Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Easton’s Peace Candle

The Commonality of Diversity

Every year at Christmas controversy surrounds the display of religious symbols in public places, Christian symbols in particular. I’ve always found the push-back to be a bit humorous in light of living in a postmodern culture priding itself on inclusion and relativism. The controversy ignites during this time of year as a number of religious holidays and traditions collide, and perhaps sadly if not more appropriately, compete.

The latest are rumors of President Obama declaring the White House Christmas Tree a ‘Holiday Tree’ recognizing all faiths and practices rather than just Christmas. From a Christian perspective that’s like calling the Star of David the ‘Star of Everyone.’ While thus far this has turned out to be little more than a false rumor, it speaks to the broader societal desire to find a way to accommodate all faiths into some kind of common shape for the sake of diversity.

But sacrificing faith distinctions for the sake of our Western emphasis on diversity is a mistake. Rather than creating an inclusive mold or building larger display cases to celebrate a range of faiths, why not just recognize the common threads found in our diversity?

Easton’s peace candle may be one of the best examples of sharing the light on a common thread shared by all faiths—the simple human quest for Shalom, Salam, Peace. And while peace may be grasped by different understandings of the Divine, it is unalterably embraced by nearly all people, cultures and religions.

Though I am a devout Christian I would rather have the Peace Candle in Center Square than a manger with Baby Jesus. A crèche would only fuel controversy, whereas the common pursuit of peace sparks dialogue and begins with mutual respect drawing us closer to the place where we can reason through our differences rather than further apart.

Perhaps one day the White House will display a Peace Candle.



Dennis R. Lieb said...

The Easton Peace Candle is a an interesting example of how a seasonal tradition fans flames of propriety and taste within the community. Many consider the giant fiberglass and plywood ornament an embarrasment...A tasteless example of kitsch and low style that causes some people to cringe when trying to explain it to newcomers. Others consider it the embodiment of the season and the symbol of peace on earth, goodwill towards men.

It's a tempest in a teapot as far as I'm concerned. As an architect by training, I see the obvious lack of serious design skills and less-than-precise execution in the finished product. I fully understand the cries and shrieks that arise each holiday season from those that want Easton to aspire to a higher standard of cultural expression.

My response has always been that each place has it's quirks - kitchiness included - that make it a place unlike any other. The Peace Candle makes many peple in Easton feel better about themselves and their city at Christmas and it does represent to many the hope of real, peace. For that I can not fault anyone and am more than willing to put up with it's bulbous presence for a few months each year.

The thing I wish (usually silently) is that the fervor for keeping the candle's traditional erection (and representation of peace) going from year to year was exhibited in the pursuit of real peace as fervantly the rest of the year - especially as we prepare to spend another season mired in two endless wars.

What we need to think about at this time of year is history...the Greeks, Romans, Spanish, Portugese and - most recently - British Empire all collapsed under the weight of their imperialistic military entangelemnts around the world. "American exceptionalism" will not save us from a similar fate, no matter how much we choose to ignore history.


noel jones said...

Well, I have many thoughts on the various ironies at play at this time of year. As for the Christmas holiday itself, it is a Christian appropriation of the Roman pagan holiday Saturnalia for the god Saturn, which was held Dec. 17-25 historically, before the advent of Christianity. Along with the Christmas tree, which was an appropriation of Germanic pagan customs by the Christian church, other pagan rituals include mistletoe and the yule log.

Now, America is supposed to be a country that honors a separation of church and state, and yet "In God We Trust" is printed on our money, the pledge of allegiance includes mention of God, leaving no role for the millions of Americans who are agnostic or atheist. Just about the entire nation honors Christian holiday with time off work, without regard to other religions, with the exception of New York, which honors the Jewish holidays as well in many companies.

While I agree wholeheartedly with Terrence on the benefits of focusing on a common thread between all faiths, such as peace, I have always felt that the construction of the ply-wood candle around the statue at the circle is tacky and a waste of money--especially now when we should be saving money. The statue alone with some white lights would be festive enough, and save money that could be spent elsewhere.

However, if Eastonians get excited about the candle and it succeeds in drawing people together in a spirit of optimism, then so be it--we need anything that fosters community building in this city and in these times.. I hear West Ward resident Ken Jones with be playing the bells, so we'll be wandering down there soon to enjoy the light and music.

Peace : )

Anonymous said...

Please! I am not even going to go to the comments about the pledge or in God we trust. I will solely address the Peace Candle. The lighting festivities were excellent. I saw people downtown I haven't seen for years and thery live in the burbs. Everything about the event was positive and for the record I do like the candle.

However, Easton is also the home of the first Christmas tree in the US so those residents that don't like the candle can support the tree.

I was wondering if the Menorah was going to be placed in the Square again like previous years. I am told that a wind storm destroyed the one last year.

By the way, why is it that some peoplem in Easton constantly question our traditions when in cities like Bethlehem the entire city embraces the name Christmas City, they have Chriskindlemart, etc. even a live manger on the plaza at City Hall.

Traditions are a huge part of a city culture. they should be embraced and enhanced.

Nikkita said...

I personally think the candle is cute and look forward to it's presence every year!

Alan Raisman said...

The Menorah will be back in Centre Square. The lighting will take place on Wednesday, December 16 at 5:00 PM.

I personally love seeing the Peace Candle each winter. I look forward to driving back to Easton after Thanksgiving break every year. The pictures from Friday's lighting were amazing!

Easton has the sign of the First Christmas Tree all year as well as the Menorah in Centre Square for the few weeks that it is up. The Peace Candle is a great balance which brings people to our City every year.

Whether you appreciate the Peace Candle or not, the volunteer hours put into Friday's event were many. I appreciate every volunteer who participated in making Friday's lighting successful.

Timothy George Hare said...

Hey, anything that monumentizes "Peace" over "War" (including its monuments) wins my vote!

I'll gladly take kitchy over war-mongering any day, any season. Seems we don't get much opportunity to that anymore, now that we're the New World Order.

Dennis R. Lieb said...

Like I said originally, I'm for the candle. What I'd wish for at some future date (when we actually have money to spend again on such things) is a newly designed and constructed candle that both represents the community spirit and hope for peace AND high quality, dignified design.

I know it's hard for the public to picture something that doesn't exist, but in the hands of a talented designer we could have the best of both...and end all the squabbling.


Anonymous said...

My recollection of the building of this newer candle is that it was designed by an architect and built by the building trades unions.

I heard on Friday night that this candle may have to be replaced in 5 years or less. What would be some of the recommendations on making it more dignified? I will forward the recommendations to the committee.

Easton Heights Blogger said...

the shame in the candle is how it lies in pieces behind the city maintenance building most of the year, in full sight of everyone.
I guess feel good sentimentality has its place, but putting up a plywood cover over a war monument once a year isn't going to bring real and lasting peace.