One of the many things I’m thankful for this holiday season is not having to come up with some stupid Christmas story. Being a religion writer for a daily newspaper made me dread the approaching holidays. What are we going to say about Hanukkah this time around? Do we really have to take Kwanza seriously every single year?
How can I best convey my feelings about holiday stories on the religion beat?
Allow me to quote a few lines from my favorite Christmas carol:
It’s comin’ on Christmas.
They’re cuttin’down trees.
They’re puttin’ up reindeer
And singin’ songs of joy and peace.
Oh, I wish I had a river
I could skate away on.
Thank you, Joni. Holidays make me Blue, too.
It’s comin’ on Christmas.
Christ’s back in the news.
Time and Newsweek found Jesus
Same old stories make me snooze.
Oh, I wish I had a deadline
I could run away from.
For a minute, there, I thought I might actually have to write a Christmas story this year.
I still freelance an occasional piece for my old employer, the San Francisco Chronicle, and I’d pitched them a story about Willis Barnstone, the prolific poet, translator and scholar who’s just out with an impressive work titled The Restored New Testament – A New Translation with Commentary, Including the Gnostic Gospels Thomas, Mary, and Judas (Norton, 1,484 pages, $49.95).
Silly me. I told the Chronicle editor that I could give the piece a holiday spin – figuring that might help sell the story. I got the assignment and went over to Barnstone’s Oakland home on the day after Thanksgiving.
It was a great interview, but I immediately realized how crazy and ironic it would be to turn this into a Christmas story. After all, one of the author’s main reasons for putting this opus together was to restore the Jewishness of Jesus and his early followers.
In the end, my editor said he didn’t want me to force a holiday angle onto the story. That was a big relief, and (almost) restored my faith in daily journalism.
It also means I can't use the one feel-good, holiday quote I got out of the guy, so I’ll share it with you here. It’s about how the Jewishness of Yeshua (a.k.a. “Jesus) provides “a beautiful ecumenical patch to unite the Abrahamic religions.”
“Why should the various interpreters be at each other’s throats?” Barnstone asked. “These are all variations on a theme. So at Christmas time, it’s good to know the ecumenical truth that this is not a radical idea. It’s a restoration.”
Some cool links:
Live version of Joni singing "River."http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCov0TYXBp8
Fantastic short documentary over Joni singing "Blue"http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvLTH8-9Z1I
Amazon page for Willis Barnstone book:http://www.amazon.com/Restored-New-Testament-Translation-Commentary/dp/039306493X
Link to very cool video promoting Don Lattin's new book:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhtOUxIxQcI