Merry Christmas, my friends. Wherever you are.

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i love lucy

lucy

She has eyes in a dish. Eyes in a dish. Although not in this picture.

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fan fiction

Hey! Reblog or not, I’ve really been enjoying those stories from the last post. I pretty much have an unlimited appetite for Christmas stories, I guess. I liked the Kate Douglas Wiggin one a lot– she’s underrated. And she was a very interesting person, a pioneer of Kindergarten as well as an author. And I liked the Napa Christmas story. Not great literature, but it was wonderful to read about Christmas in California terms– beautiful descriptions of our beautiful seasons. But don’t read that Benicia story for Christmas. It’s on the same page, but it’s not a Christmas story; it’s about the Virgin Mary’s evil twin or something, I really didn’t get it.

But we’re here to talk about St. Nicholas.

pc-serbian6

I love St. Nicholas. I’m a bit sorry we don’t have him, really, around here. Especially now that Santa Claus is getting so thoroughly trashed by the commercial Christmas industry. I mean, I love Santa Claus, I’m totally fine with “Miracle on 34th Street,” but have you seen some of this junk? These made-for-TV movies about Santa’s MBA kids, Santa’s no-good brother-in-law, etc. And there’s always something in it about somebody SAVING CHRISTMAS, by getting out the merchandise, of course.

I’ve got news for you, Christmas is already saved. For crying out loud, even the Grinch knew that. “‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.'”

What am I talking about? I don’t know.

Anyway, ST. NICHOLAS. Truly awesome guy. Let me give you a present for St. Nicholas’ Day. I can never get enough of this website– there’s so much on it, it’s hard to find your way back to the things you like. Try the screensaver. And the animated e-card.

Anyway, what a legend. I suppose ninety percent of it isn’t true, strictly speaking, but I was thinking this afternoon, how incredible it was to live a life which made such an impression of goodness, and kindness, that it continues to bear fruit in tales and images of goodness even after centuries and centuries.

Here’s a really nice St. Nicholas story from the site.

You know, I grew up in the days of print: things were written down, and they were WRITTEN DOWN PERMANENTLY. It’s only in the last few years, when I’ve finally had my own computer, and my niece explained to me about fan fiction, that I’ve sort of gotten the feel of what it must have been like in the good old days of oral tradition. I don’t want to oversimplify it– oral tradition is also very carefully transmitted, more often than not– but there’s always that sense of fluidity there, which you sense in ancient documents, but which I always had a hard time imagining, till I saw the modern version taking place before my eyes. People like to tell stories about the people they like, and admire. Which accounts for some very weird stories about Gilgamesh.

So apparently St. Nicholas has come in for a huge share of this, because how can you not love him? There’s reality (he WAS real), and there’s canon legend, more or less, and then it seems there are a million made-up stories. I love the one I linked to above! But as with all fan fiction, some storytellers are better than others. Some don’t seem to get the point of the character at all.

Like, read this one.

Say what? What is that, psychopath St. Nicholas? And I was complaining about cheesy Santa Claus movies. But really, visit that site, and Happy St. Nicholas Day. May he give you all the best gifts, and what your heart desires.

I wish someone would do a site like that for St. Lucy!

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Advent Calendar with a Literary Twist

Wow. I love Project Gutenberg. And Christmas stories. And, and…

I love that reblog button. This came via Doggedly In Rome, BTW.

THE LITERARY MAN

Ladies and Gentlemen, today marks the first day of December and we couldn’t resist sharing Project Gutenberg’s Literary Advent Calendar courtesy of Hymns and Carols of Christmas. Thanks to Project Gutenberg, all texts listed below are free online by clicking on the links. Of course, you can supplement or substitute with Christmas favorites of your own including children’s Christmas stories like HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS and THE POLAR EXPRESS.

A LITERARY ADVENT CALENDAR

December 1: A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens

December 2: THE GIFT OF THE MAGI by O. Henry

December 3: THE STORY OF THE OTHER WISE MEN by Henry Van Dyke

December 4: OLD CHRISTMAS from the Sketchbook of Washington Irving

December 5: CHRISTMAS TALES AND CHRISTMAS VERSE by Eugene Field

December 6: THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS by Henry Van Dyke

December 7: A CHRISTMAS GARLAND by Sir Max Beerbohm

December 8: THE FEAST…

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jerusalem the golden

by ted spiegel, I believe this photograph is around 50 years old

I’ve been saving this picture. The strange thing is, I’d been looking for it for about four decades, since I saw it in National Geographic as a kid. I even searched for it online, once or twice. Then one day, it came across my Tumblr, out of the blue.

I was wanting to say something with it, about a legitimate place for beauty, and romance, in religious life– well, I’m not sure what I was planning to say. It was definitely deep. But anyway, I woke up this morning, and it occurred to me that I should post it today. I usually post a poppy picture, and some piece of WWI poetry on my other blog, mainly just for me to look at. I don’t know much about World War I, but even I know more than some people, and it’s always freaked me out a little how quickly such a perfect storm of horror could be forgotten– swept under the rug, even. When it was not only a catastrophe in itself, but the gateway to the 1984-like state of unending war we’re now apparently engulfed in.

When I was a kid, there were still WWI veterans downtown sometimes, selling artificial Flanders poppies. Otherwise, we don’t see much of that around here; our poppies are orange. But everyday life was flooded with WWII vets, like my dad, and while I’m sure there was some PTSD among them, they didn’t seem to spend a lot of time wondering what it was all for. They figured they knew that. War was hard, but not insane: you didn’t permanently lose your way in it– frankly, they tended to think war was a nice, straightforward answer to everything. Some things were worth fighting for, so you did what you had to do, even if it looked like it was jaw-droppingly brutal and crazy. Then good triumphed.

Look how old I am– I’m like a hundred years old, and I’m still not sure what I think. “Some things are worth fighting for” is a cliché, but sometimes I wonder if anything is worth fighting for. I remember reading that Dorothy Day said that maybe we would have the moral high ground if we had let the Ottomans overrun us, in the 17th century or whatever. I can’t really wrap my mind around that. Maybe it has to do with declining to fight against– then you have to be really clear about exactly what you’re holding out for.

I mean, it’s clear that a choice for non-violence doesn’t mean there’s not going to be violence. I’m always in awe of the kind of non-violent witness the Catholic Worker has presented to the war machine, over the years– plenty of violence involved there, they just changed its distribution. And Linda Maendel gives us this incredibly moving piece today on the Hutterite martyrs of World War I. I find it hard to imagine that kind of sustained courage. Non-violence draws violence and insanity to the surface. Is it transformative? I think you have to have a certain gift of faith to be convinced that it is, or even, to hope that it is.

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I know it’s lazy to steal… uh, reblog… someone else’s post. But I love everything she says, as well as the Wendell Berry poem, of course, and she says it a lot more convincingly than I could, maybe because she lives it a lot more convincingly than I do. Anyway, I thought it was worth sharing…

Amos House Community

posted by Lauren Plummer

Today we will vote or not vote, and someone will be elected to lead our country.  And still – to the children of distant lands and children of our own land, in the bodies of women, on the backs of the poor, in the souls of men, and  to the earth herself – still unspeakable violence will be done. Our hope cannot rest in elected officials.

Yes, our choices today, and especially the intentions and consciousness they spring from, matter. But forget the noise and distraction of Right or Left; both are Babylon. As people of faith, Election Day is such a tiny piece (much more the beginning than the end) of our work in the world. Let this be our real work – to use up our lives every day casting a vote for Justice over Comfort, Mercy over Power, Community over Self, Love over Fear, Life…

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We Have Met The Hutterites, And They Are Us

I was initially excited to find that we actually got the National Geographic Channel on one of our cable boxes, and I would be able to follow this show. I was a bit surprised that any colony would agree to the format– a ten-episode, in-depth, intensively live-filmed program. That’s more risk and self-exposure than most people would ever feel comfortable agreeing to, and it’s the kind of thing that always ends badly for someone, right? I’m not talking about the Kardashians here, I’m talking about the Loud family. And all their successors.

But because it was National Geographic, I expected something that would be responsible and illuminating, even if it ran a little more towards “raw material” than a standard documentary. I have kept my eyes open for more information about the Hutterites since I first read a beautiful article in the National Geographic, as a kid. Until recently, information has been fairly hard to come by. Why am I so interested? Difficult to say, exactly, but I think it comes down to two things: 1)I’m interested in anything which preserves a tradition and 2)I’m interested in any attempt to live the gospel in a radical, whole-hearted way.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take more than ten minutes of watching to realize this show wouldn’t contribute much to my knowledge or understanding. Instead of honest raw material, what I got was McRealityShow, Hutterite style. It really was a bit of a jaw-dropping experience, that first episode, and while I was pretty surprised that the colony members had participated in it, what really shocked me was that NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MADE IT. Welcome to the end-times. The Hutterites can repent (and appear to be doing so at break-neck speed), but I doubt the good name of National Geographic can be retrieved, having crossed a line like this.

What a missed chance. Here was a group of people willing to share their heritage, their real lives, perhaps even their real struggles and misgivings. Maybe we got a few glimpses of those things, but they were hard to recognize. What we mainly got was a media caricature of what such a group might be like– a crude template with predictable roles imposed on “characters” who are actual human beings. The pretty girl who wants it all and believes she deserves it. The good girl. The smart, modern guy who has to deal with a lot of throwbacks. The workaholic husband. The rebellious, angry teen. The abusive father. The lazy drunk.

The sad thing is, it made a mockery of real issues. How do people respond to an extremely authoritarian church and family structure, especially in a context where it’s possible to choose something else? What is the purpose of education, and what are people’s real attitudes toward it? How do roles and opportunities for men and women differ, and why? Why preserve traditional dress, or uniform dress– is it important? I wanted to know, but I didn’t find out. What I got was B-movie music and “THE ELDERS!!!” It made me think of Return of the Archons.

It is the will of Landru.

I kept watching the show, because I was following the discussion on line, and because I watch everything Hutterite, on principle. I saw “Holy Matrimony” in a movie theater, for crying out loud. But it was an effort, most of all because it was BORING. As soon as you recognize the pattern, you know exactly how it plays out. I found out again what popular media thinks of religious people, oddly dressed people, people without make-up, people who don’t go to college, people who work on farms, people who speak English as a second language, etc. I found out very little about King Ranch, and the people who live there.

I’m not even going to get into the issue of whether most of this was fake. It’s some of the worst film-making I’ve ever seen, but if it WASN’T fake, it reached an unimaginable low, since at least eighty percent of it positively screamed “staged and scripted.” If you can make real life look that phony– well, you’ve got a unique gift. But fake as it was, somebody co-operated in making it: you can’t get ten edited hours of all-Hutterites, all the time, without some Hutterites showing up.

My first guess–that whoever agreed to this had unwarranted confidence in the name of National Geographic, and little experience of what “reality” shows consist of, not to mention their inevitable fallout–was not, I think, entirely correct. Things seem to be a lot more complicated. I suppose some people were genuinely misled, but enough people did enough ridiculous stuff on camera that it’s got to be more than that. If you’ve read the protest letters that the King Ranch members have supposedly written, you begin to get a hint of some of the undercurrents.

You also get a clear indication from these letters that anywhere along the line, it was possible to say NO. The question of why people didn’t, individually or collectively, is the most fascinating thing I take away from this program. I don’t really know the answer, but that’s what I’m going to keep listening for: I suspect, in a lot of ways, it’s really the heart of the matter.

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