A thought, a farewell, and a song.

“Christmas is hard for everyone. But it’s particularly hard for people who actually believe in it. . . . In a sense, of course, there’s no better time to be a Christian than the first 25 days of December. But this is also the season when American Christians can feel most embattled.” – Ross Douthat

Though I could do some close quibbling on the opening of Ross Douthat’s Christmas column, I’d rather just say that the broader culture does make it difficult for me to observe Christmas with appropriate reverence. But I don’t mean “difficult” in the sense of suffering; it’s more that I feel like I’m somehow getting it wrong, and should do better next year. In other words, Christmas is difficult to figure out, not difficult to get through. It’s not something I would normally write about, nor is it anything that makes me feel “embattled.” But I can’t speak for everyone.

It is worth noting, however, that the second book Douthat endorses, James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World, argues forcefully that Christian anxiety about American culture is not a sufficient reason for trying to change the culture through politics. Perhaps it’s not too late for this book to work its way into some Evangelical stockings?

Douthat is a columnist, and the op-ed column is a highly constrained form, so I don’t blame him for not managing to convey everything significant about Christmas in fewer than eight hundred words. He made his point (“Christmas is hard”), and here’s the counterpoint: Christmas is awesome. Whatever the difficulties of Christmas, the season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is a time when people gather to enjoy good things together. We sing traditional songs, look at shimmering varicolored lights, eat delicious food, and visit old friends. If we can avoid being sentimental consumerists as we do this, so much the better, but let’s not be misanthropes. The season is filled with delights, and it’s nice that some Christmas traditions have been secularized enough that non-Christians can enjoy them too. Even if gratitude for the savior’s incarnation is limited to Christians, the festive spirit is good for all of us.

Anyway, I have a feeling that most Christmas complainers are much Grinchier in theory than in practice. I know I am. This year, I’ve deliverd my share of spiels about the difficulty of distinguishing cultural Christmas from Christian Christmas, but I’ve still had a blast at Christmas concerts and parties — thanks, Christine! — and Advent services have been more than an afterthought.

Peace on earth, goodwill to all.

~~~~~

This is my last post at The League. For whatever reason, I’ve never been productive here, and I think it’s time for me to try my hand at something else. Thanks to everyone who read my posts, left thoughful comments, or linked to my writing. Special thanks (which is better than “regular thanks”) to Erik for putting so much time and effort into the technical side of the site, and to everyone who donated to the site during our fund drives.

~~~~~

Another great thing about Christmas is the high probability that at least one of your favorite bands will release a Christmas song. Let Megafaun’s cover of “I Saw Three Ships” play me out!

(Track generously given away by Home Tapes. I hope they will forgive me for hotlinking!)

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

52 thoughts on “A thought, a farewell, and a song.

  1. Oddly, I’ve lately thinking that what is ruining Christmas for me is all the hollering about a “war on Christmas.” I think it’s conservatives who are really destroying the reverence of Christmas by turning it into just another battle in the culture wars. Who cares how other people celebrate Christmas? Who cares if a store tells its clerks to say happy holidays instead of merry Christmas? Who cares if the city government gives special recognition to your holiday in exclusion to others? None of those things has ever made me dislike Christmas. But knowing that each year we’re going to get another made-for-tv kulturkampf, that’s depressing as hell.

    Fare well, William. I’m sorry to have only been your colleague for a very short time.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • I actually agree. Movement conservatives, more than any other political faction, are fond of publically redefining institutions so that they only apply to their own conceptions of those institutions. They end up largely destroying the meaning of those institutions in the process, or at least heavily confusing them: see marriage for one.

      Mr. Brafford, I always enjoyed your writing. Best of luck in your pursuits.

        Quote  Link

      Report

  2. I don’t like Christmas because I don’t like shopping.

    I like Christmas because I like spending time with my family and the lights on everything are very nice, especially when the days are so short.

    All the adults in our extended family put their names in hats and you buy gifts for one person. I asked for a refill for my Coopers Microbrew Homebrewing Kit.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  3. I also don’t understand how Ross Douchat, a person who seems to have led a life at least as privliged as my own, so often ends up sounding like he’s wallowing in self-pity. I dunno, maybe it’s project on my part. But whatever it is, whenever I try to read him (many people I like respect and admire him as a thinking and a writer) I end up feeling like if I were in the same room I’d have to restrain myself from slapping him across the face and saying, “Oh for Christ sake, Ross. Grow up.”

    Not a very Christmassy thought, that. I guess in it’s own way being provocative is a gift.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  4. From Douthat’s column.

    Hunter now argues that…both conservative and liberal believers to frame their mission primarily in terms of conflict, …American Christianity has become what Hunter calls a “weak culture” — one that mobilizes but doesn’t convert, alienates rather than seduces,

    I’d say Hunter’s right on track with that.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • Which I should also point out that your posts have all been really good, as far as I can remember, and I really do think it should be about quality more than quantity or productivity. Aside from the fact that nobody’s on a salary here, it’s a group blog, so if you miss three weeks, it’s pretty certain that others will fill in the gap.

      Anyway, do what you need to do. It’s been nice having you here and good luck in your future endeavors.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • Okay one other thing (Sorry! William I really am going to let you go here!)- it might just be me, but I feel like we used to have more posts here by people of faith about their beliefs and how they lived them out in their lives. I miss those. I can’t really write any myself, but if anyone else wants to , even as a guest post, I’d be interested in reading them.

        And Merry Christmas!

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • Oh Rufus, PLEASE get them back!! I’m feeling claustrophobically suffocated with so many damn agnostics and atheists around here. Their almost unbearably arid and sanctimonious views on everything under the sun sucks all the oxygen out of life. Surely, I would have thought, there would be a more diverse representation of faiths than the dour, weighty pessimism of atheists who seem to rule the day at the League. What amuses me so much of atheists is their intractable “faith” that they KNOW God doesn’t exist. Now THAT takes far more faith than to believe we live in a created universe. At least, I think.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • Oh, Lordy, trouble’s so hard/ Oh, Lordy, trouble’s so hard/
            Don’t nobody know (Heidegger’s) troubles but God/ Don’t nobody know (his) troubles but God…

            Seriously though, we’ve got plenty of believers on board here. They just don’t write about it very often.

              Quote  Link

            Report

              • Tony, yeah exactly. I get that it can be awkward to talk about one’s faith in public and among certain crowds. I’m just saying that, as a relative agnostic, I still have a great amount of respect for people who can live out their religious beliefs and certainly find it fascinating to hear about. So, if anyone needs a vote of confidence, here’s one.

                  Quote  Link

                Report

            • Damn. Sorry, Rufus and everyone else. I should just keep my religious views to myself–this is Christmas after all! That was wholly unnecessary, so my apologies to all you atheists and agnostics out there. Regardless of our religious views, we all live in the same human tent with all the pains and joys that that entails and accompanies us on this unfathomable voyage. We’ll just have settle our theological scores in the hereafter. If you’re right Jason, life is a very, very bad joke, a cruel joke, and God has the blackest sense of humor of all. I needn’t say, if Jason is right we’ll never know. Since everything God does is on such a grandiose scale, we should only expect his sense of humor to be likewise. I just hope we”ll know the punchline! Again, everyone, my sincere, heartfelt apologies for the “hyper business” and the atheist rant. I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and nothing but the very best of health and happiness in 2011. And forget banning–you guys should consider hiring a hit man—I’ll even pay for it!

                Quote  Link

              Report

              • Happy Holidays to you too Heidegger.
                For my part I apologize that the League has failed to heap upon you the tribulations you seem to wish. But if you’d like to describe your preferred method of suffering for God(ess?) I’ll textually scourge you any which way you want. Never let it be said I won’t go the distance for a fellow League commenter.

                  Quote  Link

                Report

                • Ha! North, you are funny–I really do enjoy your sense of humor, and may I never lose the ability to laugh at myself–now THAT would call for some serious textual scourging! (Goodness, I can only imagine what that could mean.) I seem to be seriously underestimating the patience and tolerance of the administrators at this site and forget that Professor Hanley is not longer at the control of the gallows (he and DAR have had it in for me since day one-their utter contempt is barely concealable-what do I mean, “barely?” and both have tried several times to kill me with flaming crossbow arrows.) Once the Professor gets revved up, forget it–it’s just plain doom. It’s like a great white shark–the smell of blood is just irresistible and he’ll stalk you until your last breath. (I seriously considered getting him a defibrillator for Christmas but thought he might get the wrong idea.) Arguments with him sort of remind me of how the Mideast peace talks usually evolve. One side starts with the not so minor problem that Jews have no right to exist and then, preposterously, try to bargain for land concessions so they can…. KILL MORE JEWS!!!! Many thanks, North, for your generous offer to textually scourge me–I will certainly keep it in mind. What are your rates, by the way?

                    Quote  Link

                  Report

                    • Heh. heh, heh. Mark, great to hear from you and thanks so much for the kind Christmas wishes! And a very, very Merry Christmas to you and your family, and nothing but the very best for all the Boggs’ family for 2011. And good luck on the PGA tour!

                      And yes, these stigmata are getting pretty messy. I think it’s probably best for me just to shut up for a while, a long while at that.

                      Mark, you’re very bright and articulate and just a good guy, someone whom I’d enjoy having a few beers with and shooting the breeze. Such an activity though, can get dangerous. A few years ago, while in a bar, some rabid lefty broke a beer bottle over my head after a heated discussion over Iraq. I was a “fucking fascist” that advocated “killing children”. Hmm, I wonder where Hanley was that night… I would hope our exchanges have never sunk to the acrimonious level–if they have, it was just the stigmatas kicking in! Take care, my friend.

                      All the best, H

                        Quote  Link

                      Report

  5. I’m very sorry to see you go.

    I recall that C. S. Lewis described three Christmases — roughly, they were the Christian religious observance, the secular occasion for merrymaking with family and friends, and the commercial season of obligatory gifts, guilt, and recriminations. He was all in favor of the first, cheerfully tolerant of the second, and despised the third.

    While everyone knows I’m not a believer, I hope that Christians won’t mind if I celebrate the second Christmas.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  6. William, so very sorry that this is your last post–I’ve lost my sole, (musically speaking) kindred spirit, and am left with hyper-prosaic, hyper pretentious, hyper-pedantic, hyper-logical, hyper-bloodless, philistines who seem to be, almost congenitally, unable to see the forest through the trees. Ah, how cruel fate can be! I’ve also lost a special soul who can be moved to rapture with Bach and Bachian counterpoint–that, most decidedly, is not easy to find or replace. (by the way, how’s that musical analysis of Beethoven’s Eroica coming along? Would love to read it if you ever have the time to post it.) Incidentally, to you folks out there, I don’t mean “all” Leaguers are in the hyper categories, but far too many, though.

    So, comrade, a very Merry Christmas to you and your family and all the very best in 2011. You’ll be missed. Muchly. And never forget,

    “When gripping the heart doth wound,
    And doleful dumps the mind oppress;
    Music with her silver sound,
    Shall quickly lend redress.”

    Listen to this, William. You will be transported in to a most enraptured state of Bachian being.
    That’s Bach saying his farewells, too! And fare thee well. Best, H

      Quote  Link

    Report

  7. Le sigh.

    Christmas is hard for me because I continue to read idiocy like that written by Douthat about how hard it is to be a Christian.

    In a nine-block square from where I live, there are nine – NINE – Christian churches. I can attend services any Sunday in Spanish, English, and Tagalog. The Catholic Church across the street has a Christmas service in English, Latin, Italian, Celtic, and Spanish. It’s pretty damn cool, and incredibly beautiful.

    My church lets a smaller congregation share our sanctuary for services every Sunday – so I could go to two service per week if I chose. This week, we have Sunday service, a Sunday night service of carols, a Christmas eve prayer service, midnight service, Christmas day service, and the next day is Sunday service again. It is – what’s the opposite of “hard?” – EASY to pick any or all services to attend.

    On Christmas Eve, I’ll sit down with my kids and read “The Night Before Christmas” and the nativity story from the Gospel of St. Luke. We’ll leave out cookies and milk for Santa, carrots for the reindeer, and a bell for the Christkindl to ring.

    My faith is no more overshadowed in December than it is during the other eleven months. And I don’t think that more people show up at Christmas services for entertainment – I think it’s an honest expression of their faith. Just like when they crowd the pews for a wedding, for First Communion, Confirmation, or Baptism. In short, I think it is irresponsible and rather conceited to judge any other person’s faith. Douthat would be much better off discussing his own faith and/or feelings than trying to project what “everyone else” must be feeling.

    As far as the books he recommends: Neither is particularly original. Christians have been moaning for generations that we have lost our way and are becoming irrelevant. See also: First Great Awakening; Second Great Awakening; entire career of Billy Graham; Saint Augustus; Karl Barth; ad infinitum.

    What has happened with evangelical politics is that it has become a tool of a political party. The results have been predictable – increased radicalization, feelings of paranoia and persecution, intermingling of religious and political zealotry. America has often flirted with such activities, but common sense and the cultural separation of faith and politics has generally won out. This generation, however, is attempting to rewrite the American experience in a manner that ensures that separation ends.

    As far as Putnam and Cambell’s work, they simply don’t take into account the full breadth of American faith. My own Episcopal Church has been at the forefront of evolving faith – including the full inclusion of women and gays in the clergy. The result has been an concerted effort by evangelical groups to fund converted clergy to promote schism. But the Diocese of Newark is among the largest single suppliers of affordable housing in the area. We operate family shelters (near capacity at the moment), food pantries, and our “North Porch” ministry distributes clothing and food from the north porch of the cathedral in Newark to anyone who comes by (and believe me – a lot of people come by). Our women’s group has donated several thousand blankets to the Linus Project. We provide support for AA and NA groups and both Girl and Boy Scouts. We distribute winter coats to children. We cook for Meals on Wheels, provide cash and gifts for prison ministries, and I’ve even seen envelopes stuffed with money to be delivered anonymously to the homes of unemployed or chronically ill people. We helped pressure our state government to ban capital punishment. We provide scholarships.

    Christianity is not in a crisis at all. It is as it always has been – a lot of people say they are, but only a few put the shoe leather into action when called upon. It’s never easy to do, but it isn’t hard, either. You just have to embrace the words of Jesus – give up all you own and follow me. Whether the rest of the world follows or not – or if they make a mockery of your beliefs – is totally immaterial.

      Quote  Link

    Report

      • I love Christmas, I love how people recognize the value of one another, I love it for pretty much many of the same reasons as William suggests. My feeling like Thurman’s is that those who are truly comfortable in their faith, don’t care one bit about what others think and don’t feel the need to force others to feel or behave the same way. As another Christian who reads this blog, I want to wish everyone joy in whatever form it takes this holiday season and hope that Heidigger actually embraces the Christmas spirit as suggested in William’s post to lay off attacking the non-Christian bloggers here.

          Quote  Link

        Report

          • I just find it funny that the message of the post was completely lost during the anti-atheist rant. I know everyone here is more than capable to endure the barrage of insults, it just seemed so petty – not humorous more of a mud throw that fell several feet short of the target. Oh well, tis the season to be generous so I’ll stop. I’m going to get back to work designing a poster for the next theatre production at my college, while listening to some Broadway Christmas tunes.

              Quote  Link

            Report

        • Hi Johanna. Such a lovely name! Do you pronounce it, Jo-hawn ah or Jo-han a? Or even the German pronunciation, Yo hawn ah? And yes, the Christmas spirit is most definitely alive and well in my heart and regret and renounce my past post when I went on a most un-Christmas like condemnation of atheists and agnostics. It’s time for me to shut up and withdraw–it doesn’t seem to be remotely possible for this terminal case of foot in mouth disease, to ever exhibit restraint. Wishing you all the best , and a most Merry Christmas! H

            Quote  Link

          Report

  8. Whatever you’ve lacked in quantity, you’ve always made up for 1000 fold in quality. This last is no exception. I am indeed saddened to see you go, just as we all are. That you were one of the earliest to join our merry crew only makes that more so. Best wishes, and a Merry Christmas!

      Quote  Link

    Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *