(Notre Dame Chapel at Trinity)
I am of an age and stage where I don’t need to get things. Oh, sure, a nice bottle of wine or box of cookies will help to celebrate the holidays, but one more scarf or sweater, not really. No, I’m not being a grinch. There are things I want for Christmas, but they cannot be purchased. They are things we have to work on collectively, a people discovering anew the shared values and common commitments we must have to sustain a free, fair and just society. Our social contract is a fragile thing, and in the last year we have seen the stark slashes through the fabric, not merely frayed at the edges but torn asunder in places that could cause the entire scrim of a free civilization to collapse if left unmended.
All I want for Christmas is a genuine communal commitment to repair the fabric of our social contract before it deteriorates even more. This is no small task. Repairing the gashes in our social fabric requires every citizen of this earth to step away from self-righteous convictions and self-reinforcing biases against others. Mending the tears requires a genuine collaboration across our many tribes of difference and belief and language and party and economic status.
What I want for Christmas is not just some gauzy philosophical Kumbaya moment. There are some very specific things we must do together to repair the harm the last few years have inflicted on our social contract.
All want for Christmas is for children and parents to be reunited at the border of the United States and Mexico, and for the citizens of this country to insist that our government — a government of We, the People — will never again rip babies from their mothers’ arms, imprison children in cages, hold immigrants and refugees in pens under conditions that would be unworthy of livestock.
All I want for Christmas is for We, the People, to rediscover our backbone and our voice. We must raise our voices to insist on the ethical behavior of government, the moral treatment of people in all circumstances. Real justice is not vengeance, but rather, the fair allotment of goods and services and resources according to the needs of each person, especially those who are marginalized. Surely the wealthiest nation in human history can find the means to relieve poverty, a word that seems to have fallen out of fashion among political candidates and officials.
While we’re at it — All I want for Christmas is for the United States to rediscover its once-strong reputation as a country with a big heart and welcoming arms. The country that welcomed my grandparents fleeing poverty and oppression in early 20th Century Ireland and Italy can surely now welcome the new generations fleeing poverty and oppression in 21st Century central America. Immigrants and refugees made the United States the most powerful, wealthiest nation ever in human history. The current generation must not allow a small band of corrupt and evil rulers to turn its backs on the hope of future generations across this hemisphere and around the globe.
All I want for Christmas is purposeful action by the United States to address climate change. The evidence is clear; science gives us the hard evidence, but we also can see with our own eyes the devastation of wildfires, floods, tornadoes and wild weather out of season. Alarm bells are ringing everywhere; We the People must insist that the government that is ours stop spinning fictions and start confronting facts. We do not own the earth for ourselves; we are privileged to rent this space for a very short time in all of human history, and for that privilege we are obligated to protect this place for the life and health of future generations.
All I want for Christmas is an end to the spectacle of people across the religious spectrum weaponizing faith for their own cheap political ends. Idols abound in this season, with false prophets demanding abject allegiance to them. True faith offers care and forgiveness, refrains from judgment, provides hope and healing. The Child we celebrate in this season did not come to establish political power or make enemies lists — he came to proclaim a new Gospel of love and forgiveness, charity and hope for all people.
All I want for Christmas is the fun of sharing ideas on social media without explosions of hatred and recrimination over a clash of ideas. I’d like to be able to follow along on Twitter without having to wear body armor.
All I want for Christmas is an end to the fear that Russia is not only manipulating our elections, but actually directing our government.
Now, if all of that seems too much, perhaps I should ask for something simpler. All I want for Christmas is leadership that will inspire and unite us, all of us of every color and background and belief and political persuasion. I want to be able to feel pride and affirmation when a leader speaks to us, and I want others to feel the same, even those who may disagree on particular issues. The late John Gardner once wrote that, most of all, we need leaders to “rekindle hope.” “The first and last task of a leader is to keep hope alive,” he wrote.
We need hope, in this season and onward; hope that we can repair our social fabric and find, once again, the kind of civic equilibrium that honors honest debate without playing each disagreement as a zero sum game. We cannot improve if we do not have argumentation and genuine disagreement; we cannot thrive if we let our disagreements become scythes shredding our social fabric.
All I want for Christmas is the restoration of a feeling of normalcy this this country. That’s all. Not too much to ask.
Merry Christmas to all!