19 December 2016

What Comes to Mind at the Name of "Scrooge"

As I watched the concluding scenes of a Muppet Christmas Carol for probably the third or fourth time I was struck again at the strange way in which Mister Scrooge's change of heart is represented on screen.  Scrooge, now possessed of the fullness of Michael Caine's charm, wanders the streets of London followed by an entourage of creatures hoping to be showered with the largess of the conversion in the form of various material goods wrapped in the ubiquitous red bows.

At the height of my own cleverness I quipped to my fellow viewers, "What if they had just increased the income tax rate for his bracket and gave it to everybody else?  Then we could have dispensed with this whole conversion story and got on with our lives!"

Of course that would have made for a less interesting Muppet film, I suppose, and we would have lost all the other wonderful adaptations of the Dickens story that have come to us through the ages, including the annual performances at the Indianapolis Repertory Theater at which I have been a regular for several years (thanks, Jill!).  I always leave the theater reconsidering my own hardness of heart that has revealed itself through the course of the year and which I attempt to ignore most of the time.  I do harm to others by these attitudes, but it is true that I am the one harmed most of all.

This year, however, I have come to realize that the story has a message that may be a bit too subtle for modern times to take in.  The reason I find the Muppets' Scrooge to be so bizarre is that the "end-game" is so materialistic.  It is as if what we needed from Mister Scrooge was the very thing that made him  evil:  his love of money.  How could he toss around these wonderful and life-changing material goods if he had not already amassed his ill-gotten fortune on the backs of so many foreclosed mortgages?   Cast in more modern terms, we need the "1%" who spend all their time collecting wealth to the detriment of their fellow man to give it, under duress, to the "99%", who are presumed to deserve it more. In the midst of this, we don't care at all about the conversion of the many "Scrooges" we see in the world today.  It is much easier to write them off as lost causes, if we are charitable enough to suggest they could be thought of as a cause at all.

We tend to forget entirely that Dickens' most important message is about human nature.  Scrooge is happier when he cares about other people and deals with them justly.  He becomes a new man from the ashes of his former acquisitiveness.  This is a conversion we never see in the character of, for example, the pawn broker, a man who is not as rich as Scrooge, but just as evil prior to the events of the story. 

Somehow the evil of Scrooge's first state is what sticks with us today, such that to call someone a "Scrooge" is to indicate that they are an irredeemable miser.  What it should mean, based on the content of the story, is that they have given up their old ways and now strive to the good of their fellow man--a good that cannot be reduced to mere objects tied up in red ribbon.

21 October 2014

Humility Top Ten: Why It Is Good to Be Humble

Ok...trying something a little different here.  I hope you like it!

The top ten reasons it is Good to Be Humble:

10.  The delicious irony of being unable to point out that you are.

9.  You can commiserate with Mac Davis about how hard it is.

8.  High winds are not as scary due to your less inflated head.

7.  You are less likely to be injured as a participant in a bar fight.

6.  You find out a lot of interesting things when you are not thinking about the next thing you are going to say.

5.  Not always having to deal with hordes of adoring fans.

4.  "Humility goes before disaster, a humble spirit before a fall" ...or not! (verse 18

3.  Because it is easier than being whistlble.

2.  Others held in greater esteem than you?  Not a problem!


1.  I hear there is pie.

14 October 2014


I don't remember who said it, but I have been thinking about it for a long time now (along with a certain 8.5-month old who has taken up literally all of my blogging time).

I had said a phrase that I have always strangely enjoyed:  "It is what it is."  I am sure you have heard it and perhaps said it as well many times yourself, but my interlocutor of the day was not in a mood to accept such meaningless fluff.  Whoever it was pointed out what you see very clearly yourself:  the sentence is redundant.  Why would you even bother to say something like this?  When you get right down to it, the sentence is the equivalent of saying that something that is red is red or that the moon is the moon.  An idea like that and 8 dollars will buy you a cup of coffee.

I don't know why this criticism stuck with me.  I certainly did not take it personally.  Heck, I don't even remember clearly who made the objection in the first place!  I guess it is just the way that my mind works these days that I have to think through a problem long enough that such things start to seem a little bit profound.  You see, I do think that such statements have a significance in our current times.  George Orwell once put it this way, "We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men." Such restatement is a call for us to check ourselves against the measuring stick of what has always been true.

We live in a time when the most basic elements of our society, such as the family and the rule of law are constantly being degraded.  Reality is fundamentally questioned, to the point that it can be very helpful to have that little reminder that what is has the significance of existence in opposition to all that is merely the dream (or the nightmare) of the imagination.   Our anxieties about a possible future overwhelm our reasonable reaction to the needs of the day.   It is impossible to come to the right conclusions when we are inaccurate in our understanding of the world around us.

Our thoughts about ourselves are perhaps the most significant example of this kind of inaccuracy.  How often do we really see ourselves and the sum of our actions for what they truly are?  Too often we are lenient to ourselves because we think that "what is" is that we are the image of the altruistic person who is only doing what anyone would do to secure our rights in some situation.  Too often we magnify our own faults to similar detriment because we see not who we are and where we fit in the world, but expect ourselves to be our own savior and salvation.  If we live in these fantasies (and they are very tempting fantasies indeed), we end up dissociated from ourselves and unable to make of ourselves a gift to the one who made us.  Humility is the very tool that lets us correct the mistaken ideas we have about ourselves so that we can know that we are what we are.

18 April 2014

The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery

The Cross

The darkness gathers in to form a shroud
o'er Zion's peak and all surrounding lands.
The crowd is quiet now that once was loud;
they see themselves in nails that pierce his hands.
The rasping breath of Christ comes with much pain,
but joy is still emblazoned on his face,
for he will see his Father once again
and open up a route for Adam's race.
Oh, ecce Agnus Dei, Christ the Lord!
who kindles hope for all who dwell on earth.
As blood and water round the lance are poured
He paves the way in death for a new birth.

Reject you now your sin, the source of strife;
come share with Him a death that leads to life.

17 April 2014

The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery

The Way

His back is bent, his knees are full of grit.
He falls and falls at almost every step.
The guards stand round like demons from the pit,
or stoners crowded round the demirep.
Do you feel pity, seeing him this day,
though all your eyes observe is weight of wood?
You think you would have helped him on his way!
A noble thought—you ponder as you should.
Yet with this cross the savior must begin
a lonely way, the burden his alone.
Unless he washes feet and cleanses sin,
we cannot have a place in our Lord's home.

Just walk with him, go step by step awhile
and on your face wear too his suffering smile.

16 April 2014

The Third Sorrowful Mystery

The Crown

The crown of thorns stood in as Eden's hedge
for Veronica who wished to kiss his brow,
but she reached down to wipe around its edge
and took away his image on her towel.
So high a king the world has never seen,
this man who tastes the dust between his teeth,
the dust that but for him would not have been,
who made the very thorns he bleeds beneath.
Why does the whole Creation seem to turn
against this one whose being is to love?
Should not the very heavens start to burn,
and send avenging fire down from above?

But Christ will not be king by any art,
until you crown him so within your heart.

15 April 2014

The Second Sorrowful Mystery

The Scourge 

Now cast your eye upon another scene
of that man's hands around a pillar tied
for Pilate, here Iustitia's machine,
tried to appease the crowd before he died.
As when one tries to right a toppling vase
but sends it only faster to the floor,
the bloody scourging served as a foretaste
and set God's chosen ones to cry the more,
“For him the cross!  Dear Caesar is our king!
You may deny us freedom, but not this!”
Then Pilate knew he had to grant the thing-
man's justice gave to Christ a poisoned kiss.

Oh Christian, now you bear your Lord's true name,
and yet, when tempted, treat him just the same!