Thursday, December 18, 2003

Advent Insights

In the midst of the rush to the malls or the websites, it is good to remember the two great traditions of the Holiday Season. A valiant band of freedom fighters resisted tyranny in 164 BC and celebrated the Hanukkah miracle. A small town called Bethlehem can only provide a barn for a baby who would split history in two and continue to inspire billions.

In 167 BC Emperor Antiochus IV "Epiphanes" made it his aim to destroy Jewish culture and faith, slaughtering a pig on an altar to Zeus in the Holy of Holies - the "abomination of desolation" that the books of Daniel and First and Second Maccabees record in gruesome detail. Peaceful protests and prayer vigils were met by massacres and Antiochus ended years of Jewish autonomy and enforced his hellenization program.

Fortunately, a brave band of reluctant but faithful warriors arose, lead by Judas "The Hammer" Maccabeus. By 164 BC the Temple had been reconsecrated and Antiochus was in retreat. It took a few determined and devout people to change history.

The birth of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, was not the saccharine event noted by such ditties as "Away in the Manger". Joseph and Mary were caught in the "census traffic" and the only lodging was in a cave-like barn, with a feeding trough for their baby's bed. The circumstances of Mary's pregnancy, though supernatural to the couple and the watchful shepherds, were undoubtedly suspect to the village gossips.

An audience of shepherds is an ignominious beginning - they were not the elite of Palestinian social life. When the Magi arrived more than a year later, it was a cause for political unrest and the massacre of scores of infants and toddlers. The psychopathic King Herod would tolerate no rival - especially one revered by foreigners!

So Jesus went into exile - just like his ancestors in Babylon and his bretheren after the tragedy of Roman destruction in AD 70.

Judaism and Christianity at their core are not religions of power and wealth. Yes, the Kingdom of David and Solomon had its brief day in the sun and the Church (every branch) has often been corrupted by money, power and sexual scandal. The message of Hannukah and Christmas is hope through humility and a thirst for holiness. It is a message that one person with the favor of God can change the world.

Let's go "back to the future" this Advent and recover the determination of the Maccabees, the devotion of Mary and the delight of the humble shepherds. Herein lies our present and future salvation.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Sexual Politics - Revisited

Sex sells. Sexual innuendo is used to sell cars and clothing, dances and dolls, mashed potatoes and movies. Men and women are assaulted on all sides with loudspeakers proclaiming endless ecstasy and forever fulfillment through pills or purchases.

Now that I am over 40, I am bombarded with email spam and snail mail messages urging me to improve my virility a hundred ways. It is not just "sex" that is alluring me to think and act foolishly. The direct and implied messages that my present condition and experiences are not good enough is what is most heinous to the soul. Such salesmanship is the enemy of inner contentment and family harmony.

What does any of this have to do with politics?

Quite a lot, actually, when we pause to think about it.

Sexual advertising is all about sizzle and temptation and the evocation of false images and fantasies.

Much of modern politics has been reduced to the same. Politicians - male and female - spend inordinate amounts of money polishing images so far removed from reality that they often lose their integrity in the process.

"Journalists" comment on Hillary Clinton's latest look and wardrobe. Without judging her political positions, it is interesting to observe the many "looks" needed to campaign for continual attention - and the 2008 nomination.

Presidents love to appear rugged, enhancing their appeal among both genders. Again, without evaluating policy at all, consider Reagan's woodcutting and the Bush's penchant for military appearances.

Sexual politics goes deeper than image and is more subversive than the superficial image-making of campaign experts.

Women face inordinate pressures to be physically enticing while demanding gender-neutral social and work policies.

Men have to evoke "strength" and "sensitivity" and never feel secure if they are sending the right signals.

"Women's issues" always seem to focus on abortion, with the "pro-choice" cabal claiming exclusive representation of progressive females.

Meanwhile, various men's motivational groups will charge thousands of dollars to help men find "the way of the warrior."

Is there any way through the confusion?

Yes, if we are willing to "tune out" cliches and timeworn ideologies and "tune in" to lasting values and the latest legitimate research.

We need to tune out the media assault on our moral sensibilities and tune in to self-respect and relational fidelity.

We need to tune out the omnipresent lust for more unreachable experiences and tune in to contentment with the blessings of home and hearth.

We need to tune out the spinmeisters who treat us like intellectual imbeciles and tune in to sources of accurate information and enduring insights.

We need to tune out gender stereotypes and tune in to our divinely-bestowed humanity.

What would happen if we all "fasted" the internet and television for just one day and read some timeless literature and enjoyed intelligent conversation?

What would happen if men and women chose to "love the one you're with" and found satisfaction through finding new ways to bring happiness to their present partners?

While we think about such noble thoughts, delete all the emails and toss all the pitches from the mailbox and go out and take on the day with gusto!

Next time: Advent Insights