poetry, Uncategorized

The Belligerent Merry Christmas

Ho-ho-hold your horses there, buster. 

 

Allow me to begin this semi-controversial post with two disclaimers, or what my logic and rhetoric professors would have called “assumptions:” For the remainder of this reading, please assume that I am a Christian (as I am), and that I am both a poet and language arts educator (which I also am). This means two things — 1. I have no problem saying Merry Christmas to anyone, and often do so both publicly and privately, and 2. I spend a lot of time thinking about the way words are constructed, their connotations, and their overall impression upon audience.

All these assumptions lead us to the real meat of this post: People who angrily insist upon “Merry Christmas” when shopping, on the phone, or in the public forum at large. Yes, I’d like to see everyone wishing everyone else a Merry Christmas, but here’s the thing — God-fearing Christian folks, when you’re in line at the grocery store/Wal-Mart/Target, and the already overburdened clerk says “Happy Holidays,” then and there is not the time to launch into a political and dogmatic soapbox about the use of Merry Christmas. People have families to get home to, dinners to prepare, cards or invitations to send out, and frankly, your high-minded and heavy-handed semantics are only making the season slower and worse for everyone in line behind you.

If you’re that concerned about conveying Jesus to the world, perhaps a better tactic would be to show grace, love, and a touch of holiday empathy to that already overworked person in the store uniform who’s helping you. Look around — everyone knows it’s not just “the holidays” — manger scenes, stars of Bethlehem, advent calendars, and a whole host of heavenly hosts can be found all around you. Yes, there are also snowmen and Santas and all the gaudy lights that Charlie Brown abhorred, but there, in the midst of all that commercialism, is Luke Two, also.

From a strictly academic standpoint, the phrase “Happy Holidays” is more vague and, although alliterative, bland to the point of being trite. Maybe it is this linguistic homogeneity that is the source of conflict — it’s not the lack of Merry Christmas, it’s that the alternative sounds so generic and impersonal. We like people that are regularly in contact with us to know our names, and a little of our likes and dislikes. When we’re confronted with the ho-hum Happy Holidays, we feel like we’ve been shortchanged in some way. That much is understandable.

But to turn a well-wish into an open wound of ill-perceived malice and religious persecution is to defeat the spirit of the season entirely. What makes you so special that you MUST receive a Merry Christmas over any other type of parting exchange? Would you be so offended by the nonseasonal “Have a Nice Day?” How about “Take care now?”

Listen: I make my living from words and their direct and indirect meanings. If anyone should have a beef about what language is used when and how, it should be me. But I’m not going to lambaste the poor soul who wishes me a happy holiday, a good evening, or even a (gasp) Happy Hanukkah. I may return their good tidings with a Merry Christmas of my own, or I might simply say thank you. But to use my faith as a weapon of ridicule? No thanks.

Lighten up, ye merry gentlemen. Let nothing you dismay, including what the tattooed kid at the cash register says. May your days be merry and bright. Enjoy this Christmas season and all its glorious traditions with family, friends, and others. Let us keep the good cheer through civility, respectful discourse, and that most universal of all greetings: an honest smile. Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.

 

poetry, Uncategorized

Lessons from Santa Fe

Now that some time has passed since my scholarship-funded trip to the Glen West Workshop, I feel that I can reflect on the experience with greater objectivity, and extract some of the bigger ideas from it. Held on the campus of St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the workshop included writers and artists from all walks of life, and from all over the world.

A shot from one of the sloping hills of St. John's College in Santa Fe.
A shot from one of the sloping hills of St. John’s College in Santa Fe.

The scenery was beautiful, the discussions and seminars were engaging, and the faith-based component made me take a much harder look at my own personal theology. Almost nightly, I found myself returning to scripture to examine my own beliefs in response to the claims of others beyond my denomination. What I found was this: The pastors and leaders I have known allow God’s Word to speak to them to inform their perspectives. Their hermeneutics and apologetics are without error when scrutinized from a logical, etymological, and spiritual standpoint. I became grateful for my solid foundation in the greatest of all literature.

 

Aside from the religious component of the workshop, however, the time spent working out my own poetry was invaluable. Critiques during workshop allowed me to hear from a community that represented a broad cross-section of society, from amateur dabblers, avid readers, and experts who are highly respected in their field. In addition, the artful environment of Santa Fe provided a much-needed break from the summertime doldrums I was previously facing. The art galleries, public displays of sculpture, and a fantastic rendering of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters on stage at the Lensic Theatre allowed me the cognitive space I needed to regenerate creativity.

While the accommodations were sparse, the company, the climate, and the conversation made up for any lacking luxuries. I made a few new good friends who are very different from me, and by so doing, received bigger understandings and broader interpretations of life itself. I would recommend The Glen West Workshop to those seeking something different than the typical writing conference. Its effect on your mind and your soul will be worth it.

poetry, Uncategorized

Politics and Poetry

 Today is Election Day. In a vast departure from my usual blog fare, I am writing today about my political leanings. Prepare to be offended. You may stop reading here if you believe this post will make you angry.

As a group, poets have always been pretty politically active. Usually, that activism has been of the Berkeley-inspired sort, with Allen Ginsberg appearing naked or George Saunders writing tongue-in-cheek about being Ayn Rand’s lover (see the latest New Yorker).

Artists and poets have historically professed to being open-minded and accepting of all. And yet, watch what happens in writing groups or seminars when a conservative voice enters the picture. Suddenly that open-mindedness is nowhere to be found, and ugliness quickly enters the scene. All the anti-bullying rhetoric that these same “compassionate” people spout daily somehow gets forgotten in the barrage of name-calling and slur-shouting. Hypocrisy at its finest. It’s as though people who vote Republican or even conservatively Independent aren’t welcome in the “literary clubhouse.” The children already inside have posted a poorly lettered sign that reads, “No Patriots Allowed.” After all, patriotism is a notion that shows some kind of loyalty or devotion; strictly verboten ideas to the hedonists, nihilists, atheists, and radicals who nailed together the clubhouse in the first place.

This statement takes me back to a few years ago when a friend of mine was banned from a coffeehouse for reading a poem that the business owner considered “too right-wing.” What happened to freedom of speech there? Does it only apply to my liberal friends? Why is burning a flag okay, but expressing legitimate concern over our national debt suddenly taboo? The questions could go on and on.

Certainly conservatives are not exempt from the hand of this accusation, either. “The Ol’ Boy Club” has been around for generations, and there is good reason why the artists and creatives of our society felt the need to become a clique of outsiders in the first place. Now the outsiders, however, are those within the arts who cherish ideas like religious liberty, traditional family values, a strong military, the right to life, the freedom to defend one’s home and family, or giving just and swift punishment to those who commit heinous acts against innocent others. These are the very tenets that our ancestors fought and died for, writer and reader friends.

For a moment, however, let’s leave behind any issue that is not directly related to writing and the arts. Let’s assume that today when you go to the polls, you want to vote for the candidate who has done the most to support these two ideas. One candidate leveraged the arts into prominence, supporting music and creativity-based programs in schools while supporting business and individual liberties. The other candidate slashed 13 percent of funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities AND from the National Endowment for the Arts. You do the math.

The polls will open in about half an hour here. I plan to make my vote count. I hope that you plan to do the same, friend. And I hope that my assertive utilization of the First Amendment has not in any way negatively impacted your view of me as a writer. At the end of the day, what really counts is my performance, not my politics.