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Christmas Confusion

I couldn’t help but chuckle at the conclusion of tonight’s edition of Coach’s Corner on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada. Cherry’s shtick was his usual combination of lightly-informed, opinionated bravado and Canadian hockey machismo, but as is increasingly often the case, it was also the opportunity for him to step up his soap box.

After being asked what he thought of Washington Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau’s profanity-laced tirade during a timeout this week, Cherry remarked that “at least he didn’t take the Lord’s name in vain.” This was followed by the amazing assertion that in all of Cherry’s days in minor-pro hockey, he heard a lot of swearing but none of it involved abuse of the Lord’s name (hmm… I’ve spent my share of time around hockey players over the years, and have yet to come across such selective [or virtuous] swearing. But Cherry was in moral-instruction mode so why bother with facts?). Cherry ended his segment with a reminder to “all you kids out there” that Santa Claus and presents and all that are fine, but not to forget that Christmas is “the Lord Jesus baby’s birthday.” Because really, what would an intermission in a hockey game be without a sermon? Strange times.

————

Of course, according to an article from The Globe and Mail that I read this morning, Santa has replaced God as the locus of our holiday hopes. Apparently, Santa is starting to receive some letters that sound an awful lot like prayers (does this mean that we have to refrain from taking Santa’s name in vain now, too? I guess I’ll have to tune in to the hockey game next Saturday night to find out). We Canadians are indeed a spiritually-eclectic and confused bunch, but we haven’t given up on hope.

National hockey broadcasts, letters to Santa Claus from full of desperation and longing from people of all ages… it’s amazing the places that God makes an appearance, however muted or implicit, and in response to however inadequately conceptualized and articulated hopes.

Not a lot different than the first Christmas, suppose.

38 Comments Post a comment
  1. Larry S #

    “Santa has replaced God as the locus of our holiday hopes.”

    a week or so ago, my beloved and I watched an Xmas feel good tv movie: Fred Claus. near the end of the movie, when the dysfunctional relationships had been fixed at the North Pole the sound track switched to “Silent Night” while the movie characters looked at each other with love. The song was played, lyrics and all. However, the song was played selectively. Anything sacred, anything to do with Jesus was edited out.

    of course, the most important thing was that Santa’s family relationships were ironed out and all the presents got delivered on time.

    Merry Xmas

    December 18, 2010
    • Well, of course.

      Christmas certainly has proven to be a useful season full of themes to be selectively and inconsistently accessed.

      December 19, 2010
  2. Gil #

    I’m with Colbert, I still can’t believe that kids these days call it the X-box.

    December 18, 2010
    • For those wondering about the (hilarious and weirdly prophetic) reference… 🙂

      http://watch.thecomedynetwork.ca/the-colbert-report/full-episodes/the-colbert-report—december-16-2010/#clip388710

      December 19, 2010
    • Tyler Brown #

      That was excellent! A pretty powerful message wrapped up in comedy.

      December 19, 2010
      • Gil #

        Absolutely Tyler, one of the best Christmas sermons I’ve heard in a while.

        December 19, 2010
      • Jeff #

        That’s because you keep skipping out on Sunday mornings 🙂

        December 24, 2010
      • Jeff #

        “If this is gonna be a Christian nation [insert “church”], that doesn’t help the poor, either we’ve got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we have got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition, and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.” yeah, ok, that is probably better than anything I’ve come up with…

        December 24, 2010
      • Me too :).

        December 24, 2010
  3. Dave Chow #

    Hulk Hogan’s moral instruction: “Say yer prayers, ‘n eat yer vitamins!”

    December 18, 2010
    • Ah, who better than the Hulkster to instruct the children…

      Or not.

      December 19, 2010
  4. Paul Johnston #

    So Mr. O’ Riley exploits Christ to advance a political agenda. Mr. O’ Riley is likely just wrong or more likely, incomplete in his understanding. Mr. Colbert on the other hand shows a much wiser understanding of true Christian ethics but exploits them savagely for the sake of cheap laughs and television ratings.

    I can live with serious people who make mistakes…let he who is without sin cast the first stone… I have no time for imbecilic, self promoting rants from people who have been blessed with wisdoms and opportunities that could have really made a difference.

    The stakes are too high.

    December 19, 2010
    • Tyler Brown #

      I don’t think he exploits them for cheap laughs… they are hardly cheap at all. His work off the show, as well as John Stewarts, clearly demonstrates they are dedicated to something other than their comedy shows.

      This statement is so misguided:

      “I have no time for imbecilic, self promoting rants from people who have been blessed with wisdoms and opportunities that could have really made a difference.”

      They are using their opportunity every chance they get. Take a look at Stewart on CSPAN or CNN Crossfire. Take a look at either of their interviews with political figures and media pundits. Take a look at Colbert’s speech at the White House dinner or his congress testimony. Most recently look at their rally to restore insanity.

      I agree, the stakes are too high. These two men have done a lot to counter the madness of the contemporary media and political systems. They do it through the paradigm which they know best… comedy.

      December 19, 2010
      • Paul Johnston #

        Tyler, it isn’t likely that we will agree except for me to say that Mr. Colbert and Mr. Stewart are both highly intelligent and charismatic. As for countering the ” madness” of our contemporary media and political systems, it is to bad that John Paul II, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King didn’t launch their lives of self service via comedy central.

        Had they been as insightful as Mr’s Colbert and Daly, like them, they might have actually contributed something useful to the public domain.

        IMO, being sarcastic, mocking those whose activism you disdain while at the same time offering only apathetic indifference as an alternative, is hardly a way to restore sanity.

        December 19, 2010
      • Tyler Brown #

        Paul, highlighting one person’s achievements doesn’t discredit another.

        I am not sure what point you are really trying to make… but you clearly are unfamiliar with either of them to suggest they are apathetically indifferent.

        December 19, 2010
  5. Paul Johnston #

    BTW, I love the last sentence in this post, Ryan. In it lies my inspiration and my hope. May the Lord always be with you.

    December 19, 2010
  6. Paul Johnston #

    Tyler, I accept your declaration that you have completely missed my point. Have a Merry Christmas. 🙂

    Btw, try not to envisage a Nativity scene with a succulent honey ham as the object of adoration. I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that’s not particularly holy and doesn’t do much for your salvation prospects.

    December 19, 2010
    • Paul,

      Colbert is a practising Catholic, a fan of JPII, and he would never dream of comparing himself to him. He knows he’s just a comedian, but he does use his “funny pulpit” to defend his faith when he can. E.g. http://www.headlinebistro.com/hb/en/columnists/lopez/102510.html

      Thanks for the link and reflections, Ryan.

      December 19, 2010
      • Tyler Brown #

        Excellent article, thanks for the link.

        December 19, 2010
      • Paul Johnston #

        I assumed he was, Michael. Colbert is a common Catholic name and his sense of intelligent irreverence is culturally familiar to me.

        Just curious though, what do you think has a more lasting effect on Mr. Colbert’s audience regarding Jesus Christ, the fact that he is a practicing Catholic or the fact that to advance his comedy he super imposes the face of frosty the snowman on an iconic representation of our Lord, or that he replaces the child Jesus in the nativity scene with a honey ham.

        If you are a practicing Catholic, Michael I invite you to spend some time in the adoration chapel, before the Blessed Sacrament and ask yourself how you feel about Mr.Colbert’s comedy there.

        If I knew him, I would invite Mr. Colbert to do the same.

        December 19, 2010
  7. Wow, miss a day, miss a lot. I can’t say I expected this one to generate this much controversy…

    I will simply say that I doubt God would find “a succulent honey ham” in a nativity scene any more offensive than a domesticated baby Jesus who does little besides look sweet and nice beside Santa in the mall and amidst all the nice colourful lights, and who asks little more of us than that we be good capitalists (which was roughly Colbert’s point, I think). Colbert’s comedy might not fit in the adoration chapel, but some of the themes he addresses sure seem to echo a lot of the Hebrew prophets (and, well, Jesus….).

    December 20, 2010
    • Ken #

      Colbert is known in the U.S. as a partisan, left-wing, sarcastic comedian. He is something like Ann Coulter, but on the opposite side. He is likely to conflate governmental redistribution of wealth and the gospel, as was the case with the Social Gospel.

      In the eyes of a true believer in the Social Gospel or its contemporary theological heirs, Colbert does match the prophets in message, although perhaps not in style. In the eyes of others, he matches the prophets in neither message nor style. And in such eyes, his style here is sacrilegious and his message is harsh. His Christmas message is condemnation.

      December 20, 2010
      • I’m aware of Colbert’s reputation. I am neither one of his fans nor one of his enemies. I simply think that in this particular case—in arguing that care for the poor is a central theme of the one we celebrate in a season often characterized by overindulgence—he is drawing upon important biblical themes. I don’t see condemnation here. I see irony.

        (By the way, you say “in the eyes of some” and the “in the eyes of others.” Which eyes are yours?)

        December 20, 2010
      • James #

        I agree, Ken. We all like comedy as long as it cuts down our enemies. When we don’t agree with its presuppositions, it just looks cheap and inane. Glen Beck and Ann Coulter on one side, Stewart and Colbert on the other. In this domain I go with “a pox on both their houses.”

        December 20, 2010
      • Or, we are drawn to comedy (“left” or “right”) because sometimes it tells something of the truth about our lives and the world of which we are a part.

        December 20, 2010
      • James #

        Comedy is a gift from God and does tell us something, but when used in polemics it rarely brings light but further polarizes debates, IMO. This comes from having just spent time in Dante’s Divine Comedy and observing where all of his opponents find themselves [in the various layers of Hell]. This is in contrast to Aquinas who re writes his opponent’s arguments in their best possible light before beginning his examination.
        Sorry to bring that to the table here but you can see where my head is at these days 🙂

        December 20, 2010
      • Tyler Brown #

        Very well put Ryan. Sometimes, a comedy routine highlights something in my life that I never thought about before and motivates me to change my behaviour.

        And some of it is garbage.

        December 21, 2010
  8. Paul Johnston #

    Somethings are sacred. Somethings are holy and beyond reproach. Ryan, how do you as a Christian reconcile our first three commandments and the type of comedy displayed by Mr. Colbert?

    December 21, 2010
    • I will answer your question once you address the point in my comment above.

      (Hint: I think your question here could quite plausibly be asked of many of our “Christian” portrayals and understandings of Jesus around this time of year.)

      December 21, 2010
    • Ken #

      From the perspective of those who appreciate Colbert’s humor, politics, and theology, the answer is that the commercialization of Christmas amounts to apostasy, idolatry and taking the Lord’s name in vain.

      At the same time, many who share his politics and theology, or just his distaste for the commercialization of sacred images and events, would, like you, find his humor sacrilegious and lacking in charity. They would concur that his humor is offensive to God and to the faith expressed in goodwill by other Christians with different politics and theology.

      As for me, Ryan asked above where I am on this. I had to think about it.

      I think of Frosty the Snowman as the personification of winter. I think of him as kind, like God. As I think of Frosty I am soon thinking of a polar bear. And then of other animals in winter. And I think of having fun in winter, even while wishing for Spring and Summer. The association of God with Frosty does not bother me.

      When I think of ham at Christmas I think of a feast, a celebration, inspired by the new creation and the memory and anticipation of the coming of the messiah. But then, I don’t eat much meat. I think of the way the animal was raised and harvested on a biomechanical farm, and then I feel sad and angry. It is repulsive to represent him as ham in a manger, where the helpless animals feed and where Christ was laid. I remember that Jesus was a Jew who observed the covenant even while he fulfilled it.

      So, I find Colbert’s comedy tasteless and unredeeming. I would be embarrassed to laugh.

      December 21, 2010
  9. Paul Johnston #

    The only times I have seen infant Jesus displayed in malls is for the purpose of selling nativity scenes and other religious imagery and objects. As a Catholic I support the sale of such goods, in fact my own dear mother runs a store of this nature as an adjunct to our local parish. The use of such imagery for the purpose of promoting the sale of other goods would be discouraging indeed but I must confess I haven’t seen that practiced.

    As for the display of nativity scenes themselves…put them everywhere brother!!

    As always thanks for your input, Ken. Your interpretation and mediation is much appreciated. Blessings and joy to you my friend. 🙂

    December 22, 2010
    • My reference to “the mall” was somewhat metaphorical in nature. I was simply referring to our cultural propensity “honour” Jesus at Christmas while ignoring his teachings for the rest of the year. This is a domesticated Jesus. It is a Jesus that can be used as part of a big package designed to make us feel nice and spend money, but who ultimately demands little of us. In this context, I simply think that Jesus would care less about the propriety of his manger presentation than about the consistent witness to loving and caring for the least of these by his followers.

      December 22, 2010
  10. Paul Johnston #

    I thought I’d been clear. I acknowledged Mr. Colbert for his wise understanding of right Christian ethics while regarding his presentation as imbecilic given its scandalous and sacrilegious nature.

    As for the issue you raise, all I can say is that all the committed Christians I know make efforts to incorporate Christian love and values into the expression of their lives. Particularly around Christmas. As for our cultural propensities, they stopped being Christian a long time ago. Like a lot of people I know I work where I am, doing what I can, to change that.

    December 23, 2010
    • And I thought I had been clear as well. I disagree that his presentation is imbecilic, scandalous, or sacrilegious.

      But I think we’ve reached the stage here where we’re just talking past each other…

      December 24, 2010
      • Paul Johnston #

        Fair enough but at least I made effort to answer your question, you’ve yet to answer mine. In of itself, forgetting the actions of others or regarding other actions, how do you reconcile the actions of Mr. Colbert with our first three commandments?

        December 24, 2010
      • Very easily.

        1) I don’t see which “other god” Colbert is worshiping.

        2) I don’t see which image Colbert is making and bowing down to (indeed, the iconoclasts among us might even wonder about how much reverence and devotion is being paid to things like nativity scenes).

        3) I don’t see how Colbert is misusing the name of the Lord. If anything he is (awkwardly and provocatively) honouring it by taking Jesus’ commands seriously.

        (It’s worth remembering that the Hebrew prophets [and Jesus himself] did some pretty “offensive” and “sacrilegious” things to get the attention of God’s people and to call them back to right living.)

        December 24, 2010
  11. Paul Johnston #

    Colbert’s God is himself. His purpose is to advance his comedy, his ratings, his career. Any real Gospel concern is at best incidental and at worst counterproductive. (It certainly is with me and I could imagine it would likely be so to many other believers.)

    Colbert bows down to youthful mass culture. He doesn’t raise the level of discourse by discussing serious matters seriously. He panders to the level of his juvenile fan base.

    I can’t help but feel that taking what are sacred images to millions and desecrating them for laughters sake is anything other than blasphemy.

    I don’t believe Jesus would have ever mocked the image of His Father, Jesus was holy. He calls us to holiness. What Mr. Colbert did was unholy. What Mr. Colbert did was sinful. That much I’m certain of. The consequences are between him and God.

    Btw, I gave Mr. Colbert another shot and took in a portion of his show last night. He was awarded a golden tweet from one of the founders of twitter. He made some funny references about how he had one (a golden tweet) and guys like Einstein and others didn’t. Then he went on to say that the “tweet” will only have real value if it gets him laid. I used to think things like that were funny, I don’t anymore. I turned the channel.

    December 24, 2010
    • Well, yet again, I disagree with much of what you’ve said here (or just plain don’t understand it), but I’ve spent far too much time defending someone I rarely watch and only occasionally find insightful when I do.

      I don’t see what you see and you, apparently, don’t see what I see (or don’t see). Perhaps we’ll have to leave it at that, for now.

      December 24, 2010

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