“His law is love and his gospel is peace.” Tonight, the prophecy rings true.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows — light! sunbursts of light! You repopulated the nation, you expanded its joy. Oh, they’re so glad in your presence! Festival joy! The joy of a great celebration, sharing rich gifts and warm greetings. The abuse of oppressors and cruelty of tyrants — all their whips and clubs and curses — Is gone, done away with, a deliverance as surprising and sudden as Gideon’s old victory over Midian. The boots of all those invading troops, along with their shirts soaked with innocent blood, Will be piled in a heap and burned, a fire that will burn for days! For a child has been born — for us! the gift of a son — for us! He’ll take over the running of the world. His names will be: Amazing Counselor, Strong God, Eternal Father, Prince of Wholeness. His ruling authority will grow, and there’ll be no limits to the wholeness he brings. He’ll rule from the historic David throne over that promised kingdom. He’ll put that kingdom on a firm footing and keep it going With fair dealing and right living, beginning now and lasting always. The zeal of God-of-the-Angel-Armies will do all this.”
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Believing is Seeing
On the opening drive of the recent ACC Championship game, Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett scored on a controversial 58-yard run before blowing kisses to the crowd in the end zone.
The controversy surrounded Pickett’s fake slide, which froze Wake Forest’s defenders and allowed him to gain 40 additional yards to score.
Recent efforts to protect quarterbacks have led to stiff penalties for defenders who hit a sliding college quarterback. Because the rules are so stringent, players are coached to pull up to avoid contact when quarterbacks began to slide, which Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson mentioned after the game.
“You just train your players, as soon as your quarterback starts sliding, you stop because if you touch him it’s going to be a penalty. He started his slide, and our kids stopped playing.”
Had the defensive players gone all-in at Pickett and the quarterback actually did slide, penalty flags galore would have flown, with a likely ejection for a member of the Wake defense.
The criticism was immediate and widespread: Chris Simms (“It makes me want to puke. …It’s cheating”); Stephen A. Smith (“That’s unacceptable”); Domonique Foxworth (“insurance fraud”); Rob Ninkovich (“I’m not starting a business with that guy”); and Rich Eisen (“he has written a very large check that officials…will allow defenders to cash”).
Not surprisingly, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi saw things differently. “I think it was called instincts,” Narduzzi said. “I think it was a heck of a football play by Kenny Pickett.”
Pickett, in his own words, “started to slide” but “I saw their body language – they pulled up as well… I … kept going after I initially started to slide”) and defended himself (“It was an instinct thing”) but expected the rule to be changed. He was right.
The NCAA banned the fake slide less than a week later. “Remember, the rule was originally put in place to protect sliding ball carriers, and defenders have learned to hold up and back off. If we allow the fake slide, the defense may now not hold up, and we could see many unnecessary and dangerous hits,” NCAA national coordinator of officials Steve Shaw explained.
Pickett’s action wasn’t sportsmanlike, but his response to the rule change was a good one.
Sports Illustrated @SInowThe NCAA Football Rules Committee has banned the "fake slide" move that led to a 58-yard TD during the ACC Championship, sources confirmed to SI's @ByPatForde It was fun while it lasted, @kennypickett10 😬 https://t.co/1EPQ7LgNcI
By this point, most readers here have at least a passing acquaintance with behavioral finance and its lead actor, confirmation bias, whereby we see what we want to see, accept these desires as truth, and act accordingly. What we “find” is most often what we wanted or expected to find all along. Thus, none of us is surprised that Kenny Pickett and his coach find his fake slide acceptable – brilliant even.
We like to think that we see the world as it truly is. The difficult and dangerous reality is that we tend to see the world as we truly are. C.S. Lewis wrote in The Magician’s Nephew, a children’s book that is so much more, that, “What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.” For all of us, all too often, believing is seeing.
When we grab a glass of what we think is apple juice, only to take a sip and discover that it’s actually ginger ale, we react with disgust, even when we love the soda. We quite naturally try to jam the facts into our pre-conceived notions and commitments or simply miscomprehend reality such that we accept a view, no matter how implausible, that sees a different set of alleged facts, “facts” that are used to support what we already believe.
Pitt fans didn’t see what the rest of us did.
As Oxford’s Teppo Felin points out, “what people are looking for – rather than what people are merely looking at – determines what is obvious.” Believing is seeing and not the other way around.
Comfort and Joy
If you’ve seen one Hallmark Christmas movie, you’ve seen them all, which is not to say you won’t watch them all. Hallmark Christmas rom-coms adhere to stylized rules and a formula which, like Bach themes, allow for endless variations. They’re a different sort of Christmas decoration but, like regular Christmas decorations, they start showing up a little before Halloween. It usually goes something like this.
A Sad Single Woman has a good career in the city and a boyfriend everybody else knows is wrong for her. Despite her “perfect” life, she’s a bit sad, knows something isn’t right, and is lacking in Christmas spirit when she must return to the idyllic small town where she grew up for the holidays. Upon arrival, SSW runs into her high school sweetheart she admits remains easy on the eyes (or he’s a disguised royal). Anyway, he is obviously perfect for her. Fate puts them together to run the town Christmas Tradition that is in real trouble….
Why don’t I just show you?
After the old boyfriend is (agreeably) dispatched, an inevitable (but minor) misunderstanding with the new one resolved when she “goes to him,” and the small-town best friend convinces SSW to follow her heart, they discover together the true magic of the Season, sealed with a dry kiss under the mistletoe, and live happily ever after as fake snow falls and credits roll.
In the weeks leading up to The Big Day, Hallmark regularly ranks as cable television’s most-watched entertainment network in primetime. Over 50 million people watch Hallmark Christmas movies each year, and they aren’t all women. During the most recent ratings week, Hallmark garnered more viewers than every cable network but Fox News, beating ESPN, CNN, MSNBC, and everybody else. This year saw 40 new Hallmark Christmas movies plus imitators from Lifetime, Netflix, Great American (the new upstart), Peacock, and others.
It shouldn’t be hard to figure out why. Hallmark movies offer tidings of comfort and joy by providing a delivery mechanism for one of the more powerful themes in literature – the longing for home. The novelist Walker Percy, for example, saw the key mystery of humanity in our inborn homesickness.
“It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. …It lets us travel the way a child travels – round and around and back home again – to a place where we know we are loved.”
Dwight Eisenhower (later 34th President of the United States) returned to Abilene, Kansas, on June 22, 1945 to a parade welcoming him home and honoring his leadership as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe during World War II. After watching the celebration, his grateful acceptance of the recognition began as follows.
“Because no man is really a man who has lost out of himself all of the boy, I want to speak first of the dreams of a barefoot boy. Frequently, they are to be a streetcar conductor or he sees himself as the town policeman, above all he may reach to a position of locomotive engineer, but always in his dreams is that day when finally he comes home. Comes home to a welcome from his own hometown. Because today that dream of mine of 45 years and more ago has been realized beyond the wildest stretches of my own imagination, I come here, first, to thank you, to say the proudest thing I can claim is that I am from Abilene.”
Every time someone asks if my children and their families will be home for Christmas, I get a lump in my throat. I get the same feeling on Christmas Eve, in church, receiving and passing candlelight while singing “silent night, holy night, Son of God, love’s pure light.”
This longing, this love, is endemic to humans. Maybe, just maybe, it reflects something universally true. Perhaps, as Frederick Buechner explained, “home, finally, is the manger in Bethlehem, the place where at midnight even the oxen kneel.” I call it the Hallmark apologetic.
May each of you truly be home for Christmas.
Totally Worth It
Kirsten Powers (in Saving Grace): “Grace is good for the world, but it’s also really, really good for you. It keeps you from giving away your power or becoming that which you oppose. When you reject the revenge, aggression, domination, and retaliation that are the hallmarks of our culture and respond with grace, you bring peace into the world. You bring peace into your heart…. It is substantial and muscular. It is a force in its own right. It is our strength in times of trouble. It points us to the possibilities in people and in our country. It conjures up images of something more than what we have – of a place where the idea of the “other” does not exist. Grace is an idea worth saving, and in the end, it might just be what saves us – in ways we have not yet imagined.”
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Gracious God, in this holy season of prayers and songs and gifts and laughter and love, we praise you for the great wonders you have sent: for a shining star and angels’ Gloria, for the infant’s cry and a mother’s love. We praise you for the Word made flesh in a little Child who dwells among us, the King of Kings born in a feeding trough, all your grace in one tiny face.
Inspire us as we proclaim the ironies of Christmas: the incomprehensible made plain, the poetry shown true, the helpless Babe who breaks the world asunder to let in your glorious light. Your anthem drowns all music but its own, even when it’s a lullaby whispered by a teenager in the darkness before dawn.
We kneel before you shepherds, sheep, innkeepers, oxen, wise men, asses. My we rise more than we are. Amen.
Thanks for reading. Merry Christmas.
Issue 94 (December 24, 2021)