It all depends on your vantage point

Opinion: Columns

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By Tom Holmes

'Men! You're all alike," Alice scowled at the men sitting around the table at the Main Café as they discussed the major events of 2018. "It's been half an hour since you came in here and I haven't heard you mention the Me Too Movement once."

Dominique winked and said, "Hey Alice, we have a lot of ground to cover. We were going to bring that up eventually."

"Yeah sure, Dominique. You sit there in your corner office on the 52nd floor of the First Chicago Bank Building. From that perspective, what do you know about what working-stiff women like me have to do to survive in a man's world?"

"Well for one thing, Alice," said Dominque, even-tempered, "have you ever been pulled over for driving while black?"

"That's different!"

The man in the Brooks Brothers suit knew he didn't have a prayer of getting the crotchety waitress to see things from his point of view, so he responded, "Hey Alice, I'm hungry. I'll have two eggs over easy, hash browns and wheat toast buttered."

Pastor Walter Mitty had started the discussion with the Saturday morning men's fellowship group four days ago by saying he wanted to preach a sermon the next day in which he would try to assess the state of the world as 2018 came to a close.

Ryan Becker said, "You all know I'm no liberal, especially when it comes to the importance of the family. But right now I feel like a liberal conservative. I mean on the one hand I decry the deterioration of the family in this country, but at the same time I feel terrible about how this administration is taking kids away from their parents at the border."

Asch brought up disrespect for the flag. 

"I hear liberals using the word 'patriotism,' but they talk about Colin Kaepernick as if he should be enshrined on Mount Rushmore."

"With all due respect, Asch," said Ryan Becker, "Kaepernick was being very respectful when he starting this whole kneeling thing. That's what we will do at the communion rail when we receive the sacrament tomorrow morning. That whole controversy is overblown. What should really be at the center of our attention is climate change. If we don't reduce carbon emissions drastically and soon, we won't have a world to live in … at least not a world in which we can breathe without coughing."

The list of major events grew: the Parkland School shooting, Democrats taking over the House of Representatives, the death of George H.W. Bush, the income gap, the achievement gap, fake news, crime in the city, moral decline, polarization, childhood obesity, Robert Mueller, collusion with the Russians, Donald Trump's Character. If the men didn't have other things to do last Saturday, the list would keep growing until lunchtime.

As Pastor Mitty walked home, he didn't feel like he was any closer to knowing what to say in his sermon than he was when the alarm clock woke him up at 7:30 that morning. If he went by the number of problems brought up at the men's breakfast, his sermon would be about how the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

Not only had the list of issues kept growing but the guys couldn't agree on what to do about them. Dominique and Sean Pfeiffer, for example, had agreed there was too much poverty in the richest country in the world, but Sean wanted the federal government to do more about poverty and Dominique wanted Washington to get out of the way.

After making a sandwich for lunch with summer sausage he bought in Manitowoc when he visited his sister-in-law and his two nephews at Thanksgiving, Pastor Mitty went to the church office, located next door to the parsonage. He turned up the heat and sat down at his desk. 

Feeling a little silly, he thought, "Maybe I'll get some inspiration from the Bible," and reread the Christmas story in the gospels of Luke and Matthew, which had the effect of adding to his confusion regarding what to say. There were some nice parts to the story he knew so well. There was Mary's song of joy at how God had favored her and the song of the angels that put such a joyful spin on the whole event. 

But if you looked at the narrative from Mary's point of view, giving birth to the savior of the world didn't go the way she imagined — pregnant before getting married, giving birth in what amounted to a homeless shelter, becoming refugees in Egypt to escape being killed by a paranoid, ruthless ruler.

"Maybe I need to listen to some Christmas carols to lift my point of view," Mitty thought, so he tuned the radio on his desk to the station that played non-stop Christmas music during the month of December.

To his surprise, whoever had done the programing had inserted Louis Armstrong into the play list.

I see skies of blue … Clouds of white

Bright blessed days … Dark sacred nights

And I think to myself … What a wonderful world.

The colors of a rainbow, so pretty in the sky

Are also on the faces of people going by

I see friends shaking hands, sayin' How do you do?

They're really sayin' I love you.

And it dawned on the pastor of Poplar Park Community Church that it depended on your point of view, your vantage point during the holidays. If things are going well, Christmas is the happiest time of the year. But if you've just lost a loved one or a job, it can be the most difficult.

Earlier that week he had been looking for Christmas cards at Judy's Card and Gift Shop and noticed that almost everything in stock had romantic, sentimental imagery. "Christmas lite," thought Pastor Mitty. 

"Maybe that's what I need to say tomorrow," he thought, as he turned off the radio and began to write. "The Christmas story wasn't written by Norman Rockwell, after all." He laughed. Nor was it written by Alice. It includes both sides of life. There is joy in the story and at the same time an acknowledgement that life sucks sometimes. 

That's why the narrative is so powerful, he thought. 

Because it's real.

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