From A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Chapter 1

…Meanwhile the fog and darkness thickened so, that people ran about with flaring links, proffering their services to go before horses in carriages, and conduct them on their way. The ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell was always peeping slily down at Scrooge out of a Gothic window in the wall, became invisible, and struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards, as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there. The cold became[19] intense. In the main street, at the corner of the court, some labourers were repairing the gas-pipes, and had lighted a great fire in a brazier, round which a party of ragged men and boys were gathered: warming their hands and winking their eyes before the blaze in rapture. The water-plug being left in solitude, its overflowings suddenly congealed, and turned to misanthropic ice. The brightness of the shops, where holly sprigs and berries crackled in the lamp heat of the windows, made pale faces ruddy as they passed. Poulterers’ and grocers’ trades became a splendid joke: a glorious pageant, with which it was next to impossible to believe that such dull principles as bargain and sale had anything to do. The Lord Mayor, in the stronghold of the mighty Mansion House, gave orders to his fifty cooks and butlers to keep Christmas as a Lord Mayor’s household should; and even the little tailor, whom he had fined five shillings on the previous Monday for being drunk and blood-thirsty in the streets, stirred up to-morrow’s pudding in his garret, while his lean wife and the baby sallied out to buy the beef.
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Foggier yet, and colder! Piercing, searching, biting cold. If the good St. Dunstan had but nipped the Evil Spirit’s nose with a touch of such weather as that, instead of using his familiar weapons, then indeed he would have roared to lusty purpose. The owner of one scant young nose, gnawed and mumbled by the hungry cold as bones are gnawed by dogs, stooped down at Scrooge’s keyhole to regale him with a Christmas carol; but, at the first sound of
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“God bless you, merry gentleman,
May nothing you dismay!”

Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action, that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog, and even more congenial frost….

Day 2 of Advent. I submitted my first dissertation grant application today, which is very festive in some sense.

I chose today’s reading for a few reasons, the three primary ones being that it is relevant to the season, that it is prose, and that it is very good prose. I have a bunch of stuff to say about the reading, but it’s really pretty tight, so I’ll leave it at that at this late hour and instead, explain a little bit about my goals for this lectionary.

My wife and I are both atheists who look back fondly on our Christian upbringings–we got a lot of really good values and some really fantastic traditions,–ethically, morally, institutionally and aesthetically. I think we both have had much more complicated feelings in the past, but the truth is that neither one of us really felt like the religion of our parents mistreated us or robbed us of some ability to think or feel.

What’s more, we think religion is really important, and that moral and ethical issues are paramount, and that traditions are something to examine, yes, and evaluate, but also to value and pass on. Unlike a lot of atheists–in particular, the hard core of atheism, as represented by Daniel Dennett, Chris Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins (to whom 10 points on the articulate thinking front but minus several hundred on the good PR, ya d-bags)–we think faith does more good than harm by a fair mark, although it could use a dose of humility in its prognostications, to be sure. We just don’t believe it any more, and haven’t for some time.

That said, I still like singing the hymns, and I don’t see any need to take Christ out of Christmas–I got into a discussion with Cheryl about how there’s a lot to be gained from leaving Christ in Christmas–whether or not you believe in his divinity (or even his historical existence, for that matter), the mythos inherent in the story of the birth of a child destined to save the world through his exemplary life of goodness and mercy is just so damn powerful.

On the other hand, the lectionary–which is a pretty cool tradition, gearing up for Christmas and all, (although obviously, the parallels to gearing up for the second coming fall a little flat with me)–doesn’t really speak to me and what Advent and Christmas are for me (especially the Old Testament bits with all their apocalyptic fury), so I decided to look for Advent-related and spiritually-minded flotsam and jetsam that will help carry some of my Christmas spirit on from year to year and out into the world.

I know it’s appropriation of someone else’s tradition, and to the extent that one man can harm the Church, and by extension, all its Parishioners, I apologize. I’m taking it anyway. It’s cool and I want it and you can’t stop me.

So Lectionary Day 2. Tomorrow maybe some Dismemberment Plan lyrics? Or actual scripture? Dec 7. is evidently some kind of Buddhist holiday so maybe I should read up on that and see how it dovetails. Let me know if you have any ideas!

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