Abrahamic Faiths, Aldi Spumante, Apple i-phone, Away In A Manger, Ayatollahs, Bethlehem, Carol Service, Christianity, Christmas, Dan Brown, David ben Gurion, Guantanamo, Herod, Iran, jerusalem, Jesus, Jews, keffiyeh, Mary & Joseph, Nokia N72, Pharisees, Pontius Pilate, Rag Head, Samaritan, Syria Palaestria, Terry Jones, The Crusades, The Pope
So there I am, perched on a slightly undersized plastic chair in a primary school hall in a in East Sussex.
It’s the Christmas Carol service
The stage and floor are populated with a shifting mass of variously aged primary school children including my own sweet daughter at the upper end in Year 6.
The reception age children at the front fidget and paw at their own slightly chewed sleeves and faces and selves as if in the throes of climbing out of their baby skins with every word line and note they sing and squawk.
The Carol that captures my attention is one that refers to the cold manger and Mary and Joseph wrapped up against the chilly Bethlehem night. The animals and human’s shivering against the creeping desert cold.
And this is why it struck me.
I wonder whether he of the golden bird’s nest head, notionally in charge of one of the most powerful economies and militaries in the world, ever really considers the long thread that connects his uber-Christian, god-fearing heartland to the descendants of the characters in the nativity play?
I wonder whether, as he sets a geopolitical bomb under the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, it strikes him as absurd that the child of that Virgin Birth, if he turned up now, would probably find himself stripped and shipped to Guantanamo Bay sharpish.
Setting aside the claim and counter claim regarding POTUS’s purported IQ of 156 (rendering him a genius apparently) let’s just say that even placing Trump’s intellect at a ‘respectable’ level, there are quite a few pointers to more than just an absence of emotional intelligence and cultural sensitivity at work here. (No Shit).
To say there is an incoherent, plastic and highly malleable politic and principle at play here is to understate a little.
But the bit I’m really interested in is this: which Christian myth is he playing in his head when he makes these gestures. That of the russet-haired Jesus of the Renaissance – pale skinned, wan, plying his flock with loaves and fishes? Or that of the reactionary, disruptive and contrarian sage – inviting both Jews and gentiles to convert to his way? Or is his the Christianity of Dan Brown, a lofty, East Coast Coffee Shop version cauterized from any whiff of the rocky, dusty, impoverished and unleavened truth of Palestine and its peoples in 33AD; Jew or otherwise?
I like the Renaissance version just for its aesthetic but the would require me to be able to picture Golden Spun Hair Man swooning over a Titian, which I can’t (though if, like St Augustine of Hippo, Jesus was perhaps of Berber stock, the russet-haired, blue-eyed Jesus could be a possibility) so I’m erring towards the Dan Brown model. I’ll go for Action Christian (I’m sure there is a play figure in this somewhere) with the odd scattering of a conspiracy cooked up by those in power (secret societies and the Papal Prelate) against the masses (God-Fearing Christians just trying to be Jimmy Stewart) for good measure.
Any other version requires him to observe that the source of spirituality in his heartland resides in the rocky hills of Bethlehem and its surrounds. Which means…yup, rag heads.
Disregarding the highly contentious, theologically and racially charged topic of the colour of Jesus’s skin (most likely black or of a distinctly dark tint: not a high point of conversation I sense in an all-white Alabama chapel) the one simple fact is that by all accounts Jesus was what might be called both a Jew and (to quote Action Movie Christian Guy) potentially a ‘rag head.’ And let’s not forget he was also an insurgent acting in some ways against the prevailing religion of Judaism and the prevailing rule of Roman Law to which Herod and his Religious leaders submitted themselves.
So as I sit transfixed by the soaring feats of one tousle-haired 6 year-old girl who is managing to chew her lip, twiddle with her hair, talk to herself AND mouth the words to Away In the Manger all at once, I wonder what it would require of Donald and his heartland to be truly Christian.
(And when I say Christian, I mean the ascetic 34-38AD out-of-Palestine version of Christian Past, freshest in the mind and closest to its turbulent chilly, dusty, poverty-racked beginnings. I certainly do not mean the bloated, bearded ugliness of Christian Present, slumped in a piss-stained, vomit-flecked corner of the year between early October and New Year’s Day, the tyre tracks of the ‘holidays are coming’ lorry scarring up its arms, cheeks wet with Egg Nog and Aldi Spumante, new i-phone X clutched tight in its cold, dead hand, rictus thumb hovering over the Samaritan’s Festive Phone Number; an expanding pool of disappointment staining the floor beneath it.)
If the Christian Holy Scriptures are to be believed, to follow Jesus in his purest, imitative (meme-like) sense is to flout the prevailing Judaic hierarchy and its over lords. Put another way, to be Christian one must flout the prevailing ruling Judaic principal in Palestine – Herod & The Pharisees (Israel) and also that of its Master, Rome (The United States of America) with its iron-grip on Jerusalem. Confused? You will be.
So, if that is true, is that god-fearing U.S. Christian heartland supposed to be for Trump and his proclamation of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel or against it? Discuss.
And in the light of the destitute, marginalised, travelling tribes of Syria Palaestria, what’s that god-fearing heartland Christian meant to really think of that Immigration Ban?
A lot of those countries are within or teetering on the edge of The Cradle of both broader Civilisation and particularly the Abrahamic Faiths – and many are ‘one in faith’ with them. To dismiss them or close them out is to act against faith.
And anyway, regardless of whom those countries on the Banned List might sneak around US Homeland Security, aren’t we already dancing with the devil of fundamentalism? – buddied up with a close friend and ‘ally’ whom could fund and place more bombers and lorry crashers in the UK and US than everyone on the Immigration Ban combined?
Let’s set aside the slightly uncomfortable long-term alliance between the U.S of A. and the ever-charming House Of Saud (and its penchant for propagating its theological alliance with the teachings of Al Wahab – Wahhabism – and the violent conversion of those beliefs) and just bring it down to a ‘news’ and views level for the moment. What do we see? What informs our myths and beliefs. And let’s think about those in the light of a manger on the outskirts of Bethlehem populated with three people and a some livestock.
Let’s consider all those pictures we see on the news feeds, of ‘dodgy’ armed insurgents or ‘rag heads’ creeping around the likes of Mosul. (I am sure that I read somewhere that David Ben Gurion was branded a terrorist before he was lauded as a state builder but maybe I’m reading the wrong books.)
When we look at them what do we see? They certainly look the part for their role in our darkest cautionary tales and propaganda.
Most particularly let’s start with the signature of the insurgent, peaceful or otherwise – lets start with that ‘Rag Head’ – the colloquial derogatory phrase for someone from the Middle East wearing local dress including the keffiyeh.
Now Mary and Joseph would have sported some form of head dress, especially in the long, hard trek to Bethlehem atop a donkey.
Anyone who has experienced the cold of a middle-eastern night will know that wrapping up is a must. And a ‘rag’ for wrapping the head is essential wear.
The Jewish Couple and their child that we worship, living in the Roman Province of Syria Paleastia, would have been, to the unseasoned eye, a couple of rag heads with a baby. Their look. Their baby. Theirs would be no different to the faces we see looking up and out of those boats that bump up on the sandy fringes the Mediterranean and Aegean seas.
Good job they don’t have to come begging for accommodation in Thurrock on a cold winter’s night. They’d probably get a good kicking and shoved in a skip for good measure.
Well mate, they all look the same don’t they! Come round here looking for a hand out!? So we gave them one. Oi!
(As Terry Jones pointed out in his series on the Crusades, our ‘they all look the same to me’ principle has been generously applied to our middle-eastern cousins since records of our ‘relationship’ with them began, leading in the First Crusade to the stalwart Christian Knights and their horde massacring the men, women and children of the largest Christian city in the Holy Land, mistaking them for Muslims. Whoops.)
And given the likely nature of Jesus’s dress and demeanour, if he turned up on a subway train or bus, many ‘god-fearing’ Christian people would be checking the look of his back-pack, suspiciously eyeing the old Nokia N72 in his hand, held together with 10 year old Christmas Reindeer tape – and wondering whether the straps in his sandals contained some form of explosive.
So, as we sing these carols, and these children chew their sleeves, scuff their feet and sing their hearts out, for whom are we singing in the global sense of Universal Human Suffrage? Everyone? Christians? White Western Christians? Jesus? Jesus’s Mum? Palestinians (Jewish & Arabic)? Rag heads? Western Jews? Eastern Jews? Repentant Romans? The Poor? Impoverished society? The disenfranchised? The subjugated? The lost children? The Insurgents? The Lovers? The Dreamers? (OK, I’m slipping into Kermit’s Rainbow Connection but you get my meaning hopefully.)
The madness – the cat’s cradle of power-play Geopolitics, militia funding, Homeland building, oil trading, border bartering, religious polemics, spurious ethnicities, brutal fundamentalism – should defy the simplistic Monopoly Board machinations of Trump. But no. The staggering, ill-informed, over simplification of highly complex issues followed by global ignominy are his forte. Not that he cares. That’s exactly why he applies it. With one proclamation, he dumbs the whole debacle into a Bumper Sticker. He patently feels he’s got a handle on this Middle Eastern stuff. So screw ‘em.
So I return to my wondering. About that myth. I wonder who he thinks of when he sings lines like Lord. Prince of Peace. Redeemer. Who does he picture? The socio-psychopath in him might be thinking ‘Me’. But the Jerusalem proclaimer? Who does he see in his mind’s eye?
When he sings Little Donkey, does he see bodies scattered along the road to Damascus?The ragged in the refugee camps? Children un-swaddled against the Syrian winter? The people at the outer edge of the middle-eastern census?
Or does he see the muscular Christianity of the bearded, Brad-Pitt-like Jesus embodied in a ‘ripped;’ and luminescent white marble statue in the building of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints opposite the Science Museum in London.
When he makes a proclamation like that, which gallery is he playing to?
The uber-Christians who still believe that ‘Jews are satan ’cos the nailed up the Lawd!’
Or the white picket Christian ideals of It’s a wonderful Life?
Neither I sense.
Iran is the real recipient of this proclamation. POTUS throwing a sandal at the Ayatollahs. Masterstroke.
Even more impressive that he can do that AND piss off the Pope, the EU, Saudi Arabia, The UN and the Russians and the Chinese all at once. This man may have small hands but he has big REACH.
At which point, as I hum ‘We saw three ships come sailing in’ I realise that in my head I just see a naval blockade. Christ.
Where’s Jimmy Stuart when you need him!