Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Muddling Through Somehow

As I was listening to my Christmas playlist in the car for maybe the sixth or seventh time this season, it struck me that I have the “wrong” version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” I have the movie version, which is slightly different than the one overheard in shopping centers this time of year. 

The song comes from the 1944 Meet Me in St. Louis, which follows a family moving from St. Louis to New York around the time of the 1904 World’s Fair. It covers Christmas time, and has the song, but I would hardly call it a Christmas movie. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” sung by Judy Garland’s character to her little sister played by Margaret O’Brien, is an attempt to comfort the sisters through the difficult transition with a promise that things will eventually get better.

The tune caught on as a Christmas song, but apparently it seemed too morose, so a slight change was made. The line “until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow” became “hang a shining star upon the highest bough.” And (surprise) I like the original better, and I’m glad it’s the version playing in my car for the next few weeks. The original line acknowledges that the present isn’t great, that suffering exists, but that you make the best of what you have and hope for a better future. Isn’t that Advent, doing our best until Christ comes?

In the West, the penitential aspect of Advent is greatly reduced compared to Lent. I’m never sure how to balance the penitential preparation with the joyous expectation. I just muddle through until Christmas. Looking at the larger picture—the violence, abuse, and degradation of people for money and power throughout the world—finding a way to muddle through isn’t always easy. But when the only other option is despair, muddling through is an act of hope, an act that says this situation is temporary, and tomorrow will be clearer and brighter and worth waiting for. It’s possibly the most Christmasy message in that Christmas song.


Monday, December 12, 2016

Motivation Monday: John Glenn

John Glenn died on Thursday at the age of 95. If anyone in my mind deserves the title “American hero,” it is him. One of NASA’s original seven Mercury astronauts, Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth on Feb. 20, 1962 aboard Friendship 7.

Before he was an astronaut, he was a Marine fighter pilot in WWII and the Korean War. Afterward, he served four terms as a senator for Ohio. I remember learning about him when he travelled on the shuttle orbiter Discovery in 1998, making him the oldest person to travel in space (at 77). To top it all, he dearly loved his high school sweetheart and wife of 73 years, Annie.

He seemed to encapsulate all that was noble and optimistic about twentieth-century America, all that we want America to be. As the New York Times put it:

“In just five hours on Feb. 20, 1962, Mr. Glenn joined a select roster of Americans whose feats have seized the country’s imagination and come to embody a moment in its history, figures like Lewis and Clark, the Wright brothers and Charles Lindbergh.

"To the America of the 1960s, Mr. Glenn was a clean-cut, good-natured, well-grounded Midwesterner, raised in Presbyterian rectitude, nurtured in patriotism and tested in war, who stepped forward to risk the unknown and succeeded spectacularly, lifting his country’s morale and restoring its self-confidence.”

Godspeed, John Glenn.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Ashes and Hope

On Monday night, strong winds whipped up the wildfires that had been burning in the area for the past month. Within minutes, the fires raging toward Gatlinburg, leading to a quick evacuation. Hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed, and at last count, seven people lost their lives. Two more died the following day as tornadoes touched down nearby. Rain and the tireless efforts of dozens of fire crews from all over finally quelled the fire, and the region is now starting to assess the damage and begin the task of rebuilding. It was a devastating series of disasters.

Yet after a night of watching the horror unfold, the next day brought moments of real hope. Immediately, local groups began collecting supplies for firefighters and the National Guard; by noon, truckloads of water, food, balm, gloves, and other things had made their way to those still battling the fires. They were quickly followed by drives for those in the evacuation centers and those who had lost their homes: temporary housing, clothes, food, money, even an early visit from Santa. By yesterday, the Red Cross and other organizations were asking people to stop sending supplies; there was too much to handle. The Volunteer State really lived up to its name.

And the people who had suffered the most really demonstrated the best of mountain religion. A man who lost his business said, “It wasn’t mine to begin with. Everything belongs to God.” And while devastated at the losses, there was a prevailing attitude that prayers work and that God will take care of it all in the end.

One man in particular moved me. He said of being able to help other evacuees, “The Lord prepares you before he uses you.” When asked how to prepare oneself to go back and deal with the damage, he said, “As long as we have hope, these clothes, that house—that’s material things…We’re going to dwell on the positives, we’re going to look to a brighter future. We can’t look back; the things I’ve known probably don’t exist anymore.”

What hope in the face of disaster. And how fitting for the first week of Advent. Bad things happen, but keep going, for tomorrow is coming. Keep preparing the way.