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2020, signing off

Some true believers are keeping the lights on

The Discourse, 2020
The Discourse, 2020

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a sign that’s been cropping up around my neighborhood of late. A few days ago, I spotted a rejoinder. On the one hand, I tend to agree that slogans have a way of blunting the conversation. On the other hand, the beauty of a good slogan is its graceful unity; it’s constructed such that you can’t take issue with it without looking awkward. Ackchually, America was already great. Ackchually, all lives matter. Best to come up with your own pithy bit.

You could even skip the sloganeering and proffer a pamphlet: another neighbor placed a pile of pages offering Perspective in their produce basket. Chew on this, passersby: “Gov’t: 4 trillion in stimulus mostly to big corporations and banks, and crumbs for us. Estimated 100 million households in America. Four trillion divided by one hundred million equals $40,000 per household to make it through the Coronavirus. Where is gov’t priority? Not us. They divide us through our identity as Republican and Democrat so we never point the finger at the ultra rich as the problem. Let’s find common ground with each other and move forward.”

All organic arguments!

(And on the other other hand, it’s worth paying attention to that opening phrase: “In this house, we believe…” You can catch a whiff of religiosity from “In this house,” the way it echoes Joshua’s “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” But it’s what follows that really sends the message: “We believe.” The sign is a credo, a statement of faith. And how do you argue with faith? I mean, you can come up with plenty of arguments for or against this or that article of a creed, but in the end… well, perhaps there’s a reason that “faithful” also means “steadfast.”)

Speaking of moving forward: the last of the Trump signs has come down from the houses I pass on my morning walk. Properly speaking, it was a flag, deep blue and almost tasteful. Trump 2020: Keep America Great. Less outrageous and confrontational than the Trump 2020: No More Bullshit flag that flew from a pole mounted atop the garage that serves as my local polling station. (Less confusing, too; it’s hard to run on a “No More X” platform when you’re the incumbent.) But that one is down as well. People are still talking about stopping the steal online and on TV, but these folks are done testifying to their immediate neighbors. Not so, the house on the corner with the Biden-Harris banner still stretched across its porch eaves. Political Christmas may have come and gone, but some true believers are keeping the lights on, squeezing all the joy they can from the season.

Print media, 2020

Meanwhile, for the rest of us, regular Christmas has arrived. My toddler loves our nighttime tours of the local lights, but she especially loves the 15-foot inflatable Abominable Snowmonster at the end of a nearby street. He hails from Rankin-Bass’s 1964 TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. A nearby house features a front-window mural of Heat Miser and Cold Miser from their 1974 effort The Year Without a Santa Claus. Because what is Christmas if not the celebration of childhood — even if the kids who grew up watching those specials are the parents now? (Maybe especially if.) The old answer to that question is Jesus’ birthday, the Light behind the lights. And it’s true that there are numerous crèches. But who can see them any more? The grand one up the hill features a plywood Bible open to John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world…”), but this year, it includes a political-style yard sign for those who have grown numb to the Good News.

I sympathize. I am sure that some souls have responded to 2020 by clinging tighter to faith and its promises: the pandemic has served as a devastating reminder that this world will not be made into paradise, so it is wise to set your sights on the next one. I am sure that the locked-down months away from public worship made some long for its return as the parched earth longs for rain. But what I experienced was more the withering of a branch cut from the vine, and I suspect I am not alone. Why else would someone paper this page onto a utility box in Little Italy?

“Welsh in those days remained Welshmen wherever they went, whether to the Welsh-speaking colony deep in the interior of Argentina, or to the coal mining towns of Pennsylvania where I grew up. They spoke and sang and prayed in yr heniaith, the old tongue. So it was with German and Swedish Lutherans. So it was with French and Italian Catholics. They had cultural homes, thousands of miles away from where they were born, and they had them though they had hardly gone to school at all. But the modern man in his cave, the mass man, has no such home, even if he has graduated college and still lives in the basement of his parents’ house.”

Whoever it was and whatever their reasons, I’m glad they did it. It struck home in a way that it surely would not have if a friend handed me some theo-philosophical journal and suggested I check out the essay on civilizational decline. (I can barely bring myself to watch movies that other people suggest, even people whose taste I admire.) Glued to that box, shredded and stained, it was a sign in the wilderness from one wanderer to another.

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The Discourse, 2020
The Discourse, 2020

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a sign that’s been cropping up around my neighborhood of late. A few days ago, I spotted a rejoinder. On the one hand, I tend to agree that slogans have a way of blunting the conversation. On the other hand, the beauty of a good slogan is its graceful unity; it’s constructed such that you can’t take issue with it without looking awkward. Ackchually, America was already great. Ackchually, all lives matter. Best to come up with your own pithy bit.

You could even skip the sloganeering and proffer a pamphlet: another neighbor placed a pile of pages offering Perspective in their produce basket. Chew on this, passersby: “Gov’t: 4 trillion in stimulus mostly to big corporations and banks, and crumbs for us. Estimated 100 million households in America. Four trillion divided by one hundred million equals $40,000 per household to make it through the Coronavirus. Where is gov’t priority? Not us. They divide us through our identity as Republican and Democrat so we never point the finger at the ultra rich as the problem. Let’s find common ground with each other and move forward.”

All organic arguments!

(And on the other other hand, it’s worth paying attention to that opening phrase: “In this house, we believe…” You can catch a whiff of religiosity from “In this house,” the way it echoes Joshua’s “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” But it’s what follows that really sends the message: “We believe.” The sign is a credo, a statement of faith. And how do you argue with faith? I mean, you can come up with plenty of arguments for or against this or that article of a creed, but in the end… well, perhaps there’s a reason that “faithful” also means “steadfast.”)

Speaking of moving forward: the last of the Trump signs has come down from the houses I pass on my morning walk. Properly speaking, it was a flag, deep blue and almost tasteful. Trump 2020: Keep America Great. Less outrageous and confrontational than the Trump 2020: No More Bullshit flag that flew from a pole mounted atop the garage that serves as my local polling station. (Less confusing, too; it’s hard to run on a “No More X” platform when you’re the incumbent.) But that one is down as well. People are still talking about stopping the steal online and on TV, but these folks are done testifying to their immediate neighbors. Not so, the house on the corner with the Biden-Harris banner still stretched across its porch eaves. Political Christmas may have come and gone, but some true believers are keeping the lights on, squeezing all the joy they can from the season.

Print media, 2020

Meanwhile, for the rest of us, regular Christmas has arrived. My toddler loves our nighttime tours of the local lights, but she especially loves the 15-foot inflatable Abominable Snowmonster at the end of a nearby street. He hails from Rankin-Bass’s 1964 TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. A nearby house features a front-window mural of Heat Miser and Cold Miser from their 1974 effort The Year Without a Santa Claus. Because what is Christmas if not the celebration of childhood — even if the kids who grew up watching those specials are the parents now? (Maybe especially if.) The old answer to that question is Jesus’ birthday, the Light behind the lights. And it’s true that there are numerous crèches. But who can see them any more? The grand one up the hill features a plywood Bible open to John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world…”), but this year, it includes a political-style yard sign for those who have grown numb to the Good News.

I sympathize. I am sure that some souls have responded to 2020 by clinging tighter to faith and its promises: the pandemic has served as a devastating reminder that this world will not be made into paradise, so it is wise to set your sights on the next one. I am sure that the locked-down months away from public worship made some long for its return as the parched earth longs for rain. But what I experienced was more the withering of a branch cut from the vine, and I suspect I am not alone. Why else would someone paper this page onto a utility box in Little Italy?

“Welsh in those days remained Welshmen wherever they went, whether to the Welsh-speaking colony deep in the interior of Argentina, or to the coal mining towns of Pennsylvania where I grew up. They spoke and sang and prayed in yr heniaith, the old tongue. So it was with German and Swedish Lutherans. So it was with French and Italian Catholics. They had cultural homes, thousands of miles away from where they were born, and they had them though they had hardly gone to school at all. But the modern man in his cave, the mass man, has no such home, even if he has graduated college and still lives in the basement of his parents’ house.”

Whoever it was and whatever their reasons, I’m glad they did it. It struck home in a way that it surely would not have if a friend handed me some theo-philosophical journal and suggested I check out the essay on civilizational decline. (I can barely bring myself to watch movies that other people suggest, even people whose taste I admire.) Glued to that box, shredded and stained, it was a sign in the wilderness from one wanderer to another.

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