Bar Jester Chronicles 9: For Gawd’s Sake Avoid Cherch this Krustmas

by Jason Peters on December 16, 2009 · 49 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Culture, High & Low,Economics & Empire,Philosophers & Saints

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Rock Island, IL

Difficile est saturam non scribere.

—Juvenal

Call invective “raillery” and rob the world of spleen; call raillery “invective” and rob the world of mirth.

—Bar Jester’s Uncle Horace

If enough people call you “Scrooge” or “Grinch,” and if they do it enough times, you can almost believe that they’re trying to flatter rather than compliment you. But then if you attend to them a little more closely than you promised yourself you would, you begin to realize that they think they’re actually insulting you. They think your disaffection with Christmas is a bad thing.

Then the pieces begin to fall into place. They keep saying they want “Christ” put back in “Christmas,” whereas you’d settle for putting the “mass” back in “Christmas.”

They want to go to their worship auditoriums and reenact the nativity, complete with hay and oxen and asses; you want to partake the holy birth.

They make a point of saying “Merry Christmas” to all the Secular Humanists who wish them “happy holidays”; you just shrug your shoulders, spike the eggnog, and deviate not a hair’s breadth from making your holy days as happy as propriety allows.

They call Jesus the “Greatest Gift of All” (who came “wrapped in ribbons of love”) and snatch for themselves a metaphysical sanction for the annual Visa-borne glut; you unwrap yet another unrequested coat, which the Greatest Gift of All commands to you to give away, and sigh in affected gratitude as your thoughts drift toward the beneficial uses of arsenic.

They think “Silent Night” is a great song; you think it’s sentimental schlock.

They want to go on and on about “the true meaning of Christmas”; you’ve been meditating it your whole life and still couldn’t say for sure what it is.

They express the mystery of the Incarnation in “Happy Birthday, Jesus”; you consider reading St. Athanasius again but think better of it and reach instead for all the pills in the medicine cabinet and a bottle of Absolut.

Yep. It’s beginning to look a lot like Krustmas. You can almost hear the earth groan. The very rocks and stones cry out as the old stuff leaves the vinyl-clad manse on Willowbrook Way for the land fill out in the west end of Forsaken County, just as in perfect synchronicity the new stuff departs China, Taiwan, and Korea for the We b Toyz and the Electronics Unwarranted Outlet on Vestigial Loam Parkway, that five-lane east-west artery that extends from the cloverleaf all the way to Jesusland.

In times like these a man could get desperate and do desperate things, such as turn to drink or poetry.

That glorious Form, that Light unsufferable,
And that far-beaming blaze of Majesty,
Wherewith he wont at Heav’n’s high Council-Table,
To sit the midst of Trinal Unity,
He laid aside; and here with us to be,
Forsook the Courts of everlasting Day,
And chose with us a darksome House of mortal Clay.

It ain’t exactly “said the little lamb to the shepherd boy,” but it might do to hold off despair one more day should the trainload of Prozac be late in arriving.

Ah, shit. The more I think about it the less I’m able to credit the notion that we’ll survive the ravages of Krustianity and its favorite Hollidae. It motors off to kontemporary worshup and hears “Peace on Earth” morph into “Homeland Security”; it reads “but thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet” and then gathers around gas pumps to petition the gates of heaven for the lowest prices always.

It notes a life that began with “no room for them in the inn” and ended with “no place to rest his head” and finds there the blueprint for a three-car garage and an entertainment center in the basement for Jaxon, Ashley, Lexie, and all their friends from the God Rocks & Jesus Duz 2 Youth Group at Valley Harvest Family Values House of Praise.

It’s doing the best it can to bring back that bible-based economy of the late ’90s and early aughts that so lavishly bankrolled our military, wherein are met the hopes and fears of all the years.

Yes. Peace on Earth. Good will toward men. Ho-ho-ho and mistletoe and presents to pretty girls. I can feel my heart shrinking three sizes this very day.

Then I walk outside on the 26th and see that giant stain on the ground, and the old ticker shrivels altogether. The crime scene is too horrendous to behold. The carnage is beyond belief. It’s the second day of Krustmas, and everyone’s already done, love-spent, impotent, dazed, hungover. When you cease preparing for feast days, you lose the capacity to celebrate festal seasons. Might as well bring on Theophany right away—as if the Incarnation had been nothing more than Jesus in a party hat blowing out his candles. No wonder we eat all the football we can on New Year’s Day. We just watched Jesus age another year just like the rest of us poor sods. At 2,009 he’s got some unseemly wrinkles. He needs Osteen’s make-up guy.

Lordy but I feel like one of those malfunctioning electric guitars at Victorious Life Krustian Fellowship and Outer Suburban Outreachers Outreach Ministry that the praise team needs to pray over and drive the spirit of fear from.

(“Father we just wanna thank you for always being there for us when need you and we just give you all the praise and the glory Father for just loving us so much that you came to us on a cold winter’s night in a far way place where no snow falls to just give us the courage to go rogue and just to be here tonight Father with your family. And Father we just ask you tonight look upon this broken guitar of a man Father,this back-slidden Bar Jester, and with your mighty capo and pick just strum him back to life Father …” To hear the whole prayer, go to www.jesusisjustalrightwithme.com).

Or maybe the folks at PrayerChain.com could start an email prayer chain to help disabuse me of the notion that a debased culture deserves a debased religion, and that such a religion will debase the culture further still until the whole thing resembles some swiftly warming planet caught in an unstoppable looping effect, a planet weighed down by despair, sorely pissed about Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV), and sinking sinking sinking as its sorry stewards hold hands with Cindy Lou Who down in Whoville and sing the last noel.

Or–hell, I don’t know–maybe it’s time to “come into the peace of wild things / who do not tax their lives with forethought / of grief.” Maybe it’s time to “come into the presence of still water,” to “feel above me the day-blind stars / waiting with their light” and to rest for a while “in the grace of the world.”

Dear God, let Lent come quickly.

(Lexie needs to give up bottled water and American Idol.)

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Bob Cheeks December 16, 2009 at 5:51 am

I’m sure this latest screed will get you on at least a dozen prayer lists.
With that said, shall we all take a moment in memory of that all time great tent preacher, Oral Roberts, who gave us the Evangelical/Fundamentalist’s Notre Dame!

avatar rufus December 16, 2009 at 9:03 am

I will note that the last email I’ve received this year warning about ‘The War on Christmas’ came illustrated with a vomitus evoking image (of a cottage) by that noted Renaissance artist Thomas Kinkaid, the ‘painter of light’. Also I have yet to get warned about this war by my priest, who apparently has better things to think about during the season of Advent than what teenage cashiers at McDonald’s say to us when we receive the blood and the body of chickens. So, a debased culture producing a debased religion? Whatever do you mean?

avatar rufus December 16, 2009 at 9:21 am

No, I can top that. I just got an email a few minutes ago with “Tweety Bird” dressed as an angel promising the Lord not to eat chocolate. I’m going back to bed.

avatar Bruce Smith December 16, 2009 at 9:22 am

Nor must we forgot to say a prayer for the Vampire Squids of Wall Street who so successfully managed to take the social governance out of the market economy.

avatar Chris December 16, 2009 at 9:40 am

A small quibble: the quote from Juvenal should read scribere not scriber.

Seriously, though, it’s hard not to be Grinch-y about it all these days.

avatar D.W. Sabin December 16, 2009 at 10:06 am

rufus,
OK Buster, let me set you straight here, Thomas Kinkade,…is a widely admired artiste who plumbs the indiscriminate tastes of the public assiduously, crafting delicate scenes of light and color that could only exist in some heavenly land where there are 7 suns backlighting from every direction. He is also so kind as to include his DNA (we shant wonder how, wouldn’t be prudent, wouldn’t be right) with every canvas. His voluminous output can be found in all the most upscale tourist traps and to be quite honest, the 50′s had Normon Rockwell and the 90′s to oughts have Thomas Kinkade….well, ok, Thomas Kinkade and P Diddy. In short, Thomas Kinkade is the Federal Reserve of Fine Art, Fiat all the way baby and laughing his way to the bank. He is one of the many markers lighting the way to perdition for this quickening descent into idiocy known as the now or formerly United States of America…His paintings, the national News Media, the occupiers of the Babylon on the Potomac, Hollywood , take your pick of a lengthening list, they are like bonfires lighting the way to the river styxx.

My oldest brother sent me a Thomas Kinkade Authentic Porcelain Christmas Ornament after he watched me cross the street in Carmel California once to avoid walking in front of the Kinkade Fine Art emporium. It is a treasured ornament, hanging next to the miniature rubber chicken on the Christmas Jew’s 14′ Pagan Totem. The nation is awash in schlock, best to develop a curatorial appreciation for it.

avatar James Kabala December 16, 2009 at 10:48 am

Golly, even “Silent Night” is on the blacklist now? If a song written by a priest in Hapsburg Austria is verboten, who can be saved?

avatar Thomas McCullough December 16, 2009 at 11:21 am

One of my boringly repeated observations (ask my children) is that a terribly large amount of culture amounts to constructions that we mount to piss down on others. I frequently like you, brother (if I may be so bold) but here I think your superiority is taking a leak.
I appreciate the temptation. A post I never made would have been titled, “Thomas Kinkade is a Pornographer.” I didn’t because I sense that harm we can do to ourselves pumping up our own smug superiority.

avatar Fred December 16, 2009 at 1:01 pm

You came recommended as a long, lost cousin. I’m flattered. You, however, may have cause for offense.

avatar Tom December 16, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Thomas McCullough said:

One of my boringly repeated observations (ask my children) is that a terribly large amount of culture amounts to constructions that we mount to piss down on others. I frequently like you, brother (if I may be so bold) but here I think your superiority is taking a leak.
I appreciate the temptation. A post I never made would have been titled, “Thomas Kinkade is a Pornographer.” I didn’t because I sense that harm we can do to ourselves pumping up our own smug superiority.

Not being very smart or witty myself, I retort with the following:

In the study of culture, argued Eliot, “the most important questions that we can ask, is whether there is any permanent standard, by which we can compare one civilisation with another.” If there are transcendent norms for assessing culture, a number of things happen. First of all, we are forced to fight cultural relativism, that nasty habit all too common in the twentieth century to assume that all values that have some time with one’s culture are simply created by that culture, that all cultures create different values, and that it is simply egocentric and chauvinistic to prefer one set of value to another. Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind should have marked the death of cultural relativism. As Bloom argued, “the fact that there have been different opinions about good and bad in different times and places in no way proves that none is superior to others…. On the face of it, the difference of opinion would seem to raise the question as to which is true or right rather than to banish it. The natural reaction is to try to resolve the difference, to examine the claims and reasons for each opinion.”

Cultural relativism not only makes it impossible to assert that, for example, Thomas Jefferson is a more significant thinker than a headhunter from Borneo; it also makes it impossible to claim that Thomas Jefferson is a more significant thinker than Bruce Springsteen. Cultural relativism cuts in several planes. It denies the possibility that one society’s culture might be superior to another’s, and it denies the possibility that one form of cultural expression might be superior to another form within the same culture.
Eliot says that if, on the other hand, there are permanent standards by which we can measure a culture, or some aspect of it, “we can distinguish between higher and lower cultures; we can distinguish between advance and retrogression.”
~Kenneth Myers, All God’s Children And Blue Suede Shoes, 29-30.

avatar James Kabala December 16, 2009 at 1:21 pm

“On the blacklist” was too strong; I should have said “flunks the purity test.”

avatar Nathanael Blake December 16, 2009 at 2:13 pm

This piece is protected from thorough criticism by its dullness. I certainly can’t stomach another read in order to better elucidate its lack of humility, charity, or any genuine wit that might cover for the absence of such virtues.

avatar Rob G December 16, 2009 at 2:53 pm

Although I don’t like Kinkade’s paintings, as I find them kitschy and sentimental, there is something to be said for his work as he at least tries to portray beauty or something close to it. The average person who likes Kinkade may just be a normal guy or gal who, inadequately educated though he/she may be, prefers beauty to ugliness but doesn’t have the discrimination to appreciate true artistic beauty.

To use an analogy, I don’t much like either Percy Faith or gangsta rap. But I know which one I’d rather have the average Joe listening to if it came down to it.

avatar John Médaille December 16, 2009 at 3:04 pm

“I am not so much interested in putting the ‘Christ’ back in ‘Xmas’ as I am putting the mass back in Christmas.” That’s one of your best lines ever.

But you are woefully behind the times theologically. We don’t have Churches now, or even “ministries.” We have ‘fellowships.’ Which is particularly galling to people like me who are particularly tempted to point the 12 gauge at so many of my fellows. Best Krustmas advice? Lock up the firearms.

And DW, you outdid yourself: “The Federal Reserve of Fiat Art.” That says all there is to say about Kincade.

avatar Thomas McCullough December 16, 2009 at 3:20 pm

To Tom:
I can see where you could see a connection between my post and your quotes. I believe you are mistaken. I agree with what you’ve quoted: I am hell and gone from being a cultural relativist.

avatar Tom December 16, 2009 at 3:33 pm

To Thomas:
Yet then what should be said about “pumping up our own smug superiority”? It seems to me that this is relativism clothed in mock humility. If Mr. Peter’s says “such and such is crappy culture, and this would be better,” and you respond, “you’re just a smug s.o.b.”, the result is the same as if you were explicitly espousing relativism. You’ve ended the debate. Mr. Peters is wrong because he’s smug, never mind whether his critique is true. Kincade’s art is either bad art or it isn’t; and if it is bad art, why is it smug for Mr. Peters to say so?

avatar Bob Cheeks December 16, 2009 at 3:38 pm

For my notes, to be found in “The Quotable DW” will be: “It is a treasured ornament, hanging next to the miniature rubber chicken on the Christmas Jew’s 14′ Pagan Totem.”
Now that’s high literature. where we salute the “Christma Jew”!
And, you people, unable to appreciate true ‘art,’ may cast insult and derision on bro Kinkade all you want but I would point out he ‘tips’ more than I make.

avatar D.W. Sabin December 16, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Yes Cheeks, the most important aspect of Kinkades ehhh…uhhh, “art” is the art of making money off of people who think he is an artist and confuse sentimental hokum for something worth looking at, let alone worthy enough to buy for goodly sums. Anybody who thinks the Kinkade audience is “uneducated”, think again, aesthetics have nothing to do with education in this country, nor economic status, nor ethnic background. I’ve seen a cheerful Kinkade homily to thatch-roofed cottages in the flowery wold of some other-wordly seven-sunned planet above $10,000 sofas in $2 million dollar suburban palazzos. But hey, its ok because many people think Congress and the Executive are here to serve the tax paying citizen.

Not to mention the High Comedy of Certain Fairfield County Landed Gentry who spend Princely Sums upon the annual reinserting of flowers in the Giant Jeff Koons Flower Puppy. Ditto his high-tech balloon sculptures which the Madison Avenue Swells swoon over and Damien Hirst’s Diamond studded hyper bling Skull or Formaldehyde Tanked Shark. Satire can be found throughout the art world, from the lowliest Velvet Elvis to the roof deck of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Smug”??!!! hell no, I just think a spade deserves to be called a spade and anybody who mass produces on the scale Kinkade does should not be able to hang a “Fine Art” sign in front of their cash cow without exposing themselves to a little rabid chuckling. What, the people around here starting to lose their sense of humor? Come on, its the holidays here, good cheer and all that. I know its a 24 hour High Dudgeon Horror show out there but geez, must we be required to be charitable to EVERYONE? Must we be chaste and reverent toward even mercenary hacks like Kinkade who, like a lot of the wealthy in this nation, make money hand over fist by never “underestimating the intelligence of the average citizen”?

Rest assured, the children and the Concept…aka the Christmas Jew gets her licks in on me enough so that I remain thoroughly acquainted with the important role of humility in a braggarts life. 15 million Jews in the Diaspora, and I get the Christmas Jew, who likes to watch me inflame my recently busted ribs in search of the perfect mammoth tree…and then cook potato latkes for Chanukah while Alvin and the Chipmunks sing carols in the background and a pork roast sits in the fridge waiting for its climax as a Christmas eve Itralian Porchetta to be shared with Protestants, Atheists, Jews, a Catholic or two and whatever other victim of the pastor up on the Green who likes to spring stories refuting the virgin birth and Zoroastrian wizards as the three wise men on the Eve of the Birth of the Son of God. Kinkade is simply a part of the sweetly piquant quixotica that this country produces like an all night Jazz Party and I for one do not look down on it, I exult in it! Cripes what a SPECTACLE PEOPLE…lighten up.

“Smug”, ….jaysus h but if we did not have a little smug humor left to us, the only thing left to do would be exercising one’s self respect by lighting a tire necklace around one’s skinny neck and dancing a jig till yer medium rare. Peters likes to poke a random thumb and this is a target rich environment we inhabit like a bunch of gutless wankers. Enjoy the show or start reading Appliance Installation Manuals and find a blog that goes dizzy over that.

avatar Marianne December 16, 2009 at 6:04 pm

Ah, Christmastime! I’ve been pretty humbug about it ever since the great Santa Claus Betrayal of 1994, the event in which I discovered that my parents, older siblings, grandparents, several beloved books, television, the mall, and most of the rest of the world had for all my life been acting out a cruel neo-existentialist farce. Why o why have we darkened the memory of St. Nicholas so? It seems that Satan has persuaded adults to let their pre-teens take atheism for a test drive. Insanity.

This is not to impugn the historical traditions of Father Christmas, Sinterklaas, Dede Moroz, and the like. It’s just that the tradition has devolved miserably into nothing much more than a practical joke. Consolation prize for the disabused: Santa Claus or no, you will still get so many awesome presents–maybe even more awesome thanks to your Amazon wishlist (The internet is so much more efficient than sending postcards to an Arctic myth!).

The trouble with Christmas, more than any other time of year, is that it still contains remnants of the traditions we as a culture have been trying to destroy. We’ve got songs and stories and trees and smells and sweets and everything good.

As children we are allowed to participate in all of it with full zeal and innocence. And then, in 3rd grade or so, we are told that a major part of it is just Tim Allen in a fat suit.

It seems to me that our culture has come full circle and bitten its own head off. Oh well. In the end, there may be no saving Christmas. All we have left is the Nativity of Christ, a more sober but joyous occasion. Not such a bad consolation prize, really.

Love the line about Jesus blowing out His candles, by the way.

avatar Thomas McCullough December 16, 2009 at 7:56 pm

Tom, I don’t sense or feel any malice but you continue to not respond to anything I’ve written.

Malice, however, and the enjoyment of malice, and the delights of sharing malice are what make this post more than an expression of opinion. I don’t have much disagreement with what can be untangled out of it of judgment and opinion. But it’s full of hate and my comments were spot on.

I guess if I turn away from this I can only attend rather to all the rest of experience and being which D.W. informs me consists of reading Appliance Installation Manuals.

avatar John Médaille December 16, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Oh, and a word about preparing for Xmas. I had lunch last week at an Orthodox monastery in Romania, which was a bit weird because the monks fast for 40 days before Christmas. So they served us a feast and sat around watching us eat it. But on the brighter side, the lunch was served under an icon of Vlad Tsepish, known to history as “Dracula” or “Vlad the Impaler.” Of course, he mostly impalled the boyars, the oppressive Romanian nobility and upper classes; the peasants thought they had it coming and regarded the whole thing as great fun. Hence the icon.

avatar Cecelia December 17, 2009 at 1:04 am

In my house – we light our advent candle after dinner each evening, say our prayer and sing a fav carol (Adeste Fidelis seems to win most often but the youngers love Silent Night). A tradition passed down through several generations is to make gifts so we are awash in craftiness. I truthfully admit that I do yearn to dump the jewelry box made for me by the young one several Christmas’s ago- lined in purple velvet with silver trim. We still hang on our tree ornaments made from Christmas cards my sister and I made centuries ago in our youth. Nothing gets thrown away in this family.

I love Christmas – I love midnight mass and Come oh Come Emanuel sung for four Sundays in a row at mass. I love making gifts and cookies and fruit cake. I love all the phone calls among family concerning gift conspiracies. I love candles and the smell of pine. I love taking out the manger and setting it up under the tree. I love caroling and going over to the arsenal to give the marines toys for tots – it is so nice to see all those marines working so hard to get those toys distributed. That they are usually young and handsome and in very fine shape doesn’t hurt either. I love the notion that someday we will truly be at peace and those marines can find some other job. And I love the reminder that God became man – as a vulnerable and fragile infant. That the angels sang, that the shepherds came to the stable to worship. What a miraculous season this is. Just resolve to avoid the mall. And re-enactments of the nativity. And Thomas Kinkade Christmas wreaths with glowing lights.

Merry Christmas!

avatar Caleb Stegall December 17, 2009 at 9:29 am

http://www.lancastereaglegazette.com/article/20091217/OPINION02/912170310/Christmas-does-not-need-any-improvements

Keillor nails it. Christmas is a cultic ritual. Save us from the perfect Christmas which is just a way of taming the cult. Save us from the gelicaburblican schlockmeisters peddling kincaidian light and the brilliant proffesorial unidoximysterions despising manger reenactments and Silent Night!

avatar D.W. Sabin December 17, 2009 at 9:37 am

“filled with hate”….hmmm, much latitude here in the definition of “hate”.

avatar rufus December 17, 2009 at 10:21 am

I do understand that there’s beauty to be found in Kinkade… I just wish it wasn’t so aggressive in trying to get one’s attention. It’s a bit like being flirted with by a lovely young lass for whom one feels nothing- uncomfortable to say the least.

Of course, that said, if I had to choose between anything by Kinkade or anything by Kooks, Enim, Hirst, et cetera, I’d probably go with the Kinkade. Or cyanide. Even insincere beauty counts for something.

As for the Norman Rockwell comparisons, perish the thought. Rockwell might have been sentimentalized, romanticized, or a bit corny; but his work was recognizably human and humane. He’s corny in pointing out our human foibles in a gentle way. I can recognize that and enjoy it. With Kinkade, I can’t recognize anything human. His is the world as it will never be here on earth. To me, the result of that, if not the motivation behind it, is contempt for the world and everything in it. I like memento mori images- I agree that we shouldn’t be too attached to this world. However, with Kinkade, I feel a resentment towards our humanly foibles and this earth that unnerves me. Not for nothing have people talked about fascist kitsch.

avatar Brian December 17, 2009 at 10:30 am

Jason:

Lori Branch has done us great service in her Rituals of Spontaneity: Sentiment and Secularism from Free Prayer to Wordsworth, cataloguing the shift from liturgical ritual to aesthetic spontaneity in eighteenth century Britain. She blames Bunyan, among others, for creating a language that is attractively familiar, yet expresses deep, individualized anxiety, giving momentum to “a theology that has come to understand itself almost wholly in evidentiary, economic terms.”

I litter my days with small, possibly meaningless, protests, such as reciting the Shema Yisrael while the rest of the ballpark sings the Star Spangled Banner. Likewise, when someone stands before a gathering and says, “Lord, we just want to…,” I mentally substitute, “Lord, we effing want to…,” as a way of decoding this fraudulent familiarity with ultimate mystery.

In the Western Church, today, Dec 17, marks the singing of the first O Antiphon, “O Sapientia,” as we count the days until the Nativity. In our time, a little wisdom would go a long, long way.

avatar AML December 17, 2009 at 12:46 pm

It is hard to have authentic Christmas traditions in this mass produced era of ours. In England, there was the tradition of wassailing, going door to door singing. People were expected to have “wassail” onhand to distribute to the singers. Sounds like a good time.

avatar Rob G December 17, 2009 at 12:49 pm

I do not like Kinkade’s work. I do not expect anyone who reads this site to like Kinkade’s work. I do, however, understand why the average Joe or, more likely, Josephine, does like him. It’s the same reason why they’d like Rod McKuen or Mantovani: a combination of lack of exposure to better stuff (which doesn’t necessarily equate to lack of taste, as taste usually improves with exposure) and lack of readily-available alternatives.

Really, won’t the average person choose beauty over ugliness most of the time, even if the beauty in question is beauty of a faux, overdone, sentimental sort? Given the sheer ugliness of most modern art, do we expect otherwise?

avatar D.W. Sabin December 17, 2009 at 1:17 pm

It really aint hard to do anything authentic within this mass-produced era of ours…one need only elect to do it. All of us do all manner of ancient and authentic things …sometimes up-dated to the era we inhabit, sometimes little changed from the time of the pyramids. There are also many new things, such as banging away on these here internets which have some degree of authenticity despite their rather detached quality and lack of fleshy immediacy. Though it is pushy and omnipresent, modern mass materialism is still, in many ways, an elective. It has not so much won the war as we have nervously and in boredom…surrendered to it.

In a few days, on Christmas Eve, my immediate tribe will commemorate dearly departed grand dads birthday then we will talk to the absent one of us (two years in a row dammit) getting up in the morning light of Tokyo on Skype before we play host to several families who will come into our house and celebrate the spirit of Christmas in a whole host of ways. We will laugh and cry, some might snore, an argument or two will erupt and we will remember why we are here. We will wear a thick cloak of love and cheer and millions will be doing the same . Then, we will usher the last stragglers out around midnight and my kids will remind me of a longstanding definition of a party I spouted years ago whilst scrubbing bootprintts off the kitchen floor: “A party is when a bunch of nitwits invade the peaceful sanctity of your cave, drink all your booze, eat most your food and leave the place in a gawd damned mess.”. This is called authentic Grinchiness and we will all have a welcome laugh at my expense.

Paper or plastic bags don’t mean nothing in a house of love.

avatar John Willson December 18, 2009 at 7:50 am

Hmmmmmm….D.W. has an older brother. That explains a lot.

avatar D.W. Sabin December 18, 2009 at 9:47 am

Willson,
What might it explain…that I am adept at sadistic reveries or seem to enjoy an occasional pummeling? Actually, I have two big brudders….one, who we refer to as “jughead” a kind of cross between Jack Lalane and Adolph Hitler…..directing us chain gang style in the development of an entire track and field venue in the sagebrush lower forty (I’m not kidding, shot put, broad jump, javelin pitch everything)…while forcing the other brother and I to practice jumping off the carport roof….and the other a particularly insidious fellow who could, if the spirit moved, design an entirely effective psychological warfare program for the CIA. If he was the Kabul Station Chief, every last one of the Pashtun would have by now abandoned their AK-47′s and be meekly engaged in crocheting flowery eyeglass cases for export. Rastus is an unrepentant Palo Alto Liberal now though and would never admit to his more sordid mental capabilities. In fact, the Concept refers to him as the “nice brother” as in “why couldn’t I get the nice brother instead of you”. Little does she know the man is a demonic force.

To the day she died in my forties, ma would introduce me around as her “baby boy”. I miss that. We also have a much younger little sister and she could have robbed a local bank and called from jail and the old man would have asked her sweetly if she was ok. Us, well, cripes but he’d call the Chief of Police and divulge our most productive pressure points but little sister, she was the sweet little “Twit”. I don’t miss living with those two terrifying palookas though…cripes, they ruined me for life. Take just one example: For a while, I bunked with Rastus, and on one particularly long winter night, those two rascals return from a night of checkered debauchery and I awake to whispers in the darkness only to have the lights come on and those two wankers are waving baseball bats at me and wearing Colonel Sanders masks while playing “Inagadadavida” on the tape player. Things like these mark one for life.

avatar John Willson December 18, 2009 at 11:02 am

As I said, D.W., it explains a lot. My mother was nice enough to have me first, and then to wait long enough between brothers that it was an option for me to be good to them, at least once in a while. Our baby sister liked her brothers enough to name her sons after us. My daughters, on the other hand, born so close together that my wife kept asking me what was happening, grew up putting each other in the washing machine and hanging the youngest out the second story windows upside down. They’re all pretty adept at sadistic reveries AND pummelings; like I said, it explains a lot. Colonel Sanders masks? God, I thought it was bad enough when one of my son-in-law showed up with a Hillary Clinton mask. Jason Peters, you started all this and ought to be ashamed of yourself.

avatar Bob Cheeks December 18, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Wow, these confessional moments, herein recorded, of Professor Willson and Herr Sabin do, indeed, reveal certain unique motivations; as in Jungian moments!

avatar Thomas McCullough December 18, 2009 at 1:57 pm

One of the best things about blog streams of intelligent commentary by non-professional writers is the pleasures of original styles, not necessarily easy to read, but richly expressive.(not the muddy gushes of, say, Toni Morrison, nor the style manual trained pretty much everyone else.) Despite his aggressive misapprehensions (at least of me), I’m thinking of D.W. Sabin. But I digress.

I agree about Norman Rockwell. He is an honest craftsman, a good man and a very good illustrator. It is hardly necessary to say he is not a great artist: How many people are? (I recall walking with a naturalist of sorts and looking at the birds she said something about how pigeons are not very good fliers. It seemed somehow mean: I could only think, “Well, they fly a lot better than we do.”)

I don’t think the junk from the Saatchi show, pickled sharks, etc. are all that important. Even the people who pompously defend it don’t like it. That it’s outrageous is the point. Keeping people from liking it is they define and confine it to an elite, their place from which to piss. Kinkade is worse because he corrupts the good.

avatar Tom Piatak December 18, 2009 at 6:40 pm

Cecelia,

God bless you for your wonderfully sane comment. If you are interested in a perspective that could not be further from Mr. Peters’, I humbly suggest you might enjoy mine: http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/index.php/2009/12/17/a-war-worth-winning/

avatar D.W. Sabin December 18, 2009 at 6:56 pm

Cheeks…”Jungian Moments”…..more like Jungian extended nightmares.

Willson, so glad to hear your daughters are adept at the second story dangle. One of the things we took no small scientific interest in was the cranium weight to lanky frame aspect of our brother Rastus who could verily be lowered by his hands a full body length from the roof of the carport only to pitch fully around and land on his head in the remaining 6′. As I was a tad avoirdupois , I would plummet like a sphere, rotating around the center as though a planetary body before hitting and bouncing twice, sometimes three times as the other two scoundrels would throw the basketball at me. But, on the defensive line, I would kill em and inasmuch as I was the youngest boy, the oldest was always quite happy to stomp poor Rastus on a whim for me. Hence his resort to Psyops.

Thomas, , if you think I aint quite easy to read, well, you should spend a day with my beloved wife, the Concept and attempt to just try and understand the actual atavistic person she exhibited such poor judgement in betrothing herself too. My “aggressive misapprehensions ” are one of the principle objects of gleeful satire at home, particularly whensk the chillun is there. I have performed the grave task of inuring the urchins to the insanity they shall confront when abroad in this mad yet frequently funny world.

I made a mistake of hastiness in tying the mercenary Kinkade up with Rockwell. Rockwell was a true artist…of the type now called “illustrator” and his canvases are classics at recording our mid century mythology and zeitgeist. He was also a great story teller and a phenomenal draftsman. A few hours at his museum in Stockbridge , Mass. are worth every minute. He and his pals also used to dress up as injuns on ocassion and terrorize the neighbors…..a few photos of this comic behavior can be enjoyed in the Town Hall and I believe the museum as well. My distinct apologies for placing him in a group with Kinkade, the DNA imprinting “Painter of Light”…or is that sacharine “blight”?

avatar Jim Dooley December 18, 2009 at 10:14 pm

Amen, and amen, and amen.

The day has fallen.

But there shall be a new day, and another, and another.

And the days shall be called Christmas until the people tire.

And say his name.

avatar Rob G December 19, 2009 at 9:21 am

“Kinkade is worse because he corrupts the good.”

Please. While I’d certainly prefer that it was Monet, Vermeer, Constable, or Hudson River School prints that hung on the walls of your average middle-class living room, Kinkade is certainly a more reasonable choice than Warhol, Rothko, or any one of the huge number of untalented hacks producing modern “art” these days.

While sentimentality may, from one angle, be a corruption of the good, from another side it can be a plea for or a grasping at beauty in a culture where beauty is often hard to come by. I grew up in a solidly middle-class family in a solidly-middle class suburb. My parents were neither common nor “classy,” but quite conventional, and their tastes ran in that direction. I cannot fault them for listening to Percy Faith and 101 Strings rather than Bach and Tchaikovsky — they had little or no exposure to music of the latter sort. But I’d argue that the former were far better choices than Iron Butterfly or The Doors, or even (dare I say it?) Elvis or The Beatles.

I have no problem criticizing sentimental bourgeois art. However, it seems to me that while doing so one should be cognizant of the perspective of the consumer of such art, and also what alternatives he has. To do otherwise seems to me to be rather snobbish and elitist.

avatar Bob Cheeks December 19, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Rob G, FPR bloggers and commentors “snobbish and elitist?” No, say it ain’t true. BTW, loved your comments!

avatar Ian Fly-Slayer December 19, 2009 at 5:17 pm

What’s the beef with Kinkade? The principal complaint seems to be the number of suns in his compositions. A careful survey of a great deal of western art, including luminaries like Raphael, will not discover uniform astronomical orthodoxy, I should think.

avatar Fr. Jonathan December 19, 2009 at 9:31 pm

Thanks again, Jason.
Some of my present folk (i.e., in my diocese) would add an additional corrective to your Krustian Krissmus blues: move yourself back to the Julian 25th, which the rest of the world inaccurately and insensitively dates as January 7th.
I do not. Celebrate in the Liturgy 13 days before I do. Nevertheless, the celebration begins and is rooted at the Table, in the apostolic feast. God bless you for daring to say that the mass in Christmas, missed, inevitably removes the Christ.
No matter the calendar, Christmas should be bittersweet, filled with cold, light, the earth, a the God-man Who restores human nature in particularity, surely an agrarian commendation.
It is bittersweet this year, with the sudden and tragic loss of +Archbishop Job.
But the Prince of Peace doth reign nevertheless, despite the Krustian cartoons that indicate otherwise.
Christos Razdajetsja!

avatar Bruce Smith December 20, 2009 at 11:17 am

Appreciation of art largely seems to be about what lateral thinking risks you are willing to take to stimulate your understanding of life. Its kinder to yourself accepting that others have the psychological need and right not to take these risks.

avatar Brad Evans December 21, 2009 at 12:29 am

Reading about modern religion and its “ministries”, I am more and more relieved to be an atheist.

avatar D.W. Sabin December 21, 2009 at 10:27 am

If impugning “mercenary pandering” is one of the definitions of being an “elitist”…then put me on the list with joy. Frankly, there is a kind of antipode in this country which has nothing to fear from the paltry recondite adherents to skill. There is an Elite Of Dumbass, anti-intellectual, anti-skill and wholly obsessed with the flash in the pan possibilities of the commercial marketplace. “Elitist”…what a tired pejorative.”Elitism” assumes there remains a class of people in this country with the discrimination, intellect, resources and courage to promote skill, deep spiritual endeavor and benign neglect of commercial interests to an extent that we produce truly historic qualities of artistic output on a level befitting a nation with pretensions to greatness.

It is not that it does not occur in this remarkable country, it is simply that it is generally lost in the avalanche of a more crass and pedestrian output. The few times it breaks out into popular culture, such as with American Jazz, we amply demonstrate the fecundity of this country when we revere fearless and joyful levels of skill.

Beauty is not hard to come by in this country at all. It remains all around us and simply requires diligence and a steady mind to seek it, rather than surrendering to the narcotic of the wretched output of our vicarious agora and its Elitism of Dumbass.

Elitism……wagh! …. what a simplistic slur, throw me in the briar patch some more.

avatar Rob G December 22, 2009 at 5:16 am

Please note that nowhere did I call anyone an elitist. What I said was that the action of criticizing middle-class artistic sentimentalism without considering the perspective of its consumers seems to me to be elitist. I stand by that.

I do, however, agree with much of the rest of D.W.’s post, especially the part about beauty being lost in the avalanche of the common and the average. I believe that this supports my point; as I said above, beauty is hard to come by. And if the average person mistakes Kinkade for beautiful “art,” or Transsiberian Orchestra for “classical music,” or whatever, I’m not prepared to fault them for choosing those expressions over other less wholesome, ugly ones.

I’ll take Bruckner or Sibelius over Andrew Lloyd Webber anyday. But I’ll say nothing bad about the man or woman who chooses Lloyd Webber over Korn or Green Day or the latest (c)rap travesty.

avatar James Vayne December 29, 2009 at 12:40 am

The public at large has many virtues. Refined artistic taste and religious sensibility aren’t usually counted among them.

It has always been so and always will be so.

To point this out is elitist, but it is also true.

It seems to me that the saner path is to own up to elitism, but acknowledge that it isn’t always such a bad thing.

Then, admitting that it’s okay to have elites, maybe we can have more realistic expectations for the majority. We can call schlock schlock, but we don’t need to get caught up in absurd crusades to make everyone above average or try quite so hard to broadcast our elite credentials by trashing the tastes of the majority.

I don’t know … that’s my reaction to this. Peters writes well enough and his criticisms are all valid, but megachurch attendees and Thomas Kinkade fans just seem like such easy targets that there’s something ungentlemanly about setting them up as one-dimensional caricatures and taking them down with such vigor.

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