Monday, December 25, 2006

A Christmas Sermon on Peace

Giovanni di Paolo - Madonna of Humility, 1435.

This morning, I re-read Martin
Luther King's "A Christmas Sermon for Peace," and was moved once again by its beauty and intelligence. It was the last Christmas sermon he delivered, on Christmas Eve, 1967, only a few months before his death.

Peace, everyone, and have a beautiful Holy-Day.

A Christmas Sermon on Peace

Dr. King first delivered this sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he served as co-pastor. On Christmas Eve, 1967, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation aired this sermon as part of the seventh annual Massey Lectures.

Peace on Earth. . .

This Christmas season finds us a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without. Everywhere paralyzing fears harrow people by day and haunt them by night. Our world is sick with war; everywhere we turn we see its ominous possibilities. And yet, my friends, the Christmas hope for peace and good will toward all men can no longer be dismissed as a kind of pious dream of some utopian. If we don't have good will toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power. Wisdom born of experience should tell us that war is obsolete. There may have been a time when war served as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force, but the very destructive power of modern weapons of warfare eliminates even the possibility that war may any longer serve as a negative good. And so, if we assume that life is worth living, if we assume that mankind has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war—and so let us this morning explore the conditions for peace. Let us this morning think anew on the meaning of that Christmas hope: “Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Men.” And as we explore these conditions, I would like to suggest that modern man really go all out to study the meaning of nonviolence, its philosophy and its strategy.

We have experimented with the meaning of nonviolence in our struggle for racial justice in the United States, but now the time has come for man to experiment with nonviolence in all areas of human conflict, and that means nonviolence on an international scale.

Now let me suggest first that if we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone, and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world. Now the judgment of God is upon us, and we must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools.

Yes, as nations and individuals, we are interdependent. I have spoken to you before of our visit to India some years ago. It was a marvelous experience; but I say to you this morning that there were those depressing moments. How can one avoid being depressed when one sees with one's own eyes evidences of millions of people going to bed hungry at night? How can one avoid being depressed when one sees with ones own eyes thousands of people sleeping on the sidewalks at night? More than a million people sleep on the sidewalks of Bombay every night; more than half a million sleep on the sidewalks of Calcutta every night. They have no houses to go into. They have no beds to sleep in. As I beheld these conditions, something within me cried out: “Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?” And an answer came: “Oh, no!” And I started thinking about the fact that right here in our country we spend millions of dollars every day to store surplus food; and I said to myself: “I know where we can store that food free of charge—in the wrinkled stomachs of the millions of God's children in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and even in our own nation, who go to bed hungry at night.”

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can't leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that's handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that's given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that's poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that's poured into your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you're desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that's poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that's given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you've depended on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren't going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.

Now let me say, secondly, that if we are to have peace in the world, men and nations must embrace the nonviolent affirmation that ends and means must cohere. One of the great philosophical debates of history has been over the whole question of means and ends. And there have always been those who argued that the end justifies the means, that the means really aren't important. The important thing is to get to the end, you see.

So, if you're seeking to develop a just society, they say, the important thing is to get there, and the means are really unimportant; any means will do so long as they get you there? they may be violent, they may be untruthful means; they may even be unjust means to a just end. There have been those who have argued this throughout history. But we will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process, and ultimately you can't reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree.

It's one of the strangest things that all the great military geniuses of the world have talked about peace. The conquerors of old who came killing in pursuit of peace, Alexander, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, and Napoleon, were akin in seeking a peaceful world order. If you will read Mein Kampf closely enough, you will discover that Hitler contended that everything he did in Germany was for peace. And the leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace. Every time we drop our bombs in North Vietnam, President Johnson talks eloquently about peace. What is the problem? They are talking about peace as a distant goal, as an end we seek, but one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.

Now let me say that the next thing we must be concerned about if we are to have peace on earth and good will toward men is the nonviolent affirmation of the sacredness of all human life. Every man is somebody because he is a child of God. And so when we say “Thou shalt not kill,” we're really saying that human life is too sacred to be taken on the battlefields of the world. Man is more than a tiny vagary of whirling electrons or a wisp of smoke from a limitless smoldering. Man is a child of God, made in His image, and therefore must be respected as such. Until men see this everywhere, until nations see this everywhere, we will be fighting wars. One day somebody should remind us that, even though there may be political and ideological differences between us, the Vietnamese are our brothers, the Russians are our brothers, the Chinese are our brothers; and one day we've got to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. But in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile. In Christ there is neither male nor female. In Christ there is neither Communist nor capitalist. In Christ, somehow, there is neither bound nor free. We are all one in Christ Jesus. And when we truly believe in the sacredness of human personality, we won't exploit people, we won't trample over people with the iron feet of oppression, we won't kill anybody.

There are three words for “love” in the Greek New Testament; one is the word “eros.” Eros is a sort of esthetic, romantic love. Plato used to talk about it a great deal in his dialogues, the yearning of the soul for the realm of the divine. And there is and can always be something beautiful about eros, even in its expressions of romance. Some of the most beautiful love in all of the world has been expressed this way.

Then the Greek language talks about “philia,” which is another word for love, and philia is a kind of intimate love between personal friends. This is the kind of love you have for those people that you get along with well, and those whom you like on this level you love because you are loved.

Then the Greek language has another word for love, and that is the word “agape.” Agape is more than romantic love, it is more than friendship. Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive good will toward all men. Agape is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. When you rise to love on this level, you love all men not because you like them, not because their ways appeal to you, but you love them because God loves them. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Love your enemies.” And I'm happy that he didn't say, “Like your enemies,” because there are some people that I find it pretty difficult to like. Liking is an affectionate emotion, and I can't like anybody who would bomb my home. I can't like anybody who would exploit me. I can't like anybody who would trample over me with injustices. I can't like them. I can't like anybody who threatens to kill me day in and day out. But Jesus reminds us that love is greater than liking. Love is understanding, creative, redemptive good will toward all men. And I think this is where we are, as a people, in our struggle for racial justice. We can't ever give up. We must work passionately and unrelentingly for first-class citizenship. We must never let up in our determination to remove every vestige of segregation and discrimination from our nation, but we shall not in the process relinquish our privilege to love.

I've seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and I've seen hate on the faces of too many sheriffs, too many white citizens' councilors, and too many Klansmen of the South to want to hate, myself; and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country, and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, and we'll still love you. But be assured that we'll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

If there is to be peace on earth and good will toward men, we must finally believe in the ultimate morality of the universe, and believe that all reality hinges on moral foundations. Something must remind us of this as we once again stand in the Christmas season and think of the Easter season simultaneously, for the two somehow go together. Christ came to show us the way. Men love darkness rather than the light, and they crucified him, and there on Good Friday on the cross it was still dark, but then Easter came, and Easter is an eternal reminder of the fact that the truth-crushed earth will rise again. Easter justifies Carlyle in saying, “No lie can live forever.” And so this is our faith, as we continue to hope for peace on earth and good will toward men: let us know that in the process we have cosmic companionship.

In 1963, on a sweltering August afternoon, we stood in Washington, D.C., and talked to the nation about many things. Toward the end of that afternoon, I tried to talk to the nation about a dream that I had had, and I must confess to you today that not long after talking about that dream I started seeing it turn into a nightmare. I remember the first time I saw that dream turn into a nightmare, just a few weeks after I had talked about it. It was when four beautiful, unoffending, innocent Negro girls were murdered in a church in Birmingham, Alabama. I watched that dream turn into a nightmare as I moved through the ghettos of the nation and saw my black brothers and sisters perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity, and saw the nation doing nothing to grapple with the Negroes' problem of poverty. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched my black brothers and sisters in the midst of anger and understandable outrage, in the midst of their hurt, in the midst of their disappointment, turn to misguided riots to try to solve that problem. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched the war in Vietnam escalating, and as I saw so-called military advisors, sixteen thousand strong, turn into fighting soldiers until today over five hundred thousand American boys are fighting on Asian soil. Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes, but in spite of that I close today by saying I still have a dream, because, you know, you can't give up in life. If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream.

I have a dream that one day men will rise up and come to see that they are made to live together as brothers. I still have a dream this morning that one day every Negro in this country, every colored person in the world, will be judged on the basis of the content of his character rather than the color of his skin, and every man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. I still have a dream that one day the idle industries of Appalachia will be revitalized, and the empty stomachs of Mississippi will be filled, and brotherhood will be more than a few words at the end of a prayer, but rather the first order of business on every legislative agenda. I still have a dream today that one day justice will roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. I still have a dream today that in all of our state houses and city halls men will be elected to go there who will do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with their God. I still have a dream today that one day war will come to an end, that men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, that nations will no longer rise up against nations, neither will they study war any more. I still have a dream today that one day the lamb and the lion will lie down together and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid. I still have a dream today that one day every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill will be made low, the rough places will be made smooth and the crooked places straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. I still have a dream that with this faith we will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new light into the dark chambers of pessimism. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when there will be peace on earth and good will toward men. It will be a glorious day, the morning stars will sing together, and the sons of God will shout for joy.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A Christmas Meme

I've been tagged to do a Christmas "meme." (Thanks, Jeff.) I'm still not sure how I feel about "memes," or even what "meme" really means. But I guess I do enjoy playing around with these questions. I've added some of my own as well. See other Christmas Memes by Jeff and Crystal.

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate?

Jeff has a good point - why isn't Hot Mulled Cider offered as a choice? That's the main holiday drink in some regions of the country. And we're in the 21st century, for goodness sakes. In the United States of America. We have access to the internet. We can order practically anything online. We have 117 kinds of breakfast cereals, over a hundred channels of bad television, access to thousands of newspapers from around the world. Why must we settle for two kinds of drinks at Christmas? Who's trying to force these two limited choices on us? I sense the invisible hand of the National Egg Nog Association behind this meme.

NENA Exec 1: "Well, it's incredibly high in saturated fat, cholesterol and sugar, so how are we going to market it to people?"
NENA Marketing VP: "I know, we'll create a Christmas Meme and grapeshot the internet with it."
NENA Exec's Lackey: "Right - What's your favorite Christmas drink? Egg nog or turpentine?"
NENA Marketing VP: "No, that might be too obvious, and we might not like the responses. . . . As long as we only mention
one other beverage, then at least half of the audience will say 'EGG NOG for me, buddy!!!' They'll go away from the blog thinking that they actually like egg nog, forgetting that they only drink it once a year, usually after they've had too much alcohol and aren't thinking clearly. They'll believe that they decided egg nog was their choice."

Have you ever seen those tall cans of egg nog that sit around on grocery store shelves all year long? With a film of dust on them? You realize, of course, that someone will buy those and serve it to their friends at some point. Do you want to risk being one of those friends?

No, thank you. I like anis for Christmas. Preferably
Anis de Chinchón "seco." Unfortunately that's hard to find in the States, so I usually have to settle for Anis del Mono's "dulce" or Marie Brizzard. Sambuca can do in a pinch, but it's just not the same.

One must also consider
atole and champurrado.

Since I live with a chocoholic, hot chocolate is a YEAR-ROUND beverage.

And I love hot-mulled cider.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?

In a global economy, Santa sub-contracts gift wrapping to unregulated companies in the Far East. (Why do you think Bush was pushing for that "Free Trade Agreement" with Vietnam so late in the year?) Basically, crippled 6-year old children are slaving away in Indonesian sweatshops under inhumane conditions so Santa can deliver nice, neatly wrapped presents to your child here in the United States. (Sort of like Barnes & Noble uses those 87-year old "volunteers" to gift-wrap that new Noam Chomsky book you had to buy.)

And what about the toy-makers themselves? Well, let's just say that nobody is monitoring labor relations at the North Pole. Sure, when you watch Rudolph or Frosty on TV, the North Pole looks like one big, happy family. But doesn't it seem striking similar to a company town? Do you really think the elves are unionized or able to organize themselves if they have a grievance? How do you think Santa, Inc. makes all those toys year after year and still turns a profit? Do you think the little Mexican elf who crossed the Yukon River for a better life in "El Muy Norte" has health coverage? Especially now that his lungs are scarred from breathing in toxic fumes while making that pretty sweater you wanted? You think Santa's gonna keep little Manuelito on the payroll now that he can't work 18 hours a day? Yeah, fat chance. I think even a cursory investigation would reveal that the North Pole operation makes Wal-Mart look like Catholic Charities.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?

I'm a big fan of Martin Luther King, Jr. I believe that a Christmas tree should be judged on the content of its character, not on the color of its lights.

And I'm not sure that "colored" is the preferred term in 2006. I believe it should be "Lights of color."

Personally, I like blinky, multi-colored lights, so when I listen to Magical Mystery Tour and I'm . . . uh . . . drinking some tea . . . uh, that is, hot mulled cider . . . I can see all of creation in a single strand of $3.99 Christmas lights.

We have non-blinking lights of color.

4. Do you hang mistletoe?

I wouldn't even know where to buy mistletoe!

5. When do you put your decorations up?

I think anytime after Thanksgiving is fair game. We put our lights up last Sunday, December 9. In an unusual twist this year, we still haven't put anything else on the tree. So putting "decorations up" is "in process." (It's been a really busy end-of-the-semester. And there was a problem with the old lights, so we had to run down to CVS and get some new ones, and then we just lost all momentum.) While at CVS, however, I did spy a lovely green New York Jets ornament, and I managed to get it on the tree, so I guess we do have one decoration up.

5-B. When do you take your decorations down?

Were we supposed to take them down? After all that trouble?

We celebrate El Dia de los Reyes (otherwise known as Epistrophy - no, wait, that's a Thelonious Monk tune - Epiphany), so they have to stay up beyond January 6. Usually we don't get to it until late January or early February. We like the pretty lights.

A couple of years ago, I think the calendar actually may have said March before we finally took down the tree.

5-C. What's your favorite ornament?

You mean besides the New York Jets ornament? Well, I have a handpainted Mexican tin ornament - an armadillo - that I got from my father's mercado in El Paso. That's pretty cool.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?

My wife's quite a dish!

But food-wise, I don't know. Really it's the whole eco-system of stuffing/turkey/cranberry sauce/mashed potatoes/gravy. If you try to reduce it to just one element, you ruin the whole intricate ecology of flavor.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child:

Two years in a row, my mother and I travelled down to Mexico City with a group from our church (San José in Austin, Texas) for La Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe on December 12. We did some shopping in the Christmas mercados, and I bought really wonderful things of all shapes and sizes to put in our nativity set - a turkey, deer, armadillo, etc. I loved setting up our nativity set because almost every piece had come from a different place and had its own story.

And I remember staying up late and lying on the floor by the tree, with all the decorations and lights on it, watching some old black and white movie about places that had snow.

And then there was the time the cat pulled the tree down. That was fun.

7-B. "Créche," "Nativity," "Crib," "Belen," or some other name? What do you call it? Do you have one? What do you have in it besides the usual suspects?

I had never heard the word créche till I came to the Northeast. We always called it a Nativity. We have a lovely ceramic set from Riverside Church in New York that a friend gave us. I haven't gotten my turkey and deer and elephant out of the old set back in Texas. Yet.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?

When I lived in Spain, it just seemed like people knew so much more than I did about politics and socio-economic issues. I mean, we really aren't taught anything here in the U.S. about these things. Well, we are - we're taught that Capitalism is the only thing that matters or exists. We get lessons in it every day through advertising. So, I started reading more on my own. At some point, it dawned on me that those poor elves probably didn't want to make toys all the time without getting paid or getting health-care coverage. I mean, I wouldn't. That's when I started asking the tough questions.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?

"A" gift, singular? That's kind of a loaded question. As if opening multiple gifts is somehow immoral or unethical. You might as well add in parentheses at the end ("Or are you some kind of freak who opens more than one gift on Christmas Eve?") We've been known to open more than one gift the night before, if the occasion demanded it. It's a free country.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?

This year: V - e -r - y . . . . s - l - o - w - l - y.

Usually, we put on some Christmas music - often Nat King Cole's Christmas album to get us started. Have something warm to drink. Put the Christmas lights on. Smaller balls at the top of the tree, larger ones towards the bottom. Then the ornaments. Then our "angel." Then I move the lights a bit, and my wife says, "You just left a big hole in that other spot." And then she starts putting the really ugly balls up front, and I say, "What in the hell are you doing? Stick those in the back so no one can see them." And then she makes fun of my painted-tin armadillo ornament, and I question her three faded blue angels (or whatever they used to be) that came from her grandmother, and then she makes reference to certain acts of nature I can perform on myself. And by then, I've ditched the Christmas music for Jerry Jeff Walker, but, of course, she wants her damn Girl with a Pearl Earring soundtrack, and then . . . the gloves come off.

No tinsel either.

11. Snow? Love it or Dread it?

I left Texas in large part because I got tired of standing around the yule log at "Santa's Village" in shorts and short sleeves. I moved to the mountains of Colorado, specifically so I could have snow. The more, the better. Unless I'm having to drive somewhere on I-90.

12. Can you ice skate?

I have ice-skated in my life, yes, though we didn't have many frozen ponds in Austin. I even owned a pair of skates for a while in Colorado. But that was a long time ago. A girl was involved.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?

Whatever it was that my wife bought me last Christmas.

(Oh man, I better remember what it was before she asks about it.)

Actually, I remember an electric football set made of metal, with all the little plastic football men on it. You turned on a switch and the thing vibrated terribly and made a horrible amount of noise. The football was a tiny dust-ball looking thing. I could never get it to work very well - the players went ever which way - but I loved it when I opend it up. I was six.

More painful is the gift I never received: love. No, wait, it was a model train.

I will own a model train before I'm in my grave.

14. What's the most exciting thing about the Holidays for you?

Free booze at the Christmas parties!

Actually I think it's setting up the tree, lighting the fireplace, and snuggling up on the couch to watch a good movie.

It's even better when my wife's with me.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?

I'm not a big dessert guy. I'd rather have an extra dinner roll. I suppose I do like a good pumpkin pie, though.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?

Being with family on Christmas Day? Is that the right answer?

Midnight mass is a beautiful tradition. Leaving way too late to get a decent seat, and everyone in the car is all stressed out, and people are bickering and accusations fly about why we left so late, and of course there's no parking, and someone's a little tipsy and getting ugly about the whole trip, and someone didn't want to go anyway, and why didn't go to the other church that was closer, and we squeeze in with all the other lazy-assed Catholics who couldn't manage to leave fifteen minutes earlier for the once-a-year celebration of our Saviour's Birth. That's always nice.

17. What tops your tree?

We usually have a postcard of someone we like. The last few years we've had Fred Astaire, George Harrison, Lester Young, Bogart and Bacall. . . always with a little light behind the card. Kind of unusual, but you'd have to see our tree.

18. Which do you prefer - giving or receiving?

I like giving a good gift that a person really likes more than receiving something that I didn't want.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song?

That's tough. "The Christmas Song," sung by Nat is pretty good. "The Carol of the Bells." "Joy to the World" is great for singing. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." "Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)." "The Holly and the Ivy." I like a lot of Christmas songs.

19-B. What are some favorite Christmas Albums?

Nat King Cole's album, definitely. John Fahey's The New Possibility is a classic solo guitar recording, with the best title ever for a Chsristams album. This year I've been enjoying Willie Nelson's Pretty Paper, which was recorded around the time as his great Stardust album (and also produced by Booker T.)

19-C. What are some favorite Christmas films?

1. The Bishop's Wife, with Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven. It may be the most genuinely spiritual film of the usual Christmas lot. And Cary Grant as an angel was a brilliant idea. If you've never seen it, ort haven't seen it in a long time, I highly recommend it.

2. Christmas in Connecticut, with Barbara Stanwyck, Sydney Greenstreet and S.Z. Sakall. A wonderful comedy, with Barbara at her most charming. She plays a a famous food columnist who often writes about her husband and baby and her beautiful home in Connecticut. Turns out she's actually single, lives in a small apartment in the city and has no idea how to cook. To save her job, she has to find the husband, baby and home in CT, as well as cook, all in a few days.

3. White Christmas, with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney. I would argue that this is actually a great film in general - a wonderful musical. Who knew that a Russian Jew from the Lower East Side would wind up writing a Christmas song so famous it got its own movie!

19-D. Grinch vs. Charlie Brown vs. Rudolph vs. Frosty (or other TV Special)?

Dr. Seuss is pretty amazing. What an incredibly creative imagination. And we have a video that also includes Horton Hears a Who, so we'll often watch both at Christmas. But Charlie Brown also has to be considered. One, because of Snoopy. Two, because of the music.

La Reina would probably substitute Frosty for Charlie Brown.

20. Candy Canes?

Candy canes? We don't need no stinking candy canes.

Why not just make Egg Nog Canes and get it over with?! Blech!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Some Different Views

At Aun Estamos Vivos, Jeff and I have been exchanging comments about various subjects, including football, anarchism, the Catholic hierarchy, and Spain, especially Toledo and Castille. He included a recent photograph of his son in action as a linebacker. It reminded me of a similar photo of myself when I was young. Unfortunately, after digging around in the basement for an hour, I still couldn't find the picture I wanted. I did find one from the same time period and in the same uniform, though. Here's a young Texas boy who dreams of being the great (and mean) linebacker LeRoy Jordan, #55 on the Dallas Cowboys .

I'm not exactly looking "Texas football tough" in this photo, am I? More like I'm getting ready to go to church. I couldn't even manage a good scowl. Something tells me my grandmother was in the room and I was trying to look like a "nice young boy."

Man, that helmet definitely dates me.

Anyway, while going through photos, I came across a picture from my first trip to Toledo, Spain, in December 1989 or early 1990. It's a photograph of a young American couple that I happened to meet while in Madrid. My girlfriend and I had gone to the Prado Museum, and, exhausted after a full morning of taking in Goya, Velázquez, etc., we wound up in the Museum cafe. It was packed, so we actually sat down on the floor and leaned against a wall. Soon, another young couple came in and sat down on the floor next to us.

I heard them speaking English, so I asked the tall, gawky guy, "Hey, do you know where the Bosch paintings are?"

"Sure," he said.

It was fun to meet another young couple from the U.S., so we ate our lunches together and got to know each other a bit. Then he led us through the museum to Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights." By the time we had reached that astounding and disturbing painting, he and I had figured out that we both were poets, we both were named William, and that we both loved the work of Frank O'Hara.

The four of us wound up hanging out a few times in Madrid, and we had a lot of fun, but then my girlfriend and I left for Salamanca to study Spanish. At one point, she and I took a car trip with some other students from the school. It was a wonderful journey through the region of Extramadura, and then over to the towns of Toledo and Segovia. While walking through the streets of Toledo, I noticed a young couple hanging out in a small plaza. I was stunned. It was the same young couple we had met back in Madrid a month or two before!

So, Liam, bet you haven't seen this picture in a while. Hah!

Those are the steps of a building across from the entrance of the cathedral in Toledo. And though it may be hard to see in this version, that wine bottle next to Liam is completely empty.

Anyway, I had a strange feeling that day that the cosmos might have more in store for this other poet and I. It was just a little too bizarre to run into him and his girlfriend the way we did.

Liam stayed in Spain and I went back to Denver. I got engaged to my girlfriend, got dis-engaged, and then esacaped to New York. Six years later, I finally made it back to Spain, and Liam was there to meet me at the airport. I crashed at his place. Before I had even been in the country 24 hours, he mentioned this American poet he gotten to know. She was from New York, he said. She was really good and I had to meet her.

"Does she have dark hair?" I asked.

She did.

When I finally met her, I liked her, but she didn't want anything to do with me. Incredibly, this beautiful poet from Rye, New York had met a guy from Austin, Texas while she was in grad school in Seattle, Washington. They had been pretty serious and had lived together for a couple of years. Now, suddenly, in Madrid, Spain, she meets another guy from Austin, Texas. To make matters worse, her ex and I had even gone to the same high school. And, finally, to top it all off, it turned out that he and I actually knew each other! It was just a little too much deja vu for her.

"I also thought you were kind of arrogant," she tells me later. "With your cowboy hat and your cowboy boots."

For the record, I was wearing hiking boots when I met her. But it was still too much.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I pursued her and she resisted. I pursued more, and she resisted more. She was already dating someone else, she said. Etc, etc. I gave up on her. She finally showed up one morning at the cafe where I used to hang out and write. I was literally writing in my journal about how everything was over with her, when she walked up that Sunday morning. I never even finished my sentence.

I eventually proposed to her in the Gardens behind the Royal Palace in Madrid. Liam had gone there ahead of time with a bottle of champagne and a boom-box so she and I could dance (to Fats Waller and Ben Webster.)

And Liam finally got to see his two friends get married and live happily ever after. . . .

Yeah, right.

The bride's not even sure what's she's doing with this guy!

He, on the other hand, seems enraptured by the whole spiritual nature of the occasion, the great and powerful love he feels for this amazing woman. Who doubts him. Who can't believe he wears cowboy boots. Who can't believe he watches football!

We had a bilingual ceremony, with an American priest performing the mass in English and Spanish, and the choir singing in Spanish. It was held at Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, in the village of Chinchón, Spain. Chinchón is famous for its anis and for its beautiful, circular plaza. The bullfighting scene in the original Around the World in 80 Days was filmed there. Orson Welles lived in Chinchón briefly. And Goya would go there to see his brother, who was the parish priest. One of the few religious pantings by this great Spanish artist hangs over the altar in the church. (That's probably what the groom was staring at while the bride showed her concerns about him.)

Here's the circular plaza, looking up at the church.
La Reina and I actually lived in Chinchón for almost a year. We were in the big house on the right-hand side, with the three green windows. It was a wonderful experience, with a number of tales to tell, but those will have to wait for another day.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

Another sad anniversary yesterday . . . Incredibly, it's been 26 years since John Lennon was shot dead. 26 years.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Lady in Blue

On a hot summer day in July 1629, 50 members of the Jumanos tribe from deep West Texas showed up at a Franciscan convent just south of modern-day Albuquerque. They displayed "a rudimentary knowledge of Christianity" and asked for religious teachers for themselves and their neighbors.

So far so good. Only, Europeans had never been to that part of Texas, which is quite isolated.

"So, like, how did you learn about Christ?" the Franciscans asked. [I'm translating loosely from the Spanish.]

"Well, the Lady in Blue, of course," the Jumanos said. "Isn't she here?"

It turns out that a beautiful young woman in a blue cloak, with a brown and white habit, had appeared to the Jumanos several times, like a "light at sunset." She instructed them in Christianity, and then she told them how to find the Franciscan convent, more than 400 miles away.

The Franciscans flipped out. It wasn't just the story they heard from the Jumanos that blew their minds; they had just received a letter from the Archbishop of New Spain about a young nun in some little village in Castille who would go into deep trances and dreamed of visiting strange looking people in a far away land. This happened on "hundreds of occasions," and her confessor got her to describe in detail the places she visited. He relayed the information to someone who told someone else about it, and her story eventually wound up being told to the Archbishop of New Spain, who thought the places she described sounded like the northern frontier. So he wrote to the Franciscan convent to let them know about it.

And then the Jumanos showed up.

Well, the Franciscans got pretty excited. They sent Fathers Juan de Salas and Diego López back with the Jumanos, in what became the first Spanish expedition into that part of Texas. They talked with hundreds of Indians who had claimed to see the "Lady in Blue."

Meanwhile, back at the ranch convent, Father Alonso de Benavides took the report of the expedition to Texas and headed off to Mexico City to deliver the news. Then, he sailed to Spain and hitched a ride to the village of Agreda, between Soria and the borders of Navarra and Aragon. He met the cloistered nun, whose name was María de Jesús, and she said, "Ah, yes, Father Benavides, I recognized you from my journeys to New Mexico."


María de Jesús was experiencing bilocation. Sort of like when you're stuck in an office at work and you want to be at the beach, only she was actually in the office AND at the beach at the same time. Cool, right?

She got a reputation for her mystical travels to Texas. [Yeah, but did she bring back a Don't Mess with Texas t-shirt and a six-pack of Shiner Bock? I don't think so.] King Philip IV met with her in 1643 and they became friends. In fact, they wrote over 600 letters to each other. She was sort of a spiritual adviser to him. She also wrote a couple of books, including Introduction to the History of the Most Blessed Virgin and The Mystical City of God.

So why isn't she a saint? Well, there are theories. You can check them out and read more about her life here.

You can also read an abridged version of The Mystical City of God.

So what about the The Jumanos? Well, a second expedition went back to visit them in 1632, but no mission was ever established. The Jumanos eventually disappear from recorded history. Some believe they dispersed into other tribes. No one really seems to know. They did leave us with one more beautiful story, however:

After the Lady in Blue's last visit, the Jumanos said they woke up the next morning and discovered "the fields covered with flowers of a deep blue color like her cloak." These were the first Texas bluebonnets.

And that seem like a good place to stop for the night.