Yes, Reverend, What We Call It Matters

The annual battle over Christmas terminology isn’t a sport for which I have much enthusiasm, the lines having been drawn and a general consensus reached. As a matter of governance, I think that local governments ought to be able to reflect the makeup of their communities, if that’s what the folks who live there want, and that deliberately running from a religious reference is tantamount to unconstitutional expression of governmental religious preference. But this is ground that’s been covered over and over.
It is telling that Governor Lincoln Chafee couldn’t even muster a nod, as governor, to his ideological opponents and, acknowledging the General Assembly’s action early in the year asking public officials to refer to such decorations as “Christmas trees,” do so as a symbolic gesture of respect and concession. In Chafee, we find an ideologue who thinks sticking to his guns makes him a centrist.
More interesting, in my view, are the thoughts of Executive Minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches Rev. Don Anderson:

I would ask my fellow Christians, with all of the poverty, hunger and injustice that surround us, do we really believe that Jesus would have us spend all this time and energy around what we call a tree? I would suggest that if we truly want to honor the birth of Jesus, let us be found honoring and serving one another in recognition and thanksgiving for what God has done for us.

What Anderson elides is that Jesus’ mission wasn’t merely one of social work, but also of conversion. Recall the anointing at Bethany:

… a woman came up to him with an alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil, and poured it on his head while he was reclining at table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant and said, “Why this waste? It could have been sold for much, and the money given to the poor.”
Since Jesus knew this, he said to them, “Why do you make trouble for the woman? She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me.

Immediately thereafter, in the book of Matthew, Judas agrees to betray Jesus — although whether in reaction to His dalliance in material pleasure or with the understanding that he is helping to fulfill Jesus’ plan makes for an interesting theological debate. More relevant to the current controversy, however, is the simple fact of Jesus’ statement that His bodily presence supersedes in importance the existence of material poverty.
Above everything, in the Christian interpretation, Jesus gave a face to God, as a model and guide. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus intermixes the admonition to do good for others as a way of doing good for Him with the command to spread His Word so that others will do the same. That is, why Christians have good will toward men is as important as that they do.
Happily, most people still understand (for the time being, at least) that a “holiday tree” is really a “Christmas tree,” and related to a holiday celebrating the birth of the Messiah who taught these lessons, so little is lost by not naming the holiday at a tree lighting. (Of course, euphemism can be a species of dishonesty.) But Anderson’s dismissal of the issue strikes me as a reckless exercise in political correctness that, if taken to the extreme that it often is, will ultimately undermine both the recognition of Christ and His explanation for the commandment to help others.
Ross Douthat expressed an applicable sentiment in a print National Review essay about the (mostly secular) pilgrimage movie, The Way:

In reality, religion — and more particularly, Catholicism — has everything to do with why The Way packs both an artistic and a metaphysical punch. Both the aesthetic and the spiritual realms thrive on specificity: on iconography that refers to something in particular, on moral frameworks that provide guidance for hard cases as well as general admonitions. Without these specifics, there would be no Santiago de Compostela, no Camino for the doubting modern pilgrims of The Way to walk, no sins to be forgiven, and no one to offer absolution.

After all, if the inspiration for decorating a tree is of no consequence, the inspiration for building magnificent churches must be as well, and so too the inspiration for making of our lives shrines to the God whom we are to see in the faces of our fellow men and women. Simply doing good deeds may be adequate for a generation or two, but eventually, people will forget the true names of the symbols and the explanation for their good behavior. God’s voice will remain in us, calling through our consciences, but if that is enough, then why did He send his Son on Christmas Day only to be killed on Good Friday?

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joe bernstein
joe bernstein
10 years ago

Anderson spreads lies about the immigration issue routinely,starting with his hysterical denunciation of Gov.Carcieri’s executive order.
I attended a debate/presentation moderated by Prof.Wendy Schiller at Brown some time back on the subject of immigration,and Andrew Morse was also there.
Rev.Anderson was on the panel and he basically accused anyone who wanted immigration laws enforced as racists who disliked “brown pwoplw”and alleged that if most aliens were White,we’d ahve diferent laws.
Well,that didn’t go unchallenged,but nevertheless this so called “minister”is a walking bag of lies and false acusations-isn’t bearing false witness a sin?
Anderson is so far left and so drenched in White guilt he’s almost a caricture.

Ron
Ron
10 years ago

Justin, you have completely missed the point on this one. Does it matter what you call a Christmas tree? Sure. If you think it matters, it matters. A better question is whether it matters what Lincoln Chaffee calls a Christmas tree. For my part I wouldn’t give a rat’s fart what he calls it. That conservatives can spend this much time complaining about the terminology preferences of a man they don’t even like just baffles me. But do what you like. At least it’s stopped you from b**ching about taxes for a bit.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

I’d be more sympathetic if the decoration in question were a cross or nativity scene or something actually rooted in Christianity. Christmas trees have as much to do with religion as giving out candy on Halloween, so as much as I despise the man, technically Chaffee is correct to call it a Holiday Tree. If you’re really trying to be faithful to the Bible, you probably shouldn’t have them at all. Don’t think I’m picking on Christians either – I’ve been explaining to fellow Jews that separating milk and poultry isn’t in the Bible since I was 10.

bella
bella
10 years ago

Entirely motivated by politics (and DePetro), He realizes he can’t call Chafee a union tool anymore after he signed pension reform (and sought an even larger-scale bill than Raimondo did), so John had to stoop even lower.
BTW, did anyone hear him tell the 10-year-old girl who called in that Chafee was trying to prevent Santa from coming or anyone from celebrating Christ’s birth? Or immediately cut off another caller who tried to discuss that with him?
Anderson’s right. We’ve gone too far. We’ve allowed ourselves to become tools of a demagogue.
And I wish Chafee wasn’t such a wuss. He ought to slam this right back in DePetro’s face.

Max D
Max D
10 years ago

“Entirely motivated by politics (and DePetro), He realizes he can’t call Chafee a union tool anymore after he signed pension reform (and sought an even larger-scale bill than Raimondo did)”
That’s a good one. Did Chafee sign that bill or did Raimondo have a grip on his…hand? I understand that the tree may have more meaning to others but for me, whatever Governor Irrelevant calls a tree really is just another example of his spiraling irrelevance. Again, that’s just me.

ANTHONY
ANTHONY
10 years ago

“I’d be more sympathetic if the decoration in question were a cross or nativity scene or something actually rooted in Christianity”
Agree with Dan 100%. RI Born and raised Catholic (St. Mary’s Broadway). The holiday we celebrate around 12/25 is derived from a Druid celebration of the winter solstice. The practice of going into delirium (and debt) over gift giving has nothing to do with the Christ child.

Andrew
Editor
10 years ago

When and by whom was it decided that Christian celebrations are limited to antiquarian reenactments?

Tim
Tim
10 years ago

Dan a Christmas tree is a Christmas tree. How is Chafee correct to call it anything other than what it actually is – a Christmas tree????
Helloooooo………….
The only time pine trees are brought to the Statehouse and decorated with ornaments and lights during the month of December is for the CHRISTMAS season.
This is not done for Chanukah. Jews do not use the decorated pine tree as a Chanukah symbol.
No one to my knowledge uses the decorated pine tree as a New Years symbol either.
No, those pine trees so beautifully adorned with ornaments and lights during the month of December are strictly CHRISTMAS symbols, i.e. they are Christmas trees.
And Chafee claiming he’s calling it a Holiday tree to be more inclusive is laugh out loud funny, much like Linky himself
How is pretending the Christmas tree is not a Christmas tree more inclusive for anyone in any way on any level??
How is anyone being excluded from anything when a Christmas tree is called a Christmas tree during the annual Christmas season??
And this certainly can’t be a question of state sponsored religion can it??
After all NO ONE on the take-CHRIST-out-of-CHRISTmas-trees side of this issue EVER says a peep about the lighting of the Menorah, a very religious symbol.
Hmmm what to make of that double standard Dan??
We must change the name of the Christmas tree during the Christmas season as we light a Menorah to celebrate Chanukah under the very same roof??
Hmmm…….
WE get what’s going on. Just wish these liberal kooks would be more honest.
Talk about asking for a Christmas miracle – wanting honesty out of libs.
Yikes! ha ha ha ha ha
Joe you’re right on about Rev Don Anderson. He’s a lib kook whose politics is his religion.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

Posted by joe bernstein
“anyone who wanted immigration laws enforced as racists who disliked “brown pwoplw”and alleged that if most aliens were White,we’d ahve diferent laws.”
We may not have different laws for white people, but we do tend to enforce the ones we have. Brown people have the advantage. You must know the obstacles for a Hungarian engineer to come here and work in high tech. Just 15-20 years ago, the “illegal immigrants of choice” in Boston were Irish. They were afraid to work in the day and worked night jobs in construction, it was usual to hear the lilt of Irish laughter when walking by a small construction site at night. If you needed laborers, there were bars in South Boston where you could hire them through what the Victorians called “gangers”. The gangers took the money under a construction company name as subcontractors, washed it, and passed it to the Irish. Brown illegal construction workers just hang out in front of Home Depot in the morning (why isn’t ICE there?). Home Depot is being forced to build bathrooms for them. Black construction companies,with no employees, were hired to meet quotas. They were then told to stay away from the job. How is that for “easy work”?
Posted by Dan
“Christmas trees have as much to do with religion as giving out candy on Halloween, so as much as I despise the man, technically Chaffee is correct to call it a Holiday Tree.”
Dan, your argument has some merit. But only if you think of it as a “retail holiday”. Otherwise, Christmas is the “reason for the season”. We’ll have to meet for lunch to discuss it. You bring the white bread, I’ll bring the mayonnaise.

Tommy Cranston
Tommy Cranston
10 years ago

Druid?
No. It was timed to supplant the Saturnalia holiday of the pagan Roman Religion.

ANTHONY
ANTHONY
10 years ago

“Druid?
No. It was timed to supplant the Saturnalia holiday of the pagan Roman Religion.”
Tommy C in any case Christ most likely was born in the spring. His birth being “moved” to the solstice is symbolic of renewal as of the sun renewing itself and bringing longer days,etc. There is no doubt in my mind however that there is a concerted effort to rid this world of Christians and Christianity. Witness the “Arab Spring”. Christian churches in Egypt and elsewhere are being bulldozed.

OldTimeLefty
10 years ago

Regarding the Douthat, Justin duo and Santiago de Compostelo:
Santiago de Compostelo, so named in commemoration of Saint James, the Apostle who legend says traveled from Palestine (some would call it the Holy Land-should we start an argument about that name) to Spain. St. James then returned to Palestine where he died. Somehow his remains were discovered in Spain 800 years later (legend says that angels carried his body there). They were discovered by a Galician shepherd in what is now the city of Santiago. This was in the year 813. The bishop of Iria, Bishop Teodomiro, declared that the remains indeed were those of the apostle James and immediately notified King Alfonso II in Oviedo. A cathedral was built on the spot where the remains were said to have been found.
If you buy all that – remember that St. James died in Palestine shortly after Christ did and his remains lay there in an unmarked grave for 800 years (About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword – Acts 12:1 &2), you are probably crazy enough to argue over the name of a tree. And if you are crazy enough to argue over the name of a tree, you probably qualify to be called a religious fanatic.

Tim
Tim
10 years ago

OTL how many websites did you need to use during your research??
Or is this straight from the Progressives handbook?
Uh huh! ha ha ha ha ha
Merry Christmas OldTiredLiberal and God Bless you.

OldTimeLefty
10 years ago

Tim,
My sources include
1. The Bible – Look again and you’ll see the citation.
2. The Encyclopedia Britannica.
3. “Following the Milky Way: A Pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago”, Elyn Aviva
4. General knowledge gained from the Jesuit order who were my undergraduate teachers.
5. An abiding interest in Spain (visited the country on 5 or 6 separate occasions.)
6. Extensive reading of Spanish language authors like Miguel de Cervantes, Jose Maria Gironella, Jose Luis de Villalonga, Jorge Luis Borges.
7. “Spain, a Modern History”, Salvador de Madariaga.
You give a new definition to Tiny Tim”. The fictional character had only a lame leg; you seem to have a lame brain. Obviously, you had nothing of substance to say, so you resorted to the verbal gutter of two-bit sarcasm. You state your ignorance eloquently.
OldTimeLefty

Max
Max
10 years ago

Did you get up on the right side of the bed this morning OTL? 😉

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

OTL, with your extensive study of Spain, you must see the correlation with the present situation in the U.S. Although Spain drew vast wealth from the adventures of the conquistadors (most of whom came from regions of Spain where the Roman legions had settled)they were unable to retain the wealth. Most of it was paid out to foreign lenders. So, Spain is now what it is, the “sick man of Europe”. Is Spain our future?

OldTimeLefty
10 years ago

Max,
Is there a criticism of what I wrote in there? Do you take exception to what I wrote? What is the exception? Or are you are throwing a stone from behind rock. Looks like you are taking the coward’s path on this. Put something up or shut up.

OldTimeLefty
10 years ago

Warrington, it is indeed instructive to look at what happened in Spain after 1492.
Spain was drawn unwillingly into European affairs and, later on, under Charles V (grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella and grandson to Mary of Flanders and Emperor Maximilian), into endless religious wars in Central Europe that sapped the financial resources and manpower of Castile. So, yes, Spain’s troubles may be attributed to costly foreign wars that sapped its treasury. This can be likened to present day U.S. ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, this period saw the wholesale transfer of language and institutions from the Old World to the New. This development also meant the importation of New World goods, especially silver, which led to a high rate of inflation in Europe. Watch what happens with the Euro since our economy is now intertwined with it. I don’t know whether it will be inflation or depression, but it won’t be good.
You are partially correct when you mention foreign debt, but you don’t look into the situation far enough.
You might also want to consider the close link between economic decline and the rise of anti-Semitism. Changes in attitudes toward Jews, vitriolic anti-Jewish legislation in the proceedings of the cortes began in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. They became increasingly harsher under the Inquisition and artisans, scholars and craftsmen fled the country, draining valuable manpower – You may want to consider the anti-immigrant fervor currently disrupting the labor markets in Georgia and Alabama.
OldTimeLefty

ANTHONY
ANTHONY
10 years ago

“You might also want to consider the close link between economic decline and the rise of anti-Semitism”
Passe Lefty
…Alabama and Georgia? Have you heard the “Occupy” idiots? “Down with Wall St. and the Jews” is their platform. This week her highness Hillary slammed Israel yet again and Hussein Obama is no friend. Passe lefty look to DC and the “Occupy” cesspools for your anti-semites.

OldTimeLefty
10 years ago

Anthony,
1. You completely missed my point. Have someone read to you what I wrote, and try again.
2. If you believe that Clinton and Obama are anti-Semitic you are hopelessly beyond the reach of argument.
3. Referencing Barack Obama as Hussein, and Hillary as her highness does nothing but expose your own very narrow prejudices.
OldTimeLefty

msteven
msteven
10 years ago

Old Time Lefty,
It was you who brought up the link between economic decline and the anti-Semitism. And of course, there is a link between economic decline and most prejudices, not just limited to anti-Semitism yet the Holocaust is certainly the most infamous example.
Anthony’s point that the Occupy movement also has also shown anti-Semitism is well taken and accurate. If someone from the Tea Party had said the same thing, I suspect you’d have a different reaction.
I agree that neither Obama or Clinton are anti-Semitic. Of course, neither are Bush or McCain.
Finally, for you, of all commenters, to refer to another’s narrow prejudices based on nicknaming people with whom you disagree is epic in its hypocrisy.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
10 years ago

@OTL:Obama may not be anti-semitic himself,but he isn’t uncomfortable around people who are.Rev.Wright certainly is,and Obama’s wife brought him into that church-I don’t think Michelle Obama has any use for white people or Jews either.(Not all Jews are white).
Hillary Clinton is nothing but an opportunistic power hungry wretch.

OldTimeLefty
10 years ago

The point which I tried to make is that economic decline always seeks a scapegoat. The fact that in Spain after 1492 it was directed at Jews is parallel to the economic decline here in these United States which finds its scapegoat in the current anti-immigration movement.
Get it? Let me spell it out – the historical parallel between the two movements is that the problem is never us. It is always a weaker and easily picked on “them”.
mstephen,
You might want to point out where I nickname people with whom I disagree. Please cite incidents. I can’t recall any.
Perhaps you are confusing anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism. I’d like to see:
1)an end to the settlements,
2)Jerusalem established as an international city, and
3)a free Palestinian state established with guaranteed access to the Mediterranean.
Do you have a problem with these, which one or ones??
joe,
Thanks as always for your “analysis”, but I completely disagree with it.
OldTimeLefty

ANTHONY
ANTHONY
10 years ago

“Anthony,
1. You completely missed my point. Have someone read to you what I wrote, and try again.”
Passe Southpaw…. you are correct. My reading skills are not adequate. I am a “victim” of public education….. Almy St., Cranston East. Alas no Sidwell Friends for me. Someday I will reach the upper realm where you and your “progressives” strum harps , stroke your beards and hum with crystals in both hands.

OldTimeLefty
10 years ago

Anthony,
F.Y.I. I attended inner city Philadelphia public schools from kindergarten through high school. My high school was tough enough to have a permanent duty policeman assigned to it. I did have great progressive, mostly leftist teachers who were sufficiently dedicated to enlist this ghetto kid into higher education. We were reading Shaw (Man and Superman, Major Barbara, Pygmalion) and J.M.Barrie (Peter Pan and The Admirable Crichton), and being introduced to socialist thought through their works. Several of my teachers had to deal with HUAC (look it up). My Spanish teacher was from the Scranton area and well acquainted with The Molly Maguires (Look them up too). We couldn’t have been further away from Sidwell or the like.
Again your assumptions are totally unfounded.
OldTimeLefty
P.S. If you want to meet Sidwellians and the like, check out the Tea Party.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
10 years ago

My HS was definitely “inner city”and also had police assigned full time-this was 1960-63.
I had a lot of teachers of the kind OTL mentions and also some who were on the right.
A lot of the male teachers were war veterans.
The long term results weren’t bad as best as I can determine from the alumni grapevine on the Internet.
I can honestly say that they never gave diplomas to illiterates.
OTL your swipe at Tea Party people as private school types probably has no basis in fact.
Whitehouse and Chafee sure fit the elitist schoolboy profile however.

ANTHONY
ANTHONY
10 years ago

“If you want to meet Sidwellians and the like, check out the Tea Party.”
Passe Southpaw,
I checked. The Tea Party has a melange of graduates. We Tea Partiers are much different from you Occupy Fleabaggers however. We welcome all races,creeds and colors. Surprise!…there is actually no party to join. You progressive Occupy Space zealots continue to march and repeat the anti-capitalist mantras. We Tea Partiers are off to work. Congrats on your socialist readings and instructors. I’m sure with that “training” Hussein Obama is a shining beacon to you as he dismantles the country.

Max D
Max D
10 years ago

“Max,
Is there a criticism of what I wrote in there? Do you take exception to what I wrote? What is the exception?”

Just the name calling OTL, that’s all.

msteven
msteven
10 years ago

Old Time Lefty,
Your point that economic decline always seeks a scapegoat is correct. You are also correct that the blame of economic decline is never “us”. It is always easily picked on “them”.
The scapegoats or “them” range from immigration policy, big government (taxes), big business, unions, the rich, the poor, etc. Everyone has a scapegoat. The issue of contention is who is “us” and who is “them”.
Again, it was you who brought up that there is a link between economic decline and anti-Semitism. Or did you mean “anti-Zionism”?
You never use any derogatory adjectives in your comments (“Tiny Tim”, “lame brain”, “ignorance”). You are always respectful of others opinions. Yes, it’s never “us”, always “them”.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
10 years ago

OTL and his friends here are entitled to call names,didn’t you know that?They are self styled superior intellects and therefore have linguistic license to give us a benighted a learning moment.
Actually,it’s kind of fun to read their garbage-you can almost see them fuming over this stuff.

msteven
msteven
10 years ago

The irony to me is how he actually asserts others as being “hopelessly beyond the reach of argument” followed by “exposing your own narrow prejudices”.
Pot. Kettle. Black.

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