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“Christmas Day Will Always be, Just as long as We have We” Everything I Know Really About Christmas comes from Peanuts and the Grinch

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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With that being said I will not bore you with an essay citing historical references, Scripture, or quotations of theologians, pastors, and historians much more learned, and for that matter probably better Christians than me.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…

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Opening Day 2013…and Be a Blessing to Us

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“Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.”  ~Sharon Olds, This Sporting Life, 1987

It is good to have survived the last five months. The Mayans were wrong about the end of the world and despite the the best efforts of the Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers, in spite of Sequestration, North Korean Nukes, Al Qaida terrorists and troubles brewing around the world and at home we finally made it to Opening Day.

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Some for me baseball, maybe more than any other thing brings a sense of order to my universe. Some of my earliest memories involve baseball. I played in my back yard, in sandlots, parks and real baseball fields. I learned the game from my late father and when he was deployed to Vietnam my mom would come at watch my Little League games. Most of my broken bones have been the result of injuries sustained on the baseball or softball field, which make me look forward to my next assignment at the Joint Forces Staff College all the more since the faculty and students play ball almost all year round.

I have always loved the game and like Walt Whitman seemed to believe that there is something healing about it like no other game. Whitman said that baseball is “our game – the American game.  It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism.  Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set.  Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

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I wonder sometimes if Whitman would think that perhaps the Dominicans and Japanese appreciate “our game” more than us? Considering how well they do in international competition and how many of “our” star players come from those countries and others he might have something to say about it. Perhaps that the game transcends America itself and allows Americans to appreciate men like Ichiro, Big Papi, Robinson Cano, Pablo “the Big Panda” Sandoval, Jose Reyes, Hideki Matsui and many more, 243 on Opening Day 2012 that were on Major League rosters, over 100 being Dominicans.

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Now as for me I think that is a sign of the greatness of this game. It is a game that I think more than any transcends culture. To watch the enthusiasm of the players and fans of the non-US teams in the World Baseball Classic was a joyful experience for me. I don’t know maybe in our faced paced thrill a minute ADD inducing  and violence addicted American culture we have forgotten the joy that this game can bring. Maybe we are too cynical and have even done damage to it with the Steroid and Performance Enhancing Drug use scandals.

I don’t know, I could be wrong but I do think that a trip or two to a ballpark every year would be a good thing for every American. In fact I don’t even think that it would need to be a big league ballpark because the joy and mystery of the game can be found anywhere there is a baseball field where boys of every age find a bit of magic in  the crack of a bat, running out a grounder, stealing second base or striking out the side.

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The great Jackie Robinson said something that I think is incredibly profound: “Baseball is a curious anomaly in American life. It seems to have been ingrained in people in their childhood…. Baseball is, after all, a boy’s game, and children are innocent of evil. So even adults who are prejudiced revert to their childhood when they encounter a baseball player and they react with the purity of little children.”

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So to all of us who looked so forward to this day. Yes it is a day that comes every year, and for some people the season seems too long, the games too many and the pace, well not fast enough. But that being the case it is a human game, a game that I think allows has a spiritual sensitivity unfound anywhere else in sports. Yes it is a game, it too is a business and well for some people like me a religion.

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This weekend I plan on getting to a game or two at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish in Norfolk Virginia. I won’t make the home opener, but I will get some of the Norfolk Tides opening home stand.

I hope to see you at the ball park this year. Trust me. It will do you good.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Laughing All the Way: Padre Steve’s Favorite Christmas Films and TV Shows

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Where do you think you’re going? Nobody’s leaving. Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We’re gonna press on, and we’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny Kaye.”

This is the time of year that a lot of Christmas movies are shown on almost every television outlet known to humanity.  Of course there are many that are absolutely timeless such as Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and its derivatives and It’s a Wonderful Life.

There are also ones of various religious themes, usually involving the birth of Jesus, like no duh, it’s Christmas. Unfortunately most of these films as classic as they are bore me to tears.  Yes they have nice messages and tug at the heartstrings but without wanting to sound too much like Scrooge I get bored by them, frightfully bored.

I guess part of this is a generational thing.  The ones set in the 1930s and 1940s are from a different era, an era that I know from history books and family members but not something that is a part of my life.  It’s like the film The Bell’s of Saint Mary’s is about the Roman Catholic Church of a half century ago, not the one that I know or that exists now.  They are fictional and while touching are indelibly tied to their time.  The religious themed films tended often to be major productions of the Hollywood Gospel genre, not very faithful to Scripture or the teachings of the church, not that there is anything wrong with that.  But it is certain to me that Cecil B. De Mille did not write the 5th Gospel, or the 6th Book of Moses (You have to know your Luther Bible for that one) thus I have a hard time with films that use the nativity or for that matter the passion of Christ for a quick buck.

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However, every year, there are several Christmas movies and television shows that I cannot live without seeing.  Of the television shows my all time favorite is A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  As a kid I had a deep affinity for both Charlie Brown and Linus. The frustration of Charlie Brown with the commercialization of Christmas was something that resonated in me at a young age and still does today. If you want to see this just look at my articles on Black Friday.  Likewise Linus’ reading of the Luke’s account of the Angel’s message to the shepherds always brings tears to my eyes.  There is something about the sensitivity of Linus to the actual Gospel message that resonates in my heart.

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As for the Grinch, and I mean the television Grinch where Boris Karloff voiced the part of the Grinch not the Jim Carey movie version, it has always been a favorite of mine.  I find the plot of the Grinch to steal Christmas from the Whos of Whoville to be a masterful account of how the message of Christmas can touch even the smallest and coldest of hearts.  Of course I absolutely loved the Grinch’s dog “Max” a dog whose loyalty to the Grinch reminds me of my dog Molly.

As far as movies are concerned I watch Scrooged staring Bill Murray and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation staring Chevy Chase with almost a religious reverence every year.

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I relate to the main characters in both movies.  That’s not necessarily a compliment to me. Bill Murray’s Character in Scrooged pricks my cynical nature and there are times that I almost need to cover my eyes when in Christmas Vacation where Clark Griswold kicks the decorative reindeer and sleigh across the lawn when he can’t get his house lights on.  His rants when his Christmas Tree goes up in flames and when his family tries to leave the house are so close to the way that I can act under the stress of the holidays that is scary.  Since Judy says this is the case I know that I am not imagining this.

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Three other films that get me are Home Alone and A Christmas Story and though it is not really a Christmas story Trading Places staring Dan Aykroyd whose Christmas season meltdown is at the center of a film about the greed of certain parts of the American financial sector.

These are what I grew up with and which were the films about Christmas as it takes place in the United States that I became an adult in that typify my era, not that of my grandparents.  I think that is why they are my favorites and not the classics of a bygone time.

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Of course there is the Festivus episode of Seinfeld that is almost scary because of how close to home it hits. There are times that I think we only lacked the “feats of strength” and the Festivus Pole to complete the picture.  Sticking to Seinfeld I always feel a twinge of sympathy for George when makes up a fake charity called “The Human Fund: Money for People” to give to his co-workers at Kruger Industrial Smoothing. There are times that I am tempted, but thankfully never will do something similar.

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Finally I like the X-Files Christmas episode How the Ghosts Stole Christmas where Ed Asner and Lilly Tomlin played ghosts in a haunted house that Agents Scully and Mulder get trapped in while investigating a case. When I go shopping anywhere this time of year I am quite fond of Agent Scully’s comment to Mulder: “Sorry. Checkout lines were worse than rush-hour on the 95. If I heard “Silent Night” one more time, I was gonna start taking hostages.” 

Okay, so these are not the classics of a bygone era, but they are my classics and I will enjoy Charlie Brown, Linus, the Grinch, Clark Griswold, Frank Cross, the Costanzas Agents Mudler and Scully and the rest of my warped favorites as I continue to rediscover the joy and hilarity of Christmas as we celebrate it in the United States. After all, to quote Clark Griswold “We’re all in this together.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Merry Christmas or Whatever You Celebrate

“It’s Christmas Eve. It’s-it’s the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we-we-we smile a little easier, we-w-w-we-we-we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year we are the people that we always hoped we would be.” Bill Murray as Frank Cross in Scrooged


Well, not exactly Christmas Eve….but who’s counting?

Well just a couple of days left until Christmas Eve which if you are Catholic, Anglican or Orthodox actually counts the same as Christmas day for sacramental purposes.  The Parish that the Abbess attends is having its “Midnight Mass” at 9 PM but I should not criticize.  When I was out visiting the little camps of advisers on the Iraqi-Syrian border in 2007 I moved the Christmas Eve Vigil Mass to the 23rd for the Marines and other advisers at COP South.  I figured no one else was out doing Christmas with these guys so why not, after all it was already Christmas Eve somewhere.

Anyway, I want to take this time to thank my readers and wish them a Merry Christmas, unless of course they are Jewish, Happy Hanukah.  Of course I have other friends and readers who are of different faiths or non-faiths.  I wish all my Wiccan readers a belated Happy Winter Solstice, my Moslem readers a Happy Eid. To my Atheist readers have a happy day off. Finally to the Jehovah’s Witness readers, sorry you get no presents and not only that if you guys are right only about one half of one percent of you will get to do anything other than pick fruit and pet animals for eternity anyway so enjoy. Heck even Atheists can buy presents for people at Christmas without any guilt because it helps the economy and makes people feel good.

So since everyone has reason to celebrate let us do so.  Of course many still have some hurdles to get over before you can open whatever presents you get, buy for yourself or can’t have because you’re a Jehovah’s Witness.  Among those things are fighting crowded malls, post offices, bad traffic and people infected with the holiday spirit which I think might also be called “road rage.”  Anyway most of us will navigate these treacherous waters as we travel over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s second ex-husband’s girlfriend’s brother’s house for some holiday cheer.  Actually the Abbess and I will spend it together and with our friends Pat and Jim, but most people call him Jim for Christmas day.

Anyway all seriousness aside the holidays, whichever one you celebrate, or don’t celebrate can be fraught with dangers toils and snares; from some of which we have not already come.  Yes there are the “Ghosts of Christmas Past,” the Christmas’s or other holidays that went to hell and are forever embedded in the back of our pea brains just waiting to jump out in the middle of the night.  Of course there are the “Ghost’s of Christmas Present,” the “demons” that crowd our daily lives that show up when we don’t want them to and causing us stress, pain and undue anxiety.  Finally there are the “Ghost’s of Christmas Yet to Come” that inhabit our dreams and either causing us to give in to fatalism and despair or to make a change for the better, I believe that in the latter case Christians call this repentance, but regardless of what it is called it is the better option.  Christmas and I guess other folk’s holidays can do this to you.

I mentioned in a previous article on this site about my crisis of faith since my return from Iraq how difficult Christmas can be and how fragile faith can be.  For a lot of people the holidays bring up all the hurt, pain, failure and rejection they have ever experienced rolled into a big turd sandwich served cold with chips instead of fries and Pepsi instead of Coke. Having gone through this last year I can understand just how people can despair in a time that should be full of hope, grace and peace. One person I know told me that Charlie Brown couldn’t compete with them. I

In our house this can be a difficult time mainly due to the Ghosts of Christmas past that inhabit both of our lives and the “Ghosts of Christmas Yet to Come: which occasionally pay their visits.  However we work hard not to let that happen. Over the past few weeks the Abbess has been working on making decorations for our tree.  Now we have tons of decorations for the tree, many from Germany.  However she has decided that she decided she wanted to do something different this year.  She made what has to be hundreds of ornaments out of various beads, crystals, ribbons and bows.  Between that and a lot of other activities we are exhausted.  I ended up after she went to bed decoration the tree.  The ornaments look great. I went to bed and of course got up before her to go to work. I turned on the tree lights and turned the other lights off. The tree was beautiful and when she got up she got to see the fruit of her hard work.  It was cool and the tree is beautiful.

Today I was fortunate to get off a bit early.  I was able to get home and go with the Abbess to visit East Berlin to do some shopping.  This to locals is known as the base commissary although Wal-Mart is often very similar.  If you have read anything on this site regarding my dealings with the Ghost of PTSD know that crowds are not good for me unless they are in a ballpark. The commissary is a place that I do not like going but it was a necessary trip.  I survived though it did feel like my skin was crawling as I got stuck in the far corner of the store were the checkout line began, just like the stores in East Berlin before the Wall came down.  Having been to East Berlin and waited in long lines in crowded stores to attempt to buy what was not there I get flashbacks, especially when the line Nazi, or better put Line Stasi agent tells you which checkout stand to proceed to when you get to the front of the line.

Now I’m sure that many of you will visit your own version of East Berlin be it in a mall, a Wal-Mart or a base Exchange or commissary in the next couple of days, but be of good cheer in spite of everything you won’t have to brave this again until the 26th when you have to take stuff back and deal with people in worse moods and dispositions than those that were out before Christmas as well as those who are angling for bargains and willing to kill you to get them. I can understand why Frank Costanza created “a Festivus for the rest of us.”  Of course in my family we sometimes experienced the airing of grievances but not the feats of strength associated with that holiday.  Serenity now!

So until Christmas or whatever holiday that you might or might not celebrate let us “don we now our happy clothing” as we “deck the halls” while we drive our SUVs to Grandmother’s ex-second husband’s girlfriend’s house to watch football games in anticipation of baseball season as spring training begins in just under two  months.

So until then have a blessed Christmas or whatever holiday you do or don’t do this year.

Peace, Padre Steve+

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