I wrote what follows early in the morning before going to a much-dreaded brunch with distant kin. I was already exhausted from the recently passed festivities, and the thought of having to face yet another trial vexed me; so I was in a bad mood while writing; but now that the thing is over (I’m adding this intro after returning home) I feel chipper again – everything went fine, and it was nice to see family and to talk about X, Y, and Z. In fact, now I’m a little embarrassed about the tone of my pre-party broodings; but I’ll share them anyway, for the sake of _________ (choose a virtue).
Just when I thought I had made amends with Christmas, the holiday strikes again. I forgot that December 25th lasts for weeks. Manifold additional Christmases pop up before and after the official day, to satisfy extended family and out-of-towners. I enjoy seeing relatives and acquaintances; that’s not what bothers me: it’s the anxiety that precedes each event, and then pervades and lingers after each event.
What kind of performance do the Christmas-folk want from me? I have nothing in common with anyone: I don’t follow sports, I know too many religions, I don’t care about a career or businesses or the stock market, I’m not a believer in rock music, I neither quilt nor fix cars, and all college-talk bores me.
And though I admire almost all of the teachings of Jesus which are recorded in the canonical gospels, I know that I myself am every bit as important as Jesus, and so are you. So my attitude is: Why all the fuss over this dead poet, when we’ve got someone NEW right here in the flesh!?
One of exactly thirteen possible comebacks to that outburst is: But Jesus isn’t dead, haven’t you heard? “And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.” (Luke 24:51) He rose from the grave and ascended into the outer darkness of space, where he rests with the LORD.
Yet that happens to us all; for Ecclesiastes (1:7) says that “unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.” And the same source (12:6-7) tells even more clearly what succeeds our common death:
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
I know that stand-up comics and funny movies have touched on this next point, but it’s worth belaboring: Way too much is made of the infancy of Jesus. The mere birth of Jesus is not so important. What’s important is his teaching, which gets ignored perhaps because it’s notoriously difficult – not to grasp, but rather difficult to follow: Sell all that you have, and give to the poor… It’s nearly impossible for rich folk to get into heaven… Forgive everyone, even your enemies. (Will the LORD himself uphold that last one, with regard to Satan?) I find it revealing that so many believers honor Jesus’s birth and death, at the cost of all the life that transpired between those two points.
What I just wrote is something I’ve written before, I now realize. Pardon the obsession, I’m feeling combative this morning – I expect to be clashing with evangelicals shortly. Here’s more rehash:
I never tire of recalling the fact that Jesus left us not one written word. Every speech attributed to his mouth was actually composed by some other writer’s mind. This abstention from authorship I take as an indication that Jesus distrusted the medium of text. For scribe just means writer, and Jesus said: “Beware of the scribes…”—or, rather, the scribes Mark and Luke have said that he said that. (Mark 12:38; Luke 20:46.)
But what if I’m wrong about that last assumption? What if Jesus refrained from writing down his teaching NOT because he was against writing in general, but, contrariwise, because he wanted to invite the participation of upcoming auditors? Maybe he knew how important it would be for his future students to flesh out his message with their own creative impulses; for to learn strictly by rote yields a barren type of knowledge, which stunts further growth. Maybe it was Jesus’s intention, by his own life’s example, to plant the seed of Duchamp’s famous stance: The viewer completes the artwork. I think that Jesus was as onward-and-outward as Walt Whitman: “He that by me spreads a wider breast than my own proves the width of my own, / He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher.” Also I quote this next passage often, because it’s well worth reviewing – here is Ralph Waldo Emerson, from his “Divinity School Address,” speaking of Jesus:
One man was true to what is in you and me. He saw that God incarnates himself in man, and evermore goes forth anew to take possession of his world. He said, in this jubilee of sublime emotion, ‘I am divine. Through me, God acts; through me, speaks. Would you see God, see me; or, see thee, when thou also thinkest as I now think.’
Does it seem comical to consider what type of automobile a prophet would drive? Or to think of a prophet using one of the modern social networks on the Internet? If we insist that sages, seers, and magi ONLY remain clad in ancient garb, and if we’re ONLY willing to conceive of them as taking part in archaic activities, we are, in a soft way, barring from our own era the possibility of spiritual eminence. To find the idea of a modern prophet laughable, because we dare not admit divinity as commensurate with present-day life, is to deny God the chance of ever appearing. (Should it give believers pause: the fact that I, an atheist, find this irksome?)
So, after leaving for a spell and then coming back to Earth, I re-re-re-read the foregoing and deemed that it needed more blandness; that’s why I’m freewheeling this postscript.
I’ll start by copying some definitions out of the dictionary. A tabard is a capelike garment. A surcoat is a loose outer gown. A bearing is a charge or device on a field. A coat of arms is a tabard or surcoat blazoned with bearings. An escutcheon is a shield or emblem bearing a coat of arms. And heraldry is the system by which coats of arms and other armorial bearings are devised, described, and regulated.
Before researching these terms, I thought of the realm of heraldry as having to do exclusively with ancestries; but now I know that it can cover individuals, countries, and even corporations. Why did I grow curious about this topic? Because I was thinking about the relation between three distinct things:
- a coat of arms, which I assumed was like the flag of a particular family, whose head is its matriarch;
- the culture or mythology of a religion, which encompasses a group of people who are not necessarily related, and whose head is its highest god (bear with my vagueness here – I’m only thinking sketchily, for fun);
- the name, boundary, or flag of a country, which denotes a geographical area, law, citizenry, etc., whose head is the King or Male President or Male Prime Minister or Big Boss Man or Brutal Dictator Alpha Male Supreme or Divine Emperor.
Now multinational or transnational corporations can move about, and go in and out of countries. A country has a flag; a corporation has a brand. Sometimes a corporation has multiple brands. A country can acquire additional territories, and it can also lose them. Puerto Rico is an unincorporated U.S. territory. The American Virgin Islands are an insular area of the United States. And C.E.O. means “Chief Executive Officer”: the highest-ranking person in a company. I wonder who is more powerful, the C.E.O. of our epoch’s most profitable multinational, or the Czar of D.C. (Maybe it’s the exact same malefactor.)
A person can join a religion. A person can be born into a family. Parents can adopt a child from a foreign country. Corporations can merge. On occasion, when humans merge, new humans result. Although some people consider corporations to be people, it’s unclear whether an individual human can safely merge with a corporation’s legal personhood. Is it possible for a corporate merger to precipitate mass media? I don’t see why not. Can a corporation go to jail? Never. Why? It’s simply not ladylike.
What I’m trying to show is that our world keeps reorganizing its matter and its beings. The trick is to weasel your way into the winning cabal.