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Friday, December 20, 2013

"I Want to be Ebenezer Scrooge." Guest Post by Jim Slade

Here's an early Christmas gift for you. My father and illustrator, Jim Slade, wrote this piece eight years ago and delivered this message in church. It still holds true today. I asked if he'd revisit it here and he agreed. Thanks Dad!
So, without further ado ...

     Today is my birthday. I am 69 years old and I must decide what I want to do with the
rest of my life.

     I want to be Scrooge.

     Ebenezer Scrooooge.

     The name conjures such images!

     I want to be just like him.
    
                                   -0-

     At the very outset of his book, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens describes Scrooge
this way:

     "Oh! But he was a tightfisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching,
grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which
no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret and self-contained and solitary as an
oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his
cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his
grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He
carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days;
and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas."
     Wrote Charles Dickens: "Foul weather didn't know where to have him. The heaviest rain,
and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect.
They often 'came down' handsomely, and Scrooge never did."

     No folderrol for Scrooge, nossir!! Let others fend for themselves and leave him alone.
HE got HIS the hard way, didn't he? Yessir. And he intended to keep it!

                                        -0-

     You have to understand Dickens to know Scrooge.
     Charles Dickens died immensely rich in 1870..a worldwide celebrity so popular that
Mark Twain made him a guest in his home. But Dickens' life began modestly.

     Charles was born in Landport, Hampshire in 1812 at the start of the new industrial age.
His father, John Dickens, was a clerk in the Navy pay office. John was often in debt..he was
sent to Debtor's Prison when Charles was about 12; and so the boy came to know the
seamiest side of life in that day's England. Those experiences haunted him the rest of his
days; Dickens became a journalist and a dedicated social crusader...produced hundreds of
pamphlets and essays under the pseudonym "BOZ," crying loudly for social justice. Books
written under his own name did the same. He had an elegant writing style, often laced with
humor, and it was stylish to keep up with Charles Dickens.

     He had produced many successful works in books, magazines and newspapers, including
the Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist, before he decided to write A Christmas Carol in 1843.
It was coming on Christmas, Dickens needed something special, and there stood
Ebenezer Scrooge.

     He published it himself as a small book..took about a month to write it, proving that the
best things are often written on deadline.  In that same century, Clement Moore needed a
new bedtime story for his children when he penned The Night Before Christmas.

                                   -0-

     Scrooge is Dickens' metaphor for corporate greed, tyranny of the nobility and Industrial
England's indifference to its lower classes. Business was Scrooge's religion and he felt
totally justified in its pursuit to the exclusion of all else and everyone. He said, "It's enough
for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people's. Mine
occupies me constantly."
     And it did.

     He never bothered to remove Jacob Marley's name from the sign over the counting
house door..it might have been bad for business. Dickens wrote, "but he answered to both
names: it was all the same to him." He said that Scrooge was even an "excellent man of
business on the very day of (Marley's) funeral and solemnized it with with an undoubted
bargain."

                              -0-

     I believe the story really begins when, on the afternoon of the day before Christmas,
1842, when he is visited by an old gentleman who is seeking Christmas donations for the
poor. In his refusal, Scrooge throws down the gauntlet:
     "Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.
     "Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
     "And the Union workhouses!" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"
     "They are. Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they are not."
     "The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigor, then!" said Scrooge.
     "Both very busy, sir."
     "Oh! I was afraid from what you said at first that something had occurred to stop
them in their useful course," said Scrooge. "I'm very glad to hear it."
     Then, Scrooge tells the visitor that he doesn't celebrate Christmas and can't afford
to make idle people merry:
     "I help to support the establishments I have mentioned; they cost enough: and those
who are badly off must go there."
     "Many can't go there; and many would rather die."    
     "If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the
surplus population."

     I've always wondered how Dickens would have written that passage today; but of
course, he wouldn't have to. You can hear it quoted or stated subtlely in the public
media almost any time.

                              -0-

     A Christmas Carol could have been a sermon in itself. Maybe it is.
     While Dickens seldom refers to God or Jesus Christ directly...their presence is very
much a part of this story. Besides, somebody sent those ghosts.

     The three spirits...Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come...
reflect the meaning of our lives both to ourselves and as they affect those around us.
All of us must listen to the ghosts of experience, presence and hope inside us because
they tell us what we are, have been and yet may be. They tell us to live "In The World"
as we find it; to share with, uplift and feed our brethren, no matter who or where.

     When Marley -- dead those 7 years -- came to Scrooge on Christmas Eve, he told him:
"It is required of every man, that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his
fellow-men and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned
to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the earth -- oh, woe is me! and
witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!"
In other words, it is up to you..nobody else.

                                        -0-

     You know what happens next...

     As Marley foretold, the first ghost takes Scrooge on a journey into his own past;
Scrooge is reminded of times as a boy when he was very much alone...but then sees
people who once made him happy, and finally is reminded of how he turned them away.    
Something stirs inside Scrooge; perhaps a touch of regret?

     The second ghost forces Scrooge outside himself--to view the circumstances of the
current world and the part he plays in it. It is not a pretty picture...particularly when he
sees the reality of his employee, Bob Cratchit...and that of Bob's crippled child,
Tiny Tim.

     Responding to Scrooge's anxious questions about the boy, the Ghost of Christmas
Present throws Scrooge's own words in his face, snarling that perhaps Scrooge should
"let him die and decrease the surplus population."
     "Man," said the Ghost, "if man you be in heart, not adamant, forebear that wicked
cant until you have discovered what the surplus is, and where it is. Will you decide what
men shall live, what men shall die? It may be that in the sight of Heaven you are more
worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child."

     The third ghost arrives on schedule; by now, Scrooge knows what to expect:

     "Ghost of the Future!" he exclaimed, "I fear you more than any Spectre I have seen.
But, as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from
what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart.."

     You see? Scrooge is getting the picture. At each step along the way we see the light
dawning, but oh, so slowly.

                                   -0-

     The journey ends at a lonely, untended, unmourned grave...where Scrooge finds his
name. And it's just too much.

     "Spirit!" he cried, clutching at its robe, "hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be
the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?"
     "Good spirit, he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: "your nature
intercedes for me and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have
shown me, by an altered life!"
     "I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the
Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all three shall strive within me. I will not
shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this
stone!"
     The spirit dissolves and Scrooge awakens in his own bed, sunlight streaming through
the same window from which Marley departed the night before. Scrooge feels reborn. He
is ecstatic, full of joy. Outside, bells peal wildly and he realizes it is Christmas morning --
the ghosts did it all in one night.  But of course they did; they're ghosts and they can do
anything they want, can't they?

     Dickens continues:

     He dressed himself "all in his best," and at last got into the streets. The people were
by this time pouring forth, as he had seen them with the Ghost of Christmas Present; and
walking with his hands behind him, Scrooge regarded everyone with a delightful smile. He
looked so irresistibly pleasant, in a word, that three or four good-humoured fellows said,
"Good morning, sir! A merry Christmas to you!" And Scrooge said often afterwards, that
of all the blithe sounds he had ever heard, those were the blithest in his ears.

     He had not gone far, when coming on towards him he beheld the portly gentleman who
had walked into his countinghouse the day before and said, "Scrooge and Marley's, I believe?"
It sent a pang across his heart to think how this old gentleman would look upon him when
they met; but he knew what path lay straight before him, and he took it.
     "My dear sir," said Scrooge, quickening his pace, and taking the old gentleman by both
his hands. "How do you do? I hope you succeeded yesterday. It was very kind of you. A merry
Christmas to you, sir!"
     "Mr. Scrooge?"
     "Yes," said Scrooge. "That is my name, and I fear it may not be pleasant to you.
Allow me to ask your pardon. And will you have the goodness" -- here Scrooge whispered
in his ear.
     "Lord bless me!" cried the gentleman, as if his breath were gone. "My dear Mr. Scrooge,
are you serious?"
     "If you please," said Scrooge. "Not a farthing less. A great many back-payments are
included in it, I assure you. Will you do me that favour?"
     "My dear sir," said the other, shaking hands with him. "I don't know what to say to
such munific--"
     "Don't say anything please," retorted Scrooge. "Come and see me. Will you come
and see me?"
     "I will!" cried the old gentleman. And it was clear he meant to do it.
     "Thank'ee," said Scrooge. "I am much obliged to you. I thank you fifty times. Bless
you!"

     Scrooge then proceeds to his Nephew's house where he begs for and is showered
with forgiveness as though there is nothing at all to forgive. He is welcomed with great
love and appreciation by everyone at the party, which continues late into the night -- far
later than the old man is accustomed ..

     But he was early at the office next morning. Oh! he was early there. If he could only
be there first, and catch Bob Cratchit coming late. That was the thing he had set his heart
upon.
     And he did it; yes, he did! The clock struck nine. No Bob. A quarter past. No Bob. He
was full eighteen minutes and a half behind his time. Scrooge sat with his door open, that
he might see him come into the Tank.
     His hat was off before he opened the door; his comforter too. He was on his stool in a
jiffy; driving away with his pen, as if he were trying to overtake nine o'clock.
     "Hallo," growled Scrooge in his accustomed voice as near as he could feign it. "What do
you mean by coming here at this time of day?"
     "I'm very sorry, sir," said Bob. "I am behind my time."
     "You are!" repeated Scrooge. "Yes. I think you are. Step this way, if you please."
     "It's only once a year, sir," pleaded Bob, appearing from the Tank. "It shall not be
repeated. I was making rather merry yesterday, sir."
     "Now, I'll tell you what, my friend," said Scrooge. "I am not going to stand this sort of
thing any longer. And therefore," he continued, leaping from his stool and giving Bob such
a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again: "and therefore...I am
about to raise your salary!!"
     Bob trembled, and got a little nearer to the ruler. He had a momentary idea of knocking
Scrooge down with it; holding him; and calling to the people in the court for help and a strait-
waistcoat.
     "A merry Christmas, Bob!" said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken,
as he clapped him on the back. "A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have
given you for many a year! I'll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling
family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of
smoking Bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot
another i, Bob Cratchit!"

     Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim,
who did NOT die, he was a second father.

     He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old
city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.

     Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little
heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe,
for good, in which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and
knowing that such as these would be blind any way, he thought it quite as well that they
should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own
heart laughed; and that was quite enough for him.

     Old Scrooge ... How I envy him.    

     You see, don't you, that the story of Ebenezer Scrooge is a tale of redemption and
not about the evil we recall when we first think his name. As Scrooge said to the last
Ghost in the graveyard, "Why show me this, if I am past all hope?"

     Indeed.

     Why did Marley appear ... who sent him ... if Scrooge or anyone, or any society, is
beyond redemption?

     That's what Dickens meant us to see.

     That's the story: Redemption.

     Because if Scrooge was lost for all time, why, there would be no story in the first
place .. about him ... or about us.

                              -0-

     As for Scrooge himself, Mr. Dickens tells us that "He had no farther intercourse with
Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterward; and it was always
said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the
knowledge. May that be truly said of us and all of us!"

     Oh, yes. I want to be JUST LIKE SCROOGE.

     That Scrooge..

     ..that Christmas Scrooge.

                                        -0-

     But we shouldn't ever forget the Scrooge we meet at the beginning of the story.
He -- or others like him -- is still out there.
     Our church's door is always open, yes--but it works in both directions. Maybe it isn't
enough to just wait here; maybe we should go out and bring them in. As Scrooge's example
shows, they may never come alone. And as Marley's Ghost said: "It is required of every
man, that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men and travel far
and wide.."

     Well ...

     Here comes Christmas and there are many out there who need us.

     "..as Tiny Tim observed, "God Bless us, Every One!"
Jim Slade

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