Christmas at the White House

God is not dead

While it may delight scholars like Christopher Hitchens to throw brickbats at Christmas, some of his information is more a reflection of his agenda then a reflection of mainstream (common) Christian practice.
1) Christmas does not celebrate the birth of a ‘Miraculous Baby.’ It is a celebration of ‘the Godhead appearing in human form.’
2) As a nation founded in large part as a refuge for persecuted Christians, Americans need not look to the Quoran for proof ‘Mary mothered a prophet.’

We read in Luke 1:46-55 where Mary herself says:
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden,
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.’ RSV

Note also Mary’s commonness. She refers to herself as a ‘lowly handmaiden,’ much as Michelle Obama refers to the White House as ‘the People’s House.’ By all means, the midwinter celebration of common people should be celebrated in the ‘the People’s House.’ It is not an accommodation to the President. Indeed, has there ever been a President of the United States who said ‘God is dead?

Christianity is a religion of the people. It makes no claim to exclusivity. Over the years, as new adherents were welcomed to the faith various trappings have been added to the celebration of Christmas. There were no carols or Christmas trees in Bethlehem in the year ‘0.’ Indeed, there was no year zero. But more on that later. Christmas trees were added by the tribes of Europe as Christianity spread there. Evergreen Trees…Evergreens/Eternal Life/Get it? It is a bit of a reach, I know, but go for it. There is a metaphor in there somewhere that makes a kind of statement on how life goes on, despite famines, wars, crime, the storms of winters and…ad infinitum.
To confront the disasters of life, some people may rely on ego defense mechanisms; others practice faith, such as Christianity preaches.
So; who says when it is Christmas? –I agree completely with Mr. Hitchens and his adherents. No one knows the exact date The Christ was born. According to the Gospel accounts of ‘shepherds in the fields,’ theologian William Barclay speculates it was likely spring–when the shepherds stood guard over the baby lambs. Attacks from predators necessitated the additional protection. This again demonstrates the flexibility of Christianity meeting the needs of common people. The Christmas celebration was established in mid winter as this is a time when people are more often in a more reflective frame of mind, as they tightened their belts, planned their futures and engaged in other such chores as are appropriate to Christmas. In the old days, in the spring, folks were too busy planting crops (and guarding lambs).

We really should explore the question of ‘When is it Christmas’ much deeper? There actually is no year ‘zero. There is only a year 1 BC and a year 1 AD. But no year zero. The Julian Calendar was not even established until 525 AD, about 100 years after the fall of Rome. The concept was simple. Basing our calendar on the birth of Jesus, the eternal king, allowed everyone to use common series of years.

Prior to this uniformity, people might say ‘in the 23rd year of the reign of King John,’ or ‘in the year King Uzziah died.’
I am however, not so rigid a Christian thinker as to NOT believe that at some future time (whether it be 500 or 5,000 years from now) some other Great Event may occur that utterly changes how we common people synchronize our calendars. I will only say this. Whatever that future event might be, it will have to be really BIG to beat Christmas.

The Real Cap and Trade—Seven Billion Affected!!!

webshots overpopWith the Copenhagen Climate Summit happening soon, there has been much skepticism raised on the value of cap and trade. Questions abound. “Is Carbon Dioxide really that bad? Will cap and trade really motivate the use of alternative fuels?
For anyone who doubts the human footprint has changed the environment, consider this. In 1960, there were only three billion people living on the earth. Soon, in the next two years, the population of the world will hit SEVEN Billion. Unless something drastically compassionate and widely supported happens soon, what will life on earth be like by the year 2050? Can the earth support TWENTY billion people? Yes, many of these people will be living in poverty, but even so, the demand on resources will continue to rise. Somehow means will have to be devised to reduce birthrates, and to more efficiently produce energy as well as process the waste stream. What do the nattering nabobs of Denial have to say about that?

What an Age We Live In

What an age we live in. Trillions have been blown on bailing out industries that ‘deregulated’ themselves into penury (except for executive compensation), Wars have been declared with budgets conveniently hidden ‘off budget,’ Computing capacity has expanded exponentially over the past 20 years into the region of terabytes yet some industry wags can claim with a straight face–innovation is dead. Healthcare costs consume 17% of our Gross Domestic Product –and growing at a rate twice as high as the rate of inflation (half of healthcare spending is Medicare related)…
Whoaaahhh now–Enough with the problems already. It’s enough to make a body sick. Worse, according to the press, all these problems are highly entertaining. The arguments are framed by the extremes. Now ain’t that a kick in the pants?
Our elected leaders hold town halls and are shouted down with irrational argument. Attempts to get a handle on escalating healthcare spending are called fascist (Nazi). I would hope that those who have taken the trouble to secure a career in either government or journalism would be seeking solutions instead of sowing such discord. Leonard Pitts called them on this in a recent column. ‘Too, socialism’ is hooted by some about as a dirty word. Perhaps if those who complain of such an outrage as socialism were to surrender their social security income once they were eligible, that could go some ways towards offsetting the tremendous expenses that are now bandied about so freely.
The truth of the matter is No One achieves anything on their own. Our society works because there is a certain assumption that we should all be working together on building the world we live in. If I were to build a house, I wouldn’t rely on just a carpenter, or just a plumber, or an electrician. Neither should you. Specialization has been going on for a very long time now and to the degree that some of us are supervisors and leaders, we shouldn’t be inciting one group of people against the other.
As to our current problems, there is plenty of blame to go around as to how we got to where we are today. While it may be entertaining or even cathartic for some to rant and rave- is this really productive? Why is attention so directed at the extremes of a problem, at the outliers, if you will?
Let us hope rather that there is an eye at the center of this storm where progress is being made, where sound judgment is exercised, and society can move on in its primary objectives, to provide a healthy environment for all humanity to live, pursuit their ambitions and make the world a better place for us all.
Such crises are nothing new. Before democracy became the law of the land, ‘Royalty’ was said to have divine rights. If you do doubt the ingenuity of people to rise above their problems, I invite you to listen to “Those Self Evident Truths,” an audio reading of the English Magna Carta, the Amercian Declartion of Independence and the events leading up to the need for them.
Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.

Boiling Mad or Moiling Bad?

Call it entitlement, call it one-up-man ship or trigger finger. Have I slowed down in my decaffeinated days or have I become more perceptive? It seems people have become increasingly ready to take offense. Perhaps some fiend has sprinkled hot lava on the various phonemes and mouthings that we utter in order to communicate. Words should not be near as inflammatory as it would appear they have become.
Case in point. Recently I saw an erstwhile minister on youtube working his flock into a lather. “Let’s teach our children to text their representatives, jam their switchboards, vote the legislation down. No mention was made of any specific legislation. Perhaps it was discussed off camera. The image though of all of these crazed youths, he even went so far as to suggest they weren’t even yet of voting age, to vote the legislation down. Tweet them, text them, harangue the legislators, it all appeared to be quite hateful, hurtful and the crowd loved it.
Now I’m all in favor of difference of opinion. As an author, I realize the essence of story is conflict. As a member of society, I must admit my own life would probably be too dull to be good story material. That’s why I like fiction. I can create a world filled with conflict where my team wins.
So far as real life is concerned; discussion, pros and cons, problem/solution; these are dynamics I can understand. However, when we get to a point where we are encouraging impressionable youth to view their legislators as hideous cave-dwellers out to suck the life out of society, as archfiends who live in some murky proximity of a video game, and they can be ponged with a text message, I’ve got to say ‘Whoa, what’s going on here?’
I am reminded of my own days in the insurance business where the salesmen were to sell insurance and as a salesman; it was our job to ‘hoodwink’ the underwriters. By the by, whatever happened to my old boss who told me this? I remember one case in particular. The company was on the verge of declaring bankruptcy. There was a moral risk. My handler, excuse me, manager advised me to go ahead and submit the case anyway. He said “What the underwriter doesn’t know won’t hurt him.” Silly me, but why would anyone want to insure a business about to declare bankruptcy? The claims began coming in shortly after the case was written.
Now, at that point, if ever there was a case for competition, wouldn’t this plum have sat much better in some other insurer’s portfolio? Please don’t call me heartless for having no compassion for folks down on their luck. Believe me, this retailer was no saint.
We tend to gloss over such irregularities in the force-field that surrounds the society in which we live and move and have our being. Nostalgia can be most infectious in this regard. When it comes to disparate groups of people getting along, I am reminded of Aunt Eller’s philosophy in Oklahoma She sings “The farmer and the cowman should be friends.” A key phrase in this song goes “I’m no better than anybody else/But I’ll be damned if I ain’t just as good.”
Now here is a philosophy with some real legs. This is the stance we can all take and society would be the better for it. Take our work seriously, but our own self-importance with a grain of salt. Not to be pushed around, but to be heard. There is a simple test that we should all be training ourselves and those we come in contact with, the next time we encounter a so-called commentator, a so-called friend, or even someone in the street driving a supercharged red pickup with lifters- Does the encounter cause the hair on the back of my neck to stand up? Can I defuse? Please remember to breathe. Remember, the farmer and the cowman should be friends. This too, will pass. Halleleuh.

The Day Trickle Down Economics Began

Nixon guard hatsFor those who’ve just joined the passing scene, or for those who’d like a recap as we face the latest downward spiral of the economy and civilization as we know it, a quick survey of recent years may be useful. Once we take a quick spin through the past 40 years, I’d like to dig deeper into this archeological construct we call government back to the very foundations of democracy itself.
Hold on, we’ll move fast.
Some time ago, it was the 1970’s. Richard Nixon gave the US Presidency a certain Imperial sheen. This was exemplified by outfitting the White House Guards in high peaked hats and tunics. Very chic, very continental. But the European style didn’t sit well with opinion makers or Americans at large, and so it was dropped. Indeed, King Richard the Nixon himself was unceremoniously dropped from office for a serious breach of etiquette, whether real or imagined. Some go so far as to say he was framed, never having ordered the Watergate break-ins in the first place, but nevertheless, eager to cover it up nonetheless. —as to the truth of such a tale, I can only refer the reader to The Bush Dynasty by …..
There seems to be a pattern here for our Presidents. They are given a big job to do, and for the most part, they are criticized and condemned for it. Jimmy Carter gave the office of the president a folksy spin by addressing the TV audience in a cardigan sweater, and placing solar panels on the White House roof, urging everyone to turn down their thermostats. Speed limits on the Instertant Highway system were reduced to 55-double nickel, to conserve fuel. It seemed to hobble the whole idea of America the Beautiful, which was taken down a further notch when 52 Americans were held hostage in Iran for 444 days.
Ronald Reagan took the helm in 1981, the hostages were released thanks to numerous pressures faced by Iran such as the Iran/Iraq war, the freezing of Iranian assets in America and the diplomatic efforts of Carter’s Deputy Secretary of State, Warren Christopher. One thing that can be said about Reagan is he knew how to stand up to the media. He gave the country a great psychological boost, though what he did for the economy may not be quite so illustrious. Reagon tore down Carter’s solar panels. He said “America is great. We don’t need no stinking reduction in Highway Speed limits or constraints of the burning of fossil fuels, just because the price of fuel has tripled in the last ten years.
He went on to be a great statesman President, one who quipped “Let’s reduce taxes on the wealthy, so they can invest all the additional money they don’t pay in taxes. They could build anti-ballistic missiles with this additionally repatriated money. …and we could build eight star luxury hotels to show our appreciation for all their hard work and contributions to society. What’s good for the top 5% of the population is good for everyone, as they are good tippers.” OK, OK, Ronald Reagan didn’t really say it quite like that, but anyway the theory is called trickledown economics.
Actually, I’m not sure where the trickling really starts or what it is that is being trickled. It seems like every chief executive of the United States has been ‘trickled on’ by a bumper crop in “Impeach X” where “X” stands for the seated head of state.
So enough with humor. Let us look at the interaction of the classes in a democratic society. Modern democracies can trace their lineage back to monarchies. The evolution of monarchies into democracies began about this time of year. It was June 15th, 1215 when King John signed the Magna Carta. This year marks the 794th anniversary of that signing. The Magna Carta wasn’t the first time constraints were placed on the British Monarch by his or her Aristocracy, but it was the first time that someone took the trouble to gather up all the various agreements and practices that had existed previously and codified them into the Magna Carta. Some will argue that the Barons who met with King John at Runnymede Meadow were just watching out for their won backsides. True, to a degree. Actually, they were more looking out for their families. Rights of inheritance were a major issue in the agreement.
However, Edward Coke, 17th century jurist and Member of Parliament, known to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, argued what was actually at stake was The Law; no one, not even the King is above the law. This is powerful stuff. It led to the English Petition of Rights. So again, we might ask ourselves, when it comes to ‘trickle down economics,’ what is trickling down on whom? That is the challenge that governments are supposed to be set up to answer.