Apathy in the darkness

People say that the two biggest problems facing western civilization these days are ignorance and apathy. How can we confront these two concerns? Frankly, I don’t know, and I don’t care.

In ancient Greece and Rome, a group of philosophers who called themselves Stoics sang the praises of apathy. They insisted that a virtuous person will not love anything in this world too much, not even a family member or a friend. The world, to Stoics, is a bad place, and everything in it is bad. They recalled the words of Socrates, who pictured the death of his body and the release of his soul as a bird flying free from its cage. So, for the Stoics, should be the attitude of every wise man and woman. We should be unencumbered by the things of this world. We should be seeking freedom from the physical world, freedom to become purely spirit, freedom not to care about food and drink, about clothing and shelter, about health and safety, or about any other matter than pertains only to our physical existence in this world.

Already two thousand years ago, a trade network linked the Mediterranean world with Persia, India, and China. Possibly Buddhist teachings traveled along this network, suggesting thoughts to the Stoic philosophers in the West. For Buddhists also seek to be unattached to the things of this world. Desire, or craving, leads to suffering. Learning to live without desire promotes life without suffering. Buddhists do not completely withdraw from the world—they consider proper vocation as important as proper beliefs and proper meditation. But behind all that is proper lies unattachment—freedom from desire for anything in this world, with the expectation of nirvana—complete freedom from suffering and from the burden of maintaining a self-identity.

In the Star Trek world, Vulcans practice the same apathy and non-attachment as Stoics and Buddhists. Vulcans seek to be guided by logic and reason, not by emotion. Scriptwriters could not resist toying with this philosophy, forcing Mr. Spock in one way or another to confront human emotion. Spock struggled to remain faithful to Vulcan values, to be apathetic and unattached, to be guided by logic unclouded by emotion. Doctor McCoy found Spock’s apathy to be cold and unappealing, but Captain Kirk often found Spock’s Vulcan ways to be helpful to the crew and the mission of the Enterprise.

This winter I am starting with a new therapist, hoping to overcome the burden of apathy. My own depression, combined with the challenges of the past year, have left me feeling burnt out and uncaring. The virus crisis, the year’s political chaos, and threats to my own job and income have exhausted my inner strength. Moreover, I have for years been taking medicine to help control my feelings of anxiety and depression. Christmas season was an ongoing struggle—I did not want to celebrate the holiday, and I did not want to spend time with family. I stopped caring about my health and well-being; I was uninterested in taking care of myself. My writing lagged. My personal space became increasingly cluttered and untidy. Even my decision to seek therapy comes, not from any desire of mine to recover, but from the insistence of family members that I need help.

Christians are not meant to be unattached. We are to love God whole-heartedly, and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Christians are not meant to be apathetic. We are to hunger and thirst for righteousness; we are to mourn our sins and the world’s evil—then we can be comforted and satisfied. Christians do not seek a spiritual existence untouched by the physical world. When God created the world, what he made was good. When the world became corrupted by sin and rebellion and evil, God became a physical being, as human as we are, to redeem the world. He defeated death by dying and by rising to life again—rising with a body that could be touched, that could eat and drink with his disciples, that remained physical and human. He promises his people a resurrection to a new and perfect world where we will eat and drink together at his table and enjoy everything that was good in the first creation.

Not caring is a problem. The loss of emotion means fading into darkness, not walking in the light. Right now, I honestly don’t care, but with help I expect to start caring again. With that change, other parts of my life might also start falling into place, aligning in a way that is right for me and for those around me. J.

Unnecessary division and stereotyping

In any conflict, significant problems result from defining that conflict by its extreme positions. Most Americans are involved in neither Antifa nor QAnon. Treating every liberal as an Antifa activist and every conservative as a QAnon activist only widens the divide, deepens the problem, and increases the potential of violent confrontations.

According to the mainstream media, QAnon focuses upon people in power who use that power criminally for personal financial gain and for illicit sexual activities. Some people in power have done such things since ancient times—consider the Caesars of the first century. According to the mainstream media, QAnon believes that most people in power—most Democrats, many Republicans, and various business leaders connected to politicians—are part of a massive conspiracy to conduct this criminal behavior while hiding it from the public. Evidence of such corruption exists—the names Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein come to mind. The MeToo movement began as a way to identify criminals, support victims, and change the culture of abuse by the powerful. If that movement has been harnessed by radical conspiracy-theorists, that is first of all unfortunate, and second a hint that the conspiracy to protect powerful criminals may be even stronger than most of us realized.

Most Americans—and that includes most Republicans, most Trump supporters, and most conservatives—reject the concept of an evil cabal masterminding sexual abuse and financial corruption in and beyond this country. The attempt to portray every liberal politician and community leader with those crimes is wrongminded and pointless.

Most Americans—and that includes most Republicans, most Trump supporters, and most conservatives—support law and order and oppose the “really futile and stupid gesture” performed in the Capitol building January 6. The attempt to portray every conservative politician and community leader as guilty of those crimes is wrongminded and pointless.

Yet some Americans want to punish every citizen who demonstrated in favor of the President that day, even the vast majority who did not enter the Capitol, did not threaten police officers or any other person, and did not damage any property. A movement in Congress wants to punish every Senator and Representative who opposed the electoral college results submitted to Congress January 6, claiming that those votes supported insurrection and violence. After spending two months assuring us that this election was the fairest and least corrupt election in the history of humanity, the mainstream media wants to label every individual who suggests that election fraud occurred as anti-American, terroristic, and dangerous.

The election results cannot be overturned. But investigations into election fraud must continue. Slowly, patiently, carefully, and meticulously, investigators must continue to analyze election day happenings in Milwaukee, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. Anyone who believes that no election fraud occurred should support those investigations, because they could conclusively demonstrate that no election fraud occurred. Only those who fear that their side won through election fraud has reason to oppose, hinder, or end these investigations. If election fraud did occur, those guilty should be punished, and new procedures should be instituted to prevent fraud from being repeated.

Meanwhile, those who threatened or harmed police officers or any other individuals in Washington DC on January 6 should be arrested, tried, and—if convicted—punished. Those who damaged property during those events should also be arrested, tried, and—if convicted—punished. Those who merely trespassed on government property without threatening or harming individuals and without damaging property should be fined for their trespass and then released. I write this having just seen some so-called shocking and disturbing video footage from the Capitol building, including the Senate chambers. For the most part, the trespassers were courteous toward law enforcement officers. They were respectful of government property. They hurt no one and damaged nothing. They took pictures of government documents. They said some dirty words. They left quickly after having arrived. If this is insurrection, then we need to teach other citizen groups seeking change in the country to practice their insurrection with the same gentleness, respect, and courtesy.

And maybe both sides can clean up their language, at least while the cameras are running. J.

Unfinished business

My writing has stalled over the last few weeks, both because of the Christmas holidays and because of the political and social turmoil from our recent election and its aftermath.

In the next few days, I hope to continue my posts on socialism. I have at least five more to write: “education: privilege or right?” “the Cold War and socialism,” “socialism and totalitarianism,” “socialism, capitalism and race,” and, “the freedom of free markets.” I also need to compose a concluding, draw-it-together post. Then I can start editing what I have written, including helpful comments from several of you readers, with the intention of eventually publishing it as a book.

Meanwhile, I have several other books in the pipeline. In 2017-2018, I had twelve posts about the twelve days of Christmas; then, in December 2018, I had a series of Advent posts. I had hoped to combine these into a book last fall, but things slowed down with the other book I was writing. So I edited and printed those posts and used them as family devotions over Advent and Christmas. Now I’ve set that work aside for a few months, but next summer or early fall I’ll pull it out again, edit one more time, and send it to the publisher.

During the quarantine last spring I typed up some presentations I had made in previous years called “Witnesses to the Passion.” Each told the account of our Lord’s suffering and crucifixion from a different point of view: Simon Peter, Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, the soldier at the cross, the young man who ran away, and so on. I plan to compose two more presentations—a Temple guard who witnessed the arrest and trials of Jesus and was also posted to guard his tomb, and Thomas the apostle. Then I need a good introduction, and I can send this work to the publisher.

I also have two projects to begin writing. The first will be a series of devotions parallel to the witnesses of the Passion but looking more at items involved in the Passion: the thirty pieces of silver, the crown of thorns, and so on. I have not yet made my list of details to cover, but I hope to have at least forty, to make a Lenten devotional book. No doubt I will share some of those chapters as posts. The second was suggested by a woman in my Bible class. She says I ought to write a book about love: what the Bible means by love, how love is understood (and misunderstood) in our culture, and how to respond to our culture’s distorted versions of love. I’m a bit nervous about that book—it would possibly strike some people as intolerant, which certain people will not tolerate, as we all know. Perhaps that is all the more reason for me to write it.

Meanwhile, we still wrestle with issues related to the election and to the really stupid and futile response last week. Efforts by Democrats and the mainstream media to link every Trump supporter and every conservative to violence in the Capitol could, in a worst-case scenario, lead to repression of the conservative viewpoint—arrests, loss of jobs, being denied access to social media, and the like. With that in mind, I still want to risk two additional posts beyond the socialism posts I have mentioned. One would explore the possibility of the United States turning to a five-party system; the other would analyze voting fraud in the last election and would ask if it was illegal but not immoral.

There’s no telling what the future will bring. But these are my writing plans for the immediate future. J.

Animal House DC

In November, when commenting on the results of the election, I borrowed a quote from the movie Animal House, saying, “It’s not over until we say it’s over.” If anyone read those words and thought that I was advocating violence, disorder, and disobedience, I sincerely apologize. I was calling for court filings, investigations of election fraud, and challenges to the election results in certain urban areas where suspicious results were announced. I in no way intended for anyone to respond to the words in the movie that closely follow my quote—namely, “I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on someone’s part.” And the next line was, “We’re just the guys to do it!”

Last Wednesday a few dozen people made a really futile and stupid gesture. What they did was wrong, both legally and morally wrong. Hurting, endangering, and threatening people is wrong. Hurting, endangering, and threatening police officers and news reporters and members of Congress is wrong. Breaking windows in government buildings is wrong. Entering private offices is wrong. Scattering papers or removing them from those offices is wrong. I hope that the dozens of people who are guilty of these crimes are found, arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and punished under the laws of the United States. Anything less would be disappointing.

Beyond the criminal nature of these actions, they were also really futile and stupid because they tainted President Trump and all of his supporters. They gave ammunition to the mainstream media that has been telling people for more than four years what a bad man Donald Trump is and what bad people all his supporters are. Often the media has had to lie to pursue this theme; in this case, the media scarcely needs to exaggerate. The symbolic nature of this trespass into the United States Capitol clouds the reality that far more damage was done in numerous demonstrations across the United States in 2020, demonstrations that the same media carefully described as “mostly peaceful” and characterized as noble efforts to end the evil of racial prejudice and discrimination.

The gathering in Washington last Wednesday was mostly peaceful. Even many of the people who followed the wave of criminals into the Capitol largely walked through the halls in an orderly manner, carrying their flags and banners and taking their own pictures to prove they were there. They wanted to express their support of the President and their outrage that the election was stolen. They wanted to remind the Democratic party and the mainstream media that millions of American citizens still believe in the positions held by President Trump—not racist positions, not white supremacist positions, not anti-freedom positions, but genuine patriotism for the United States and a genuine desire to provide a better life for all its citizens.

The election results are certified; they cannot be changed. Investigations should continue. People who witnessed fraud must report what they saw. People who confessed to fraud must be interviewed to gain the whole story of what happened—whose orders were they following? Physical evidence of election results needs to be preserved and examined. For the good of the United States and all its citizens, we need to know what happened, who is at fault, and how repetition of this fraud can be prevented. That really futile and stupid gesture could result in reduction of our freedom as Americans. Members of the government might seek to establish limitations on the right of the people to assemble peacefully, to say and to write what they believe, and to address their concerns to the government. The chorus of voices insisting that November’s election was legal and fair—the least corrupt election in history—must not be allowed to drown out genuine dissent. Defending truth and freedom should not be equated with rioting, insurrection, violence, and other crimes. If that happens, the America we know and love might indeed be finished. J.

False alarms

This Christmas season will be remembered by the Salvageable family as the Christmas of false alarms. It began, not on Christmas Day, but on Sunday December 27th, the third day of Christmas, when the smoke detector in the hallway began to send out intermittent signals that it sensed smoke. This alarm prompted a thorough search of the house—checking all the rooms, even those rarely visited; observing the house from outside, both front and rear; examining all electrical appliances; and even lifting the trap door into the attic to check for heat or smoke. No indication, aside from the alarm, showed any sign of smoke in or near the house or anywhere in the neighborhood. Eventually I set the smoke detector out on the deck, where it rang occasional alarms a few more times before finally settling into silence.

I should mention that the device is not one that needs a new battery every year. It came self-contained, complete with power source, and was guaranteed to last ten years. And, needless to say, the smoke detector is now a few months beyond ten years old.

Two mornings later I heard an odd hum when I got out of the shower. I was concerned at first that something was going wrong with the exhaust fan in the bathroom or possibly with one of the lights. After I got dressed and switched all those off, I could still hear the hum. In short order I traced it to the smoke detector, still out on the deck, and now dealing with moisture from inclement weather. I shook out the moisture, silencing the alarm; then I wrapped the device in a plastic bag and left it on the deck. My plan was to put it into the garbage at the end of the week and then replace it the next time I visited Walmart.

Then the rain came. The bag protected the device for a while, but not for good. Oddly, I heard it at eight a.m.—right after the Christmas carol clocked chimed for the hour. My first thought was that someone in the house had set an alarm to go off at eight, but then I recognized the triple chirp of the smoke detector. So I finally did what had been suggested the previous Sunday—I took the device out to the workshop, broke it open, and disabled it. I had planned to put it, as it was, into the garbage that night to be removed from our property in the morning. But it occurred to me that if our garbage on the curb was beeping, we might worry the neighbors, which could lead to visits from the city police’s bomb squad. Therefore, I disabled the noisy alarm.

This would be the end of the story, but it’s not. Friday night, even as our garbage waited at the curb to be removed Saturday morning, my youngest daughter was told that she may have been exposed to the crisis virus while at work—some of her coworkers had contracted the virus. So she went to be tested on Saturday (locking her keys in the car and needing to be rescued), and I notified people at church and at my workplace that I might need to quarantine. Saturday night my daughter’s test results came back negative, but I had already removed myself from church services this morning. My manager at work had relied my message up the chain of command, but I let him know about the negative result and my lack of symptoms, so I probably will be allowed back to work Monday morning.

These events confirm what I had already been saying—we put too much pressure on the New Year to be a new beginning, an end to our woes from the passing year and a chance for things to be better. None of these events were horrible or tragic, but a few bumps in the road on the first weekend of 2021 remind me that 2020 and 2021 are merely numbers. A new calendar on the wall does not guarantee a better year. And so it goes. J.

Of many books there is no end

  Last night I read Psalms 149 & 150 and also Revelation 21-22. This morning I read Psalms 1 & 2 and Genesis 1-3. These readings are part of a pattern I established years ago, reading through the Bible in one year (and covering the book of Psalms five times each year). Although those selected readings may create an impression that I read the Bible from cover to cover, I actually alternate between the testaments. In January, for example, I will read Genesis, Matthew, and Ecclesiastes. In February I will read Exodus, Hebrews, Romans, and Song of Songs. I try to keep the longer books (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel) separated from one another; I try to match themes between the testaments as much as possible.

I also read other books: devotional books, philosophy, history, literature, fantasy and science fiction, poetry, drama, and the classics. Since the beginning of January 2001, I have kept lists of books I am reading and have finished. In this way, I have been counting the books I finished each year over the past twenty years.

In 2020, I smashed my previous record, probably because of the virus crisis and quarantine. Between January 1 and December 31, I finished 205 books, far beyond the earlier record of 176. In fact, my reading in 2020 actually increased my twenty-year average from 123.7 to 127.8. And these were not all short and easy books. They included the works of Soren Kierkegaard (which I actually started more than a year ago, so some of them were counted in 2019). They included the works of Leo Tolstoy (yes, even the epic War and Peace, unabridged). They included philosophers Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Rosseau, the Federalist, de Tocqueville, Thoreau, Emerson, and William James. In all, I read roughly 65,000 pages in 2020.

This being the dawn of a new year, I have started my reading list for 2021. I will read several volumes of Martin Luther’s works, will pick up some twentieth century philosophers (including Dewey, Nietzsche, and Freud), will read the works of Mark Twain and those of Kurt Vonnegut, and some other books besides. I will read the five books I got for Christmas this year. I will also read the first twelve volumes of Britannica’s Great Books; I already read the first twenty pages of Homer’s Iliad this afternoon.

I like to read. I like to relive old experiences by reading books I have read before. I like to learn new things. I like to see things from a different perspective. Kurt Vonnegut once wrote that he had tried meditation, but he found that all the benefits promised from meditating happened for him when he was reading. That is my experience as well.

I tell prospective writers that they need to do three things: they must read a lot, they must write a lot, and they must rewrite a lot. I’ve got the first two skills down pretty well; I don’t always carry through with the third. Reading develops communication skills. It exposes the mind to better ways of expressing one’s self. It improves vocabulary, grammar, style, creativity, and thoughtfulness. More than any other means of communication, reading and writing allows communicators to reflect upon what is being said and to refine and polish the communication before sharing it with others.

For all I know, this could become one of those busy years when I don’t even finish one hundred books. Or I might have lots of spare time and set a new record. Either way, I will enjoy the books I read, and I will benefit from the exercise. Of that I can be sure. J.

Health care: privilege or right?

When John Locke and Thomas Jefferson wrote that human beings possess God-given rights, including the right to life, and when they said that governments exist to protect those rights, they were not suggesting that governments ought to provide every citizen with food, clothing, shelter, health care, and all the other things needed to sustain and prolong their lives. Instead, they were saying that governments should deprive no one of life without due process; furthermore, that governments are obliged to protect the lives of citizens from dangers posed by foreign attackers and domestic criminals.

Locke and Jefferson envisioned a world in which people provided food, clothing, shelter, and other necessities of life for themselves and their dependents through their individual wealth and through wages for their labor. Individuals facing extreme need found help from extended family, neighbors, worship communities, and charitable organizations. Ebenezer Scrooge might sneer that workhouses and prisons sufficed to meet the needs of the poor, but in many cases compassion and charity filled the gaps where hard work and diligence did not suffice. Had God’s Law been obeyed by all the Israelites, there would have been no poverty in Israel. In his Judgment Day parable, Jesus commended those who have the hungry something to eat and gave the thirsty something to drink; he said nothing about lobbying the government to provide resources for those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, and ill.

In the “good old days,” doctors made house calls. Sometimes they accepted vegetables or baked goods as payment for their services; sometimes they waived payment out of the kindness of their hearts. But in those “good old days,” doctors did not remove cataracts, provide knee and hip replacements, or use CAT scans to diagnose problems. Health care and medicine have come a long way since the “good old days,” which is why they are so expensive. People expect more from their doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, and therapy centers than ever before. Every year, research and development provide new benefits to conquer disease and to prolong life and health. Some research and development is funded by government grants, and some raises money through donations, but much is done by for-profit companies. They have the combined goals of making life better for all people and offering a return on the investment of their sponsors.

Health insurance was invented as a way to spread the cost of health care move evenly over time and throughout the population. Buyers of insurance gamble that they are going to get sick and need expensive care; providers of insurance gamble that most people are not going to get sick and need expensive care. Insurance is necessarily inflationary—an insurance company must pay workers, maintain offices, and return a profit to their investors, while still keeping their promises to pay the medical expenses of their customers. A complicated system of fees, deductibles, negotiated settlements, and other financial arrangements has developed out of these needs. Otto von Bismarck of Germany was one of the first government leaders to ask employers to contribute to the health insurance of their workers. Today a person struggling to pay medical bills may also be benefiting from the health care industry through investments that are adding to that same person’s retirement fund. Life is complicated that way.

In the free market, health care and health insurance may not always be fair. People with more money can afford more helpful health insurance, while those with less money have insurance that does less for them. Wealthy people can afford care that is unavailable to others. Within the free market, governments intervene to make sure that essential care is available to all. Doctors, hospitals, and clinics cannot deny certain kinds of care to people in need, even when those people cannot afford to pay. Defining “essential care” is a challenge faced by members of the government, who must negotiate with each other to write a law that meets that need.

Under pure socialism, the government would gain control of all hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, medical offices, rehabilitation centers, and therapy providers. The government would pay the salaries of all health care workers as well as all other costs of maintaining these facilities. Citizens could receive health care at no cost; although, to reduce the burden on taxpayers, the government might require fees for certain services that are not defined as “essential care.”

The Affordable Health Care Act of 2010 (known as Obamacare) stopped far short of socializing all health care in the United States. Much of the legislation in that package focused its attention on health insurance rather than on reducing the cost of health care. More innovation in the latter regard might solve some of the current problems in American health care without threatening greater government control or a trend toward socialism.

Education of health care workers is expensive. Many professional health care workers begin their careers with enormous debts. Government loans that are part of that debt could be reduced or forgiven when these professionals participate in health care benefits to the poor and deprived—providing health care through urban centers for the poor, homeless shelters, and the like. Medical facilities and equipment are also expensive. Government grants could make them available in low-income communities at less cost than it takes to promise free health care to all the poor in those communities. Research and development need to continue in the health care industry. Government grants and charitable organizations contribute to the costs of research and development, but private funding with a hope for a profitable return should never be excluded from the equation.

The world contains sufficient food that no one should be hungry. Food is not distributed fairly. Inviting the government to collect all the food and distribute it evenly would be wasteful and unfair. Charitable giving, with some government participation, solves the problem far better than would total government control.

Sufficient housing exists in the United States for all the people who live here. Problems of homelessness are complicated by mental illness, addictions, personal choice (in a few cases), and other factors. Forcing every American to live in government-provided housing would be wasteful and unfair. The free market—with some charitable help and some government participation—solves the problem far better than would total government control.

Health care can be provided for all Americans. Putting the government in control of all health care—or even in control of all health insurance—would be wasteful and unfair. People need to be allowed to choose among various options regarding both health care and health insurance. Charitable help, with some government participation (such as Medicare) solves the problem far better than would total government control.

Protecting each citizen’s right to life is not the same as meeting each citizen’s needs in every way. The free market always innovates and creates better answers than would total government control. Through further study, negotiation, and compromise, more help can be found for the needy. Socialism does not offer answer that would improve upon the current system. J.

Frosty and Karen

Last night my daughter and I watched the Christmas classic “Frosty the Snowman.” She was quick to notice some of the curious foibles of the story, such as the schoolchildren playing in the snow while wearing shorts and short dresses, as if their legs were immune to the cold; also, Santa Claus leaving Karen stranded on the roof with no way of getting off near the end of the story.

But I watched the show with another agenda. Since last Christmas, many of us have become familiar with the “Karen” trope. “Karen” represents a white, blonde, middle-aged woman who carries a sense of entitlement, making her a difficult customer, and known for her frequent demand to “talk with the manager.” With that trope in mind, I wanted to see if Frosty’s Karen might be one of the first Karens, perhaps the original Karen who started the whole image. From the evidence I witnessed and gathered, I would have to conclude that, yes, Frosty’s Karen is a prototypical Karen.

She does not stand out in the classroom scenes, but she first comes to the forefront when she exaggerates her contribution to the making of the snowman by saying, “The head is the most difficult part. Ask anyone.” None of her friends dares to disagree with that assertion.

Next, Karen must intervene with a police officer who threatens to give Frosty a ticket for disregarding the traffic light and the officer’s instructions. Karen is able to thwart justice by pointing out that Frosty has just come to life and doesn’t know all the rules. A well-known maxim states that “ignorance is no excuse” for breaking the law, but the police officer is charmed by young Karen and gives Frosty a break.

She then speaks for the group when approaching the Ticket Master, wanting to send Frosty by train to the North Pole. When he tells them that the ticket will cost three thousand dollars and four cents (tax included), she is as discouraged as the others. Yet she has no misgivings about putting Frosty in a refrigerated car without purchasing a ticket. When Frosty invites Karen to join him on the train, she agrees instantly, assuming the permission of her mother “as long as I’m home in time for supper.”

From this childhood experience, Karen learns the value of going straight to the top of any organization. What higher authority can she find than Santa Claus on Christmas Eve? Though Santa has a job—a slim window of delivering toys and gifts to every good little boy and girl in the world—he still takes the time to revive Frosty and to bring Karen back to her home (even if he did leave her standing on the roof). No wonder Karen grows up to be a woman who assumes that any problem can be fixed so long as she can speak with the manager.

I fell in love with Karen when I was a little boy. Her devotion to Frosty, her willingness to face risks on his behalf, and her vulnerability all appealed to my sensitive nature. If only I had known what kind of adult Karen would become, I might have hesitated to give my heart away so quickly. In closing, let me say that the group of children dismissed the suggestion of “Oatmeal” as a name for the snowman much too abruptly. J.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing (again and again and again…)

Other years, if you were to ask me to name my favorite Christmas song, I probably would have chosen “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” The tune is uplifting, and the lyrics are meaningful. How many Christmas songs convey the precise theology of “God and sinners reconciled,” or, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see/ Hail the Incarnate Deity”? “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentleman,” and, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” are two candidates for good Christmas theology; many other seasonal songs are weak and shallow and trite.

The original words to “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” were written by Charles Wesley; today’s familiar version comes from a rewriting done by George Whitefield. The original tune was composed by Felix Mendelssohn; text and tune were brought together by William H. Cummings. The hymn has prominent placement in our Christmas memories, showing up in A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life, among other seasonal favorites.

Perhaps that ubiquity of the song has left me jaded this year. It is the seven o’clock song on our Christmas carol clock, which means that I hear it most mornings after exiting the shower and heading toward the kitchen for breakfast. Then I hear it again most evenings after supper. Perhaps I have overplayed the hymn too much other years—especially the version from Amy Grant’s Christmas album of 1983. That version features an enthusiastic orchestra and choral setting of the hymn, including a repetitive instrumental rendering of the third line which has become an earworm, cycling endlessly in my head while I am trying to access other thoughts. Many years, I have set my alarm to waken me Christmas Day with Amy Grant’s version of “Hark….” Not this year.

Another problem I have with the song is a joke my father told years ago about a commercial version of “Hark…”—one that promoted Beechum’s pills. My father never claimed to have invented the joke. Indeed, it shows up on the Internet with various back stories, no doubt all of them apocryphal. But my father’s version includes a line that I have not found anywhere else, so he may have contributed his own wit to the joke. At the risk of putting these words into your head and ruining the song for you (as it has evidently been ruined for me), here are the words my father sings: “Hark the Herald Angels Sing/ Beechum’s pills are just the thing/ Peace on earth and mercy mild/ Two for men and one for child/ Joyful all ye nations rise/ Try the new economy size…”

I don’t know whether to say “I’m sorry” or “you’re welcome.” J.