The Common Good

My Advent Calendar: December 16

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The 16th window on the cathedral revealed a gargoyle-not exactly a traditional Christmas picture! Gargoyles are ancient architectural features on buildings of monsters or ugly creatures that act as waterspouts to carry rain away from buildings. They are imagined to have special powers as well as to frighten other evil spirits away from the structures they guard.

The Washington National Cathedral boasts one of the largest modern gargoyle collections in the world. Gargoyles are intended to be whimsical, ironic, or even sarcastic. They include mythological beasts, misshapen animals, and other frightening figures. When the cathedral was built, they updated the tradition to include contemporary forms as well: the Businessman (a.k.a., "The Yuppie"), the Administrator, the Bishop, the Lawyer, Mother with Child (a screaming mother with a clinging child), Crooked Politician, and Darth Vader.

The figures were carved in the last century and are beginning to look a little "'80s." What if we updated them to 2008? Who might serve as artistic models for a new gargoyle lineup? This year offered a plethora of scary creatures-and here are my nominations to renovate the cathedral's gargoyles. The Businessman is no longer a yuppie but a Wall Street banker. The Administrator is a three-headed beast of the CEOs of Detroit car companies. The Bishop is (a little Episcopal inside baseball here) former bishop Robert Duncan, who basically stole the entire diocese of Pittsburgh from the Episcopal Church. The Lawyer would be Ted Olson, who infamously argued Bush v. Gore in the Supreme Court and gave us the eight years of the Bush presidency now coming to an end. Mother with Child morphs into Britney Spears. Crooked Politician goes to Gov. Rob Blagojevich; and Darth Vader could become Heath Legder's Joker. Some additions might include "The Bailing Congress Member" with a pail of money, "Alaska Governor" wearing a dress with a $150,000 price tag, and "Iraqi Reporter" with a shoe in hand.

As we move toward the end of 2008, we may be short of money, but we appear to have gargoyles aplenty.

Diana Butler BassDiana Butler Bass ( wanted to open her Advent calendar in community this year, and she is sharing her daily reflections with Sojourners readers online. She is the author of the forthcoming A People's History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story (March 2009).

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