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Thursday, December 23, 2010

It’s a Wonderful Life

He appeared in a body, Was vindicated by the Spirit, Was seen by angels, Was preached among the nations, Was believed on in the world, Was taken up in glory.” — I Timothy 3:16 (New International Version) Merry Christmas!

To many of us, the season wouldn't be complete without at least a few scenes from "It's a Wonderful Life." The movie wasn't much of a hit when it was first released just after the Second World War, but it's acquired quite a following since — and even a certain critical acclaim.

But there are those who still give it a thumb's down. Years ago I read a (too) critical analysis of "It's a Wonderful Life" by a professor of American Studies at Boston University. His conclusion: “While the movie shows that life can be an enriching Norman Rockwell experience, it also can be smothering, where you end up marrying the girl you went to high school with, and you never get to go to Europe. It tells us George is one of the most sad and lonely and tragic characters ever imagined. I cry when I see it."

That's about the only similarity between the professor's take on the movie and mine — because I've shed a few tears myself over "It's a Wonderful Life." But not for the professor's reasons. Nothing in the movie seems as sad to me as the professor's analysis of it. Take it from somebody who ended up marrying his high-school sweetheart: A tragedy it isn't. It can be a comedy, an education, a dance to the music of time, that and a lot more. But a tragedy? Please.

Not all the characters in the movie are heroes. And not every banker is a George Bailey. With his camera eye, Frank Capra saw the sordid Potterville inside every wholesome Bedford Falls. He saw the jealousy, envy, greed and misplaced values. There's that devastating moment when George sees his friend driving off to Florida, complete with homburg, plaid suit, limo and a wife out of the 1940s' Good Life catalog, fur piece and all.

At that moment, like the professor in Boston, George sees his life as tragic. All he can think to do is gaze at his own old jalopy and kick the door. He's convinced he's missed The “Chance of a Lifetime”. And here he is stuck in a miserable little town that's never going to be anything but a miserable little town. He doesn't see how important, how central, how essential he's been — until Clarence, his bumbling guardian angel, opens his eyes.

The movie is a celebration of the ordinary middle-class virtues -- like fidelity and family, not to mention hope, faith and charity. Virtues that aren't nearly ordinary enough in these times, or in any other.

While doing research for his book Dupes Paul Kengor discovered a document buried away in the archives of the old Soviet Union that urged the ACLU to pursue lawsuits against schools for the singing Christmas carols. In the 1930s the ACLU began with a suit against a California school to ban the singing of Christmas carols. Fortunately the suit was thrown out of Federal Court, but the ACLU was just getting started.

The document went on to state that one of the ways to bring Communism to the United States was to break down the influence of churches by using the courts, with selected progressive judges, to rule against any displays of religious symbols or traditions.

Roger Baldwin, the first director of the ACLU, was a communist. He explains in his book, Liberty Under the Soviets, “I joined. I don’t regret being a part of the Communist tactic, which increased the effectiveness of a good cause. I knew what I was doing. I was not an innocent liberal. I wanted what the Communists wanted.”

William Z. Foster, then National Chairman of the Communist Party USA and an ACLU co-founder, is famous for this 1932 quote: “The establishment of an American Soviet government will involve the confiscation of large landed estates in town and country, and also, the whole body to forests, mineral deposits, lakes, rivers and so on.” He was the author of "Toward Soviet America".

Since then, the Left has redoubled its efforts to reinforce the mythical "wall of separation between church and state," assuming, as is now common, that those words originally penned by Thomas Jefferson to some of his constituents in Connecticut, supersede the only language in our Constitution concerning such a constraint.

Across the United States, celebrations for what many Americans now refer to as the "C word" have been all but restricted to churches and private homes.

In Wichita, Kansas, a local newspaper ran an apology after referring to a "Christmas tree", rather than a "community tree" at the city's Winterfest celebration. In Denver, a Christian church float was barred from the city's parade while Chinese lion dancers and German folk dancers were welcomed. In parts of Florida, fir trees have been banned this year from government-owned property.

A mayor in Massachusetts issued a formal apology to anyone offended by a press release that mistakenly described the town of Somerville's holiday party as a "Christmas party". Schools in Florida and New Jersey have banned all carols and elsewhere in Washington state a school principal banned a production of A Christmas Carol mainly because Tiny Tim prays: "God bless us, every one."

In one New Jersey school district, where the singing of Christmas carols has long been abandoned, officials have this year forbidden children's orchestras to play songs such as Silent Night because that might remind people of their Christian content.

Frosty the Snowman and Winter Wonderland have, however, been deemed acceptable as they are devoid of any religious references.

That errant assumption, however, lacks even a shred of validity, and it was certainly not Jefferson's intent.

Our Founders were rightly suspect of any encroachment by government upon religious freedom, and they codified a proscription against such in the First Amendment of our Bill of Rights. It reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

And yet, through decades of liberal interpretation of the so-called "living constitution," the Left has adulterated the authentic document via judicial diktat to comport with whatever agenda it desires.

How is it that we've come to this place in our nation's history? How is it that the God who endowed us with "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" has been expelled from the public square under the supposition that religion and politics are antithetical?

Even Barack Hussein Obama, while cynically citing our Declaration of Independence in five public speeches recently, omitted the words "endowed by our Creator" from its context. Indeed, our president even proclaimed during an international forum that our national motto is "E pluribus unum," when it is, of course, "In God We Trust."

The unavoidable Truth is that our nation is founded on the principle that rights of man are endowed by God and not subordinate to the will of other men. The exclusion of God from the public discourse, then, is the objective of those who believe they are the arbiters of the rights of others, and who thus use "separation of church and state" as a means to that end.

This battle — between those who seek to conserve our endowment by God, so that God can rule through the hearts of men, and those who seek to separate us from God so that their chosen men can rule over all others -- reflects the fundamental spiritual battle between God's purpose for us and our desire to be our own God.

Thus, the battle between Liberty and tyranny is really the battle between Light and Dark, which brings me to this perspective about the origins of the celebration of the birth of Christ in December.

The early church did not observe the celebration of Christ's birth. Annual year-end celebrations in the first centuries AD were predominantly pagan festivals associated with the winter solstice on the ancient Roman calendar.

The Puritans did not recognize Christmas as a day of celebration, in fact they did not celebrate much of anything except that we are all sinners in the eyes of God. Jehovah Witnesses do not celebrate Christmas, but they deny no one the opportunity to do so. I know that as I have a close friend of is a Jehovah Witness

History does not confirm for us who instituted the tradition to also celebrate Christ's birth at that time of year, but they were a brilliant lot. Pagans celebrated the solstice because it was the longest day of winter darkness, and because it thus heralded the season's change and the promise of more light and longer days, the growing seasons upon which they depended for life. Isn't that precisely what Christmas represents, the dawn of a new season of Light through the birth of Jesus?

For most of us, Christmas is a collage of our childhood memories and family traditions. As I child growing up during the days of World War II I did not have much in the way of toys. There were no X-Boxes or Wiis, no electronic games to play. Toys were made of compressed sawdust or cardboard. Games like Chinese checkers and Monopoly were in vogue. I can remember with clarity my father and I walking, in the snow, to the store to get my present, a Gilbert Erector Set with an electric motor. It was shortly after the war had ended and such toys were now available, but he demand was high so my erector set had to be backordered.

We always managed to have a Christmas tree, albeit scrawny and small that would shed its needles two after it was put up. Our ornaments were family heirlooms and the lights were the kind that when one bulb went out the entire string went dark. Hours would be spent searching for the dead bulb hoping the replacement you had was not defective. I think one of the best developments for Christmas was the parallel lighting strings where only one bulb went dark when it burned out, not the entire string.

While toys were scarce family was not. We always had family gatherings for Christmas. There were aunts, uncles and cousins at our house for Christmas dinner. And of course there was midnight Mass where as a member of the boys choir I would sing.

Stores were decorated with an abundance of Merry Christmas signs and when the signs began to proclaim Xmas there was a campaign to put “Christ” back into Christmas.

Today we live in a society where to proclaim “Merry Christmas” in public is considered bad taste or in some cases an offense against the community. Even the Dickens’ story, “A Christmas Carol” is being banned in public schools because Tiny Tim proclaims “God Bless us, every one.” Somehow this is thought to be offensive to some people.

The secular left wants to replace Bedford Falls with Pottersville. It’s their way of creating a socialist state where we all live in misery.

I sometimes think of that professor/film critic at this time of the year. I hope he's had many a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year since he wrote that silly review — and, yes, a wonderful life.

As Calvin Coolidge stated; "To the American People: Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. If we think on these things, there will be born in us a Savior and over us will shine a star sending its gleam of hope to the world."

At the risk of offending some, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

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