Thinking Out Loud

December 26, 2017

Of a Christmas Yet to Come

Filed under: Christianity, Christmas, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:31 am

This is the third of the four stories we’re presenting over the Christmas season; two by myself and two by my wife.

by Paul Wilkinson

The Winterfest parade snaked its way down the main street and stopped near the town hall where, as had been the custom of the past few years, local performers entertained the crowds which had followed the parade’s last float.

You could still sense a little unease, particularly among the older residents at the changes which had taken place. By the start of the 2020s the so-called “silly debates” about saying “Merry Christmas” had ceased and had been replaced with genuine interest in the historical roots of the season. But now, here we were a decade later, the few remaining local churches had lost their tax exempt status and the mere verbalization of partisan religious sentiment had become a misdemeanor.

I was so relieved not to have to have this event as an assignment. The reporter for the regional news organization I work for didn’t dare use the C-word, and even when covering things in an historical sense, or clarifying the laws, I had to get special permission to include it in an article.

Especially upset were those who had held membership in local churches which had closed. I stood next to two men who I’d seen in one church the week of its final services.

“Sure ain’t what it used to be,” said the one.

“No it isn’t,” said the other.

They left it at that, speaking a forced code because city police were milling about and any sustained references could constitute an unlawful assembly. Better to save that for the living room of a private home.

It is strange though how they look the other way sometimes. It was widely rumoured that a few weeks before the 25th about 60 of the faithful attended a house meeting in a suburban neighborhood, parking their cars at the mall to avoid attention. When nearby residents confronted the situation the town said they knew about the event and that it was a “discussion of philosophical and ethical concerns” to avoid it escalating into a mass confrontation.

I remember just a few years ago when business owners were told that signs and decorations bearing “Merry Christmas!” should not only be removed, but that they should be taken to large bins where they would be pulped and recycled. “Season’s Greetings!” and “Happy Holidays!” replaced them, but in quiet whispers I often would tell friends that the word holiday actually means… well, you know. I don’t think anyone envisioned how far things would go.

As the talent portion of the program began, I chose a spot standing next to Mayor Jason Herold whose reputation is such that everyone else is afraid to be anywhere near him. We know each other personally, and generally get along.

The selections this year were especially traditional and they had invited some talented younger vocalists from other cities to participate; I wondered if perhaps they had won a contest or something like that. First, a girl from a nearby city did a jazzy version of Winter Wonderland and then a boy from a town several miles west with an incredible vocal range did Sleighride and at one point we all sang Deck The Halls.

Next, a young man stepped to the platform and completely unaccompanied began to sing,

Once in royal David’s city
Stood a lowly cattle shed
Where a mother laid her baby
In a manger for his bed.

Everybody knew where he was headed with this and a few people turned around to glance at Mayor Herold at the same time as two members of the police also looked as though waiting for a cue from the Mayor.

“Let him finish it,” was all he said.

…Mary was that mother mild.
Jesus Christ, her little child.

Mayor Herold left the spot where we were standing and slipped backstage as the young man, his voice shaking, sang all five verses. As he left the stage he was escorted by the two uniformed officers into a waiting cruiser, his eyes filled with tears.

As my colleague would post to our website, “The talent portion of the Winterfest parade was marred when a guest ameteur artist performed a song which was deemed inappropriate. He was charged under the recent act banning public religious expression and released several hours later to await further trial.”

In the meantime, I decided to walk nearby where the two men I’d seen earlier were standing.

“Sure ain’t what it used to be,” said the one.

“No it isn’t,” said the other.

As I made my way to the parking lot, I heard more than one person humming the tune. It seemed that with each try to suppress Christmas it seemed they were making it stronger. As I keyed in the code to unlock my car I heard a woman singing openly,

…Mary was that mother mild.
Jesus Christ, her little child.

Seconds later, who should walk by but the two men I’d been watching all day.

“Mayor Herold seems quite upset,” said the one.

“Yes, they must have contracted out the printing of the evening program to some place where they don’t know him,” said the other; “They’ve misspelled his name without the letter “l” in all three places.”

I turned around to go back to grab a souvenir copy of that since it was a sure bet he’d find a way to get them reprinted before the event started.

“Sure ain’t what it used to be,” said the one.

“No…” said the other, “If you look back, I think it’s always been like this.”

 

 

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May 12, 2009

Turkmenistan Censors All Forms of Religious Literature

turkmenistan flagThey confiscate books, Bibles, calendars containing Bible verses and even laptop computers.    When the laptops are returned, Bible software has been deleted.  When asked who makes the decisions, they refer to “the commission.”   When asked who sits on this commission, the phone line is suddenly cut.

Turkmenistan-mapTurmenistan is located north of Afghanistan and also borders on Iran and Ubekistan.   The ban affects all manner of Protestants and sects such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, though ethnic Russians are more likely to get personal materials returned if they appeal.

All this information comes from a news release earlier today from Forum 18 News based in Oslo, Norway.   The source of the story is as interesting as the story itself.   F18 News is an online service affiliated with a Norwegian-Danish charity.   It explains its objectives…

Everyone has the fundamental human right to freedom of thought, conscience and belief. This is firmly established in international law, notably in Article 18 of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The first part of both articles states:

“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

F18 LogoForum 18, named after these paragraphs, expresses this fundamental right as:

The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
The right to join together and express one’s belief

Forum 18 is a Christian web and e-mail initiative to provide original reporting and analysis on violations of the freedom of thought, conscience and belief of all people, whatever their religious affiliation, in an objective, truthful and timely manner. It mainly publishes on the former Soviet states, notably Belarus and Central Asia, but also publishes original work on states such as Serbia and Turkey. Forum 18 works for religious freedom for all on the basis of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Forum 18, on the theological basis of the Incarnation, affirms that each person – whatever their belief or non-belief – has a fundamental dignity which no state or person can take from them. Therefore, Forum 18’s work affirms that religious freedom – including the right to have no religion and to criticise any religion – is a fundamental human right essential for the dignity of humanity and for true freedom.


To read today’s story, click here, and then use the navigation bars to read other stories or find out more about F18.

September 4, 2008

WWKD? – What Would Kermit Do?

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:26 pm

A sculpture in northern Italy depicting a crucified green frog holding a beer mug and an egg could be soon removed from display after Pope Benedict condemned it as blasphemous.

The board of the Museion museum in the city of Bolzano was meeting today to decide whether to comply with the wishes of the Pope… Reuters reported.

…Franz Pahl, the president of the regional government, was so enraged by the sculpture he went on hunger strike to demand its removal and consequently ended up in hospital during the summer.

…Claudio Strinati, a superintendent for Rome’s state museums, told an Italian newspaper today that censoring the work would be wrong.  “Art must always be free and the artist should not have any restrictions on freedom of expression,” he said.

Read this story, taken directly from The Guardian (UK) in full here; or, if you still think you’re being had, the Associated Press story (August 28) here.

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