning colder and bringing snow in the evening, I knew I should get out and shovel the slush.

It was quiet and overcast, drizzling lightly, as I shoveled. I paused every now and then, and not just because this was “heart attack” slush—wet and heavy, but just to enjoy the sounds of the morning. As I shoveled, I thought and prayed. I am so grateful to have what I have and sought that peace of contentment.

I came in and set the timer for 2 hours as I wanted to check my slush level after it had “warmed up” a bit more. I turned on the radio and smiled as I heard “O Holy Night,” one of my favorite songs of the Christmas season. I settled at the kitchen table with a cup of tea (Earl Grey) and the paper and when I finished with the paper, I started on a stack of magazines. I seem to read my magazines in spurts and because so many of them are weekly newsmagazines, I get to catch up and fill in some gaps about what has been doing on in the world. I got up to replenish my tea when the light in the kitchen changed and I realized the sun had come out. I looked out and yes, there was a bit of blue sky and that misty-looking winter sun. A gentle, soft light less about physical warmth than spiritual and emotional affirmation.

Mine is a solitary Christmas and that is by choice. The past few years I’ve been out of the country at this time of year—I love the cold and snow and go places I can explore and tromp in the snow. This year I started a new job on November 30 which made vacation time impossible. By the time I had negotiated some options at work, it was too late to make the extensive travel plans I had considered: time with dear friends; a visit with my folks; and a celebration of birthday, the holidays, and the New Year with my sister and her family. Instead, as I have for so many years, I get to spend Christmas alone, which seems sad and pitiable to many, but I like this time alone to think, to reflect, to listen to Christmas music, to pray, and, of course, to watch Christmas movies. I’ll get to spend some time with my folks just after the Christmas holidays, when the weather is no less predictable and holiday travel may be only moderately less stressful. I’ll be back in Florida in mid-January so may get to see my friends then. And I’ll try to travel to Texas in spring to see my sister and her family.

I thought more about Christmas and its meaning as I read. The newspaper had its fair share of “feel good” stories, much like those I’d been hearing on the radio for the past week. Like millions of others, I’d watched several of the Christmas movies: It’s a Wonderful Life, The Bishop’s Wife, and White Christmas.

And I really thought nothing of all of those stories and their themes of peace, contentment, giving, and love until I read an interview of Bill Maher in Newsweek in which he spoke of his plans for Christmas and his disinterest in celebrating “the whole baby-Jesus thing.” While he has good memories of Christmas as a child, he believes it’s a good time of year for people to assess where they have been ethically over the year, though I would think one might do that kind of assessment throughout the year. The statements that stopped me were these: “That’s the problem with faith, Joe [Scarborough]. What it does is kind of screws up your priorities. Your priorities shouldn’t be saving your own ass, which is the focus of Christianity. The focus should be, I’m a good person, and I do that just for the sake of being good.” What disturbs me is his perception of Christianity, though I can understand why he might see it that way.

But then he hadn’t read the story of the Muellers, who were struggling to care for their children but who always received a check or a job or something they needed when they needed it. The Tribune ran a story on them in September and there was an immediate outpouring of generosity, and yet the moments of miracle continue to occur. In this story, Mrs. Mueller spoke of her faith in terms of Philippians 4:19—“And my God will meet your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” The coolest part of the story, though, is this. A man who had had his own large family calculated how much it would cost to buy enough milk for a year. . . and wrote a check. Of his actions he said, “I think it’s really more the miraculous way [God] provides for those who have faith. I’m just the middle man. God provided for them. They put their faith out there. It was my job to affect the depth of their faith.”

And while the Muellers are cared for, at least for now, I was reminded of the pain that remains in the world. For every family of Muellers, there are too many yet in want and need. For every individual who writes a check to help buy milk for children, there are those who refuse to extend a helping hand. For every Secret Santa who acts in the legacy of Larry Stewart, there are those who can and don’t.

At the end of my day of quiet indulgence, I thought again about how fortunate I am and I am thankful for all of those who give of their time and their money, whether they are famous and can help draw attention and resources to a crisis or willing to act in anonymity. I don’t know and can’t know what moves some of people to act generously. Perhaps it is Bill Maher’s philosophy of acting ethically and being what they consider a “good” person. Perhaps it is because they are being used in wonderful and mysterious ways. Perhaps it is because they realize it is their jobs to affect the depths of someone’s faith.

As with so many other holidays, this one encourages us to stop and consider the act of giving, to think about what it truly means to bring about peace on Earth and good will to all. I hope that, in spite of the drama of the season, of the air incident in Detroit, of all of the other emotional baggage that hangs over this holiday and lingers for months after, we can continue to find ways to sustain those sensibilities of giving, of caring, of sharing hope.

Tuesday, December 1

Drafting Dick Cheney: A Commentary of the Republican Party

Dick Cheney made going rogue popular long before Sarah Palin contemplated writing her book never mind thinking that she had the corner on that particular market. And a few days ago I saw a story that a group of people were planning to draft Dick Cheney, which puzzled me for a few minutes. My mental digression imagined drafting Dick Cheney for military service though we no longer have the draft yet I found that concept quite compelling considering Mr. Cheney's involvement in the WMD debacle and his position on escalating tensions in the Middle East, though I suspect he would see his efforts in a considerably different light. But then I read the title more closely and even skimmed the opening lines of the story to discover a group of people were seriously considering drafting Dick Cheney to run for president in 2012.

My next mental digression tried to imagine the sort of people who would want to draft a man like Dick Cheney for president of the United States as I just had to wonder where they had been living for the past 10 years and if they'd been paying attention to anything and a few other character notes that aren't particularly flattering nor very nice. The good news is that Cheney seems not to be interested, but it's not quite 2010 and as Cheney himself says, "it's far too soon to be handicapping." Sigh. I don't see "no" in there.

But then I started thinking about Sarah Palin and her book tour and the media flak and the RNC and the hobgoblins that seem to have invaded the majority of Republican politicians and remembering my experience of visiting the RNC web site in September. I went to the web site to use the "Tell Us What You Think" link which didn't work and which I found more irritating than amusing. I also found it rather indicative of the GOP.

You may recall that in September Joe Wilson, Republican Congressman from South Carolina, shouted "You lie!" during the president's health care reform speech. I wanted to share what I thought as this event was an interesting culmination of several not-quite-cascading, but certainly painful events. It occurred to me then that the RNC may have disconnected that link because it was already tired of hearing what people really thought about the party and its politicians.

Almost immediately after the incident, Wilson's web site was "offline for maintenance." I bet. And my thinking was then, as it now, that the GOP needs to be offline for a little maintenance. Joe Wilson, Sarah Palin, Dick Cheney, and Michael Steele, chair of the RNC, are symptoms of a widespread and deeply rooted disease.

If the "Tell Us What You Think" link had worked--and it might still not work; I haven't checked it recently because I don't think the RNC really wants to know--this is what I would have said and would say.

I'm a white female registered Republican who is often embarassed to admit that fact. I'm gainfully employed, for which I am truly thankful, and reasonably well-educated (I have a Ph.D.). On the page with the ineffectual "Tell Us What You Think" link, I was asked what I would like to see in the GOP. I would like to see actual leadership, professional behavior, humility becoming a public servant, better attitudes towards pretty much everyone, and, perhaps most importantly, vision.

You are an embarassment. You have taken up a mantle of hate-mongering and rhetorical hysteria. If you don't intend to be racist, you give every opportunity for people to cast you in such a light. Your voice is strident and cluttered; you seem incapable of being anything but incendiary and reactionary. You have touted no vision or certainly nothing new but tired ideas that reflect oblique or clouded thinking of an older time. You are old, boring, narrow-minded, and increasingly constipated of thought. While I will not likely ever become a Democrat, I am appalled by your behavior, your guerilla tactics of leadership, your lack of vision, and your lack of relevance. Arlen Spector, who switched to the Democrat side of the aisle only this year, appeared in a town hall and had the gall to say that he didn't have to be there. Really? Do you all forget for whom you work? It's really not the lobbyists. Did you forget the part about being in public SERVICE? In your myopic need to attack all things related to or coming from Obama, have you completely lost sight of what you were elected to do? Serve not the lobbyists or the special interest groups, but the Amerian people?

A lot of people don't care for this president, but, unlike Rush Limbaugh who was idiotic enough to say he hopes Obama fails, I most fervently hope the GOVERNMENT succeeds. If Obama fails, then Congress fails. If Congress fails, the America fails. Get a grip. That includes you clowns.

Let go of your ridiculously fragile egos, suck it up the President Bush wasn't the greatest president ever, remember that President Reagan wasn't quite as perfect as you seem to recollect, realize that though President Obama did not get a majority vote and that his ratings have gone down, there are a LOT of people who still believe in him. They want to believe, you see, that there are reasons to HOPE for CHANGE.

So instead of taking potshots behind whatever ideological barricads you have erected and instead of being so gleeful about small election wins, spend some time thinking about the direction in which the country is going and the paths we have stumbled down so far; realize that so-called Republican values may be outmoded ad may need to be updated though, to be honest, I have no idea what the RNC stands for any more except belligerent tirades from fear-mongering ultraright loudmouths who can't or won't listen. Start be proactive.

The GOP continues its death march to irrelevance. There is still time, but not much.