Scrooge and Socialism

Socialism gets a lot of play lately. During this season of the year, when we rush to make sure everyone has a nice Christmas, those feelings of magnanimity toward our fellows suggest that there is good in everyone, that we do want to share. That fades, sadly, but for one month of the year, we live and love as we ought. Is that an outcropping of socialism? Not at all.

This article highlights the differences between Marxism and Christianity, a topic that interests many. The author includes this quotation: “Frederick Engels saw this clearly, ‘If some few passages of the Bible may be favorable to communism, the general spirit of its doctrines is, nevertheless, totally opposed to it.’” In a word, No, Jesus was not a communist. The author does have an odd view of Adam, however, suggesting that he had everything “but wanted more.” That’s a topic for another day. Suffice it to say I disagree.

This YouTube gives us in 4 minutes the differences between socialism and communism. He concludes that corruption ensures that neither system will be implemented as conceived. Clear and simple. As a group, people can be (insert negative adjective.)

We already have the proper text for goodness and giving, of course. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol shows us the differences between greed and generosity, between empty wealth and heartfelt charity. I urge you to read it for the transformation in Scrooge. It’s short, but if you just can’t manage, watch a good version. My personal favorite features George C. Scott as Scrooge. This list offers 20, including lots of animated ones and the Muppets. Jean-Luc Picard—oh, I mean Patrick Stewart—has a version, but the good captain can’t quite pull it off convincingly. So, yes, I’ve seen lots of those 20, if you must know.

Odd, isn’t it, how poor Scrooge’s name means quite the opposite of what it should. We can change, we can do the right thing, we can live Christmas all the year. But that is something of the point to discuss socialism at Christmas. Scrooge renounces greed, not capitalism. He earns a good living and learns to share it. Nobody makes him do that. Nobody could, really.

On a final note, consider this article concerning Medicare for All. It seems very clear-headed to me and not partisan. I may be wrong—still no word on my acceptance/rejection by the organization that identifies slant. He uses the word “fisc,” which I didn’t know. It means “the emperor’s treasury.” We don’t have one of those. Anyway, Medicare leans to socialized medicine. The author explains why it won’t work for everyone. And that is a fact that depends not on the heart but the mind.

At Christmas, everyone gets to feel the spirit of the times. Even those who aren’t Christian. And that’s fine. Lecturing Christians about being Christian aka socialists is quite another matter. I’d say back off. Being a genuine Christian is hard enough. Learn about that first.

Luci’s Mary’s Song

Last December, I put up my poem “Given.” Maybe it’s my best work, my magnum opus. When I was writing about it, I realized it was based on the chorale from Handel’s Messiah “For Unto Us a Son Is Born,” which is based on Isaiah 9:6.

Here’s the thing: I don’t have another Christmas poem for today. Here’s another thing: My oldest grandchild has informed me that poetry is hard and no one likes it. As if I didn’t know. One of my favorite poems is by Marianne Moore, a great American poet. One of her best is called, aptly “Poetry.” And yes I did too read it to my grandson just as I’d read it to freshmen comp students for years. It opens like this: “I, too, dislike it.” Yes, lots of poems are ridiculous, and it’s perfectly understandable not to like them. Others are great. These are famous, which is not the same thing, but they are quite fine.

Short diversion to do with the coming poem: “Mary, Did You Know?” is a Christmas song, not a carol, and it has a lyric which is a kind of poem found in popular music. This far into it, I realize I’m going to be saying the poem below is better even though the messages are essentially identical. It can’t be helped. These are the words to “Mary, Did You Know?” Here are versions by Mark Lowry, who wrote it;  Clay Aiken;  Pentatonix.

But my purpose today is not to convert you to poetry. I don’t sit around reading it. I do walk around listening to it, via a podcast called, aptly, “The Daily Poem.” David Kern selects a poem, gives the tiniest background on the poet, reads it aloud, makes the tiniest comments, and reads it again. Nine minutes at most. The poems are great, old or new, not what sometimes passes for modern jibber-jabber poetry, and worth my time.

Several weeks ago, he read his very own mother’s poem. Her name is Luci Shaw, and the poem is called “Mary’s Song.” She writes about it here, where we learn that it’s her favorite of her poems and that it’s been set to music (by the Norwegian composer Knut Nysdedt) and that she lives in Bellingham, Washington, home of my son’s in-laws. She attends St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and perhaps my son will go meet her someday. So, small world.

“Mary’s Song” is based on Ecclesiastes 11:5 “As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.” It wasn’t just any baby born that night. It was He who had organized the earth and all that is in it and the universe, too. Yet, He had never in the flesh visited. I also appreciate that Shaw includes His purpose: our redemption. He came not to live but to die, for us to live. It is an amazing circle. Luci Shaw’s poem makes it breathtaking.

Read this poem aloud, because that’s how it’s intended.  Imagine that night of His coming to begin what had to be finished. When you say “Merry Christmas,” remember what all that entails.

Mary’s Song

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest…
you who have had so far to come.)
Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.

His breath (so slight it seems

no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world. Charmed by dove’s voices,
the whisper of straw, he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed who overflowed all skies,

all years. Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught
that I might be free, blind in my womb
to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.

-Luci Shaw

Santa and Sourcing: The Truth

All week, I’ve wondered how to approach the difficult topic of sourcing truth. That should be an oxymoron: The truth is the truth, after all. Yes, but not so fast. Twice recently I’ve been asked what my source was for a particular bit of data I shared. For one specific figure, I could only say, “An online article.” Not good. For the other, I said, “Twitter.” That’s a medium, not a source, technically, but I got away with it. Briefly. We see the label “Responsibly sourced” all the time in restaurants these days. It only makes sense that our news should be as well.

My thoughts turned to that time when most of us learned that something we considered true because we had been assured by a trusted source of its truth turned out to be not true at all. I speak, of course, of Santa Claus. (I can see you rolling your eyes.) Please bear with me. The parallels are there.

In the past, we trusted broadcast news anchors. Walter Cronkite, for example, or Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, if you needed an alternative. Cronkite concluded, “And that’s the way it is…” (A nice overview of the early days of television anchoring can be read here.) That’s what we did in those days—television news at 6 and 10, morning and evening newspapers.

We trusted those sources. Walter Cronkite lost credibility with some when the Clintons took him sailing after the Lewinsky affair broke. The year was 1998, and Cronkite was retired. Still, for some it looked just too staged, too obvious a ploy. The White House staff said it was “hastily arranged.” And transparently done. We could forgive him for letting himself be used because of all those years he’d earned our trust.

So how do you know that your “trusted” source should be “trusted”? In fact, I have known of many parents who didn’t want to do Santa because of that very reason. “Will the kids ever trust me again?” Sure. The motivation is good, the effect temporary, the benefits positive. A news source, on the other hand, has to earn its place daily. This chart from Ad Fontes Media purports to show the biases for the most prominent media sources. Some would disagree with some of their ratings. For example, NPR has only one letter of the three skewing left, with the other two neutral. It makes more sense if you look at it. Some would expect to find all of NPR skewing left. But guess who does the ratings? People! Yes, and you too can apply to be a rater. They will even pay you; ask for details here I have applied.

So my conclusions are these: There is no such thing as fake news. If something is true, it’s news. If it’s not true—or fake—it can’t be news. If there is intent to deceive, it’s lying. Without intent, it’s not. Presenting a Santa-is-real scenario happens all the time, in movies from Miracle on 34th Street to The Christmas Chronicles. With truth, you get no shading. What worries me perhaps the most is the lapses, the lack of knowledge of an event that would color thinking. Recent examples include Hillary Clinton’s “joke” about all black people looking alike and a reporter’s doubting tear gas was used at the border during the Obama Administration. That sort of thing I don’t know how to fix. I apologize for all the quotation marks. Here, it was my stab at focusing on “truth.”