Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Religious question du jour...

I know that at least two members of the clergy read this blog occasionally. And others who have Altar Guild experience. So maybe you people can help me out.

What is the proper method of disposal for candles that have been used in Advent wreaths? After all, they've been blessed and prayed over. But they still have a lot of wax left, so to speak (especially this year, when the last candle will burn for one evening's meal), and you are going to get fresh candles next year.

Is it okay to put them in the junk drawer to have on hand in case of power outages? What about making firestarters out of them?

How about using them for candlelight dinners of tapas (garlic prawns, chorizo-stuffed dates, bruschetta with tomato and Serrano ham) and rioja? Does it make any difference if the menu is Cornish game hen with cornbread and red pepper stuffing and honey-glazed carrots, along with a nice gewerztraminer?

Enquiring minds need to know.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Definite proof that this Christmas business has gotten out of hand.

In Palo Alto, California, there is a street where all the houses decorate for Christmas. The street is lined with small pines strung with lights. They even put red coverings over the street lamps (leading me or my husband to always make the very stale joke about it being a red-light district, albeit one with houses worth about $2 mil). During the weeks after Thanksgiving, there are always lines of cars cruising down the streets slowly, parking lights on.

Sunday, as we were cruising, the driver of the beat up mid-seventies sports car in front of us got impatient. Annoyed that the Prius in front of him was going too slowly, he pulled out and passed the guy. It was unreal. I sat there in the driver's seat of my van thinking, "Whoa, someone needs to chill out."

We proceeded down the street. The impatient driver pulled away a bit and then stopped in front of the last house to look at it. The Prius driver sat for a minute, then gently tapped his headlights. Mistake.

The insane driver sped up and drove a short way, stopped, and put his car in reverse, and started coming back, fast. It was the unfolding of a classic road rage incident -- over Christmas lights.

Fortunately, at that point a large and noisy group of pedestrians came to the corner. The first driver stopped, and sped around the corner. The Prius sat still for a moment. I was getting annoyed, until I realized he was probably waiting to make sure the other driver wasn't waiting for him -- either that or he was in shock.

After a minute the Prius turned the corner, with us behind him, and drove off.

As the notable philosopher Linus van Pelt once observed, "Not only is Christmas getting too commercial, it's getting too dangerous."

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What I contemplate during Advent.

Christmas is so bittersweet.

There is the Child. The shoot from the stump of the tree of Jesse, called Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Prince-of-Peace.

There is his mother, young, trusting, faithful, who would be told by Simeon soon that her child would grow to be the cause of turmoil, and that her own heart would be broken.

There are shepherds and there are the wise men from the East, who sought for the child, asking, where is the child who born the King of the Jews?

There are other children, the children of Bethlehem, slain by Herod. There are the mothers and fathers of the other children, weeping for their sons, asking of a distant God, why?

There is the man the child grew into, who walked the roads of Samaria and Judea, healing and performing miracles, and teaching. The man who will be betrayed to crucifixion and death.

The manger stands in the shadow of the cross. Without that shadow, Christmas has little meaning, simply a story about a young woman of faith and her baby. The light forming that shadow is the glow from the mouth of the open tomb.

So we celebrate the child, keeping in mind all the while where the end lies. Except it's not the end, for there is the resurrection.

The Child is Immanuel, is God-With-Us, and by His life, death, and resurrection brings hope to us all.

Monday, December 04, 2006

It is Advent, when we await the arrival of He who said

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

I have not written about politics for several weeks. I have been trying to not get sucked into dissections of the results of the election and what it means for the country, here or elsewhere on the 'net. What will be, will be.

Sometimes, however, what is at stake is not politics but justice. What has happened to Jose Padilla transcends politics.

Jose Padilla was picked up in Chicago following 9/11 as a suspected member of Al-Qaeda. There were originally allegations that he was part of a plot to manufacture a dirty bomb. He was declared an enemy combatant, and shipped to Naval Brig in South Carolina.

Jose Padilla is an American citizen, arrested on American soil.

His lawyers fought his detention all the way to the Supreme Court. Two years ago, the Supreme Court agreed with him on the merits, but ordered him to refile in the proper Circuit. He did so. The Bush Administration fought to keep him in military control, up until earlier this year, when the case was on course to get back to the Supreme Court, when they quickly transferred him to a (civilian) federal penitentiary, charged him with conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists. Charging him with a crime means that he will be brought to trial, rather than languishing in military detention with no hope of a jury hearing his case.

During the time he was in the brig, he was alone in a ten cell wing of the facility, his counsel allege. He saw no one but his interrogators. His windows were blacked out, he had no clock or calendar, and had his Koran taken from him. He slept on a steel platform.

The military argues that none of this was inhumane, and that his basic needs were met, and that he never complained. He never complained? Maybe he was afraid.

In the course of his incarceration, Padilla needed a root canal. What happened next is captured on video. Armed guards -- their faces completely hidden behind visors -- entered the cell. They did not speak. Padilla was manacled -- to be expected -- and then...

He was given noise-blocking earphones, and blacked goggles. He was taken from his cell, without being able to see or hear what is happening around him, by completely anonymous figures. To get a root canal. It makes one wonder -- did they even tell him what was going on?

He lived under these conditions for three and a half years.

His attorneys say he is incompetent to stand trial. He does not seem to understand the charges against him. He is unable to assist in his own defense, primarily because he seems to not believe that his attorneys are working for him -- but that they are part of an interrogation scheme on the government's part. He is afraid to talk about what happened in the brig because he is terrified he will be returned there.

He is a broken man.

Torture does not have to be physical to be torture. Sensory deprivation and isolation strike at the heart of the greatest human needs beyond food, water, and warmth. To be trapped with only your own mind for company for months on ends is terrible to contemplate.

All for a man who has not stood trial for any crime, and who even his jailers admit was not disruptive.

Not that it matters -- since we should not treat any human this way -- but it bears repeating that Padilla is a citizen. Before its passage, we were repeatedly told that the Military Commissions Bill would not be used against American citizens. Do you believe that?

In this season of Advent, I pray for Mr. Padilla. I pray also for his jailers, that one day they realize what exactly what they have done.

UPDATE: Terry Karney's post about the situation is well worth reading.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Proof that my youngest child is, in fact, forty-five:

He likes goat cheese and discussing politics.

He enjoys tea and wants to start collecting handmade teacups.

He loves showtunes, and knows the words to nearly as many of them as I do.

He saw Titanic before I did.*

He has a large and somewhat esoteric vocabulary, at least for his alleged chronological age.**

And the final proof? This morning he said he wanted a shiatsu massage chair for Christmas.

* Titanic came on television, and he came in the room. "I can tell you how it ends," I smirked. "The boat sinks." "The boat sinks," he replied gravely, "and the man she is in love with.....[not revealed here in case someone hasn't seen the movie]. I've seen this already." And he left the room, leaving me speechless. I'm still not sure where he saw the movie.

** He has a passion for monotremes, and it confuses his grade school teachers, several of whom did not know what a monotreme was. (They do now.) He is especially fond of echidnas, and wants to own one when he grows up.

Bad Christmas Music, Revisited.

Remember how I said that the worst secular Christmas songs were "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer," "Santa Baby," and Weird Al's "Christmas At Ground Zero"?


I forgot the absolutely worst Christmas song, which I'm not sure I've heard yet this holiday season, but which, nightmare-like, inserted itself into my brain this morning as I woke up and will not go away.

"Last Christmas," by George Michael.

Whatever you think of Michael's music -- and he actually did three songs I like ("Faith," "Freedom '90," and "One Last Try") -- this particular songs is syrupy and whiny. You understand why his lover left him, if he's this annoying.

The narrator of the song "gave his heart" to the object of his affections on Christmas, and "the very next day, you tore it apart." Good heavens, man! It's been a year, pull yourself together! How completely pathetic! So you've found a new lover -- why are so obsessed with the old you have to go back and point out this fact?

I just hope I can scrub it out of aural memory soon, and replace it by something less objectionable, like "It's a Small World." Or "Achy-Breaky Heart." Or dentists' drills. Or something.

Of course, it could be worse: I could have "My Heart Will Go On" stuck in my head.

Friday, December 01, 2006

I have a teapot now. I grew up a bit of a wild child -- a tomboy to the max -- and while I was exposed to "tea" as an event rather than simply a beverage at college (Wellesley has tea every Wednesday in the dorms), I didn't really understand the joys of using a teapot until recently, when the ladies at my church have had several teas.

A dear friend of mine, knowing that a teapot was on my Christmas list, gave me a lovely china teapot on Tuesday. The upshot of this is that on Wednesday, I sat with my youngest son (who had with his own money purchased a handmade Japanese-style teacup and saucer because he thought it was pretty) having tea. Very civilized.

All I have to do now is learn to make scones.


I have started listening to liberal talk radio occasionally on satellite radio, and have come to the conclusion that there are almost as many reality-challenged people on my side as on the other -- or, at least, those are the ones that call in. Guys? Impeaching a president in the last two years of his second term, when you hold a one vote majority in the Senate and it would be impossible to convict, makes no sense and would simply tear the country apart. Fortunately, the hosts seem to be reasonable people, albeit strident.

Because, of course, I am never strident. No siree Bob, not me. And I have this bridge in Brooklyn....


Advent starts on Sunday, and on Saturday I go and make the Advent wreath. We always have an Advent wreath for part of Advent, but because we usually travel at Christmas we never finish using it. We're staying home this year, and one of the highlights (in addition to worshipping at our own church for Christmas) will be lighting all the Advent candles, and saying all the prayers.

I love the Advent wreath. I love making it, I love the lighting and the prayers. I love that it helps reinforce what we are waiting for, rather than simply a day to get presents or eat a lot of chocolate. My kids love it too, there is always a debate over who gets to light the candles.

I am hoping to write about Advent, and about faith in general, during the Advent season.


I have decided on a winner in the "Most obnoxious contemporary Christmas song -- religious theme" category. (The winner in the "Most obnoxious Christmas song -- secular" category is a three way tie between "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer," "Santa Baby," and Weird Al's "Christmas At Ground Zero" -- the last having a horrible tendency to warp itself into an endless loop as part of a mashup in my brain with "Jingle Bell Rock.") I generally don't mind religious theme Christmas songs, because, no matter how bad the song is as a song, at least the songwriter is trying to sing about the true meaning of Christmas.

But then I heard "The Christmas Shoes." This is about a little boy who is trying to buy shoes for his dying mother so she'll look nice when she meets Jesus. The narrator gives him money for the shoes, and thanks God for the boy "reminding him what the season is all about."

This song is wrong on so many levels: manipulative, crass (Jesus and consumerism! -- Hey, maybe that *is* what the season is all about!), and psychologically improbable. I have known kids with dying parents -- even kids from devout conservative Protestant families, and they were not out buying shoes, or anything like that: they are too fearful, and sad, and in shock. The entire scenario is intended to pull the heartstrings of gullible adults.

But the coup de grace is at the end of the song: the producers have added a choir. I'm not sure whether it is intended to be boys or the angels coming to take mama away, but it sounds like neither: the chorus is, I swear, sung by aliens.

Maybe mama was abducted by aliens? In which case, the shoes wouldn't help much.


Speaking of Christmas songs, I get really cranky with all the songs that equate Christmas with snow and sleighbells and things like that. I grew up in Florida, where the only white Christmases we had were because of the beach sand.

And you tell me how much snow there is in Palestine. Really.


Next week the males of my family turn into mighty hunters and go to the forest to fell the evergreen that will grace our living room. One of the joys of living in Northern California is that you can go cut your own tree (actually, you only cut the top off the tree -- you leave enough so the actual tree survives); a joy, that is, except for the cold, and the wind, and the rain we often get this time of year. For some reason there has always been a competition in my family to find the perfect tree, and me staying in the car is considered poor sportsmanship.

Once you find the tree, you wield your mighty bow saw (being sure to leave at least three or four limbs at the bottom so the tree can regenerate) and fell your prey. The best tree we ever found, though, was one that someone had already cut and abandoned. I didn't want it -- if we were going to go all the way out there to get a tree, by golly we were going to get the freshest tree possible -- but my kids begged. "Please, mom, it needs us!" Sigh. We took the tree home, and once we decorated it, it looked fantastic. From then on out, we called it the Charlie Brown tree.

There is a fair amount of ritual -- we always have chili for dinner (put on before we go out) and we always have mint hot chocolate after we get back with the tree. We decorate the tree either after dinner or, if we get the tree on Saturday, on Sunday evening. We go in for the "eclectic" decorating style, placing glass ornaments owned by my husbands grandmother next to paper Santas made by my eldest son in kindergarten years ago. It's chaotic and messy, but full of personality.

Rather like all of us.