Saturday, November 12, 2005

City Sidewalks

Welcome to my lazy, hazy Saturday afternoon, where Portugese versions of David Bowie songs are filtering through my speakers; how luscious.... These days, it's rare that I can use the word "lazy" to describe any activity of mine. However, my air conditioner is still sitting in the middle of the floor in my bedroom.

At long, dreaded last, the seasons are starting to change here in Philadelphia. Many people love this city because it's a city of four seasons, but I hate it. Not that it's here just yet, but the snow (and the ice, traffic difficulties, skin-drying cold, etc. it brings) is something no human being should have to live with. I can only imagine what it must be like in the North Country and places like that... I would honestly go insane. Weather-wise, it's been the best year here I could remember -- 65 degrees and goregous on New Years' Day (which, for some mysterious reason -- God's curse on the Mummers' Parade? -- is usually the coldest day of the year) set the tone just right.

Two of our radio stations have already begun to play Christmas music without interruption, and they'll continue doing so straight through to 25 December. It's nauseating, and I'm more grateful than ever that I picked up a satellite radio when I did. I'm not dreaming of a White Christmas because it's November 12, I haven't written my cards or bought a single gift yet, and there is still such a blessed thing as Advent.

I guess Capitalist Advent has been moved back to June or something.

Now there's all this hubbub out there because Wal-Mart is ditching "Merry Christmas" for "Happy Holidays."

So? Just as he once booted the money-changers from the Temple, methinks that's actually what Jesus would want.

You see, "Christmas" is being home with family, getting beautiful cards from people you don't talk to all year, eating seven fishes on the Eve, Midnight Mass with prime sanctuary seating and carols ("Once in Royal David's City" being my favourite); "Holidays" is standing outside Best Buy shivering your ass off in line at 4am on Black Friday to get gifts of megapixels, gigabytes and high-definition at half price.

It seems I just don't get it. Why we need Christ's blessing -- and his tres-lucrative name-branding -- on the obscenity of hysterical people kicking, jumping, pulling on, stampeding and punching each other to get the newest PlayStation for little Timmy must be some kind of Evangelical dogma; of course, they long ago traded bread and wine in for the Real Presence of Capital.

I don't need creches everywhere to be reminded that it's Christmas; I pull out my Advent wreath, write my cards and fire up the Nat King Cole and my boy choir on the iPod and I know. And that's all I need.

And how I, or anyone, can praise the gift of Jesus' birth by going to an over-crowded, crazed shopping mall and buying material things (while getting kicked, jumped, pulled on, stampeded and punched) is beyond me, too. Again, I guess it's some kind of Evangelical tenet, that it's the economy that's God incarnate, stupid. And that's just scary.



Blogger Jeff said...

It's just one more way in which Christ is exiled from the society and the culture and becomes something individuals do furtively--if we end up being tolerated at all.

Christ at Walmart is just one not particularly attractive part of something immennsely important: Christ the King, the Lord of All, acknowledged by is people.

12/11/05 18:35  
Blogger Hector said...

This story hasn't bothered me at all. Perhaps because I would have been surprised if they were actually emphasizing Christ. I thought retail and businesses had moved from Christ to a season of shopping long ago. Would I rather have them say Merry Christmas? Yes. Is this where Christians should focus their precious attention when we have increasing poverty, Sudan, and so many other sins? I don't think so...

12/11/05 18:56  
Blogger Dom Dominic said...

In the Milanese and in the Maronite Rites, the Advent season begins this Sunday. So, maybe they're starting in honor of them. (Yeah-- right! As if!)

12/11/05 22:17  
Blogger Gyrovagus said...

What a completely different take you all have from that expressed a few years ago by a certain Benedictine bishop, now-emeritus.

A television reporter was dispatched to interview him, his second or third Christmas in the Diocese, as she admitted later, "to get his negative reaction to the over-commercialization of Christmas."

Unlike you folks, he disappointed her by his distinctly positive response to three of her questions. All this is paraphrased, of course, but you can tell his answers impressed me deeply.

Q. Bishop, aren't you appalled at what our consumer society has done to what should be the celebration of the Birth of Christ? The Malls, etc.?

A. Well, actually, I've found that I kind of LIKE going to the Mall between Thanksgiving and Christmas. You know, when I was a monk, I never went, had no reason to do so. But walking in "civies" through the Mall, I saw an amazing thing . . . hassled and harried parents, probably dead-tired after a long day at work, being dragged from store to store by excited children. Other folks, who also should have been home relaxing after their workday, going out into our New England cold nights, to find just the right gift to surprise a friend . . . and I thought to myself, 'How much like God, who - after all - surprised us all that first Christmas with the most precious Gift of all!' So, actually, the Mall at Christmastime, looked at the right way, can actually put the believer in mind of the generosity and self-sacrificing love of our God.

Q. Speaking of the monastery, Bishop, surely you must miss the beauty and perfection with which Christmas was celebrated there?"

A. You're right in saying that there is nothing quite as beautiful as Christmas in the monastery. But you know, I ended up filling in last Christmas at a little church on the other side of the mountains where the parish priest took sick just a day or so before Christmas . . . and I thought to myself, the utter simplicity and down-home folksiness of this rural Christmas must certainly be something like the atmosphere into which Christ was born on that first Christmas. So, there are forms of beauty different from but every bit as real as the beauty of the monastic liturgy.

Q. Speaking of churches at Christmas, Bishop, it must surely be sad for you - well, for all priests - or maybe even annoying, to see the crowds at Christmas and the empty pews on so many Sundays.

A. Well, of course, like any priest, I wish people would come all the time, but I would hope that the priests and people who are ALWAYS in church would GO OUT OF THEIR WAY on Christmas to extend a WARM and SINCERE welcome to anyone and everyone who shows up. If even on that one occasion people are made to feel welcome and sense that we're genuinely glad to have them among us, then perhaps they'll leave thinking, 'You know, we really should come here more often!'

So, all of you, if any television reporter asks YOU what YOUR opinion is, keep your Scrooge-iness to yourselves, please, and send them to find a retired Benedictine bishop who can at least see God as much in the lights of the Christmas season Mall and he can in the lights of the Advent wreath.

13/11/05 09:00  
Blogger Robert said...

Greetings from from Fargo, North Dakota, Rocco. Count your blessings.

Since the annual Silly Season is beginning, it's no wonder you're steeling yourself for the onslaught. I do the the same. Two strategies are available to us: Join in or do the yearly prolonged Advent retreat. I go into retreat mode every year. For instance, I have always found eating in Jewish restaurants to be helpful as part of my retreat acesis.

Of course I'm retired now and I don't have to go into work. That helps me escape from banal Christmas music and tacky office parties. Above all, I avoid the mall and I make make carefully planned, quick trips to the supermarket. For church, one can carefully select the quick and dirty low Mass. Visiting monasteries is helpful, too. Run up to the Benedictines in Morristown, for example. For all of this, good management and cunning are needed but it can be done.

As for the nasty weather that is approaching, get in touch with me and I'll see what I can arrange for you with my sister in Fort Meyers.

Where there's a will there's a way.

13/11/05 11:30  
Blogger Gyrovagus said...

Robert - and all you other Scrooges - you know what might work - since the Space Shuttle is still so expensive?

How about joining the Amish?

Perish the thought of the alternative: helping Christian people in the midst of the world which, according to some scriptures, God loved so much as to send his only-begotten Son, actually cope with the REALITY of LIFE on the planet and - as our ancestors in faith did - transforming the culture where possible and baptizing the reality where necessary.

Advent wreath lights - shopping mall lights: can't SOME creative homilist come up with something redeeming in there?

Or is it off to Lancaster County in our broad brimmed hats and denim overalls on the old horse and buggy?

13/11/05 17:24  
Blogger Jeff said...

Ahhhh! Now THIS Gyrovagus I like. Defending ordinary people doing their imperfect best and looking with eyes of charity for the best in it, rather than cudgeling them for working within a culture and celebrating as those around them do.

Viva the Wandering Monk!

13/11/05 22:26  
Blogger Jimmy Mac said...

G --

Seeing that you missed my earlier post with the answer to your obscure question:

"The Night Listener"
Armisted Maupin

14/11/05 18:13  
Blogger Gyrovagus said...

Well done, Jimmy Mac!

I bet we won't be visiting you, Scrooge-scowl in place, back-turned upon the evil world and "that crowd who knows nothing of the Law" - furiously working out your anti-modernday-Christmas rush-withdrawal shakes at some butter churn in the hills of Pennsylvania!

15/11/05 00:10  
Blogger Jimmy Mac said...

1. You expected otherwise ???
2. Right ... I think.

15/11/05 00:15  

Post a Comment

<< Home