Saturday, December 24, 2005

Stave II: "I wish to be left alone!"

(Click on the link for Stave I.)

'A few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?'

'Nothing!' Scrooge replied.

'You wish to be anonymous?'

'I wish to be left alone,' said Scrooge.

The Gospel According to Scrooge is a sermon dressed up as a play and it's sold to church groups to use as such. The day's lesson is decidedly evangelical though, not taken from Luke, as would be appropriate for Christmas, nor from Paul, but from that old exclusionary stand-by familiar from banners held up for the cameras in the stands at the end zone at football games, John 3:16.

Peace on earth, good will toward men and women, and charity, especially charity, are not anywheres near as important themes in The Gospel According to Scrooge as they are in Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

In fact, The Gospel According to Scrooge doesn't much concern itself with Scrooge's lack of generosity or his moneygrubbing, except to almost approve the latter and prescribe narrow, familial limits on the former. The script dispenses with Scrooge's nephew Fred and turns Bob Cratchitt into his nephew, so that at the end of the play, with his heart newly opened up to Jesus, Scrooge is expansive enough now to make his nephew Bob a full partner in his firm.

The Cratchitts are rewarded for their faith by being made rich and although I remember some offhand comments by Scrooge about maybe giving some more to charity the effect of the ending is to promise the audience that believing in Jesus leads to storing up treasures on earth up to the rafters.

In A Christmas Carol Marley and the other damned souls wandering through the night air on Christmas eve are tormented by their desire to do good for others now that they have lost the power to do so.

Their lack of charity is their sin.

The Gospel According to Scrooge ignores this, because the churches that put the play on reject the idea that good works are what get you into heaven.

I was raised Catholic and I've never been able to get my head around this; but if that's what they believe then that's what their sermons are going to preach. Their business.

But I don't like The Gospel According to Scrooge because of that. Dickens was a Christian, although not much of a church-goer, and he wrote the story as a Christmas story, which is to say as a story about the meaning and spirit of a holiday he regarded as Christian---but his message is universal, and Scrooge's redemption doesn't depend on him becoming a good churchman. He goes to church on Christmas morning and joins in on the carols but the point of that is that he joins in. He merges his voice with those of other people. He's not solitary anymore.

Scrooge's sin in Dickens's story is his wish to be left alone, his being content to make his way through life along the edges, his insistence on being as secret, self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. And that's a temptation that we all feel sometimes.

In The Gospel According to Scrooge all that's the matter with Scrooge is that he hasn't accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior, which is decidely not the matter with almost everybody in the church watching the play. The audience doesn't identify with Scrooge's sin, they get to shake their head sadly in self-congratulatory pity. At the end of the play they are allowed to bask in the glow of their own Chadbandian smugness and vanity and their applause is for their own good fortune in already being members of the club.

But with A Christmas Carol we are encouraged to identify with Scrooge---that's why Dickens made him a comedian. Scrooge gets all the best jokes.---and we are forced to see ourselves in him. Because we all are Scrooges, not just from time to time, but too often. We let ourselves get caught up in our worldy affairs to the exclusion of all else, especially a sympathy with our fellow passengers to the grave. We all are selfish, self-centered, self-indulgent. We all want to be left alone to get on with our own business, and we all succeed in pushing other people away. We chase the carolers from our doorstep, we ignore our responsibilities to the people dependent on us if not for their survival then for some good cheer, hope, love, encouragement. We are all often content to edge our way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance. Scrooge's miserly ways are a symbol of his hoarding of himself, of his keeping himself apart. We are all misers in that way, secret, self-contained, and solitary as oysters.

The reason for the season isn't Jesus, it's what Jesus came to remind us to do.

Which was one thing.

Love one another.

And so, in case I don't get another post in before tomorrow to wish you all a merry one, a happy holiday whichever holiday you are celebrating tomorrow, let this message from Scrooge's nephew Fred be my Merry Christmas to all of us:

'There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,' returned the nephew. 'Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that- as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!'

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