It’s a little difficult to square the Christmas message of “peace on earth …” and the body bags arriving from Mosul. Or is it? The rise of Christianity was, as is true with all innovations, spiritual or material, a reaction to a bankrupt & intolerable status quo. And then, a thousand or so years after the First Christmas, Martin Luther had had enough with what he saw as the corruption of the dominant church, posted his theses … and launched the Protestant Reformation.
The masterwork of the great philosopher of science, Karl Popper, was titled Conjectures and Refutations. We create a hypothesis, test it, and if it stands up to scrutiny it supplants what came before. For a while! There is no definitive “last word,” but merely today’s best effort. In short, to paraphrase the political scientist Charles Lindbloom, whose work I assiduously studied three decades ago, man “muddles through”—in war, peace, religion, economics, management, a career.
Iraq may eventually be judged a disaster. Or it may in fact have begun a Middle Eastern march to democracy and modernity. We don’t know. For heaven’s sake, I spent Christmas 1966 and Christmas 1967 in Vietnam; nearly 40 years later, I’m still not sure whether or not that war was necessary!
Yes, we muddle through. But that’s not as bad as it sounds. The idea: We do indeed try our damnedest … to create a safer and more liberated world, a less corrupt version of the spiritual life (the Reformation). And at Christmas and during this “holiday season,” and despite grotesque commercialization, most of us pause and spend more than the usual amount of time appreciating friends and relatives. Take the company Christmas lunch. Sure, it is often a boozy affair, a little short on conventional “spirituality,” but it is also a rare opportunity to relax and joke with colleagues, to swap stories about what your kids and their kids are up to … that is, to pause and for a moment be quintessentially human.
Consider me. I had a lovely day yesterday amidst the hustle and bustle (and honking horns) of little Manchester, VT. Sure, the lines in various stores were “annoyingly long” … or were they? In the course of a 4-hour shop, and many a line wait, the highlights were clearly not the gifts I was purchasing. The highlights, the true gifts, were the dozen or more conversations with pals and acquaintances I rarely see. In fact, I’m going on a mostly unnecessary shop today … mostly on the off chance of a few more conversations. That’s perhaps the deepest meaning of the Season.
Speaking of Conversations …