Tuesday, January 23, 2018
News Roundup

Baby Jesus shares space with a Festivus pole in — where else? — the Florida Capitol

For the most part, we waste our outrage.

We get worked up when we should chill out. We see a tiny anomaly and treat it like a grand metaphor. And heaven help us if YouTube gets involved.

All of which is a prelude to the had-to-be-in Florida story of baby Jesus sharing a Christmas display with a stack of beer cans in the state Capitol.

The short version goes something like this:

The executive director of the Florida Prayer Network got permission from the right set of bureaucrats to put up a Nativity scene in the Capitol building in Tallahassee.

This notion seemed to offend a South Florida blogger who requested space to celebrate Festivus, a fictional holiday made famous on Seinfeld. In the Seinfeld version, Festivus is celebrated with an unadorned aluminum pole. In this case, the pole is a collection of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans stacked 6 feet high.

Cue the Fox News roundtable in 4, 3, 2, 1:

"I am so outraged by this,'' said host Gretchen Carlson, who had a panel with a rabbi, a Catholic and an atheist that somehow wasn't the beginning of a bar joke.

"Why do I have to drive around with my kids to look for Nativity scenes and be like, 'Oh, yeah kids, look there's baby Jesus behind the Festivus pole made out of beer cans.' It's nuts.''

That's one way to look at it.

Here's another:

"We all have freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and we should be thankful for that,'' said Pam Olsen, the founder of the Florida Prayer Network. "I do think the beer cans were inappropriate — I wish he had used Coke cans or an aluminum pole like Seinfeld because there are children coming through the Capitol — but I understand he was trying to mock me or religion or Jesus.

"I told him I was still happy to meet him, and that I would pray for him.''

Hallelujah.

In a political climate where exaggeration is the norm and indignation is just a sound bite away, Olsen disarmed blogger Chaz Stevens with tolerance and kindness.

She saw his maneuver for exactly what it was: A stunt. A cheap, political stunt.

During a news conference at the Capitol, Stevens talked about this being an issue of the separation between church and state. But just as the Fox News talking heads overreacted to the Festivus pole, Stevens overreacted to the Nativity scene.

This wasn't a constitutional crisis. It was a holiday decoration. There is a huge leap between having a few religious mannequins in the lobby of a government building and trying to pass Legislation based on biblical teachings.

This is what too many of us no longer understand. That a simple disagreement is not an automatic prelude to something sinister. That tolerance is a virtue and not a weakness. And that listening is far more attractive than shouting.

This doesn't mean that I would agree with all of Olsen's political views. And it doesn't mean that I see the Festivus pole as sacrilegious. (Unless ugly is a sacrilege.)

It's just common sense. It's accommodating. It's understanding that America is a country of many different points of view, and it's exhausting to argue over meaningless details.

"I hear that the Satanists are coming out next week,'' Olsen said. "I'm looking forward to that.''

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