The presidential candidates are out on the trail again and the topic of “family values” is back on the agenda, if only slightly. I like that. I like talk about the family.

Mister Rogers wassailed every day his program aired in hopes of bringing forth a crop of worthy neighbors.

In the Fall of 1957, the ABC television network aired a new game show, “Who Do You Trust?” It was a follow-up to a show that ran the year before, “Do You Trust Your Wife?”

In the new format the host, a young Johnny Carson, gave a contestant a category of questions and told him he was going to ask a question from it. The man had to decide whether he would respond or wanted to call his wife (waiting off stage) because he trusted her to know that part of life better.

The show could have easily been called: “How Well Do You Know the One You Love?”

Such shows spark viewer prurience because, as the contestant is deciding what to do, the viewer is wondering what he would do in the situation, that is, how well does he know his own wife?

A postmodern version of the show — in societies where people often arm themselves with automatic weapons and head to a movie theatre or holiday party to blow people to smithereens — might be called “How Well Do You Know Your Neighbor?”

Unlike the prototype “Who Do You Trust?” where winners walk away with a few dollars, the neighbor show is high-stakes stuff involving light-flashing ambulances and emergency rooms filled with bloody limbs.

Of course what comes to mind is the mass killing that took place in San Bernardino, California earlier this month when 28-year-old Syed Rizwan Farook and his 29-year-old Pakistani wife, Tashfeen Makik, went to Farook’s place of employment and “took out” 14 and sent more than 20 in emergency vehicles to the hospital to have their discombobulated bodies made whole again.

In terms of a game show, what the families knew about those folks is enigmatic at best. Nobody saw they had lost their minds to the belief that violence is an efficacious problem-solver — called “radicalization.”

If the relatives were on the game show “Do You Know Your Neighbor?” or “Do You Know the Ones You Love?” they’d have walked away with nothing while the community had been assigned the task of picking up mops and pails to wash away the stains of blood.

Farook’s brother-in-law, stunned by the event, said he was “baffled.” He said Farook was a “good religious man,” “just normal,” “not radical”; he and his wife were a “happy couple.”

When Farook’s sister, Saira Khan, was asked whether she noticed anything, her eyes glazed over, so soaked in disbelief was she. She said the couple was married, they had a child!

Feeling guilt over what occurred, she told CBS interviewer David Begnaud, “So many things I asked myself. I ask myself if I had called him that morning or the night before, asked him how he was doing, what he was up to. If I had an inclination, maybe I could have stopped it.”

“Inclination” is the operative word, which means “I knew nothing.” In response to her statements the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump publically called her a “total liar.”

But the collective’s pool of predictive measures told us nothing either:

— 1. Neither person had a criminal record;

— 2. Neither was on a government terrorist watch list; and

— 3. The government had no concrete evidence (inkling) that something was going on.

Of course in retrospect, when 150 million FBI agents are put on the case, a few critical facts will turn up, such as those folks were engaged in big-time subterfuge (advocating violence as a problem-solver) for quite some time.

Though government officials are not allowed to take part in our game shows, we have to admit the FBI would score high on a show called “We Know a Lot About Your Neighbor — Retrospectively!”

We have to laugh at the “profilers” (sadly) who people the television screen after such bloody events, boldly stating that we need to be on the lookout for this or that. But, if their prediction tables are so good, we’d see scores of suspects being arrested while you’re reading this.

A headline in the Jan. 16, 2015 edition of “The Atlantic” reads: “To Reduce Gun Violence, Know Thy Neighbor” with the tantalizing subtitle, “How a sense of community can help stop a bullet.” The premise, of course, is a truism: If you know the people around you, you have a better chance of knowing what’s going on around you.

The author of the article, Andrew Giambrone, points to a recent study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program on “neighboring” where the researchers found that a majority of their interviewees said they knew little about what went on in their neighborhood.

Scads of books and articles have been written on the loss of “social cohesion” and “social capital” — “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” jumps to mind first — the glue that holds the species together, the collective wherewithal we bank on to move us into the future with minimal blood and violence.

With all the talk these days about building walls — physical and psychological — around racial, ethnic, and religious groups we want to keep at nation-boundary length, is it not feasible that members of some communities, worried about whether newcomers into their neighborhood are latently violent, will pay real estate agents to administer a battery of psychological tests to screen out the potentially violent?

If we’re ignorant about the current people we walk among, perhaps we can classify potential neighbors into the “good,” the “bad,” and the “ugly.” A kind of psychological redlining in the interest of building walls around our worries.

In a few hours, the New Year will be upon us. In some quarters, the champagne will flow like mad as revelers waltz across the ballroom floor subconsciously wondering how different things will be in 2016.

Me? I’m going to do two things. First I’m going to sing the traditional anthem, “Auld Lang Syne”:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

and never brought to mind ?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

and auld lang syne?

 

For auld lang syne, my dear,

for auld lang syne,

we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.

 

And, while I sing this sad reflective song, I’ll raise a cup of kindness and give thanks for the collective good will and tenderness that have brought us this far. Then I’ll sing a wassail song under the guise of the famed Mister Rogers.

In the cider-producing parts of western England this time of year, neighbors sing and brandish toasts to awaken their apple trees to scare away the evil spirits that threaten loss in the harvest to come. Mister Rogers wassailed every day his program aired in hopes of bringing forth a crop of worthy neighbors.

Perhaps you’d like to sing along with me:

 

It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,

A beautiful day for a neighbor,

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

 

It's a neighborly day in this beautywood,

A neighborly day for a beauty,

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

 

I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you,

I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.

 

So let's make the most of this beautiful day,

Since we're together, we might as well say,

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

Won't you be my neighbor?

 

Won't you please,

Won't you please,

Please won't you be my neighbor?

Eso es todo, no hay más. ¡Feliz año nuevo!

 

The first Christmas card extends the parable of love in Greek Scriptures as well the parable of transformation found in Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.”

When I was 12 and an altar boy at St. Mary’s of the Assumption Church, on my way to serve midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, I looked intently at the winter sky in search of the Star of Bethlehem.

I learned about the Star in catechism class and grew to believe that it returned every year and that, finding it in the darkness of night I, like the Magi of the first Christmas, would find the heralded child born in a manger.

The Christmas carol, “We Three Kings,” which my family sang and was played incessantly on the radio, said so:

 

O star of wonder, star of night,

Star with royal beauty bright,

Westward leading, still proceeding,

Guide me to thy perfect light.

 

“Still proceeding.” It meant the star came every year for every believer to see.

Within 10 years, in college courses on the Greek Scriptures (the New Testament), I was introduced to concepts such as “form criticism,” “redaction criticism,” and Midrash.

These methods exhorted that, in reading Biblical texts, it was critical to define the literary form and historical context of biblical passages in order to understand how the redactor (editor) shaped the narrative to express certain theological truths and reveal the purpose of his writing.

In the case of the narrative of Jesus’s birth, I found out there were two stories, one by Matthew the other by Luke, and that they did not put forth the same facts, in fact contradicted each other. I was disedified: How could there be a discrepancy in the Bible?

I was told the stories were parables — as Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan explain in “The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Birth” — stories that might not be factual but nevertheless contain deep truths. A Joe Friday “Just the facts, ma’am” approach would not get at the truth.

In examining the Christmas stories critically, I had to conclude there was no manger, there were no swaddling clothes, there was no “star of night” to lead me to the “house” or “stable” — the two gospels differ on the location of the event — so I stopped looking for the Star of Bethlehem.

But there was a subversive quality to the new thinking in that, when the seeker of truth hears the angels (metaphoric) sing “peace on earth,” that person feels called to become a person of peace, which might include taking a stand against corporate, military, and religious institutions that initiate, thrive on, and profit from war.

In singing carols such as “Silent Night,” “O Holy Night,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” the person of conviction receives the truths contained in the Scriptural narrative and elects to chase away the darkness without fear, indeed becomes the announcing angel singing, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

The great joy is that another soul has chosen to live a different kind of life, to create a different kind of world, one in which poverty and injustice are confronted and steps taken to eliminate them.

A while back, it struck me that that was what Dickens was talking about in “A Christmas Carol” — my favorite (and only) childhood book — when the Ghost of Christmas Present forces Scrooge to look upon two emaciated children, a boy called “Ignorance” and a girl called “Want.”

The spirit warns Scrooge, “Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom unless the writing be erased.”

But ill-sighted Scrooge could not accept personal responsibility for erasing the conditions that gave these children currency, exclaiming in write-off fashion: “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”

As the night progresses, as lovers of the story know, the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come projects for Scrooge personal destruction that will occur — the death of Tiny Tim — without his involvement in the lives of others. Scrooge of course undergoes a transformation and becomes Tim’s “second father.”

The 19th-Century novelist Margaret Oliphant described this book of metamorphosis as “a new gospel.” claiming that it did in fact make people better.

“A Christmas Carol” came out in 1843 and reflected Dickens’s real-life experiences with the poor and downtrodden. The book’s plot was conceived during the author’s three-day stay in Manchester, England witnessing the poverty and human degradation inflicted on the “dregs” of the citizenry.

I do think it more than coincidental that during 1843 the first worldwide commercial Christmas card was produced. Inventor Sir Henry Cole commissioned artist John Callcot Horsley of the Royal Academy in London to design a card that people could send to family and friends to wish them Merry Christmas while reminding them of what the December birthday stood for.

In its own right, the card is a kind of gospel, a parable that tells a story far more complex than the cards bought, signed, and sent today.

In the Horsley original, a family has gathered together to offer a toast to the person looking at the card. The gathered friends are facing the recipient with their glasses held high looking not sad but not exuding merriment.

On the card, to the right of the family is depicted a woman with a child being clothed by a compassionate older woman standing above them, and on the left is a man serving food to an old person and a child dressed as commoners.

Let those who make distinctions between the sacred and profane play games that split the world in two. When I saw the card, I exclaimed: Look! It’s the Star of Bethlehem!

The star shines in the family greeting its loved ones with a cup of caring wine and in the reminders offered, left and right, about how to defeat Ignorance and Want.

It is a continuation of the parable of love found in the Greek Scriptures as well as in the parable of transformation found in “A Christmas Carol” where angels and spirits respectively sing strains of peace and good will.

And such transformation is not the property of a particular sect of believers; it belongs to every soul who faces the dark night of winter. It might not contain a manger or swaddling clothes or shepherds watching their flocks beneath an open sky but it does reflect a world where the pain of those in need has been taken into account and eased, if only slightly, by human beings committed to angelic peace.

Under such circumstances, the darkness of death hasn’t a leg to stand on because it’s a death-defying birthday, a birthday that belongs to every soul far and wide who looks up in the midnight sky in search of the Star of Bethlehem.

The Flyer

The first chapter of Graeme Green’s “The Power and the Glory,” published in 1940, tells of a certain Mr.

I would like to make a case for the study of the liberal arts in higher education but the deck is stacked against me.

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