It should be no surprise that in these days of Advent my thoughts turn to the last four things: to death, judgement, heaven, and hell. I’ve written about these things, or had guest bloggers write about them often enough before. Some unexpected things have come to my attention this year: some strange connections to these last four things.
Since moving to New Haven I’ve started to learn about New Haven history and about New Haven luminaries and their lives and influence. Scattered about New Haven are banners with the picture of famous New Havenites. As I walk to the art supply store, I see the visage of Robert Moses and Karen Carpenter side by side. I’m no fan of Robert Moses, but of Karen Carpenter…
Yes, I am a fan despite the commercial, or even “Adult Contemporary”, status of their musical oeuvre. Perhaps I can hear a certain sort of genuine broken-heartedness in Karen’s voice that comes from the knowledge of her illness and death. It’s the 20/20 vision of hindsight that reveals the hand of death in “The Carpenters: A Christmas Portrait.”
In the Carpenters Christmas special from 1978, the brother and sister duo are hosting a celebrity-attended Christmas party with the likes of Gene Kelly, Georgia Engel, Kristy McNichol and her brother Jimmy. Karen prepares a sumptuous feast for the guests, and they in turn present gifts to all in attendance. The McNichols bring the gift of family. Richard Carpenter gives the gift of music, and be fore going in to his dance, Gene Kelly philosophizes about what these gifts really are; what they really mean…
The gift you give is really the gift you most want to receive, and Karen gives food.
There is a trend toward a certain sort of absurdist comedy. A comedy of poor taste in which the punch line is AIDS, or The Holocaust, or Anorexia. Watching The Carpenters: A Christmas Portrait is difficult with the knowledge that Richard is stung out on Quaaludes and Karen is teetering toward her own tragic end. It’s hard not to laugh at the idea of Karen’s most desired gift being food, but as you watch this skeletal woman sing and dance, tell jokes, and put everything she has in to entertaining us it’s harder not to ask oneself: What happened? Where has judgement gone? And it’s hard not to judge.
I’ve been listening to a lot of old Christmas specials, and they all come with their own sort of death, judgement, or even Hell. Knowing the difficulties that Judy Garland was having during the production of the Christmas special, or the Hellish times experienced behind closed doors at the Crosby home while watching Bing and his boys celebrate Christmas.
In writing this post I wanted to hold up a special or two that I thought escaped the scandal of death, judgement and hell, but there were none. Perhaps that’s just where heaven is. Perhaps heaven is in the grace given to us despite our sinful nature. Perhaps heaven is the realization that even as we wallow in sin, as we relish our short comings we are still able to accept gods grace, and perhaps that looks like this: