Addison Gardner: Always Right
December 23, 2008
As always, we Americans need to fear losing sight of the forest when walking amongst the trees.
I view American society from atop a fire lookout tower of more than 50 years, yet my vantage point isn’t much higher than the surrounding trees; even so, I can identify the obvious gouts of smoke on the horizon.
There’s strong evidence of imminent societal incineration, but it’s not coming by way of man-caused global warming. It’s coming because we’re busily unmooring ourselves from “a higher power,” “our Creator” ” the permanency, intelligence and love that underpins society.
When I was a child in Connecticut, America was unashamed of its Judeo-Christian heritage, and my Christmases were the typical Norman Rockwell vignettes of New England scenes set to Robert Frost cadences of tumbledown walls.
Houses and neighborhoods changed throughout my childhood, but the one indispensable tradition involved my mother’s insistence that we visit poor neighbors with a frozen turkey and presents from Woolworth’s on Christmas Eve.
We would pile into our Ford Falcon station wagon ” attendance for us kids wasn’t voluntary ” and slide along snow-choked lanes, with mother lashing father like the Grinch’s dog.
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This was during the Little Ice Age of the mid 20th century ” before we knew that a succession of increasingly brutal winters actually signaled dangerous warming ” and mother thought nothing of sailing forth, without four-wheel-drive, and relying on momentum and God’s grace to deliver us safely to our destination.
We were no less a franchise than the bell-ringers on the sidewalk, and we operated with a similar authority, only we were directed at a solitary family, waiting for us with trepidation on the outskirts of town.
I was always acutely uncomfortable during these confrontations, because I felt guilty rubbing up against such poverty, and because, secretly, I wanted the toys we were passing out to kids my own age. I wanted the Timex watch with the radium dial, and I wanted the crystal radio, and I wanted those Lincoln Logs.
They could keep the frozen turkey and trimmings.
Especially vexing, in this context, were the inevitable pre-Christmas warnings from my father that our family was in for a decent “belt-tightening,” because his latest entrepreneurial experiments hadn’t panned out. Belt-tightening translated into practical gifts under the tree, so sweaters, underwear and baskets of multi-hued socks stood in, while Lincoln Logs sprouted settlements elsewhere.
It took awhile, but I finally understood that generosity was a personal act requiring individual effort, not something allotted to government, passively, by my apathetic acquiescence. Charity began in our home and ended with an individual connection ” with looking into the eyes of another 9-year-old.
Undergirding all were the lessons learned in Sunday School, tormented by chapped legs in unlined, woolen trousers and listening to Bible stories about Jonah in the belly of the whale and Daniel in the lion’s den. I began to understand that ” especially in our New England church ” being a “child of God” wasn’t always about sugarplum holidays.
The best thing about those Christmases was the feeling we shared on the ride home. My kids and I have worked on “Habitat” houses, together, but nothing compares to the immediacy of giving to someone, directly.
The disappointment I have with Christmas, today, is not the “commercialism” that is so regularly flogged by our anti-capitalist media, but the fact that we seem determined to forget the larger message attached to the day: The promise of redemption through unselfish love, and the example set for us by the man whose life we celebrate every Dec. 25.
Some 90 percent of Americans proclaim their belief in God. For me, it doesn’t matter what jersey He wears ” though on Dec. 25, I think He bats for the Christians. Truthfully, I could just as happily light a Menorah and proclaim my fealty to Yahweh, the God of my Jewish friends, because the eternal truths we try to abide by flow from the same source.
What frightens me is our new anti-religious impulse ” the effort to distance ourselves from God ” which stems from the crazy notion that religious principles curtail individual rights and liberty, and that liberty ” especially as it relates to “private conduct” ” must be absolute and unquestioned.
I just finished reading an account of life in the Soviet Union by Lev Mishchenko, a 91-year-old who was born in 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution. Bolsheviks killed both his parents by his fourth birthday. He fought the Germans during WWII, was imprisoned in Buchenwald, and then accused of spying for the Germans when he returned home and packed off to a Siberian gulag by the Soviets.
For 70 years the Soviets maintained, as official state policy, a repression of all things religious. The only god was the state, itself, and all rights flowed from the state.
The irreligious remind us of the lives lost “in the name of God,” but the darkest era of human history ” our experiment with Communism ” slaughtered, imprisoned and starved to death many tens of millions of innocents. Those millions died on the altar of state-imposed equality.
Christmastime is, for me, a time to reject nihilistic impulses: If we are only the sum of our human, flesh-and-blood parts ” and nothing more ” then our lives mean nothing. Our laws mean nothing. Our accomplishments mean nothing.
Either our laws and rights “flow from our Creator,” or they are temporal and can be revoked by the tyrant of the moment.
Whether Christ ever walked the shores of Galilee, the New Testament and the Torah ” and, yes, the Qur’an ” proclaim truths that are strikingly similar.
A force bigger, and more benign, than man runs the show.
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