Archive for December, 2010

Christmas Music…Sort Of.

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

Again this year I listened to “Christmas music” on a local radio station from just before Thanksgiving until the day after Christmas.  Each year this station insists on playing some artists over and over and over again ad nauseum.  This year it was Dean Martin and, of course, Elvis.  One more round of Blue Christmas or Rudolph (Rudy) and I was ready to lose what was left of my Christmas spirit.  But there was one song I always look forward to because it’s kinda fun.  Unfortunately Dean Martin recorded that one too.

As I listened to this familiar song I was reminded how history can get lost, rewritten or repackaged in a way that creates a memory, picture or image that bears no resemblance to the original event or story. I am not saying that these alterations are intentionally malicious, bad, or demand that we rectify the situation immediately. I’m just saying that it happens regularly and we are usually unaware.

The  song I am referring to has always been associated with the Christmas holidays. I am not sure why except for the fact that I never heard it except at Christmas. Walking through a department store shopping for gifts, at a party, listening to Dolly Parton’s Christmas Album or watching the Andy Williams Christmas Special (which dates me as prehistoric) etc. etc.  So, in my mind, the history of this song was always associated with Christmas time, with cold weather, with snow, and people in love at Christmas time. That is what the song’s writer intended, right? That was the right historical framework for this song, right? It was written for the holidays, right?

The song I am referencing was written by Frank Loesser. Frank was a popular song writer and composer who is best known for writing Broadway musicals like Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. In the late 1940s he wrote a duet for he and his wife to sing at cocktail parties all over Hollywood and New York. His wife often commented that it kept them in caviar and truffles for years and she considered it “her song”. So, the song was written to sing at parties any time of year. It had nothing to do with Christmas or the holiday season or snow or cold weather, but it was about two people in love. Frank later sold that song and somehow over time it morphed into a song sung on Christmas albums and in holiday specials and associated with snow etc.

Have you guessed the song yet? Click and listen below, enjoy!

Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

Christmas and Doctrine

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

A significant portion of our culture is about to celebrate Christmas and that celebration will happen for any number of reasons, many of them having no connection to the religious meaning of Christmas.  I am not suggesting that celebrating Christmas for reasons other than Jesus’ birth is bad, meaningless, poor form or other such complaints.  I like Santa Claus, Rudolph, Frosty, the Grinch, Scrooge, decorating trees, putting up lights, Elf on a Shelf, A Christmas  Story etc. etc., but I would expect Christians to recognize the critical relationship between Christmas and doctrine.

Christmas is about the Incarnation which literally means that something became flesh.  In this case Christmas is about God invading our world and interrupting our lives in the form of a baby boy who grew up to become the God/man we know as Jesus the Christ.  The incarnation is powerful stuff.  This is not everyday news, it is truly good news.  The  incarnation was a one time historical event that inaugurated a new age punctuated by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and his promise to forgive and reconcile to God everyone who would trust in him.  It may seem an obvious observation but I will make it anyway:  no incarnation, no resurrection.

I find profound significance in the fact that Luke’s gospel does more than tell us about the birth of Jesus.  Far more powerful for me are the first two verses of chapter two.  These verses tell me that Jesus’ birth occurred during the reign of Ceasar Augustus when Quirinius was governor of Syria while a census was being taken throughout the Roman world.

These verses confront me with the fact that God is fully engaged with history, that history matters to God and not just the history connected to Jesus’ birth but all of history matters.  Our history matters to God.  The implication is that my life matters and your life matters and what we do with our lives matter.  The choices we make and the way we treat each other matters.  When Christians talk about knowing God through Jesus Christ they are not verbally and intellectually leaving the world and entering some spiritual realm.  They are claiming that their faith is rooted in this world, directly connected to it and that there are immediate and profound consequences for living a life committed to Christ.  Christians are claiming that history can and will be changed because of their faith in Jesus.  Of course we may not live as though God is at work in history but let’s at least be clear that’s what we are claiming.  Following Jesus is not  primarily about getting to heaven, it is about living a life that matters now.

That is why Christmas is about the incarnation when God decided not to live apart from us but to move into the neighborhood with us proclaiming His intent to change the world and its history through us.

“And that’s what Christmas is about Charlie Brown.”

The Day After

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Yesterday was the sixty-ninth anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  Pearl Harbor was one of those events that it would not be an exaggeration to say that people woke up the next day to a world that was decidely different and, over the next four years, that world would continue to change in ways that would make it appear very foreign indeed.  America entered World War II as an emerging world power; it exited World War II as a global leader exercising significant economic, military, industrial and political power.  America entered the war as a conventional military power; it emerged as a nuclear power.  The America that emerged from World War II was the one that I and many other “baby boomers” were born into. 

Postwar America was a country committed to progress, prosperity and the notion that every American should receive a college education, hold a good job, own a nice home and drive a new car.  After World War II America became, in essence, a consumer’s republic.  If you are wondering how, why and when we initiated an economic trajectory that would result in one-third of our GNP being dominated by consumer spending, examine the government’s role in marketing the notion that mass consumption was not only in the best way to achieve the general welfare but was synonymous with patriotism.  The “American Dream” that politicians continually refer to today was created in the postwar period as a way to sustain the level of economic and political power and influence America achieved during and just following World War II. 

If you are interested in reading more about the creation of the postwar “American Dream”, read Lizabeth Cohen’s A Consumer’s Republic:  The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America.

Oh, and just for fun, did you know that the day after Pearl Harbor F.D.R. was driven to the capitol to make his famous speech in Al Capone’s armored Cadillac?  The Secret Service needed an armored car to transport the president but could not afford $750 to buy one, so an agent suggested that they use Capone’s car since he was in prison for tax evasion.  It had been painted black and green to look identical to Chicago’s police cars at the time, had a specially installed siren and flashing lights hidden behind the grille and a police scanner radio. The 1928 Cadillac 341A Town Sedan also had 3,000 pounds of armor and inch-thick bulletproof windows.


Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

The recent furor over the Wikileak revelations regarding diplomatic communications reinforced for me many of the reasons I am not a professional diplomat and would never be effective as a professional diplomat.  Simply put, I lack the patience and or the willingness to hear and see inane and senseless behavior while remaining cool, calm, collected and seemingly unaffected by inane and senseless behavior, especially if people’s lives and security are at stake.

I have not read large portions of the leaked correspondence, but what I have been exposed to confirmed my suspicion that even diplomats have a difficult time being diplomats in the face of the inane, senseless, and ridiculous.  I especially enjoyed hearing a former ambassador interviewed on NPR.  He was asked if he thought that the sarcastic and caustic sentiments expressed in many of these documents reflected the true feelings of diplomats toward their counterparts in other countries.  He tried to put a good face on it but when pressed admitted that it was probably pretty accurate.

I realize that some national interests may have been compromised by leaking these documents but I got the distinct impression that the more significant result was the embarrassment it caused the diplomatic community.  It was as if they thought that the average citizen was shocked by these revelations of diplomatic discord, that we were appalled that high ranking government officials would think of their counterparts as dweebs, dips, idiots, dorks or useless, mind numbing twits,  that the Italian Prime Minister was the self-serving mouth-piece of Vladimir Putin who threw wild parties to gain favor with his constituents (Berlusconi denied that he had ever attended a ”wild party”) or that Angela Merkel was a Teflon queen who carefully avoided all confrontations in order not to find herself on the unpopular end of an issue. 

Come on folks, we are not shocked by any of this dirty laundry and all the official, diplomatic posturing with lots of huffing and puffing only makes it worse.  Being a diplomat is tough, I get it.  Having to look across the table at a complete dweeb and act like they are an engaing and intelligent person for the nation’s best interest takes real skill.  Just don’t pretend that you live like a diplomat.  It’s your job, not your life.  A few glasses of wine later and you are ready to admit that you spent all day with a mindless twit.  Most of us have done that a time or two, so we understand.  We just don’t have to do it with someone who is insecure, angry and owns nuclear weapons.

I am reminded of two great movie scenes.  In The Last Samurai,  Nathan Algrin is meeting his assigned translator for the first time.  The translator told him that he was a failure as a diplomat in a country where no one actually said what they meant so he now accurately translated other people’s lies.

In the movie Patton, Patton is sitting with a Russian general at a party celebrating the VE day and the Russian asks Patton to share a toast with him.  Patton tells the translator to inform the general that he has no intentions of drinking with him or any other Russian SOB.  Using the translator the Russian responds that he thinks Patton is a SOB as well.  Patton agrees and they decide to toast, one SOB to another.

I think  a lot of diplomacy is like that too.