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Mary McGrory

Distractions to Peace on Earth

By Mary McGrory
Sunday, December 22, 2002; Page B07

If you're seeking examples of the Christmas spirit -- they do not abound this year -- better to go to SOME (So Others Might Eat). At the legendary nonprofit feeder of the hungry in the federal city, they can show you what it is all about.

On Christmas Day, Rabbi Warren Stone of Temple Emmanuel will show up with 20 volunteers who will bring with them all the food for the feast, from turkey to mince pie, and all the helping hands needed to serve the 300 expected guests. They give the regular staff members the day off so they can celebrate at home.

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The rabbi offers Christmas greetings to all comers, and he and his helpers join in the singing of Christmas carols, which are a regular yuletide feature at SOME, a place known for its amenities. The Rev. John Adams, the Catholic priest in charge, is proud of the fact that every table will have its own small Christmas tree.

The celebration of the birth of history's most consequential homeless baby always brings to mind those who can't or won't go home for Christmas. Some can't afford housing, and some don't speak to their families for one reason or another.

Whatever the reason, there has been an increase in the number of homeless in our midst since high tech hit the dust and the stock market tanked. Exact figures are unavailable. The District's mayor and city council and homeless advocates have been arguing over available emergency beds in the hypothermia season. The council charges Mayor Anthony Williams with dragging his feet on a promised total of 725 beds. Privately, counselors and homeless advocates grumble that he is not moving fast enough on the conversion of the downtown Franklin School and that this is unbecoming for a man who has been promised a splendid subsidized mansion in the best part of town.

The mayor's director of communications, Tony Bullock, says Williams is baffled by the criticism, because no one in search of shelter has been turned away -- proof that capacity is adequate. And the Franklin conversion is weeks away.

No one has been paying much attention. The city has been mesmerized by the sight of Trent Lott, Republican leader of the Senate, standing -- and shouting -- on the window ledge, where he had been since he made racist remarks at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party. He finally jumped from his leadership position on Friday. His party was intensely relieved. It has experienced a mortification similar to that of the Democrats after the November election.

This Christmas we are a nation at war, although you could hardly notice it. The president seems bound and determined to start a real one. He increasingly says the planet isn't big enough for him and Saddam Hussein, although he is learning to live with Kim Jong Il, another member of the Bush axis of evil and North Korea's Saddam Hussein.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, who sometimes seems to be forgotten in the macho Bush Cabinet, emerged as the president's man for all seasons. On the matter of Trent Lott, who inadvertently labeled African Americans "problems," the general was called in to express his abhorrence of Lott's clumsy good ol' boyism. Soon after, Powell was summoned again -- he is Bush's nearest approximation to a peacenik -- to say that Saddam Hussein was lying, cheating and stealing in his report to the United Nations.

The president found time to give shelter to his favorite toy: national missile defense. The president, eager to promote his personal-type evangelism in faith-based organizations, has in missile defense the most faith-based enterprise of them all. Ronald Reagan's folly, a shield over the country, which failed three of its eight tests, seemed more foolish than ever, but it remains the president's dearest dream. Never mind that it would not have stopped the cataclysm of 9/11, or the evidence that terrorists prefer suitcases or shoes as delivery systems, or that it will cost billions.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said with rare understatement that it is "better than nothing." Of its humble housing in Alaska, he said, "you have to put something in place."

Republican presidents like to defend the strong -- although Dwight Eisenhower warned them not to -- and extend welfare to the wealthy of the military industrial complex, and President Bush's conservative constituency will doubtless rejoice that he is showing the right stuff in providing the arms manufacturers with a bottomless purse.

It is no wonder that "peace on earth and good will to men" aren't uppermost. Treachery, backstabbing, extravagance and war alarms are powerful distractions.

It's better to go to SOME and other places that concern themselves with the less fortunate every day of the year for manifestations of Isaiah's prophecy, to "heal the brokenhearted."

© 2002 The Washington Post Company