Thursday, December 21, 2017

December 21

This passage from Paul’s letter to Titus and the new believers in Crete admonishes them—and us—to deny “worldly lusts.” The bombardment of advertising and its message that we “need” this and that, or a “newer and/or better” version of something we already have, is 24-7, 365 days a year in our country, but seems especially ramped-up as we approach Christmas. As I write this only a few days before Black Friday/Black Thursday, my mind goes to the annual images of shoppers queued up to dash into stores to fight over the biggest sale items, sometimes even hurting one another in the process. I hear and ask myself, “what do you want for Christmas” much more than “what do you need.”

My wife recently introduced me to a new choral work with the provocative title, “Reasons for the Perpetuation of Slavery,” by the composer Elizabeth Alexander, who also penned the poem. You can read about the piece, listen to a performance, and read the complete text at, but I’ll share here some of it. Slavery, Alexander painfully reminds, is still all around us. Because so many are in bondage to “the persistent perception of greener grass,” and “unstoppable wanting,” many, many more are enslaved economically and even physically. Our “cultivation of need” exacts “the price of keeping the prices low.”

The poet lists some of the “endless prepositional possibilities” we use to justify this. My wife more bluntly calls this section “the litany of excuses.”

As a short-term solution, in the interest of progress,
'Til my head's above the water, 'til my feet are on the ground,
For the good of the nation, for the company, for my family,
Despite a few misgivings at the present time,
By hook or crook, behind closed doors,
Beyond our borders as a very last resort,
Between you and me, beyond my control,
On the cheap, on the sly, with my back against the wall,
Out of sight, out of mind, out of my hands,
Under the radar, under the gun, under the table, around the law,
In for a penny, in for a pound, in for a lifetime —
Just this once.

“What do you want for Christmas?”

Submitted by Alan Baker

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