Category Archives: Loose thoughts and musings

The End of an Exhausting Week: Community, Coronavirus, and Comparisons to the Past

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The past week has been difficult with the corporate destruction of what used to be our version of Cheers, battling the emotions that came with that, as well as a couple day relapse into coughing most of the night and being unable to get any sleep, and obey the directive, that if one was sick one should not go to work. But, even so I was unable to get anything of substance accomplished, tired, and drained both emotionally and physically, by Wednesday night I was on the mend and able to go back to work yesterday and today. However, Thursday was busy but at the same time productive, even though I was running as if my Warp Core had been drained and I could barely get by on Impulse power. I slept fairly well Thursday night and today my propulsion and other systems were nearly back to normal.

Friday evening we were able to reunite with a good number of friends and some of our former bartenders and General Manager of our Gordon Biersch met at a locally owned Irish restaurant and bar, where the management and employees welcomed us, expressing the shock and surprise at what happened. It was a night to reunite with our friends, our extended family and community. It was nice, we were all on the same side on the bar, and the former customers were paying for the meals and drinks of those who over the last decade did so much to take care of us.

I have a number of things I will be writing about over the next few days; the Coronavirus 19 pandemic and our government’s mostly inane response to it, Season Three of Babylon Berlin, and the anniversary of the historic duel between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia, as well as the race for the Democratic Party nomination to run against President Trump in November, and the challenges that face the United States and World in light of the Coronavirus. Likewise, I need to update you on my Reading Rainbow. 

There are some interesting historical parallels to now and the events during the years between the First and Second World Wars which are worth exploring, including the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918-1919, world economic fluctuations which culminated in the Great Depression, as well as the rise of Left and Right Wing extremist parties that brought about the authoritarian rule of various Fascist, Communist, and Racist parties in Europe and Asia, which also spread to the United States and Great Britain, but in the latter they did not seize control, as they did in Germany, Russia, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Japan, and other smaller, less powerful countries; nor did they destroy the democratic and constitutional underpinnings of government as they did in France in the 1930s. However, as always I digress.

I am tired and need to get to sleep. I promise to get back on schedule, even as I watch Izzy and Pierre having their nightly Papillon war at my feet. So until sometime Saturday night or Sunday morning I wish you all well.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Diseases Epidemics and Pandemics, healthcare, History, Loose thoughts and musings, Political Commentary

The Night Our “Cheers” Closed: How Corporate America Destroys Community

 

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sunday night was the last night that our version of Cheers for the last fourteen years closed forever. About 5 PM at no notice a representative of the corporate headquarters came in and told our General Manager that our Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant would close at the end of the evening for good. The employees were given no notice, one day they had a job, the next day they didn’t. The fault was not theirs, it was an out of touch corporation, which over extended itself by buying up an already bankrupt restaurant chain, Logan’s Roadhouse, and then neglecting its thriving brewery restaurants of the Gordon Biersch, Round Rock, Chicago Pizza chains, and other brands. The CEO is the former CEO and Managing Parter of Logan’s, owned by the venture capital company Centerbridge Partners, L.P.

In fact, rather than a corporate owned operation, our brewery-restaurant had the feel of a local neighborhood bar, like the one called Cheers. It really was a place where everybody knew your name. It became a gathering place for friends, who along with the managers, cooks, bartenders, servers, and hosts became like an extended family. Yes, there were some who were assholes and acted overly entitled, and others that pretty much kept to themselves, but overall the clientele embraced a broad spectrum of people. Everyone from businesspeople and bankers, military personnel, reachers, professors, doctors and dentists, pensioners, day workers, shipyard workers, technicians and IT types, small business owners, retail workers, bartenders, cooks, and servers from other restaurants of a wide variety of races and, ethnicities, nationalities, and religions, straight and gay, with ages from the twenties to the nineties.

For the most part we cared for each other. We looked out for the bartenders and servers. We had each other over for dinner, for holidays, those with building or mechanical skills donated time to help those less proficient or unable due to illness or physical disability. We all pitched in when money needed to be raised for individuals or groups, proceeds from tapping parties went to charities.
In a way I became the unofficial chaplain, performing three marriages, one funeral, providing counseling, or just listening, and making hospital visits.

We gathered to visit, talk, listen, joke, on good days and bad. To watch football, soccer, baseball, hockey, the Olympic Games, the World Cup, to talk about our days, to have a listening ear, over a beer. We had parties there, celebrated Oktoberfest, the New Year, but mostly came together at the end of a day, to download and relax, to share and to care, each in our own way. A few of us, including me got a chance to work with the brewer to brew a beer of our choice. I got a chance to learn the process of how to brew what we called The Padre’s Pilsner, a crystal clear champagne like  German Pilsner, hoppy, but not overly so, crisp without being too bitter.

My wife Judy specialized in making people happy by making them beautiful jewelry and pendants, which she mostly gave to the servers, hosts, and bartenders. When Judy was in the hospital for cancer surgery and knee replacements it was bartenders and servers who visited her, and who came by the house to visit when she was recovering, not people from church or Navy Chaplains. It was our executive Chef who cooked her special menu items which she could eat based on gastrointestinal ailments.

At about 6:00 PM on Sunday we were informed that a representative from corporate had come in, and told our General Manager that the restaurant would close forever that night. Many of us came in for a final last call. There were tears, and laughs as we remembered the good times, tears as we thought of the closing, and friends who had passed away. We shared hugs, stories, and collected our steins, even for friends who couldn’t be there. Sunday night I was so discombobulated and unfocused that I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t even focus on television or books.

But now as I previously mentioned, thanks to the CEO of Craftworks Holdings, a man who has managed restaurants, but never breweries, and the hedge fund managers at Centerbridge Partners. They are sacrificing the jewels of their corporation, the unique craft brewery restaurants to prop of a steakhouse that has been rescued from bankruptcy once, then acquired by Craftworks, whose CEO had been the CEO and managing partner of that steakhouse until 2018. But don’t take my word, just google these things these things and you will find articles in the Wall Street Journal, the Craft Beer Journal Brewbound, and many local papers, and you can see the history and scale of the decline of what were once the trademark brands of Craftworks, which were all once described as growing and innovative have been crushed by cut after cut, even extremely profitable location on Honolulu’s Waikiki, where landlords disputed the reasons Craftworks gave for shutting them down. In our case the restaurant still had over a year left on its lease, the lease was not expensive, and despite the best efforts of Craftworks to make it less competitive, by dropping Happy Hour prices on weekends and when major sporting events were going on, which drove some customers to other restaurants, who carried the NFL package and lowered prices of their drinks and appetizers, it was still profitable. If I was a betting man I would say that since 2018 that corporate has been trying to drive customers and staff away, yet they still came.

Now, our Gordon Biersch Cheers family has lost its home. Thankfully, many of us are still committed to friendships and will meet Tuesday night at another local brewery restaurant. It’s not as fancy, but it will do, and we know that the owners there, local people, not venture capitalists will appreciate our business, as will any number of the other locally owned craft breweries.

The sad thing is that the venture capitalists often back ventures that fail, making vast profits while leaving the businesses the leverage in ruins. Quality, sacrificed for cheapness, loyalty, for the mass market, community, for a mass of unknown and uncared for customers who are rushed in and out of restaurants at a rate slightly slower than fast food operations. The same can be said for almost every business organization that has been taken over by the venture capitalists. They have been destroyed, parted out, and many operations moved overseas to China, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, South Korea, the Philippines, and a host of other nations, whose people, environment, and living conditions we don’t care about while at the same time transferring the worlds wealth to the richest oligarchs.

It’s happening here. We have record employment but wages are still pitifully low, and many work more than one job to make ends meet. Even then, quite a few people are only a paycheck or two from bankruptcy. Our friends, other than management, who worked there did receive a severance, of two weeks pay at $2.13 an hour, the base minimum wage of restaurant workers, without tips, and of course all taxes will be diverted from what the corporate spokesman said was “compensating” the employees, regardless of the fact that quite a few have worked there a decade or more. It’s really shitty how corporate America treats hard workers, as well as those who are loyal to their employers. On Monday when the employees came in the trucks and men from corporate were already there, the move had been planned for some time, but the failed to notify Armada Hoffer, which holds the lease. They didn’t find out that the restaurant had closed until Monday. It’s immoral, it’s evil, and it will destroy our country. I talked to two friends tonight whose corporations are being reorganized even now. Both have their doctorates and the industries that they are in are making huge money, often assisted by agencies controlled by Trump appointees.

We didn’t learn the examples of 2008, and what happened to our little group, will happen again, and probably worse than in 2008, as the Trump Administration has loosed the bonds of the modern Robber Barons. Our little diverse family is now yet another victim of them. I worry more about our employees who are now out looking for jobs. But we will do our best to stay together.

So, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under economics and financial policy, ethics, laws and legislation, Loose thoughts and musings, News and current events, Political Commentary

“Anyone Could Do It; It Required No Brains at All. It Merely Required No Character” Trump’s Evangelical Allies

Catch-22 (1970) Alan Arkin Mike Nichols 24

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

When I see the political-religious leaders of the Christian Right defend the indefensible actions of President Trump I am reminded of the words of Joseph Heller in his classic novel Catch 22  who wrote about the Chaplain:

“The chaplain had mastered, in a moment of divine intuition, the handy technique of protective rationalization, and he was exhilarated by his discovery. It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.” 

As much as I doubt I am still a Christian, even if I wasn’t already a Christian I couldn’t think of a single reason to follow the false God of men like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, or any of the host of big name Evangelical Christian preachers who excuse the behaviors of President Trump and his decadently despicable defenders, including people that I once thought that I knew.

I used to think that most people like to believe that religion is a benign or positive influence in the world. As much as I want to believe the positive aspects I have to admit based on the historical and sociological evidence that this is not so, especially during unsettled times of great change. We live in such an era and when it comes to identity, God is the ultimate trump card.

If one wonders why the most fanatical individuals and groups on earth are tied to religions, whether it is the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Orthodox Jews, radical Hindus and Buddhists as well as militant Christians. Of course all of these groups have different goals, but their thought and philosophy are quite similar.

Robert Heinlein wrote:

“Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.”

Heinlein, the author of the classic Starship Troopers was absolutely correct. Just look at any place in any time where any religion, sect or cult has gained control of a government. They are not loving, they are not forgiving and they use the police power of the state to persecute any individual or group that is judged to be in error, or even worse has the gall to question their authority.

Since the Christian groups tend to thrive in the West, they only speak in terms of violence, most, with the exception of Russian Orthodox Christians, do not have a government to translation of those words into action. Many, especially conservative Catholics and some Evangelical and Charismatic Protestants seem for a long for the day when they can assume control of a theocratic government.

Samuel Huntington wrote in his book The Clash of Civilizations:

“People do not live by reason alone. They cannot calculate and act rationally in pursuit of their self-interest until they define their self. Interest politics presupposes identity. In times of rapid social change established identities dissolve, the self must be redefined, and new identities created. For people facing the need to determine Who am I? Where do I belong? Religion provides compelling answers….In this process people rediscover or create new historical identities. Whatever universalist goals they may have, religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and non-believers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.”

Huntington was right, you see the true believers, those who follow their religion without question and believe that it is superior to all others also believe that their religion entitles them to be atop the food chain, others who don’t believe like them be damned, if not in this life, the next. That is the certitude of the true believer, especially the religious one. Secular or atheistic fanatics could care less about the next life, for this life is all that they have. But the religious “true believers” are not only interested in destroying someone in this life, but ensuring that in the next that they suffer for eternity, unless they believe in the annihilation of the soul after death, which really spoils the whole Dante’s Inferno perspective of the damned in the afterlife.

The great American philosopher, Eric Hoffer wrote:

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

That is why they, the religious true believers of any faith are capable of such great evil, and why such people can murder innocents in the most brutal manner simply because they do not believe correctly. In fact today when I see the words and actions of these supposed Conservative Christians.

Please do not get me wrong. I am a Christian, a priest, a historian and a theologian, but I also know just how insidious those who hold their religion over those of others can be. While I hold faith dear, I know that it can be abused for the claim of some to have God as their final authority is a sort of trump card with which they are able to justify the most obscene and evil acts against others.

Likewise I struggle with faith every day. If you have read this blog from the beginning you will see chronicle my struggles with faith and its practice, especially in life and politics.

I guess that is why I am even more frightened of religious true believers than non-religious true believers. While the non-religious true believer may sacrifice everything for the sake of power and control in this life, and may in fact commit the most heinous crimes against humanity, their hatred is bounded in space and time to this earth. The religious true believer is not content with that; their enemies must be damned and punished in this life, but for eternity, without hope of salvation.

When they look at people like me or Yossarian they believe as Heller wrote:

“Morale was deteriorating and it was all Yossarian’s fault. The country was in peril; he was jeopardizing his traditional rights of freedom and independence by daring to exercise them.” 

With that I wish you a good day.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, civil rights, ethics, faith, History, Loose thoughts and musings, ministry, Political Commentary

“How Did it Get So Late So Soon?” The End of 2019 and the Uncertainty of 2020


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is the last day of 2019 and the year has gone by like a whirlwind, some of this is personal and the rest because of the chaos that has become the new normal in our country and much of the world. Dr. Seuss wrote:

“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”

Being that I am neither the prophet nor the son of the prophet, but a priest and historian I cannot predict what will happen in the coming year, only that it will be chaotic and dangerous. I try to be optimistic but I can see the threads of our Republic unraveling and regardless of how President Trump’s time in office ends, I do not expect a soft landing. Without sounding too pessimistic, I think it is wise to live by the words of George Washington when he commanded the Colonial Army during the Revolution:

“If we are wise, let us prepare for the worst.”

Of course many others have said things like hope for the best and prepare for the worst, but in such an world as ours I think that wisdom lies in preparing for the worst, even though I do hope, pray, and work for the best. The last three years have shown us that we can take nothing for granted, that institutions can be corrupted, Constitutional guardrails overcome, and tyranny arise. Historian Timothy Snyder warned us of this in his book On Tyranny: “The mistake is to assume that rulers who came to power through institutions cannot change or destroy those very institutions—even when that is exactly what they have announced that they will do.” 

Snyder was right, and while we can all work, pray and hope for the best in 2020, we must also prepare for the worst. Given the words of the President, the policies of his administration, that the absolute nearly worshipful actions and words of his followers, who threaten violence and civil war should he be turned out of office by impeachment or failure to win re-election. That is something to be to be concerned about.

That being said, tonight to all of my friends I wish you the best, and in the words of Auld Lang Syne:

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup !
and surely I’ll buy mine !
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, History, life, Loose thoughts and musings, News and current events, Political Commentary

“What We Leave Behind is Not as Important as How We Lived: Reflecting on My 2019

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

T. S. Elliott wrote:

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.”

It is the eve of New Year’s Eve and I have been reflecting on the year past and thinking about the future, and trying to put the past year into words. The good thing is that I write a decent amount about my experiences as they occur on this site, so in addition to it being a wealth of historical, biographical, religious, and political thinking, it also serves as kind of a public diary.

The past year has been full of difficulties, surprises, sometimes good and sometimes not so good. But for the most part we are ending the year on a high note. Judy is now pretty much recovered from both of her knee replacement surgeries as well as hernia surgery which was necessary due to the hysterectomy associated with endometrial cancer surgery in 2015. My knees as well as sleep disorders and PTSD continue to be problematic.

The knee issue kept me from retiring as planned on September 1st of this year. I had a failed surgery on the meniscus of my left knee, and failed cortisone, platelet rich plasma, and gel injections in my right knee. My pain level was a constant 7 to 10 on the pain scale. Eventually my physical therapy doctor referred me to aquatic physical therapy, and my former Executive Officer at the Camp LeJeune Naval Hospital got me an appointment with the Orthopedic department head at the Naval Medical Center who ordered new MRIs, determined that I was not a candidate for knee replacement therapy and proscribed a new series of gel injections done by a different provider. Normally it takes a couple of weeks before one experiences pain relief, I certain did not experience that the first time. However, I experienced almost immediate relief following the first set of injections. The pain levels went down, the aquatic physical therapy helped and soon I no longer needed crutches or a cane to assist me walking, and I lost 28 pounds between June and October. I continue to get the gel injection treatments, and my pain level seldom goes beyond a 4 or 5, most of the time it is under three. I should get another series beginning in February, but again I digress…

With my knees so screwed up and my retirement request being voluntary, the Navy moved the date to what they had calculated to be my statuary retirement date based on years of commissioned service to April 1st 2020, and then when it came time to issue my retirement orders they realized they had made a mistake and counted four months of active National Guard enlisted service as part of the 28 years commissioned service, so they pushed my retirement date to August 1st 2020. That was unexpected, and involved a lot of consternation and work, to move all of my books and memorabilia to my home and storage space and create a room for my library, all while trying to transfer, which on short notice is complicated enough.

On another subject, we were once again able to make our pilgrimage to Germany, in September and October, see old friends and decompress for a while. Judy was able to visit another five or six towns from where her family emigrated, first to Russia and then to the United States. As usual I made pilgrimages to various Holocaust and German resistance movements. However, I was most happy to get Judy to those places. Hopefully we can do more this year, but I digress…

The change in my retirement dates led to some consternation and stress as the local command and region tried to figure out what to do with my as my relief was already in place and I was excess, but it turned out well. So they worked out a deal for me to serve at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, since the shipyard has not had a chaplain since 2009. The chapels , a historic building is condemned due to serious structural issues, black mold, asbestos, and a major termite infestation. I don’t have an assistant, a budget, and I work out of the administration department offices. But the command welcomed me with open arms and the ministry there plays to my strengths, getting out with people and being there for them, regardless of their status as active duty, Navy civilian employees, or contractors.

I like walking about the shipyard and visiting people where they work. I go to where they take their smoke breaks, their office or other work spaces, and let them know that I am there for them. I did a holiday greeting letter and got a huge response of people wanting me to visit, as well as people wanting to talk. I think I will start doing a “thought of the day” to send out as well as a monthly letter on topics that could encompass secular and religious holidays.

I am happier at work than I have been for over two and a half years, and people can tell the difference. So I expect to end my Navy and military career on a high note. I have been up, and down, and now I’m not just trying, but I have that feeling again, I feel renewed. Though the year did not go the way that I planned or imagined, I have been blessed.

The coming year will have its own stressors as I get ready to retire, process my VA claim, get through all of the Navy wickets I need to check off, then arrange my retirement ceremony and prepare for life as a civilian, which includes preparing our townhome to sell or rent so we can get a one floor ranch style house. There are some employment possibilities that may make the transition fairly smooth. So you can pray for me on that.

There are other challenges that we face, which I shall not mention here but we do  appreciate your thoughts, kind words, encouragement and prayers. For those who read this blog regularly, thank you, because many of my articles do take some time to read and are quite serious in nature.

But I leave you with this final thought.

In the movie Star Trek: Generations, Captain Jean Luc Picard tells Commander William Riker:

“Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. But I rather believe than time is a companion who goes with us on the journey, and reminds us to cherish every moment because they’ll never come again. What we leave behind is not as important how we lived. After all, Number One, we’re only mortal.” 

So as I close out the old year I wish you all the best, although I’m only mortal, and that’s probably a good thing.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under life, Loose thoughts and musings

“Christmas Day will always be just as long as we have we…” All You Need to Understand Christmas Comes from Charlie Brown and the Grinch

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah or whatever you celebrate today. I have been   Cooking and getting the house ready for Christmas dinner since last night. Once Judy’s cousins have arrived we will have our dinner, Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, corn pudding, broccoli, and beer bread. So I will probably be offline until late this evening if at all. This is something I wrote last year. I hope you enjoy.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

I am a Priest, and I am actually a pretty learned theologian as well as a historian. I am probably a better historian than theologian, in fact on of my Deans at the Joint Forces Staff College said that I was “a historian masquerading as a chaplain, not that there is anything wrong with that.” But the fact is that as learned as I am of the theology of the Incarnation and how important that is to real Christian theology. The Incarnation not about creating some kind of Christian theocracy in order to usher in the Kingdom of God, instead it is about a God that chooses to become fully human, to be born of a woman, and to endure the death of a criminal, despised and rejected by the types of people that theocracy minded “Christian leaders” emulate in thought, word, and deed.

With that being said I will not bore you with an essay citing historical references, Scripture, or quotations of theologians, pastors, and historians much more learned, and for that matter probably better Christians than me. So, please, if you feel the need to criticize my theology, feel free, but please, have the decency to arrange to do that over a beer or your favorite tasty beverage later, don’t ruin your Christmas or mine to do that, there are plenty of other days to do just that take a deep breath whether you are a Christian Fundamentalist, a Traditionalist Catholic, a militant Atheist, or whatever.

But here’s the deal. The truth is when all is said and done I learned ever that I need to know about Christmas from Merry Christmas Charlie Brown by Charles Schulz, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss.

To me it is fascinating because Schulz, who brought us Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the whole Peanuts Gang for half a century was a Christian who battled depression and faith, yet his classic animated cartoon of Christmas which was released in 1965 has probably reached more people with the Christmas message than any great preacher of the past century or more.

The decision to include the speech by Linus was controversial, because of the expressly religious implications, by Schulz insisted that it be reatained.

I saw it for the first time when it was released in 1965, and now 53 years later it retains its freshness and innocence.

 Charlie Brown: Isn’t there anyone, who knows what Christmas is all about?!

Linus: Sure Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about. Lights please?

And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings o great joy, which shall be to all my people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ, the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men.

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Likewise, I think that Dr. Seuss, who was Jewish, may very well have done the same in his story about the Grinch.

I think of the last part of the Grinch and think about these words:

Welcome, Christmas, bring your cheer. Cheer to all Whos far and near. Christmas Day is in our grasp, so long as we have hands to clasp. Christmas Day will always be just as long as we have we. Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart, and hand in hand.

I know, kind of simplistic and ecumenical. But I have learned so much about Christmas and the Incarnation from others, of course many are Christians, but I have also learned from Jews, Muslims, and others. So for all of my friends and readers I simply repeat the words of Dr Seuss. Welcome Christmas, bring your cheer… Christmas Day will always be just as long as we have we…

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Filed under faith, film, Loose thoughts and musings

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, or for that Matter Whatever You Celebrate

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Unless something really unusual takes place I won’t be writing about anything dealing with President Trump until after Christmas. There will be some history, some articles about faith, and Christmas music, but I need a break.

There are some songs at Christmas that despite their relative newness as compared to ancient carols seem to strike a chord that resonates deep in the hearts of people. I think that in our day that some speak louder than others.

One of those songs, at least for me, and probably many others is the song Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. The music was written by Ralph Blane and the lyrics by Hugh Martin for the musical Meet Me in St Louis and first performed by Judy Garland in that film. In the movie Garland’s character sings the song to her younger sister after their father announces plans to move from their home of St Louis to New York for a job. It is a haunting song with a fascinating story.

But the lyrics for the musical were different than the ones originally penned by Martin, and it would not be the last time that the words were changed.

For the musical, Garland, director Vincent Minnelli, and co-star Tom Drake felt that Martin’s original lyrics which began with “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas, it could be your last. Next year we may all be living in the past” were too depressing. Martin resisted but finally bowed to pressure and the lyrics were changed to “let your heart be light, Next year all our troubles will be out of sight” in response to their request.

The words sung in the musical by Judy Garland have a haunting but very real feel for people who face uncertainty at Christmas, as such they were very meaningful to the US military personnel who heard them at the front in the Second World War.

As originally produced they reflect a hope for a better future as opposed to a carefree present. As such they are probably much more appropriate to our current time than in the mid-1950s when Frank Sinatra recorded a modified version of the song for his album A Jolly Christmas.

Sinatra asked Martin to “jolly up” the line “we’ll have to muddle through somehow” and Martin changed it to “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”

When Frank Sinatra recorded the song in 1957 it too became a hit and the focus on present happiness rather than a hope for a better future fit the times in which it was recorded. Sinatra’s version also notes that “faithful friends gather near to us once more” instead of “will be near to us once more.”

The song was re-written by Martin a number of times including a “Christian” version which included the words “if the Lord allows” instead of “if the fates allow.” Though I am a Christian I think that change was kind of lame, but then if there are a few dollars to be made off religious people who otherwise won’t listen to a song, why not?

The song is one is one of the most recorded Christmas songs ever written and can be heard being sung by artists as diverse as Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Rod Steward, the Carpenters, Kelly Clarkson, John Denver with the Muppets, the Pretenders, Olivia Newton John, Kenny Loggins, and even Twisted Sister. It may be a Christmas song, but it is not necessarily a religious or Christian song. It is simply what it is, a secular song expressing the hopes and fears of ordinary human beings in times of change and loss. That makes the song more of a cultural song of hope than anything religious, or overtly Christian.

 

The song as recorded by Judy Garland is actually my favorite, though I also love the Sinatra version. Somehow “muddling through somehow” seems to be more appropriate in my experience.

So enjoy these versions of a song that has touched the hearts of hundreds of millions of people since it was first recorded. May it be an inspiration in these uncertain times of a hope for a better future. Maybe that makes it a better Advent song than a Christmas song, and maybe that’s why Muddling Through Somehow isn’t such a bad thing after all.

For me it is kind of a sad song, but at the same time it is mixed with hope…and I always try to live in hope.

Here’s to muddling through somehow…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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