Saturday, December 31, 2005

Leap of Fate

[via Slacktivist's Left Behind Archives]

They earnestly want any unsaved readers to get saved. And, since the prospect of unsaved readers picking up a book from Tyndale Publishers seems unlikely, they want their saved readers to be able to give this book to their unsaved friends knowing that it will explain to them both the need for and the process of getting saved.
The problem is the book doesn't do that. L&J want to tell readers what they must do to secure their own salvation. They don't necessarily offer the wrong answer, they're just asking the wrong question.

....Study that a minute. Turning in Jim would condemn his friend to years of misery in this world, but his own immortal soul would be damned for eternity -- and what are a few mortal years compared with that? Weigh such a choice on the scales that L&J use in Left Behind and Huck's choice is clear. But that is not the choice he makes.

"All right, then, I'll go to Hell!" he says. And the angels in heaven rejoice.

Huck may just be talking to himself there, but I think of that declaration as a prayer -- as, in fact, a prayer pleasing to God.

The characters in LB are constantly finding themselves, like Huck, in a close place, betwixt two things. They are constantly having to choose (or rather, thinking they have to choose) between the fate of their own immortal souls and the fate of other people here on earth. And every time, emphatically, they take the path that Huckleberry Finn rejected.

It Takes A Millenium...

How different things are now, just six years later. Then, we were all filled with the joy of how far we had come in a thousand years and with hopes for the future. With that memory in mind, it might be difficult to look at the world today and not be depressed but we should always remember that the real future is never as wonderful as the one we hope for nor as horrible as the one we fear. Either way, there's not much we can do about the larger world but, on a smaller scale, we can each make a difference.
[via A Sweet, Familiar Dissonance, emphasis mine]

Evolving Evoking...

With all the debates on the teaching of creationism, evolution, and intelligent design this year, it's good to know that some people take a more humorous approach to natural selection. Darwinian poetry is a project which asks a daring question - can the input of users cause inherently bad poetry to evolve into something better? By applying their own method of natural selection, the project hopes to create one of the most impossible aspects of any language - a good poem. {read more}
[via Damn Interesting]

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.
- Douglas Adams

Thanks The Gad(d)about for the quote!

The Finish Line

With the finale of 2005, comes the finish line for many things I have been a part of in the last season of my life... and although these things will not completely stop come Sunday... It is time for the direction to shift, for some changes to be made and for decisions to be finalized.

I feel as though I have just ran the longest race of my life, and I am nearing the "finish line"... not that my life is now over or that I am finished with life, but that this time, this particular leg of the great race of life, is about to be over. I feel as though I could fall in complete exhaustion over the finish line tape. If this is not the end, I think I may fall in exhaustion anyhow.

In a race, one's body is exhausted; in this race, my spirit has been expended. Internally and externally to myself have been and continue to be mountains to climb, valleys to face, tears to cry, emotions to feel, decisions to make, hurts to endure, strength to be sought, and dreams to hold near....

None of this will ever end. There will always be dreams, there will always be brokeness, spiritual battles, and life in general to face. However, to everything there is a season Ecclesiastes tells us. I believe it is time for a change in season. Soon news will be brought that will help me to know where to head next in life. Soon work will shift and school will start and I will begin back into a regular pattern that will keep me until the end of May. Soon freedom will be found, redemption will be made, lives will be set free and true life will flow into the empty crevices of broken and weary souls. I believe this.
[via Becca's World, emphasis mine]

Mistakes and Surprises

I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circle or a doubling back. I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times. I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order. The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back. Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I have deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led--Make of that what you will."

--Wendell Berry, in Jayber Crow
[quoted at Thoughts On The Way To The Abbey]

Chasing Change

There is often an important distinction between New Year's resolutions and lasting change.

Resolutions often involve a decision to make this year better than the past by changing what we don't like about ourselves...they're based on our insecurities. They are more impulsive and usually we set the bar so high that it's unrealistic. We accept nothing but perfection, and the first sign of failure we cash in the whole thing.

Lasting change happens when we are inspired about something...convicted. Convictions don't happen out of insecurity, they come out of passion. Passion never wavers, no matter how many times we fail and passion comes out of seeing a much bigger picture than just this moment.

Are you chasing a resolution or lasting change this year?
[via Life in My Vortex]

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

"The future is scary as it is without having to worry about it."

What will 2006 bring? Hell if I know. I'm not a prophet endowed with foresight. Unlike Isaiah, I cannot predict what will happen 600 years into the future. I do know this, one does not "arrive" in this life. One does not get to a point where it is all settled. There will always be change, always be growth, always be challenges. Never will you be "set". I first figured this out about 5 years ago. It's taken me this long to accept it.

I have to let go and not worry so much about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself. Kind of hard for someone who has control issues, who's ADD has forced him into a routine just to manage on a day-to-day basis. The future is scary as it is without having to worry about it.
[via Blog of the LostDog, emphasis mine]


I don’t have the stats handy, but the number of Jews who marry non-Jews is a growing number, with interfaith marriages becoming more typical in the last few decades. And so every year we get stories about interfaith families — which in this case means families where one parent is Jewish and one parent is Christian. And even though presumably this poses challenges every day — of how to inculcate religious faith in children, celebrate holidays, and remain religious — the press notices it once a year. Around Christmas....

Hanukkah might be a secondary Jewish holiday, but its religious significance speaks directly to the comingling of religions.

A brief history: Under the reign of Antiochus (around 170 B.C.), Jews were forced to violate the precepts of their faith and an altar to Zeus was erected in the Temple. Mattathias, a Jewish priest, and his five sons John, Simon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah led a rebellion. Judah, who took over following his father’s death, became known as Judah Maccabee and under his leadership the Temple was liberated and rededicated.

A new altar was constructed in place of the syncretistic Zeus altar and oil was needed for the menorah in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout each night. Even though there was only enough oil for one day, the menorah burned for eight crazy nights. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle.
[ via GetReligion]

Why celebrate both?
"Early New Testament literature sees the new covenant as a renewal of the covenant (with Moses) on Sinai," said Richard A. Horsely, professor of religion at University of Massachusetts in Boston. "They regard Jesus Christ in the role of the new Moses."

When Hanukkah and Christmas are celebrated on the same day, it's natural to wonder how the two great religions are intertwined. For the earliest Christians -- who were, in fact, Jews -- that relationship wasn't something they had to ponder and sort out. Their faith was developing as they lived it.

Jesus and his followers saw his birth, life and death, said Horsely, "as a fulfillment of the history of Israel, its struggles, its expectations and its desire to be free to live under the kingdom of God, not under oppressive kings and emperors ... that's the message of both Christmas and Hanukkah."
Christian or Jewish: It's a holiday for all by Tim Townsend

Monday, December 26, 2005

[via How will I know unless I ask?]

Why is it
that this decision
has created distance
between you and I
when it should
have made you happy
neither of us can control
the whole world
and if I had my way
I'd give you yours
but doing that would
revert me back to 4
when containers were
read to me
and food was cut
before being
placed before me
Im not sure what
else to say
but this is my decision
so let me make it

or tell me what to do

"...but a good read nonetheless"

I feel the love, Life of Turner, now that you've linked to me. Duly added to the rest on the right.

Not Just a Wash

via The South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami Blog:

Last year, on the 26th December, an earthquake, and then a tsunami, killed, wounded, or impoverished hundreds of thousands of people in South Asia.

During the course of the year, other disasters took their toll too. Most devastating of them: Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on the South-East coast of the USA; and another enormous earthquake near Pakistan's border with India.

These disasters took their immediate toll, and, each time, the world tried to help. But as calamity piled upon calamity, there has been a certain amount of fatigue. Perhaps people's stock of goodwill has run low. Perhaps seeing too much suffering hardens us.

But, the fact is, the suffering from those disasters has not ceased....

Last December and this January, the online community came together as never before to help in the aid efforts in South-East Asia. The lessons learned there were put to use, and improved upon, when the other tragic events of the year unfolded.

Can we harness that goodwill, that togetherness, that willingness to help once more?

The WorldWideHelp group would like you to join us in Remembrance Week.

[read the full post]

Sunday, December 25, 2005

In Exile, Liberty...

Against all odds, an heir infiltrates the empire to rescue captives and restore citizens.

[via The Wandering Heretic]

The fact that the Magi chose to give such an explicit act of allegiance to a king outside of their own countries—a ruler they openly identified as the "king of the Judeans"—would have earned them the displeasure of their local leaders and families. Such displeasure in the oriental kingdoms usually earned public dishonor, banishment, and even execution. To do so in such an open fashion was to invite such a response.

Nor would the Magi have found safe haven in the country to which they traveled. Herod would not have taken too kindly to being asked to his face where the new King of the Judeans resided. As the slaughter of the innocents later illustrated, giving allegiance to a King other than the one currently on the throne was a dangerous, treasonous act. Had the Magi not left Herod's borders secretly, it is not doubtful they would have met a similar fate as the children of Bethlehem.

Finally, the allegiance of the Magi to a King both outside their territories and not appointed by the Emperor would have put them under the interdict of Caesar himself. The Caesars knew the function of religion in the first century; it was to reinforce the rule of the elite and pacify a diverse set of ethnic groups into a single obedient whole subservient to Rome. It was not for naught that the emperors were given divine honors during their lives and were officially divinized at their deaths. All gods would be recognized as long as Caesar and his Empire were the highest and most consistently honored of them. The ultimate allegiance had to be to Rome. When religion did not suffice, the force of the Roman army made up the difference.

So the actions of the kings were dangerous and treasonous...Yet they still came.

Losing Christmas, Finding Christ?

I wonder what will happen to our culture as more and more people lose their ability to tolerate the forms of this holiday. I am finding more and more people, who like myself, have given up on the holiday and are searching for more authentic and less painful ways to spend the season.

When I think about it, I am forced to admit that I have no positive memories of Christmas for the last ten years. During college, I would return home to find a family dissolving around me, not willing to admit it to themselves or anyone else and in the meantime force themselves to have this empty, shiny happy Christmas. After college and grad school, I was working in a church, and got exposed to the church busyness cult. That pretty much sucked all the remaining joy at Christmas.

So here we are at Christmas again....

Mostly, though, more than the theological, philosophical and historical reasons, its the emotional reasons that drive me and end up sticking the hardest. Over the last couple of years I have been trying to shave off everything from my life that does not contribute to my evolution. When you have nothing but bad memories of Christmas, and there is just no joy left in it for you, I say GET RID OF IT. When did Christ ever say we should celebrate his birth, anyway?

I know what you are thinking. Why not make new, happy memories of Christmas? Take back what was taken from me, and reclaim Christmas for myself and my own happiness. After all, I am responsible for my own happiness....My life is like a trauma victim with a whole host of injuries, some more serious than others. I take care of the most pressing issues first, and then move on. Sadly, Christmas is the equivalent of a hangnail on a burn victim. Somehow I can't see the ER docs pulling off the skin grafts to treat the hangnail.
[via Canticles of the Unhomed, emphasis mine]


What better way for the Christian Right to wish everybody a Merry Christmas and a peaceful new year than to write a Christmas essay filled with violent and apocalyptic images. Russell Moore, like some leaders of the Christian Right, is almost pathologically obsessed with a masculine, muscular and militaristic re-interpretation of the Christian faith. Some excerpts from Moore's essay:

{read the rest}
[via Talk To Action]

How Then Should We Celebrate?

Pastor John Wright:

Yes, we are completely and unabashedly and unashamedly bourgeois in this exchange of gifts. As I age, I understand the depth of this practice as a celebration of Christ's nativity, as well as it's dangers. I am very thankful for the time to be together as a family, and share in a material exchange of gifts in honor of our Lord. Amidst a society that would fragment and individuate us even as a family into different market groups, the economics of gifts come to us appropriately in honor of our Lord. I am particularly thankful about this year, as the time will be wedged between the times when we gather as a congregation in observance of the Nativity of the Word of God.

Yet, of course, this gift exchange has become the basis for the consumer culture in which we live. As Eric over at quoted to me, persons like Bill O'Reilly invert the whole structure of gift giving at the Nativity by saying something to the effect that all business owners should thank Jesus for being born. In other words, God did them a favor for providing the spur to increased consumer spending that pays off in higher dividends for the owners.

How do we then celebrate? ....

If gift exchange becomes part of the malformation of our desires for aquisitiveness outside what is Good, True, and Beautiful, it will ultimately rip a family apart. Christmas familial gift exchanges that tie families together because of the momentary fulfillment of unchecked material desires set the stage ultimately for sibling dissolution over arguments of the distribution of goods following the parents' demise.

Relationships do not exist for the distribution of goods; goods exist for the good of human relationships. May all of our practices increase the desire for God and God's kingdom, celebrated in the gather of the congregation and even in the exchange of gifts in the context of a family on this coming feast of the Nativity.
[via la nouvelle theologie]

No Quick Fix...

The belief is that enough hope and tenderness will lead to world peace, one mind at a time. All nations will come together in kindness and justice, swords will be beaten into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks. This is a little hard to buy with a world stage occupied by Saddam Hussein and Kenneth Starr. But setting aside one's tiny tendency toward cynicism, in the meantime -- in Advent -- we wait; and hope appears if we truly desire to see it. Maybe it's in tiny little packets here and there, hidden in the dying grasslike winter wildflowers, but we find it where we can, and exactly as it comes to us, while the days grow dark. We remind ourselves that you can only see the stars when it is dark, and the darker it is, the brighter the light breaking through...

I want that belief, and that patience; I checked the box on the form choosing that. But it has not been forthcoming. I have instead been feeling a little -- what is the psychiatric term? -- cuckoo. My mind has been doing a Native American worry chant, WORRYworryworryworryworryworryworryworryWORRYworryworry ... It's not that I don't have a lot of faith. It's just that I also have a lot of mental problems. And I want to fix them all, and I want to do that now, or at least by tomorrow afternoon, right after lunch.
Anne Lamott in Salon, HT: Slacktivist

Not All Sweetness and Light

The discussion about Christmas in our society is endless and loud. The self-proclaimed defenders of Christmas go about daring salespeople to wish them "Happy Holidays," boycotting businesses that sell "Holiday Trees," and reminding one and all that Jesus is the Reason for the Season.

Which he is. But I say that many of the Defenders of Christmas have it almost as wrong as the secularists. Their vision of Christmas — centered on words, a rather generic baby, and nostalgic visions of families and fireplaces — actually gets no closer to the real Real Meaning of Christmas than do generic wishes for peace and joy in this holiday season.

What they forget, neglect or conveniently ignore is what we can not-too-dramatically call the Dark Side of Christmas.

The really traditional Christian remembrance of the Nativity is not about sweetness. It is about awe, fear, and trembling, and it is shot through with hints of suffering to come....Look at it closely, with clear eyes. At every turn in this story of this baby there is threat and fear and powers circling, attempting to strike at the light.
Amy Welborn on Christmas at National Review, HT: Go To Bethlehem and See...

Not Giving Up

Have the churches abandoned peace on earth? Not by a long shot. Could we be doing more? Absolutely.

Peace on earth is not a political agenda, but a deeply human one. I think the fact that churches are trying to figure out what peace on earth looks like is a sign that God hasn’t given up on us yet. That’s why Christians celebrate Jesus’ birth, the poor child born in a barn, who brought life and salvation to a hurting and broken world.

But the Christian task is not done yet. Together we struggle to live Jesus’ message of the kingdom of peace, justice, and life. Some times we get it right, other times we mess up completely. That’s because, at the beginning and end of the day, we are only human.
[via Kevin G Powell]

Gift Exchanges

The head of a conservative Islamic organization in Indonesia is offering hundreds of its buildings as sanctuaries for Christmas services. Indonesian Christians fear terrorist attacks as some extremist groups have attacked them and forced the closure of churches. But Din Syamsuddin, who chairs Muhammadiyah, one of the largest and conservative of Muslim groups said that "We invite our Christian brothers and sisters to say prayers on Christmas Eve and to celebrate Christmas in our schools and other buildings." His organization will also provide security guards. Local Muslims are disturbed about the violence being done in the name of Islam.

The offering was made at an interfaith meeting which originated a peace message for Indonesia to be read at the times of three major holidays: Christmas, New Year's Day and the Islamic Day of Sacrifice.
[via Jesus was a Liberal]

Friday, December 23, 2005

[via emancipated dissonance]

o fragile flesh
how close you are
-----to death
-----to damage
-----to permanent deformity
at all times

one slip on the ice
-----and falling
-----landingcrackingbreaking-----and that’s all it would take

and once this soul has left you behind
you will rot
or be burned in an oven
like the holocaust victims
(except not)

[the rest]

Happy Festivus Everyone!

(To get in the mood, you can watch the movie The Ref or the Seinfeld episode "The Strike"...)

'Twas the night before Festivus and all through Queens,
Not a Costanza was strange as it seems.
The family was sleeping, just waiting for light.
Saving their strength for the upcoming fight.

At the crack of dawn on December twenty-three,
Frank put up the pole... instead of a tree.
Estelle prepared the meal that would start the rite,
Not a laugh or a smile was anywhere in sight.

George dreaded this hour that came every year,
The airing of grievances would soon be here.
Frank stood at the table and bellowed outloud,
"So who's got a complaint amongst this crowd?"

"You two are crazy and have wrecked my life!",
Cried George at his parents who mocked him for spite.
"A Lloyd Braun you'll never be " was Estelle's refrain,
"Why should I try,ma?... the guy's insane!"

"Enough with the grievances," Frank said with some glee,
"Now which one of you two is wrestling me?"
"So feats of strength you want? Let them begin here,
"It's your turn to fight him, mom... he beat me last year."

The battle was started, the screaming was lyrical,
The fact no one got hurt was .... ANOTHER FESTIVUS MIRACLE!!!!

From: DFrank1068
Date: 12-23-01

[from Festivus Info Center]

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Lowly Places

This Christmas lower your expectations. Some of us, every year, get so discouraged because we build Christmas up way too high.

We say, ‘this is the year we’ll get along.
This is the year I’ll meet someone.
This is the year I’ll find the true meaning of Christmas.
We are flawed people who want so desperately to find someone or something that will fulfill all our dreams. It just won’t happen.

Ecclesiastes 2:1-11. moral of the story:
Solomon writes: “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired. I refused my heart no pleasure. Yet when I surveyed all my hands had done, all that I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, chasing after the wind, nothing was gained under the sun”.
That’s the reality and honestly, it’s not supposed to depress you.

Don’t set yourself up for failure. Don’t make Christmas what it was never intended to be. Don’t build it so high it can’t possible measure up. Like rats in a cage we spin and spin hoping to find joy in things that don’t satisfy.
Don’t wait for situations to change, things to improve. Be alive right now.
[via scott...diagonally parked in a parallel universe]

Perspective at Christmas

Last night on the Simpson's, the first story was actually really funny and cute. It was the Christmas story (sort of). And one great line stuck out: Marge (as Mary) told Homer (Joseph) that the baby (Bart as Jesus) cried every time someone suffered in the world. So he was always crying!

Wow. What a great moment, in a cartoon of all places! We should get it so well....

I hate to rain on everyone's parade, but Christmas isn't about you, or your family, or your kids, or your rest, or your peace, or your goodwill. It is about what God did for us. So suck it up. Quit whining....that is what we signed up for as Christians - to change the world.
[via Feminary]

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Saving Christmas

To miss a baby in a manger isn’t serious. To miss celebrating Christmas isn’t the end of the world: it won’t change your life. But to miss the Saviour whom God has provided for us? Don’t do it. Consider carefully the Saviour whom God has given us. Consider Jesus.
[via etrangere]

In the Meantime

Perhaps the ultimate healing is just the knowledge that Daddy is there? I don't know. I do know though that no matter how bad she felt, she seemed to find comfort in my lap or me lying next to her in bed. That brought joy to my heart that she trusted in me to get her through. What a parable. What a lesson for such a stubborn, selfish, self-centered, instant gratification needing S.O.B. like myself.

I really do hope that she gets better soon, but I enjoy my time with her in the mean time.

We seem to always have some kind of sickness at Christmas time. That doesn't really bother me though since Christmas isn't that big of a deal for me, but I hate how it affects everyone else.
[via The Reluctant Disciple]

Pure Resistance

Christmas was a source of huge confusion for me as a boy and teenager. Perhaps it still is.

As a Jewish kid, we had Chanukah. But the Festival of Lights, as it is called, seemed pale in the shadow of all that Christmas glitter of tinsel and bright blinking bulbs. Christmas was everywhere in the windows of homes and stores, on lawns in parks and even on rooftops. Yes, it was in the schools and no one even thought of objecting at that time. I still wouldn't....

But Chanukah had one special part for a Jewish kid in that era-- latent machismo. Judah Maccabee had led a successful guerrilla war against the previously undefeated Roman Legions, making himself the central figure in the whole Chanukah tale. Maccabee had kicked some serious Roman butt back when the Romans were the undefeated champs. It made me proud.
[via ItSeemstoMe]

Monday, December 19, 2005


I write as many citizens of the United State are beginning the Christmas celebration, of the arrival of the Prince of Peace as a baby. I will join with millions of Americans in that celebration but I know, according to Scripture, that in a matter of weeks following Christ’s birth the order went out to exterminate male children because one of those children was thought to be a Prince with a program of peace, that was suspected of lacking a reliable allegiance to the Roman empire or its local ruling puppet. Variations of state sponsored terrorism have been repeated through the centuries in many permutations until the present. I know that there are expressions of terrorism that are not under the control of any single state. The democratic experiment in Iraq which must show some success before the next election cycle will be paper thin if it relies on the underside of American war strategies. At best it will be a state built in the image of Saddam but with a few more democratic decorations. At worst it will crumble as a nation.
[via Peace Talk, HT: Kevin G Powell]


Then the guy in the purple hanging-around-the-neck thingee gets up and starts talking. Something about how Mary's initial response to the Annunciation is a lot like our initial response to seemingly impossible circumstances. "Nope, nope, can't be done. Uhn-uh. No way."

But the story takes a turn when the angel answers her objection: "With God, all things are possible." Oh, how nice. I can see where this is going....

I've heard it said that forgiving someone doesn't mean you excuse what that person did, but it does mean you let go of your need for payback. Do I pass that test? I think so. At one point, I would have enjoyed nothing more than trashing this man's reputation. (Thank God, I resisted the temptation.) Now ... no. But what about this lingering discomfort?

This whole "what forgiveness looks like in practical terms" thing starts making my head hurt. I begin to think I'm never going to get it. It's not the first time I've pondered it vis-a-vis this relationship, and I still don't feel settled about it.

But what was that about "impossible?"
[via The Accidental Anglican]


In an ancient rural county in West Virginia on Christmas morning, a bent old man with a face like gentle twisted wildwood will raise the American flag in the frost. Then he will go back indoors, sit down quietly amid the smells of cooking, light his pipe and dream.

My Uncle Nelson raises the flag every morning at the secluded nursing home in the hills of Morgan County, West Virginia. If anyone in this world should have that right, it is he. Because Uncle Nelson, whom we called Nels, never left Morgan County in his life. Not even once.

You see, when he was born a deaf mute over 80 years ago on that lonesome Blue Ridge Mountain farm, there were not handicapped programs available as there are today....

Nels' feelings are "close to the surface," the psychologist at the care center tells me. This was not exactly news, since his feelings have been written all over his face his entire life. He cries freely, and seldom out of sadness. When I last visited him he came limping across the lawn of the care center, his broad face streaming tears of joy.

Here before him was a 55-year-old nephew he'd not seen in a decade.

And I remembered how he used to babysit me when I was a kid. Often for days at a time. Which meant giving me rides in the wheelbarrow on the green farmhouse lawn in the summer dusk, happy feedcorn battles in the granary, and long laughing slides down through the hay mow.

And his calm tears were about all that.

In a season allegedly dedicated to the Prince of Peace across a violent planet I take comfort in having seen things inner landscape of at least one great soul -- a silent prince of our forgotten peace.
[via Joe Bageant, HT: Jesus Politics]

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Kitsch in Christmas

Rev. Dr. Giles Fraser:

The problem isn't that Christmas has become too materialistic – but rather that it isn't materialistic enough. Kitsch Christmas is another way of uncoupling the divine from the material, thus spiritualizing God into incapacity. I am not being a killjoy attacking the kitsch version of Christmas. Three years ago, my wife gave birth to a baby boy. The labour ward was no place to be coy about the human body and all its functions. The talcum-powdered unreality of kitsch childbirth cannot compare with the exhaustion, pain and joy of the real thing.

But perhaps the most important corruption of Christmas kitsch is how it shapes our understanding of peace. This is the season where the word "peace" is ubiquitous. Written out in fancy calligraphy everywhere, "peace and good will to all" is the subscript of the season. It's the peace of the sleeping child, peace as in "peace and quiet", peace as a certain sort of mood. But this is not what they need in Bethlehem today. They need peace as in people not killing each other.

This sort of peace requires a stubborn engagement with the brute facts of oppression and violence – which is the very reality that the kitsch peace of Christmas wants to take us on holiday away from. How ironic: we don't want the shittiness of the world pushed at us during this season of peace. This, then, is the debilitating consequence of kitsch. Kitsch peace is the unspoken desire that war takes place out of sight and mind – it's the absolute denial of shit. Political leaders who are preparing for yet more fighting will be happy to oblige. Christmas has become a cultural danger to us all, not just a danger to orthodox Christianity.
[via Ship Of Fools, emphasis mine]

Thanks for the link!

Make Stupidity History: Dedicated to the eradication of stupidity worldwide.

Making Merry, Not Peace...

"One of the central themes of Christmas is often omitted in our various greetings. Stop and think about it for a moment. When was the last time you heard someone say to you during the Christmas season 'Peace be with you.'"

"So maybe that's it—there is a wound in us that makes it too painful to say 'Peace be with you.' We are still bruised from terrorist attacks on New York and Washington four years ago and bruised even more by a brutal war in Iraq. In our present moment, saying peace be with you just doesn't make much sense. We settle for 'merry' and 'happy,' because it hurts too much to speak of peace when there is no peace."
[via Ethics Daily, HT: For God's Sake Shut Up!, emphasis mine]

Held Hostage

The Christian Peacemakers require its corps members to be “deeply grounded in Christian faith.” So you have a group of peace activists who may have already lost their lives because of their interpretation of the Bible. Leaving apart the possible merit or naivete in their political understanding, why aren’t reporters teaching us more about their Quaker-infused theology? Even after reading through dozens of accounts of the hostage situation, including a BBC profile of Christian Peacemaker Teams that was anything but, the religious motivation angle was only mentioned in passing....

Christians have been struggling with how to live simultaneously in secular and spiritual realms for millennia. The media tend to see this conflict on the right very easily when they cover conservative Christian battles in the public square. But it seems harder for them to look critically at the equivalent struggles among liberal Christians. In defense of the media, their poor coverage of religious attitudes toward war might be a reflection of the complete lack of debate on the issue in most American denominations.

In any case, are there different standards for justice in the church and in the world? Have Christians discussed this issue before? Does this play into separation of church and state? If there are different standards for how to handle conflict in the church and in the world, what does that say about current hot-button political issues? I hate it when I have nothing but questions after reading two dozen articles from different perspectives about the same situation.

If these four hostages are going to die at the hands of their captors, one of the few things we might expect from reporters covering the saga is an exploration of the hostages’ motivations.
[via Get Religion]

Winter Wonder

One of the odd things about the category of "Christmas" music is that it has come to include many songs that have nothing to do with Christmas at all. I referred to these in the previous post as "Winter songs." Examples include: "Sleigh Ride," "Jingle Bells," "Winter Wonderland," "Baby, It's Cold Outside," "Let It Snow!" and "Frosty the Snowman."
None of these mentions or even alludes to Christmas. "Frosty" is explicitly set at the other end of winter -- just before the spring thaw. And the sly pleading of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" (I'm partial to the Ray Charles/Nina Simone version) seems more appropriate for Valentine's Day.
But the point here is these songs are about winter. Yet we never hear them at all after Christmas. Four days into winter and our winter songs all get mothballed for another 11 months.
I suppose Falwell and O'Reilly could try to argue that such generic seasonal songs are part of the "War on Christmas." But I think what's happening is the opposite of what they claim. These winter songs aren't taking over Christmas -- Christmas has overtaken them.
To be honest, I can do without most of them anyway -- although I do like "Winter Wonderland." (My favorite version is a mariachi rendition from Steve Taylor, accompanied by a band he hired out of the Los Angeles phone book.)
[via slacktivist]

Friday, December 09, 2005

Over Family and Faith

Apparently some churches are relaxing this Christmas. The Internet Monk explains:

Some of America’s largest megachurches won’t be open on Sunday, December 25. After multiple services on Christmas Eve, they are giving their congregations, volunteers, staffs- and thousands of twice a year attenders- the day off to spend with their families.
Doesn't anyone really consider singles seriously? Using "the family" is partly an excuse, accordingly:
It is beyond doubt that there is a kind of idolatry of family that evangelicals regularly refuse to engage. It appears that when the choice is between honoring Christ in a meaningful tradition that thousands relate to, or giving place to the perceived needs of family life in middle class America, the choice is a very simple one for the megachurches.
Bill Keller of Liveprayer places the controversy in this light:
We as Believers are outraged at a lost world who won't celebrate and promote the birth of the Jesus they reject, yet the very churches that are God's instruments on this earth for that purpose choose to close because Christmas is on a Sunday! As I have stated often, rather than influencing our world, we have allowed this world to influence us![Liveprayer devotional, Dec. 8/2005, emphasis mine]
So how do we change the focus? Supposedly by just becoming involved in the service:
These pastors I spoke to are right about one thing. It IS a day for families and there is NO BETTER PLACE for a family to start their Christmas Day celebration than at church! As for the people who serve their churches in so many different capacities on Sunday, what better way to spend a few hours on the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus than by serving Him! Lastly, since when was opening the doors of the church about how may[sic] showed up? The reality is, Christmas and Easter are the two time of the year a HUGE portion of people who call themselves Christmas[sic] ever darken the doorstep of a church. It is also the time of year many who are not Believers have a desire to be in church. Other than Easter Sunday, Christmas is the greatest evangelistic opportunity of the year!!! ...

Don't you realize that in EVERY family there are people who are lost and without the hope we have in Jesus? If there was EVER a day to get that family member in church it is on Christmas Sunday![Liveprayer devotional, Dec. 8/2005, emphasis mine]
In other words, the status quo for most Christians is best. Yet what about those who sense an agenda in either family or church? Then what? If someone becomes disengaged (even unwittingly or indirectly) because of these circumstances, doesn't it seem to be too high a price to pay?

For example, ponder the dilemma of someone who was abused by church congregants or family. Celebrating with family or with Christians may not be the ideal that it is considered to be.

What are better ways to foster community, belonging and acceptance that was flexible and enduring for many without falling into easy solutions?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Real Witnessing

IMAGINE IF SUNNI INSURGENTS decided to face down the greatest power on earth with a human chain of non-violent resistance. Or if Hamas threw human shields rather than human bombs at Israel.

This is the kind of movement that the four members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams currently held hostage in Iraq are trying to build, and it's precisely the model that the peace movement should have, but didn't, take as its strategy for challenging the Bush Administration and its imperial ambitions after the invasion. Instead, less than a dozen CPTers have stood virtually alone against 150,000 "coalition forces" and an equally violent and unscrupulous insurgency—a scandal whose reflection on the movement is every bit as devastating as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are for the US army.

It didn't have to be this way. The peace movement did not have to settle for the kind of "cheap activism"...{read more}
[via Mother Jones, HT: Jesus Politics]

Forced Focus on Family?

Christmas, short for Christ Mass, is essentially a Catholic tradition. I can think of few other non-Biblical Catholic traditions we Protestants have carried over. I suppose because the Bible is silent on such a celebration, we've decided not to offend tradition.

I think of the season in cultural terms, and I'm happy any time true Christian faith is expressed in any serious terms in a secular forum. But I refuse to belabor this day to complain about any missed meaning or lack of spiritual importance in our culture. At least in American, Christmas in its most pure form of celebration still looks like something out of Walt Disney's imagination. So much of its tradition is pagan, wrapped in shiny colors and bright designs.

Absent Biblical guidance, corporate celebration of Christmas is purely subjective, in my opinion, and to criticize churches who do not is a shaky position.

It just so happens that Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, and some churches are cancelling regular services to return the day to families who wish to celebrate Christmas privately. If someone wants to criticize the corporate Church for allowing too much emphasis on individualism and not enough emphasis on community, I'm right there with you.

However, keep in mind this day has become so family-oriented because we've made it that way, and it's a message that's reinforced in thousands of pulpits -- even in those churches with a corporate Christmas celebration.
[via The Gad(d)about, emphasis mine]

Offer a Real Gift...

Christmas is under attack. When Christians stand by and let a mean spirited, sexual-harassing, phone sex maniac “defend” the day commemorating the birth of their Lord and Savior, Christmas is in jeopardy. When Christians are offended by someone wishing them a “Happy Holiday” and it in effect robs them of the joy, hope, and peace this season brings, Christmas is in jeopardy....

Christmas is under attack my brothers and sisters! It’s time for those who follow Jesus to go to their inner room, close the door and pray to their Father who is in secret. We must show others the meaning of Christmas through our care for the poor, the outcasts, and the sinners. We must be humble.
[via Howie Luzus]

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Distraction or Discouragement?

It is easier to feel alone than ordinary.
Have you ever felt your body was trying to sabotage you? When my body injures itself, it usually means "need motivation to change?"!

Unfortunately, this normally happens right when I need to gain momentum, not lose it. Last year, I broke my ankle right before I wanted to do some spring cleaning, and also disturbed my walking routine which relaxes me. Just last week, I strained and pulled a muscle right after I was recovering from a cold when the cough was still lingering. (I'm still uncertain what caused it!) So every time the muscle is tender, it makes me cough and vice versa.

These scenarios are compounded by the fact that I'm an introvert, an emotional and physical inert one at that. It doesn't help to have one more obstacle to overcome. {Stupid body!} It's frustrating to not feel above it all, almost treading quicksand. One truly seems brought down to size.

Yet all is not lost; I am not alone. Many people have injuries like I have, even if they do not occur quite the same way. Things can be frustrating, incovenient, even insurmountable now, but it is okay to dwell in the ordinary sometimes. It can be intimidating, since we sense that we cannot rise from it. We are all human and all recognize our sinews of common bonds, however tenuous they may feel at those times. Great things can happen when we are not.

So be of good cheer, laugh, and take care.

Randall Friesen, writing in the Prince Albert Daily Herald:

The snow that we are blessed with, causes us to do some things that people in Florida and California don't have to do. We have to stop from our daily routine and think about winter. We must prepare ourselves for the coming of the cold and snow. The houses and cars need attention and we pull out our parkas and long underwear and mitts. The point is that we are required to stop from our ongoing life, and think about things coming. This is a blessing we don't always see.

When I talk with friends in California there seems to be a sense that life just continues, 52 weeks a year, with a day off for Christmas. There is no need to stop and think, no need to exchange our daily rhythms with seasonal ones. No need to look ahead and think about things coming. I think this is why we are blessed.

From Gad(d)about:

No Christian can always offer healing, but we can always offer love.
To which I would add:
For Christians, Jesus can always offer both.