31 December 2006
27 December 2006
Being home for the holidays is always wonderful. It was an incredible long weekend with friends and family. Did a little drinking, a little hunting, a bit of story telling and a LOT of laughing, but I started off the weekend by reading these thoughts from Mama Philosopher and I felt compelled to pass them along:
Isn’t what we really need this time of year one more sweatshirt with Santa falling off his sleigh? The other day I was on hold to speak with someone at Sam’s Club to answer a question about a gift for my husband. The gentleman helping me had a distinct accent and so we spent a few minutes trying to understand each other. Finally, I was put on hold, or at least he thought I was on hold, but, actually, I was overhearing another poor sap talking to another Sam’s employee with another foreign accent trying to purchase that perfect gift. Finally, when I was put on hold, I spent another ten minutes listening to the most beautiful Christmas song about the babe Jesus. It was a moment in all the many moments that lead up to the celebration of our Savior’s birth. Not sure what the feeling was I was experiencing while listening to the song; sort of an eclectic mixture of emotions. Mostly what I felt was shame, guilt and longing.
The shame, I believe, came from the realization that somehow in all the preparations what I really spend the least time preparing is my heart. My heart knows what to do, my mind leads me astray somehow each holiday season. My hear feels heavier this time of year; the poor look poorer; the homes needing repairs somehow look even more needy. The stories I hear day in and day out in my practice as a counselor somehow seem sadder. My heart is trying to be heard. I do my giving tree bit. I don’t pass a bucket without dropping some bucks, and there have been times during the season when I give to my clients, anonymously of course, because God knows I wouldn’t want to be unethical or allow tem to know I have a heart at all. Always in the back of my mind during Thanksgiving and Christmas is this vision of me and mine working at a shelter or handing out food to the homeless. But somehow I know we would get there late ‘cause no one would want to get up, or it may intrude on my kids’ plans to party with their friends, or, God forbid, there might be a football game on at the same time.
The guilt I felt listening to the Christmas song while on hold probably has to do with the reality I choose to repeat year after year…the same routine of preparations. I bake the cookies even though we are overweight with high cholesterol and borderline diabetes. I buy the gifts even though all through the year I and those I love get what we need or want when we need or want it. My guilt is acknowledging it is not others, not my family keeping me from changing the way I prepare for Christmas, it is me and my need to keep it going. Nostalgia takes over and I obsess about doing it the way I did it last year and the year before and the year before that. My kids are not kids anymore; they are 19 and 23 and I still find myself counting to see if they both have the same number of gifts under the tree. Do I do this for them or me? This may be the important question. When it comes down to it, it is easier, less awkward, less risky to keep repeating what was done before than to try something new. I would risk seeing some disappointment in their faces if there were no gifts on Christmas morning. I would certainly hear a few whines if the food was not on the table. So the earthly needs would go unsatisfied. But if we did the things I dream of doing as a family, take an active role in providing for others, sharing our blessings…how satisfied our hearts would be.
The feeling of longing I felt listening to the story of the baby Jesus’ birth probably had something to do with hope someday I will have the courage to do it right. Someday I will listen more to my heart and less to my head. Someday I will choose to take the risk of disappointing family, abandoning tradition, and instead listen to the little voice inside of me. The little voice kept quiet for too long.
Note: This would have been longer but the timer on my oven sounded and I had to get another pan of cookies out before they burned. And the doorbell is ringing, maybe another box from QVC…
23 December 2006
Today, take the time to set up an alluminum pole(note: pole must be alluminum because of its high strength-to-weight ratio and must be undecorated because tinsel is really freaking distracting) in your living room, complain to all of your friends about how they've wronged you over the past year, and end the day with a wrestling extravaganza... and do it all in the name of Festivus, the holiday created the father of Seinfeld writer Daniel O'Keefe. The holiday, which gained fame in the Seinfeld episode "The Strike" about ten years ago could be just what this country's looking for this holiday season: a non-denominational, uncommercialized excuse to relax, drink, eat, and be jolly all while not stepping on anyone's toes.
So, instead of bickering about whether you should say Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, or Merry Saturnalia let's all come together and celebrate the Miracles of Festivus.
21 December 2006
A Visit from Saint Nicholas
(In the Ernest Hemingway Manner)
by James Thurber
Issue of 1927-12-24
This classic New Yorker holiday story, from 1927, appears in the anthology “Christmas at The New Yorker,” which was published by Random House.
It was the night before Christmas. The house was very quiet. No creatures were stirring in the house. There weren’t even any mice stirring. The stockings had been hung carefully by the chimney. The children hoped that Saint Nicholas would come and fill them.
The children were in their beds. Their beds were in the room next to ours. Mamma and I were in our beds. Mamma wore a kerchief. I had my cap on. I could hear the children moving. We didn’t move. We wanted the children to think we were asleep.
“Father,” the children said.
There was no answer. He’s there, all right, they thought.
“Father,” they said, and banged on their beds.
“What do you want?” I asked.
“We have visions of sugarplums,” the children said.
“Go to sleep,” said mamma.
“We can’t sleep,” said the children. They stopped talking, but I could hear them moving. They made sounds.
“Can you sleep?” asked the children.
“No,” I said.
“You ought to sleep.”
“I know. I ought to sleep.”
“Can we have some sugarplums?”
“You can’t have any sugarplums,” said mamma.
“We just asked you.”
There was a long silence. I could hear the children moving again.
“Is Saint Nicholas asleep?” asked the children.
“No,” mamma said. “Be quiet.”
“What the hell would he be asleep tonight for?” I asked.
“He might be,” the children said.
“He isn’t,” I said.
“Let’s try to sleep,” said mamma.
The house became quiet once more. I could hear the rustling noises the children made when they moved in their beds.
Out on the lawn a clatter arose. I got out of bed and went to the window. I opened the shutters; then I threw up the sash. The moon shone on the snow. The moon gave the lustre of mid-day to objects in the snow. There was a miniature sleigh in the snow, and eight tiny reindeer. A little man was driving them. He was lively and quick. He whistled and shouted at the reindeer and called them by their names. Their names were Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, and Blitzen.
He told them to dash away to the top of the porch, and then he told them to dash away to the top of the wall. They did. The sleigh was full of toys.
“Who is it?” mamma asked.
“Some guy,” I said. “A little guy.”
I pulled my head in out of the window and listened. I heard the reindeer on the roof. I could hear their hoofs pawing and prancing on the roof. “Shut the window,” said mamma. I stood still and listened.
“What do you hear?”
“Reindeer,” I said. I shut the window and walked about. It was cold. Mamma sat up in the bed and looked at me.
“How would they get on the roof?” mamma asked.
“Get into bed. You’ll catch cold.”
Mamma lay down in bed. I didn’t get into bed. I kept walking around.
“What do you mean, they fly?” asked mamma.
“Just fly is all.”
Mamma turned away toward the wall. She didn’t say anything.
I went out into the room where the chimney was. The little man came down the chimney and stepped into the room. He was dressed all in fur. His clothes were covered with ashes and soot from the chimney. On his back was a pack like a peddler’s pack. There were toys in it. His cheeks and nose were red and he had dimples. His eyes twinkled. His mouth was little, like a bow, and his beard was very white. Between his teeth was a stumpy pipe. The smoke from the pipe encircled his head in a wreath. He laughed and his belly shook. It shook like a bowl of red jelly. I laughed. He winked his eye, then he gave a twist to his head. He didn’t say anything.
He turned to the chimney and filled the stockings and turned away from the chimney. Laying his finger aside his nose, he gave a nod. Then he went up the chimney. I went to the chimney and looked up. I saw him get into his sleigh. He whistled at his team and the team flew away. The team flew as lightly as thistledown. The driver called out, “Merry Christmas and good night.” I went back to bed.
“What was it?” asked mamma. “Saint Nicholas?” She smiled.
“Yeah,” I said.
She sighed and turned in the bed.
“I saw him,” I said.
“I did see him.”
“Sure you saw him.” She turned farther toward the wall.
“Father,” said the children.
“There you go,” mamma said. “You and your flying reindeer.”
“Go to sleep,” I said.
“Can we see Saint Nicholas when he comes?” the children asked.
“You got to be asleep,” I said. “You got to be asleep when he comes. You can’t see him unless you’re unconscious.”
“Father knows,” mamma said.
I pulled the covers over my mouth. It was warm under the covers. As I went to sleep I wondered if mamma was right.
Yesterday, Oxymoronic Philosopher wrote of a War on Christianity. While the idea of a well planned, serious onslaught against Christianity and Christmas seems highly improbable, the notion that many right wing nutjobs, ranging from pundits to politicians, are seriously waging a war on Islam seems a whole-hell-of-a lot less far-fetched. And these guys aren't necessarily attacking the sort of radical Islam espoused by our real enemies (lest we forget who those guys are... you know, the ones who attacked us, the ones went after and blew our chances to get in Afghanistan). No, far from it. They're taking jabs at honest, hard-working Americans who choose to exercise their First Amendment right and practice the teachings of Muhammad.
Take Minn. Rep. Elect Keith Ellison, who, about a month ago, requested to be sworn in using the Quran. He's become the target of the right-wingers simply for staying steadfast in his beliefs, something Christian Conservatives seem to favor when it comes to members of their own flock but tend to oppose when it comes to followers of a different persuasion. The message seems clear: 'Christians, hold your beliefs no matter what. You're right, and there's no debatin' that. Never let the media, government, etc. challenge those beliefs. Everybody else: freedom of religion only applies to us. Screw you!'
So many members of the Conservative media have told Rep. Elect Ellison "screw you" that it's ridiculous. Remember back in November when CNN Headline News host Glenn Beck told Ellison, "what I feel like saying is, 'Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.'"? Comments like these aren't limited to idiots like Beck, though. Just a few days ago Virginia Congressman (yes, a congressman. an elected leader who's supposed to uphold the Constitution) Virgil Goode wrote a letter to his constituents about the need for a complete overhaul of the current immigration policy, which leads us to the long-awaited and much anticipated (work with me, people) return of my Quote of the Day.
In the letter Goode wrote, "When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Quran in any way.
"The Muslim representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Quran... I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary..."Having the greeter at the local Wal-Mart say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" is one thing. It's a petty argument for an so-called war that doesn't really exist. Having a U.S. Congressman, a guy who's supposed to defend the Bill of Rights in every situation, attack the Quran and essentially undermine the legitimacy of a Muslim-congressman is an entirely different thing. That, my friends, is a well-calculated war on a religion that has been overshadowed in the mainstream media.
20 December 2006
Now I sit me down in school
Where praying is against the rule
For this great nation under God
Finds mention of Him very odd.
If Scripture now the class recites,
It violates the Bill of Rights.
And anytime my head I bow
Becomes a Federal matter now.
Our hair can be purple, orange or green,
That's no offense; it's a freedom scene.
The law is specific, the law is precise.
Prayers spoken aloud are a serious vice.
For praying in a public hall
Might offend someone with no faith at all.
In silence alone we must meditate,
God's name is prohibited by the state.
We're allowed to cuss and dress like freaks,
And pierce our noses, tongues and cheeks.
They've outlawed guns, but FIRST the Bible.
To quote the Good Book makes me liable.
We can elect a pregnant Senior Queen,
And the 'unwed daddy,' our Senior King.
It's "inappropriate" to teach right from wrong,
We're taught that such "judgments" do not belong.
We can get our condoms and birth controls,
Study witchcraft, vampires and totem poles.
But the Ten Commandments are not allowed,
No word of God must reach this crowd.
It's scary here I must confess,
When chaos reigns the school's a mess.
So, Lord, this silent plea I make:
Should I be shot; My soul please take!
Now, I’m not as crafty as SteveG, so I won’t put my own twist to this tale, but I do want to contemplate it for a just a moment. What got us to this point…where trite poems about the persecution of Christians intrude on our mailboxes on a daily basis? Is it that we have become so secular, so entrenched in reason, logic, and science that we are simply appalled by appeals to religion…by the prayers of others? Come on…if we’re living in a reality-based society where reason has defeated all comers, why are we still in an ill conceived war? Why is it that the majority still claims to be religious? Why is it that most charitable giving still comes from the low-income population and through religious channels? No, reason hasn’t won out on this one.
In fact, we’re dealing with just the opposite. The pressure against religion in public life is reactionary. It is a reaction on behalf of the religious minorities in the face of some of the greatest churchgoing and evangelizing that this nation has seen. It’s done in different ways now than in the past…with light shows, video screens, TV and radio broadcasts, but the Christians of this country are far from persecuted. The mechanisms have always been in place to remove the religious gestures from public life, but the impetus to do so was never there until the minority began to feel threatened. Then…the push from both sides began.
The question left unanswered, though…is this the solution we ought seek or is this yet another symptom of the continuing polarization of American society? Is it not just a reaction, but an overreaction that we see coming from both sides of this issue?
Pa. gaming board awards 5 slots licenses in historic session
12/20/2006, 12:06 p.m. ETBy MARC LEVYThe Associated Press
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — State gambling regulators on Wednesday awarded five slots licenses for casino projects in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Bethlehem and the Pocono Mountains, while rejecting bids that included a proposal for a slots parlor near the historic Gettysburg battlefield.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board awarded two Philadelphia licenses to groups led by billionaire developer Neil G. Bluhm and by Connecticut-based Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. In Pittsburgh, the board awarded a license to Detroit-based casino developer Don H. Barden.
Las Vegas-based casino operator Las Vegas Sands Corp. won a license for a Bethlehem casino and businessman Louis A. DeNaples won one for a Pocono Mountain resort.
The gaming board can award as many as 11 permanent slots licenses, each allowing as many as 5,000 machines. Six licenses are earmarked for the state's horse-racing tracks, while 13 applicants competed for the remaining five stand-alone licenses.
Among the applications the board rejected were:
• a hotly contested proposal by a group led by Connecticut-based Silver Point Capital LP for a casino near the Gettysburg battlefield;
• an application by Donald Trump's Atlantic City, N.J.-based casino company for a casino in Philadelphia;
• a proposal by St. Louis-based casino operator Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. for a casino in Pittsburgh; Isle of Capri had promised to build a new $290 million arena for the Pittsburgh Penguins without using taxpayer money.
So far, two racetracks — Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs and Philadelphia Park — already have opened slots parlors under conditional licenses, while racetracks in Chester and near Erie are expected to open slots parlors in the next two months.
Gov. Ed Rendell rejuvenated a 25-year drive to legalize casino-style gambling in Pennsylvania by promising that slots revenue would help reduce property taxes and revive the state's declining horse-racing industry. The law passed in 2004 authorized up to 61,000 slot machines at 14 sites.
19 December 2006
I, as I’m sure many do, often find myself thinking about my beliefs and convictions, both spiritual and intellectual, and how well the way I actually live my life coincides with them. I usually come to the conclusion that the overarching theme of my life displays well the beliefs I hold about the way a good life should be lived, but I’ll be damned if I’m not still a hypocrite the other 49% of the time.
One of the most outrageous examples of this disjunct in belief and practice surfaces every year between the Monday after Thanksgiving and mid-January. This is the time of year that I take to the woods in that most primal endeavor, that coming of age event of the Western PA youth…yes, my friends, the Oxymoron continues, I am a hunter. Though occasionally pursuing small game and birds, the
So what is it that draws me to this “sport?” I hesitate in daily life to squash a fly or step on a spider. I swerve to miss squirrels in the road and feel terrible when I step on the tail of my 15 year old cat. I despise causing harm or bringing pain upon anyone or anything…for the most part. But, for some reason, I can’t think of hunting in these terms. There are the common defenses, with which I agree, given by hunters and outdoorsmen: population control, crop protection, if we don’t kill them you’ll hit them with your car, there are so many deer that they will starve to death if not controlled. But there’s so much more to taking to the woods during this time of year. There’s a culture and a tradition built up around it that I am, quite simply, not ready to forego. This is one time of year when I make the entirely conscious decision to live in discord with my beliefs.
The tradition…it starts in September when the time comes to buy a license and send in applications for additional tags. The emails and phone calls start escalating. Who’s seeing deer where? Where’s the big buck this year? Where are you hunting? Should we move our stands? Have the regulations changed? Remember where they took that big one in the Valley last year? It builds and builds…my dad, my uncles, my closest friends all chatting it up over the coming season.
Then…Thanksgiving weekend. Some of the guys have already been out for archery; they’ve seen the deer and have tales of tails to tell. The night before the holiday is always a night out on the town talking with old friends, singing, telling stories, and reminiscing. Thanksgiving day is for football and feasting and drinking some beer. But then comes Black Friday; while many take to the malls my friends and I take to the woods. We clean our guns, prepare our gear, check all our treestands, blinds, and other spots. Make sure the paths are clear and shooting lanes open, then trek back to the cabin for a couple of beers. Sunday is the final preparation. Pile the gear in the basement, double check your ammo, make some sandwiches with the leftover turkey, and go buy a pair of gloves because you definitely lost yours from last year…oh, and batteries for the flashlight…how are they ALWAYS dead? Nobody really sleeps on Sunday night.
The serenity…the alarm wakes me at 4:30 AM. Breakfast and a cup of coffee with my dad, and we bitch about how the newspaper is never there on time on the First Day (we capitalize it in PA b/c it’s a holiday there). I glare out the window at the crisp, dark morning hoping for some snow that just won’t come. Pile on three layers of clothes…maybe four…and mom gets up to say, “Good luck!” Load the gear in the truck, grab your thermos of coffee hit the road.
In the woods before sunrise finding your way with a flashlight, the stands must have moved since Friday…honestly, where can they be…by the big pine, or was it that big pine? Small talk ceased when we left the truck, now it’s walking in silence. Finally, I’ve found my tree and climbed the stand…strapped myself in and loaded my gun. My walkie-talkie is still off and this is my favorite part of the day. Watching the sun slowly peek over the horizon, the pinks and oranges of the morning light flicker off the glistening branches of the winter trees. The woods start to come alive. Birds chirp.
The adrenaline…my heart starts to pound profusely, breathing becomes sporadic as I raise my gun and find him in my scope. I can’t hold him there, my hands tremble. A DEEP SLOW BREATH…and they steady. He has enough points…find his front shoulder…slowly squeeze…
Aha…drag him back to the cabin and let the stories begin over a sandwich, a cup of coffee and a frozen candy bar. No sandwich is better than the one that’s been smashed under your thermos all morning. No cup of coffee tastes as good as the hot cup in the cold woods. And frozen Snickers are a gift from heaven.
No…I’m not ready to give this up. I can’t reconcile it with my beliefs or justify the killing of an animal with any intellectual or spiritual certainty. But…sometimes traditions are just that way. Sometimes the tradition consumes you and is simply inexplicable…and I like that…sometimes.
04 December 2006
While the Oxymoronic Philosopher has been busy with work and grad. school applications, I've been busy writing papers, studying for exams, and wrapping up my fall semester. Thus, as of late, posts have been sporadic and, to some degree, without much thought. We just haven't had the energy to put any real thought into writing anything, and that's sad. Hopefully at some point we'll get back to putting the time needed into maintaining a thoughtful, earnest blog. Until then, keep checking in from time to time, as I'm sure that random posts will continue to appear.