Let’s Convert Yoko Ono

Times Square is not, despite its perennial attraction to tourists, one of the nicest places in the world to visit.  In fact it’s rather alarmingly tacky, windblown, and uninviting, surrounded by businesses I would never willingly patronize, and a number of large but unimpressive buildings.  For many years however, it has been one of the centers of American popular culture, from the annual New Year’s Eve revels, to historic events like the V-E Day celebrations.

Now we see that a number of the gigantic electronic billboards in Times Square will be honoring the work of artist Yoko Ono and her late husband, pop star John Lennon, by displaying a three-minute film by the former.  Every evening at three minutes to midnight, a montage of the words “Imagine Peace” will be presented, in different languages, along with accompanying imagery.  One official involved in this project stated:

John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ is the last song played on New Year’s Eve just before 11:59 p.m., when the ball on 1 Times Square begins to descend. Yoko Ono’s IMAGINE PEACE is undoubtedly a perfect match for the December Times Square Moment program as it taps into many people’s hope for a better world, the sentiment of both the holidays and the New Year.

Given that the “holiday season” is religious in origin, and that the song “Imagine” is the atheist equivalent of “Amazing Grace” – asking us to imagine how much better the world would be if there was no religion and no heaven, for example – one wonders whether the Times Square officials who green-lighted this project have been to church or synagogue recently.

The idea of “Peace on Earth” at this time of year is not just some idealistic wish for something better.  As a matter of fact, it comes from the song which the angels sang before the shepherds, when Christ was born in Bethlehem.  I would draw your attention to the fact that not only is the idea of hoping for peace on earth at this time of year fundamentally based in the Christian religion, but the peace which the angels call down upon humanity is, in fact, conditional.

And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

(St. Luke 2:13-15)

Many other religions pray for peace and an end to violence as well, of course.  Yet praying for peace at this particular time of year is fundamentally tied to the mystery of the Incarnation, which we Christians celebrate at Christmastime.  Ms. Ono could certainly have broadcast her message of universal harmony and equality for all – except for the celebrity intelligentsia, of course, who naturally must live in luxury – at any time of the year, but she chose to do so now.  Why?

The answer, sad to say, is our own stupidity.  For it must be said, dear friends, that we have become both spiritually and culturally lazy.  We have allowed people who do not believe in Christianity – and indeed, in many cases those who openly despise it – to co-opt a Christian holiday by degrees, to the point where we have forgotten what the point of this celebration is.

Christmas is not about achieving peace on earth, whatever Hallmark or Hollywood or some aging Japanese con artist may tell you.  Rather, it is about  God choosing to become Man, in order to save us from ourselves.  It is the awesome reality of the Eternal stepping into our linear timeline, purely out of love for us.

Unfortunately, projects such as Ms. Ono’s, which were once considered counter-cultural, are now in fact the cultural norm among so-called elites, or at least, those who imagine themselves to be so.  Hers is not the first nor the last such message we will see during the month of December.  We are going to continue to be bombarded with both overt and subtle messages that all religion, but particularly Christianity, is nothing but rot, and that only uneducated, prejudiced people would believe in such things.  The solution to this insidious message, it seems to me, is two-fold.

The first is to simply laugh at it.  I mean, honestly: a bunch of animated billboards in Times Square, where as soon as your “holiday” display time is over, there will be a nearly naked ten-story tall model hawking the latest Calvin Klein underwear? Forgive me for being unimpressed with your substitute for a house of worship – or maybe you won’t forgive me, but since you do not believe in an afterlife anyway, presumably you do not care.

Secondly, it is for you, gentle reader, to take this season into your own hands, in the way in which you choose to celebrate it.  Too many of us, as a very wise priest pointed out in a reflection I heard last evening, start celebrating Christmas during Advent, when we have not even reached December 25th.  And by the time the 12 days of Christmas roll around, we have packed away the tree and the tinsel and are concentrating on after-Christmas sales.  Many of us are not commemorating the birth of Jesus, but rather celebrating the holy days of obligation as ordained by Madison Avenue – which, by the way, are designed to make you feel inadequate and lonely, so that you will empty your bank account in search of meaning for your life.

We are at the beginning of the preparations for Christmas, so you still have time to pull back from the cliff of nothingness from which modern atheism and materialism wants you to jump – and as it happens, Ms. Ono still has time, too. For however much we may roll our eyes at her work she, too, is still capable of being brought to the truth: that God created her, loves her as His own adopted daughter, and wants her to get to know Him.  The rather obvious subversiveness of her message is so very easily defeated, if we recognize that God is infinitely more good and more powerful than any mere human being, no matter how vociferous they may be.

As a final thought, I must admit that I did have a little germ of an idea, when reading about this video installation.  Imagine – ahem – what would happen if a group of Christians were to meet in Times Square every evening during this Advent and Christmas season, to pray together for the conversion of Ms. Ono?  Now THAT’S what I would call counter-cultural.


Yoko Ono’s “Peace” installation in Times Square

Beating Them At Their Own Game

For many years much of the news out of Spain, at least as reported by the allegedly “mainstream” media, has been rather bad.  The most recent evidence of this was last summer, in the laughably awful media coverage of World Youth Day in Madrid.  Yet rather than throw up our hands and ask, “What can we do?”, a new story out today from Spain should give us not only cause to hope that all is not lost in that country, but also provide us with a good lesson on how to use new media to our advantage.

It was a real pleasure this morning to read that, for the second year in a row, city authorities in Madrid have denied a group of atheists, anarchists, and other leftists a permit to march in protest of the Church on Holy Thursday. In rendering their decision the authorities issued a press release which states, in part [translation mine]:

The date, time, and place chosen by the organizers, although in principle having a legitimate purpose, in reality is being sought for a demonstration on a day of special significance for Catholics, in the same place and time when many religious ceremonies will be held, and which indicates, at the very least, a clear intent of provocation.

For those of my readers who are not Catholic, or who have not been in Spain during Holy Week, a little explanation is in order. It is a very ancient tradition in Spain for the major towns and cities to hold religious processions during Holy Week, i.e. the period from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. This is the holiest time of the year for Christians, as we remember the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

However these processions are not simply parades, like one might have for a sporting event or secular holiday. Most of these very special processions feature gigantic parade floats decorated with hundreds of flowers and candles, and bearing life-sized crucifixes, tableaux showing scenes from the Bible, or figures of the Virgin Mary and other Christian saints. The processional groups accompanying these floats, which are usually the property of individual churches across each city, are huge, and include such people as clerics, musicians, local dignitaries, and so on. For example, Spanish actor Antonio Banderas has, for many years, participated in the Holy Week processions in his home city of Málaga, in southern Spain. Thousands of people attend these processions, or watch them on television, and those on Holy Thursday, when Catholics commemorate the Last Supper and the institution of the Holy Eucharist, take place on one of the most important days of this very important week.

As the authorities correctly held, the only reason why a group of leftists would want to hold an anti-Catholic protest march in downtown Madrid on Holy Thursday, in the middle of the sort of atmosphere I have just described, would be to try to pick a fight with those participating in or watching the religious processions. I am obviously very pleased that the local government had the sense to see sense on this point. However it should come as no surprise to anyone that the “mainstream” media in Spain has been wringing its hands and whinging about this decision all morning.

In tone, the reporting on this has been similar to Pope Benedict’s recent visits to Spain, when the media deliberately ignored or under-reported on the tremendous numbers of people who came to cheer the head of the Catholic Church. In 2010 such gatherings happened in Santiago de Compostela, home of one of the most important historical religious sites in Christendom, as might have been expected. However it happened again in ultra-hip Barcelona, which has a long history of anti-clericism, when the Pope came to dedicate the famous Sagrada Familia basilica, and it happened again the following year in the supposedly swinging capital of Madrid during World Youth Day. The result was reporting that so downplayed the numbers supporting the Pope, and so played up the tiny number of those protesting his visit, that the media frankly covered themselves in shame by being unable to hide their bias against Catholicism.

Of course, Catholics in Spain are not alone in experiencing this kind of biased reporting: it happens to any group which large news organizations do not like. For example, apparently the presence of around half a million people at the March for Life in Washington earlier this year, peacefully protesting against legalized infanticide, did not deserve mainstream media coverage. We can complain about it, as I certainly did, but the reality is that this type of reporting is not going to change, at least not anytime soon. So how we do we beat them at their own game?

The answer, it seems to me, is in fact what you are doing right now: making use of new media. If the role of the so-called mainstream media is to question authority, then I would suggest that one important role for new media content providers is to question the mainstream media. Where needed, it is now possible to produce media content that dismisses mainstream media coverage of events and issues that matter to us, as being biased and fundamentally untrustworthy.  Through the use of blogging for example, in both macro and micro format, anyone can be a reporter or commentator.

Yet that reporting via new media platforms will not have any real impact if those who read it do not take on the task of sharing that content with others. Therefore if you care about an issue, and feel as though the mainstream media is misreporting, burying, or otherwise ignoring that issue, even if you yourself are not a new media content producer, you have an important role to play. By sharing that content with others, you can help to get the word out that, among other things, maybe The New York Times or The BBC is not the best place to get your news on the Catholic Church.

Combining the tools available to us through new media with the wider outreach possible through social media can provide greater encouragement to those who find themselves questioning news reporting on issues that matter to them. And as bizarre as it might seem to state, the type of biased reporting which we are questioning – or at least I am – in fact provides a wonderful opportunity to draw attention to that bias. We live in an age where we are no longer bound to accept, due to a lack of alternatives and as a kind of secular gospel, what we are told to think about an event, or a subject, or a policy, by the mainstream media outlets. Therefore, let us use their content, as untrustworthy as it often is, to create our own.

Part of a Holy Week procession passing through central Madrid

The Seagull’s Saint’s Day

As all of my readers in the United States know, today we celebrate the national awfulness that is the utterly secular St. Valentine’s Day, when no one thinks about the several saints named Valentine from the Early Church, but instead all engage in the exchange of gifts, greetings, and hurt feelings. Rather than bore you with tales of romance and love as most bloggers will be doing today, my gift to you is in fact something of a gift to myself. For I am (hopefully) going to give people like Lenin and Stalin a bit of a kick in the head. Perhaps it is exceedingly uncharitable of me to do such a thing, but I will worry about that later.

Since today is the Feast of St. Valentine, it is therefore the saint’s day or name day for men and women bearing the name Valentine, Valentino, or Valentina. And one of those whose saint’s day is today is the first woman in space, Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova. She went into orbit around the Earth for three days beginning on June 16, 1963. When her voice was broadcast by Soviet radio to listeners who would hear her for the first time from space, she excitedly exclaimed, “It is I, Seagull!”, referring to her mission call sign; it subsequently became her nickname.

After her return to terra firma Tereshkova became a national hero for the Soviet Union. Over the course of the next several decades she rose to quite some height within the Communist Party, until the break-up of the Soviet Union, the second Russian Revolution, and the fall of the Communists from power. Subsequently, like many heroes of the old Soviet era, she mainly retired from public view to enjoy being a grandmother, except for giving the occasional interview or making an appearance at a conference or ceremony, as she is still highly regarded by the Russian people as the poor girl from the factories who made good.

Yet in doing some research for this piece, I came across a rather interesting story from the press office of the Serbian Orthodox Church, regarding a public appearance Valentina Tereshkova made a few years ago. In 2003, Tereshkova paid a visit to the official representative of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church assigned to minister to the Russian Orthodox community in Belgrade, in order to meet with the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church. That might seem rather an odd thing, on the face of it, for a formerly high-ranking leader of the Communist Party in Russia to do, though keep in mind that from a historical perspective, there have always been close political, strategic, and cultural ties between Russia and Serbia, which were cemented by the relationship between their two state churches.

What the article reported next, however, I must admit I did find rather amazing. “Mrs Tereshkova expressed gratitude to His Holiness,” the unnamed author of the piece explains, “for spiritual and other support that the Serbian Orthodox Church had given and had been giving in connection with the activities and mission of the Russian House in Belgrade, that marks 70th anniversary of its successful work this year.” As if that were not enough to make you slap your forehead in surprise, the article further reports that “Mrs Tereshkova gifted, in memory of this meeting, the Vladimir icon of the Most Holy Mother of God and a filigreed Easter egg to the Patriarch Pavle, and His Holiness gifted in return an Easter egg and congratulated the forthcoming Feast of all the feasts [i.e., Easter Sunday.]”

After reading this, naturally I did something of an extensive search to try to ascertain whether Tereshkova ever converted to Christianity. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any information in English to directly answer that question, one way or the other. Perhaps those of my readers who can actually read Cyrillic might have better luck.

Yet regardless of whether Tereshkova did come into the Church or remained your garden-variety Soviet atheist, the fact that she would not only thank a Christian leader for his spiritual ministry, but also present him with the image of Our Lady of Vladimir, showing the Blessed Mother tenderly embracing the Christ Child, as well as one of those beautifully decorated Russian Easter eggs, which usually bear the abbreviation for “Christ Is Risen”, makes the mind of this author reel – and no doubt Lenin, Stalin, and their ilk spin in their graves. From my point of view, that is certainly something to celebrate, on the Feast Day of Mrs. Tereshkova’s patron saint.

Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev