Franke: A Christmas Hope for All
A good friend of mine, now sainted, was a professor of theology at our local Lutheran seminary. He had a brilliant mind that was manifested in a pastoral heart. He was known for his pithy statements, expressing profound points in a handful of words. Recently I was reminded of one such. It is quite apropos today, probably more so than when he said it.
“Hatred is simply chilled and hardened anger.”
Why write about hatred in the week of Christmas? Blame it on the book I am currently reviewing for the Indiana Policy Review’s quarterly Journal.
“Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation” by journalist David French addresses the chasm that is widening between red and blue, urban and rural, coastal and inland. One frequently recurring word in French’s counterfactual scenarios is “rage.” Extremists on both ends of the ideological spectrum respond with rage at others’ political actions, rage that is all too infectious to contain once it starts. It is my friend’s “chilled and hardened anger” run amok.
This is the third book about a potential breakup of our union that I have reviewed, all projecting a dystopian future for America, should America even survive. Yet each also proposes a way out of this crisis. That way out is predicated on a major attitudinal shift for all of us, a shift away from anger and hatred and intolerance, and toward understanding and constructive engagement and kindness.
In a word: Hope.
What better time of year to talk about hope than Christmas? For us Christians it is a time to reflect on that ineffable miracle of God becoming flesh to redeem a rebellious creation. We may try to limit God’s grace through our unkind thoughts, words and actions but God can’t be marginalized by our failures. Even non-Christians benefit from the feeling of good will that comes about each year at this time.
If one finds all this too Christian to be universal, then recall the Greek myth of Pandora’s box. After she unleashed all sort of evil into the world, with the best of intentions to be sure, Pandora was left with just one thing in the box — hope.
Whatever one’s faith or lack thereof, this season should give us hope that we can rise above our basest inclinations. It must start in our hearts where we hold what is most dear, hearts that have room even for those with whom we disagree. The human condition requires that we open our hearts to those we want to shut out, and our nation desperately needs for all of us to do so if we want to avoid the apocalyptic scenarios in French’s book.
For my own mental health I put French’s book aside until after Christmas. Instead, I watched the “Muppet Christmas Carol” with my youngest grandchild. I’m not sure what message a four-year-old took from it but I find something different to ponder each time I read the story or watch a movie based on it. This year I focused on the Cratchit family, impoverished by Victorian standards and certainly by our modern ones, yet thankful for and content with what blessings they received. Bob’s Christmas dinner toast honoring Ebenezer Scrooge is instructive. We may find Scrooge despicable and past redemption but Bob sees good in the miser who provides him employment.
It is Tiny Tim, although facing a life of crippling pain and financial dependency, who sums it up best: “God bless us, every one!”
Or even better, as the angels proclaimed to the shepherds that night: “Glory to God in the highest, and on the earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14 KJV)
Even though this is the darkest of my 70 Christmases, the simple message of the angels hasn’t changed. We need peace and good will now more than ever. Looking back to that historical event of 2,000 years past is where we will find it. There is the source of my hope.
I know of no other place where it can be found.
Mark Franke, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review, is formerly associate vice chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.