What's Tony Thinking

On the Second Day of Christmas


On the second day of Christmas . . . a snow storm in Seattle. The snow is swirling in the west wind blowing off Puget Sound, making me think of Dylan Thomas who wrote of the snows at Christmas in his seaside Welsh town, “All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea . . .”

In Germany this day is called “Zweite Weinachten,” Second Christmas. A lifetime ago, in 1970, we were living in Cologne, Germany on this day and got in trouble with our landlady, Frau Vinnemeier, when Linda hung our wash out to dry. Frau Vinnemeier was having none of it. You didn’t hang wash out on “Zweite Weinachten.”

When, last evening, I wished our grandson, Levi, a “Happy Zweite Weinachten,” he bent his head as if to say, “What?” “Second Christmas,” I explained, “remember Christmas has twelve days.” He thought this a promising idea and went to tell his sisters, “There are twelve days of Christmas.”

The morning news brings word of the death of Desmond Tutu, a giant of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and a saint of the faith.

Tutu helped me by articulating a crucial distinction, that between a religion of virtue and a religion of grace. Christianity, he said, is the latter not the former. “A religion of virtue,” explained Tutu, “tells us, if you are good, then God will love you. But that’s not Christianity. Christianity is a religion of grace. A religion of grace says, you are beloved. Trust this — that you are loved — and live.”

We’re also remembering the writers bel hooks and Joan Didion who died earlier in the week. I’ve not read hooks. Maybe now. Linda has one of her books.

There was an excellent essay in the NYT by Michiko Kakutani on the “Prophetic Eye” Joan Didion cast on America. Here’s a bit:

“In 2003 she [Didion] wrote even more explicitly about how our political process not only spurns consensus but also works by ‘turning the angers and fears and energy of the few’ against ‘the rest of the country.’” That, alas, has become even more pronounced now, two decades later, Trump and Fox News being chief among those priming the bile pumps of anger and fear.

Kakutani notes Didion’s interest in narrative, how we are given to ordering the disorder through narrative. This can be helpful, but not always. It can become an exercise in self-deception and manipulation. “Narratives, Didion suggests, can provide order, but that order can also be an illusion — or, worse, in the case of political spin masters, a disingenuous connecting of the dots meant to sell false gods and shoddy goods.”

Finally, there was a Christmas Day Washington Post article on clergy leaving the profession at least in part because of pressures and stresses of the pandemic and political polarization. Today is our daughter, Laura’s, final Sunday service at Bethel U.C.C. in White Salmon, Washington. Between COVID and snow, she can’t catch a break, as the two combined will make it hard for many in her congregation to be there in-person for their final worship service together. This makes me sad.

It’s been like that through most of her two and a half years at Bethel. One can call it “stressful,” and it has been that. But it’s more than that. If your work involves being with the people, as ministry does, the pandemic has meant a special and constant grief of presence disrupted. She’s handled it well and we’re, of course, proud of her. Her sermon today is titled, “Why I Still Believe in the Church.” You Go girl.

And two turtledoves to you all.


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