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Friday, January 2, 2009

Have yourself a somber little New Year

I joined a fraternity when a student in a private Lutheran college. Instead of "hell week" the fraternities had "help week," during which the pledges assumed tasks that would help the community. Among other things, my pledge class painted the interior of a Salvation Army dormitory for the transient and homeless.

During the holiday season, we helped distribute food, clothing, and human kindness to the needy. This was a coordinated project of many agencies--the Salvation Army, Lutheran Social Services, Catholic Charities, etc. I was accustomed to doing this. When I was still a toddler my mother took me along to distribute food and gifts for her women's church group. I recall vividly visiting the homes of Mexican immigrants in the area with their meticulously swept dirt floors. Trying to be of help and encouagement to those in need was the major focus of the season, but such efforts were not limited to the holidays. Duing the late years of the Depression, there was always a transient sitting on our back steps eating the scrambled eggs my mother turned out. Our house was designated in some way as a place where food was always available for the asking. My grandmother said that one of those men could be Jesus Christ checking out the household's Christian hospitality, and, so, our families always kept extra eggs on hand to feed the hungry.

One holiday season a crew of my fraternity brothers were working around the clock to deliver food, clothing, and attend to the needs of people when one of the project coordinators warned us about wishing people merry Christmas and happy New Year. He said that when people have been reduced to receiving charity and have uncertain prospects for the future, being wished a merry Christmas and happy New Year is an impertinence. Christmas is a time to demonstrate peace on earth and goodwill to all people by showing them respect and concern, not by assailing them with empty expressions of good cheer which have a phony and presumptuous ring from their perspectives. Let your actions and demeanor convey the message of Christmas, he said. And so, our merry band was very circumspect about how we greeted people and about making merry in front of people who had little reason to be merry.

The South Dakota blogosphere was mercifully restrained this year in its holiday wishes. From those bloggers who spend most of the year maligning other people and expressing ill will, the words "merry Christmas and happy New Year" are obscenely malicious. Their real message is for hatred on earth and ill will toward some people. With a man dressing up like Santa Claus and shooting down nine former in-laws in California, with Hamas sending rockets into Israel and Israel striking back with massive attacks, and with thousands of our citizens losing their houses, their jobs, their retirement investments, and much hope for the future, holiday wishes are a presumptuous indignity. It is not a time for mouthing inanities; it is a time to contemplate the actual delivery of peace and good will and to decide if you believe in the message of of Noel enough to mean it.

For those who mean it, the word of hope and good will has to be made manifest to mean anything. Customary good cheer is not a nice treatment to people who are the casualties of venal executives and stupid bureaucrats.

One poster on the blogosphere occupied his Christmas with posts contending that liberalism is a mental disorder. His definntions of what identifies liberals had nothing to do with the political philosophy, but were the hate-based stereotypes of the kind that is associated with the N word. What is perturbing is that this blogger claims to be an "educator." I was struck by the intelligence and generosity of spirit, and coujd not but wonder what kind of education he delivers. At least he didn't make any mouthings like merry Christmas.

There are so many workers who need decent jobs, children who need genuine educations, and poor who need encouragement and opportunity, I decided to withhold holiday wishes until such a time as they seem possible to those many people.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States