Friday, December 24, 2010

Song 1--Joy to the World

"Joy to the World"

When I started talking about doing this blog with my kiddos and wife, I started to wonder what song I was going to end with.  For a while, I thought it might be Silent Night or O Holy Night.  But my kids lobbied for the "Jeremiah is a bull frog song"--that whole joy to the world, all the boys and girls.  I set them straight, but when I thought about it--this song does capture some key beliefs I have.

I believe that Jesus is the creator of all and Lord over all.  I believe that on Christmas he was born of a virgin and became a man.  Fully human.  Fully God.  I believe at the end of the day Love wins.  And I believe that this is fantastic news for everyone.

I believe, as a follower of Christ, I have reason to be joyous.  I make mistakes, but I'm not defined by my mistakes.  I sin and hurt people, but I'm not held captive to that sin.  I am forgiven.  I am free.  I am loved.  I have a relationship with the Creator God.  The joy of Christmas for me is the realization that God can and will do anything to show us his love for us.  Give up the throne of heaven for manger of straw--done.  Give up the eternal beauty of heaven for a dusty desert--done.  Let go of the right to command the stars into existence for the ability to cry and hope someone figures out you are hungry--done. 

He covers himself in humility.  Takes on the robe of our humanity.  Suffers with us.  Cries with us.  Hurts with us.  Rejoices with us.  Laughs with us.  Celebrates with us.  He truly is God with us.  This is Christmas to me.  God with us today and everyday in every circumstance.  Alleluia.  Glory to God in the Highest.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Song(s) 2--O Holy Night and Silent Night

O Holy Night and Silent Night
More Words

Silent Night is a song that draws me into worship on Christmas.  It paints the Christmas picture.  You can close your eyes and see the stable.  Over there is a cow.  There's a sheep.  There's a young mother holding her newborn baby.  There's the father with a glassy look in his eyes wondering if he is up to the task. Close your eyes and hear the heavenly voices of the angels mixed with the low and rough worship of the shepherds.  The animals joining in.  The murmuring of people.  See the star shining bright--a beacon for the world to see.  This was a night when the world paused and began anew.

O Holy Night might be my favorite Christmas song.  It speaks of the world being held captive and yearning for rescue and on this night, the Rescuer showed up.  Not just for the Hebrew people.  Not just for Christ followers today, but for the world.  And the world rejoiced.  It speaks of the God in the straw, the king in the manger who will be our friend and our savior.  It speaks of the law of love and how we can now have peace.  It calls me to worship, to humility and to God. 

What a picture this song paints.  A multicolored God who breaks chains and unites.  In his name, all oppression will cease. I could go on a rant about what people do in his name that has nothing to do with oppression ceasing, but it's Christmas time so I won't.

Instead let me tell you how this song speaks to me of the God who Restores.  He came to restore people to a relationship with him.  He came to restore justice.  He came to restore freedom.  He came to restore light and chase away the darkness.  This is what he is still doing today.  Christmas is a celebration of restoration.  Of God coming to us and living with us and knowing us and being us and staying with us.  We can have justice.  We can be free.  We can begin anew. We can join with him in his restoration of the world.  This Holy Night continues in a more vibrant way each and everyday as we join with God who came to us.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Song 3--O Come, O Come Emmanuel

"O Come, O Come Emmanuel"

I'm running out of days, but when I heard this song I just had to write about it.

The story goes that there was a great nation founded by God and led by God.  But they wanted a king like other nations.  So God said yes.  This great nation went through many ups and downs.  They kept turning away from God, being conquered, turning back to God, being rescued, turning away from God. . . . and so on.  God sent them prophets and judges to lead them.  He promised he would bless the world through them.  Then God fell silent.  This nation no longer heard from prophets.  They were conquered and they stayed conquered.  But they had God's promises and they hung on to them with all the hope they had.  God promised to send a savior.  God promised to send a son born of a virgin.  God promised to send a light into their darkness.  God promised freedom.  So this conquered nation believed and waited and waited. 

They lived in anticipation of rescue.  Who would it be?  Would this savior be a great warrior and lead them to victory over their enemies?  Would their new king restore them to the land God promised them?  Would they be led in victory and again prosper? Who?  When?  How about now, God?  Now would be good!

But God surprised them.  He fulfilled his promises, but most people missed it.  Shepherds noticed, but scribes did not.  Astronomers noticed, but the priests did not.  Eventually fishermen, tax collectors, women, children, sick people and hurting people noticed; but the religious leaders could not or would not believe.  God sent a baby and they wanted a soldier.  God gave freedom from sin and they wanted freedom from the Romans.  God opens the way for us to know Him and be with Him and they wanted rules, not relationship.

In this song, I hear the longing of people who have hope and faith in a God who saves. This longing for a deeper relationship with God resonates in my heart as well.  I just want to cry out "Come God!  Be more with me.  Bring me deeper into you.  Be more real in my life.  Make my love more real to others.  Come Lord and light those dark areas of my soul.  Restore my broken spirit.  Lift my head so I can see your face.  Come Jesus and form me into the world changer that you have called me to be.  Come Rescuer and free me from my pettiness, my habits, my selfishness.  Come Lover of my Soul and help me to love my wife and children unconditionally.  Come Healer and make me whole from the inside out.  Come, come Emmanuel.  Come into my life and make me more like you."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Song 4--Little Drummer Boy

"Little Drummer Boy"

In addition to this being a really cute cartoon and a really cool duet with Bing Crosby and David Bowie--I think this is a powerful little song with a great message.  Plus just by knowing how to sing "pa rum pum pum pum"--you can sing half the song!

Nice and simple story.  A little boy, with nothing to give to the baby in the manger, comes and plays his drum for him.  Not something I recommend doing in most hospital rooms and birthing suites/stables, but it worked for him.

Each of us, no matter how rich we are or how poor we are, have something to give.  We all have talents.  We are each unique and without any one of us the world would be a poorer place.  You matter to other people and you matter to the world.  You have the power to make a difference in people's lives with a smile, a touch, a hug, a card, a song, a meal, a cookie, a call, a post.  We are surrounded by people and that means we are surrounded by chances to give.

The little drummer boy shows us courage.  He wanted to give.  He wanted to declare his love and worship and he was not going to let his social standing, his status, his class, or his clothes stand in the way of giving his gift.  He understood the greatest gift we can give to another is ourselves.  We are treasures.  We are masterpieces.  To give your talent and to serve is a gift. The little drummer boy understood that God desires humbleness.  He comes humbly to the manger, risking ridicule and rejection, and gives everything he has.  At the manger he finds acceptance and unconditional love. 

Did this little guy really understand and think about all that and dwell on the theological implications of his drumming?  No way.  He just wanted to love and worship.  This Christmas bring yourself.  Bring yourself to the others.  Bring yourself to the manger.  Bring what you have and who you are.  At the manger you will be smiled upon.  At the manger you will find unconditional love.  At the manger you will find the God who is with us.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Song 5-The Grinch Theme Song

"The Grinch Theme Song"

Yet another song that I have trouble thinking about without thinking of the two Grinch movies--both of which I enjoy.  This song came up in my mind because of a Christmas service I went to on Sunday night.  I went to a church where the people love God and love others.  They are trying to make a difference in their community.  Part of the time together we heard of five local families or organizations that were going to receive a generous gift from this small church family.  People came up with ideas.  People voted on the ideas.  Now people get to carry out the ideas.  Cool stuff.

At another part of the night, the person teaching brought up Grinch and Scrooge.  He talked about how some people just don't like Christmas.  It is not a season of joy for them.  He wondered if even in our own hearts there have been times or certain aspects of Christmas that we don't like. He then asked us what does Christmas have to say to people who don't like it.  Great question.

I know of people who don't enjoy Christmas.  For some it is a time of loneliness, depression and loss. Sometimes memories associated with a previous Christmas continue to hold power over all future Christmases.  Some people get stressed over family, gifts, cooking, time, travel.  Possibly it is the building up of expectations only to be disappointed by family, friends, cooking, etc. that forms a dislike for Christmas.

So is Christmas, the most wonderful time of the year, for these people?  Where is God? The people at the church in the coffee house responded with thoughts of how Jesus came into the world in relative obscurity, understood our struggles, was betrayed, abandoned and killed.  He understands our pain.  He has dealt with emotions, loss, family, friends, misunderstandings, temptation--just like us.

Christmas is a time of celebration.  It can be enjoyed.  It is for those at peace with themselves and the world around.  It is for those that love to give to others.  It is also a time for those that feel lost, alone, misunderstood and abandoned.  Christmas says "I am here.  I have come to be closer to you.  I will be with you when you celebrate and when you cry.  I love you when you are full of joy and full of sorrow.  Even when you don't believe and struggle to live--I will be here."  It is a time to be grateful we have a God who chooses to be with us.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Song 6--Santa Claus is Coming to Town

"Santa Claus is Coming to Town"

We take a break from the semi-deep thoughts of the previous days' songs to bring you this rant.

Santa as a chief spy of a major elf espionage team.  Sleeping, awake, good, bad.  Don't pout, don't cry.  YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!

Talk about a lesson in manipulation and conditional love.  If you are good according to Santa's standards, he will reward you with presents.  If you mess up--nothing for you!  This is a ton of pressure for a child (and me). 

As a parent, it is possible that I could have used Santa and the implicit threat of his immenent arrival as a way of behavior modification.  But this is not how I want my children to learn to choose to be good.  Yes, I want them to be good.   I don't want them to be mean.  I don't want them to pretend to be something just to get what they want.  As a parent, I don't want to bribe, trick or bully my children into acting how I want them to act.  Using those techniques is a good way to have my children act one way when they are around me and another way when they are not. 

It is also possible for them to learn that they are only lovable when they act correctly.  Scary thought.  If I don't provide a solid foundation of love and acceptance, how can I expect my child to come to me when he or she messes up?  How can they possibly see me as being able to help if I demand perfection?  Conditional love leads to perfectionism or rebellion.

And what about this not pouting or crying crap?  My desire is not for my children to be stepford children.  I want them to be able to have feelings, express those feelings and learn how to regulate those feelings.  Each of my children have different temperments and different ways of expressing themselves.  It is wrong of me to try to make them act and feel the same way.  Cry--but know why you are crying.  Pout--but know why you are pouting and what you hope to gain from it.  I want them to be the persons God has designed them to be so I think I'll let them cry and maybe even pout.

Most importantly I think I will love them no matter what and let them know that nothing in this world can ever separate them from my love for them.  Afterall, this is the love God has for each of us.  And if you think about it, is more of the love that parents try to teach their children to have for others by celebrating Santa as the giver of many presents.  This song speaks of a conditional love not the love of God or Santa.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Song 7--Away in a Manger

"Away in a Manger"

I  do like this song.  I find the melody soothing and the words tender.  It speaks of love and a desire to be close to Jesus and for Jesus to be close to us.  As much as I love the picture this song paints, I'm not sure I like the poetic license the writer takes when he talks about the animals making noise and baby Jesus waking up and not crying.

You see, the way I read the Bible Jesus was as much of a human being as you and me.  Fully human.  He cried as a baby.  He needed to be fed by his teenage mom.  He needed his diaper changed or whatever they did back then.  He had gas.  He burped.  He spit up.  He probably had some sleepless nights as did Mary and Joseph.  Jesus was not just pretending to be a little baby.  He was a little baby. 

The creator of the universe.  The one who spoke everything into existence.  The imaginator that gave us giraffes and hippos.  The artist that gave us sunsets and ice coated trees.  The constructor who placed the stars and the planets.  The conductor who orchestrates it all.  That ONE came into our world needing everything!  He humbled himself to be taken care of.  It was not an act.  It was not a fraud.  He was a little baby boy.

God in the straw has a lot to teach me about humility.  My self sufficiency needs to be challenged so I don't forget my need for God and others.  If God can be humble enough to be a child, can I be humble enough to ask for and accept help?  If a manger was good enough for a king, maybe my house and cars are good enough for me.  If God can set aside his rightful place of royalty and splendor, maybe I don't have to be right, recognized and remembered all the time.

Simplicity.  Humility.  Acceptance.  Three gifts I could use this Christmas.

Song 8--It's the Most Wonderful Time

"It's the Most Wonderful Time"

There may be jingle belling, good cheering, marshmallows roasting, parties, mistletoe and glowing hearts, but this song reminds me of a different reason why it's a very wonderful time for me.  Let's take a look at a Christmas past.

December 1997.  We finished a very fun Christmas show with our church where my wife directed  and I was King Herod and teenagers fed me grapes.  Good times.  Shortly thereafter, December 22nd to be exact, we find ourselves in the hospital.  It's a Monday night and the Dolphins are playing on MNF and I am watching.  Oh, and my wife is in labor with our first child.  Her parents are driving back from Wausau in hopes they will be on time.

At 1:16am on December 23rd, our son is born.  He is wonderful.  My wife did fantastic.  Her mom was supportive.  Her dad was in the hallway.  I was by her side.  The next couple of days were very magical.  Friends came and prayed with us and brought gifts and enjoyed our new addition.  Santa even came and visited in the hospital.  Eventually the flock of friends dwindled and we had alone time. 

Outside the hospital window the snow gently glided down from the heavens.  My heart was more full than it had ever been.  I was sitting in a glider rocker holding my boy and telling him a story.  A true story about a young girl, a young man and their baby, Jesus.  With tears in my eyes I told him about shepherds and angels. One manger and three wise men.  Sheep, swaddling clothes, songs and probably a drummer boy.  I told him about how much God loves him. 

We brought our tiny boy home on Christmas Day with a blanket of snow on the ground and a chill in the air.  When we got to our place, the first thing we noticed is that our Christmas tree had fallen down.  So after putting the tree back up and replacing a few ornaments, we stuck our child in a big stocking and went about capturing his first Christmas on film.  Christmas of 1997 might be my favorite Christmas. 

Is it the most wonderful time of the year?  For me it is, because of two babies:  the baby born on December 23, 1997 and the baby who's birth we celebrate on December 25th.  May you be of good cheer and may your heart glow this Christmas.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Song 9--God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"

Why was Christ born?  According to this song, one of the reasons was to free us from Satan's power when we go astray.  I so go astray at times.  Quick lesson--Satan is a spiritual being who decided he wanted to be in charge.  He gathered some followers and tried to take over from God.  God won.  Satan lost.  Now Satan hates all things good and all things godly.  Humans are made in the image of God.  Therefore Satan hates humans and will do anything he can to make our lives never live up to our potential and will do anything he can to keep us from God.

But do I really believe in Satan's power?  Is evil not just an abstract concept brought about by mistakes and poor choices?  Isn't evil just the absence of good?  Isn't the idea of a devil a bit outdated?  For my take on the spiritual, you can look over Song 17--"Angels We Have Heard on High."  As for evil, I believe in Satan and in evil, not just from my faith stand point, but from a personal stand point.

I look back at my active drinking days.  I was not only dependent on alcohol, but truly felt in bondage.  When I was hurting myself, I felt trapped and hated who I was.  When I was suicidal, I very much believed the only way out of pain was death.  Bondage, trapped, death.  The presence of evil in my life is very real.  I still struggle with doubt.  I still struggle with depression.  Satan hasn't given up on keeping me from freedom and from God.  He still tries on a daily basis to draw me away from the life I am meant to lead.

Do you feel trapped and enslaved in areas of your life?  Does he use money and things to control you and drive you?  Are there habits that are self-destructive that you just can't seem to break or that you just can't seem to want to break?  Is lying a way of life and not just a hobby?  Do you live in fear that someday, those you care about will see the real you and you will be left alone?  Do you feel God could not possibly care about you?

This Christmas, may this song remind you there is a love greater than the despair you feel.  There is a savior who longs to free you from the spiritual jail you are in.  There is God who offers hope, forgiveness, guidance, strength, peace and life.  Jesus was born to show us that God has the ultimate power.  He will not be stopped.  His love will not end.  His strength will not fail.  We are made in the image of God and through Jesus we can daily be remade in that image.  We can be free from the power of Satan.  Merry Christmas--receive the gift of freedom.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Song 10--Home for the Holidays

"No Place Like Home for the Holidays/Home for the Holidays"

Home for the holidays.  It sounds like a great idea for some folks.  For others--not so much.  Sometimes home is where the heart is.  A man's home is his castle.  Home sweet home.  Sweet Home Alabama.  Home on the range.

Where ever or whatever your home is, I hope you find it this Christmas.  A few "home" Christmas memories for me include the Christmas I spent down in West Virginia volunteering on a Catholic Worker Farm.  We existed on donations and people were pretty generous at Christmas, so it wasn't a bad time.  I was working at a fast food place to try to pay some bills.  On Christmas Eve, I got off work and felt like going to Midnight Mass.  So, I drove to a church I knew a couple of hills away, and low and behold, their midnight mass started at 10:00pm.  HMMM.  Kind of disappointing.

Another holiday involved driving back from Minnesota to Ohio.  Going back I ran into a horrible storm and sat on the interstate outside of Minnesota for quite some time.  Another Christmas was also a snowy time and we blew a tire on the Indiana Turnpike with two kids in the car, freezing weather and snow.  (Still thankful for that state trooper who helped change the tire).  Needless to say, we don't travel much over Christmas anymore.  But travel wasn't always bad.  We had a fantastic Christmas in Webster, Wisconsin on a family homestead one year.  Cut down our own tree, made decorations.  That travel worked out great.

Recently, Christmas Day has turned into a very low key, relaxing day.  Just my wife, our kids and me.  We manage.  I know my parents would really like us to travel over Christmas, but we just aren't traveling through all this white stuff.  Christmas Day we wake up.  Get the coffee going before anything else.  Our kids then open up their presents.  Sometimes we wrap those presents.  Sometimes we hide them.  Sometimes they don't finish unwrapping because we all start playing with something.  No big deal.  There was one year when they were little, my wife and I waited downstairs watching to see them come down.  We waited.  And waited.  Finally they appeared and we got started. 

You probably have your own traditions and ways you like to do things.  Some of you may be flying this Christmas.  Some of you may be driving.  Or maybe everyone comes to you.  Whatever the case, I hope you will be surrounded by those you care about and who care about you.  May you and all your loved ones be safe and make it home for the holidays.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Song 11--What Child is This?

"What Child is This?"

This song asks a life changing/life defining question--"What child is this?" 

Growing up in a certain faith I have some great memories about who baby Jesus was for me.  I remember one Christmas our family was chosen to place Jesus, with his family and friends, in the large manger display in church.  That was a special year.  At home, every year we would put up our manger in early December, but we didn't put baby Jesus in.  He didn't come until Christmas.  After church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, we would sing carols as we placed baby Jesus into the manger scene.

As a child there was something special about baby Jesus.  There was a sacredness.  The readings were about the "Word became flesh" and "Unto us a child is born".  It was a very special time.  It was obvious Jesus was a very special baby.

As I've grown up, the question has grown from "what child is this?" to "who is Jesus?"  Do I really believe that the King of Kings was born to a virgin in a manger?  Do I really believe He is fully God and fully man?  Do I really believe this carpenter's son grew up to be a world changing teacher?  Do I believe He died on the cross, was buried and rose again?  If yes--does it make a difference in my life? 

Do I allow for the possibility of miracles?  Do I trust Him with my family, my money, my life?  Is He the center of my life?  If I answered yes to the first questions, then I should answer yes to the last questions.  This Christmas may I again answer the question "what child is this?" with "this, this is Christ the King."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Song 12--Here Comes Santa Claus

"Here Comes Santa Claus"

WARNING--Tiny Tim's feeling grouchy and nit-picky today! 

So, this is a fun song about Christmas cheer and getting ready for Santa Claus and the anticipation of Christmas.  All good things.  Yet--there's this mixed up verse about Santa Claus loving the rich and poor the same as they are all God's children and another about saying your prayers.  Yup, I feel like ranting again. 

Yet--it is Christmas time.  As I'm writing this there are volunteers, including my kids, helping to sort and pack gifts for people as part of our city's Holiday Fund.  I've seen first hand the joy when churches or organizations adopt a family and really do provide beyond expectations.  I've seen those tears of gratitude.

I've seen single moms come home with a toy from Toys for Tots that they never could have bought themselves.  I was able to enjoy three Christmases when a number of churches and individuals adopted young, single moms who live in a maternity home and showered them with presents and food.  They provided necessities, but also gave according to the moms' wish lists.  There are giving trees and sharing trees and Operation Christmas Child and so much more.  We are very blessed to have so many chances to make a difference.

Maybe I'm wrong to feel cynical about this song.  Maybe Santa Claus does love every child the same.  Maybe he counts on us helping him every Christmas.  Maybe he counts on us helping throughout the year so people who have been helped can turn around and help others--as so many of them do.  Maybe God is counting on us to do the same as well.  To be His hands and feet reaching out and helping not so people can experience the spirit of Christmas, but can know the Spirit of God.  May we love all year round.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Song 13--Baby, It's Cold Outside

"Baby, It's Cold Outside"

I really enjoy this song.  I don't know whether I should or not, but I do.  Maybe because my daughter did a beautiful dance to this song one Christmas.  Maybe because it's in the move "Elf".  Maybe because I find it fun and kind of witty and charming.  So why do I sometimes feel strange liking it?

I'm saddened by the change in values we have.  The song speaks of a time where people watched out for each other.  Where you were careful about what you did because people might talk.  Those things that were avoided back then are now posted as videos on the Internet.  I'm not saying those things never happened.  They did.  They were hidden and kept under wraps, which I'm not sure was any better.  But it feels like we have lost a sense of shame, embarrassment, privacy, and self-respect.  I am not perfect.  There are times when I find myself telling myself, "it's not going to hurt anyone else," "I have a right to be happy," "it's okay if no-one finds out," etc.  I forget that I am intimitely connected to others and that anything I do, right or wrong, effects other people. 

Another short lesson I have learned that this song reminds me of is to watch the little things.  Watch who I am with, when I am with them, where I am with them, how I am feeling, why am I there, etc.  If I keep running into walls, why should I complain when I get hurt?  If I put myself into situations where I am going to do something wrong, how can I then point the finger of blame at someone else.  My responsiblity starts in my thoughts and in the situations I put myself in, not just with my direct actions.

But alas--I still like this song.  It speaks to me of the fun I have with my wife.  The nuanced looks and surprise touches.  The flirting and the hand-holding.  The potential energy combined with a catalyst becoming kinetic energy.  The feeling is somewhat undescribable. The feeling of having fun, loving and being loved with someone who will never leave me.  Of someone who has my best interests in her heart.  Together we serve, play, joke, travel, etc.  Face it, not only do I love my wife, I genuinely enjoy my wife and being with her. I am honored and thrilled to spend another Christmas with her.  May it be cold outside.

Song 14--I'll Be Home for Christmas

"I'll Be Home for Christmas"

When I hear this song I think of the brave men and women who have served and are serving in our Armed Forces.  I have friends and relatives who are veterans and some who are in the active military or married to active military.  Even though the song dates back to 1943 and previous wars, it still strikes a chord in many today.

Today, there are families separated because of war.  Children who will not be able to wake up to their  parents being around on Christmas morning.  Parents who will be dreaming of the look of awe and joy on their children's faces, but will only see sand.  War is not an easy topic for me.  I disagree with some decisions by our government.  I disagree with the indiscrimenent bombing of people who are caught and trapped in an evil system.  Yet the evil that is out there is real and does not care how I feel.  It is the evil of the Holocaust, of the tribal wars in Africa, of the killing over drugs and money, of freedomless societies where to think differently means death.  This evil is what the men and women I know in the military are fighting against.

I don't personally know the uncaring, bloodthirsty, cold soldiers that are sometimes portrayed in the news.  I do know the soldiers that believe that by serving and fighting they are making a difference in the lives of people who have no choice.  They are making a difference for their families, friends, neighbors and people they will never meet.  They are sacrificing.

So for all soldiers, not just United States military, who will be home for Christmas only in their dreams, may you be safe.  May your families be provided for.  May every weapon fall silent on Christmas Day.  May you all come back safely.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Song 15--Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful

"Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful"

This hymn is guaranteed to be sung in many, many churches on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  It is the call to come and worship on Christmas. "Come let us adore Him, Christ our Lord."

The question I find myself asking is "what do I adore?"  I adore my wife.  She is fantastic, smart, beautiful, funny, real, caring and so much more.  She is worthy of my time, my money, my thoughts, my feelings, my allegiance, my attention, my life.  Even though she really is all that, I don't want anyone else adoring her.  It is a very special adoration. 

I also adore my kids.  I want the best for them.  I want them to grow up to be able to totally live the life they are designed to live.  I adore them in a very different way than I adore my wife.

Merriam Webster defines adoration as "feelings of strong love or affection."  In light of that definition, I can look back and see how many different things and people I have given myself over to adoration of.  Most of them not good ideas--like adoration of money, myself, pleasure, drinking, you get the idea.  I've learned that even if something or someone is adored, it doesn't make them worthy of adoration.

That is what makes the call to adore Jesus so life changing.  God is worthy of our adoration.  He created us in the image of himself.  He created this world.  He gives us the choice to adore him or not to adore him.  We were made to have strong feelings of love or affection--sometimes those feelings get misdirected.  We are called to adoration.  Come let us adore Him.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Song 16--Christmas Shoes

"The Christmas Shoes"

This is one of those songs that if I let it in too deep, it can move me emotionally and I can feel the tears begin to form.  Yeh, I'm a big sap sometimes.  But there is so much that moves me in this song.

There is a little boy who is dealing with losing someone he cares deeply about, who he depends on to care for him and to love him.  Maybe he's too young to really understand, but it sounds like he understands enough to know his mom is dying.  Instead of focusing on what he's not getting for Christmas this year, he breaks open his piggy bank, checks under all the cushions on his worn out couch, keeps his eyes open on the sidewalks for any loose change and goes to buy a pair of shoes.  He doesn't stop to think, "what if I don't have enough money?"  He has faith that it will work out.  He has faith that God will take care of his mom.  He does what he can and trusts God.    He is out of control of having enough money and he is out of control of what will happen with his mom.  But he's got faith.

He lays his faith out on the line in front of strangers and humbles himself to ask someone else for help and not just help--but MONEY!  How hard it is for us to ask for money and sometimes how hard it is for us to give money.  But he reaches out and the stranger comes through and the boy is able to buy his mom the shoes.

The stranger goes home changed.  He is reminded of "what Christmas is all about."  Sacrifice, humility, giving up our treasures, trusting in God even when we don't know the outcome or don't like the outcome.  All these things are lived out for us in the person of Jesus.  All these things are things that I try to live out and that I am reminded of at Christmas and with this song.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Song 17--Angels We Have Heard on High

"Angels We Have Heard on High"

Angels, shepherds, the manger, a new born King, and the chance to sing one word for an extremely long amount of time. Glor. . . or or or or. . . or or or or. . . or or or or oria.  And then, more Latin--in excelsis deo!  Glory to God in the Highest is what that all means.  That night, as the angels proclaimed, was a night to give glory to God.  God had gone and done something miraculous, supernatural, unbelievable and worthy of glory.

When I reflect on this song, my mind goes to those angels appearing to the shepherds.  Here are these guys watching over the flocks.  Not very exciting work, but good work if you could get it.  Could be kind of dangerous as there were animals who liked sheep and all those shepherds had were their staffs.  I guess you could say that a good night was also a boring night.  This was one good night that was far from boring.

Instead of spotting a wild animal or just sheep doing something dumb, they see an angel appear and the whole area lights up like the Fourth of July finale on pause.  The poor guys are terrified.  They've never experienced anything like this before.  They've never seen X-Files or E.T. or attended a course on Angelology.  They're shepherds!  The angel announces "Don't be afraid!"  That's about the only thing I could imagine being is afraid--very afraid and down right freaked out.  I don't know why they didn't just run away, but they didn't.  They listened to the angel who tells them about a savior being born and where to find him.  Then the sky bursts open with more angels singing and praising God.  WOW!  I bet they wished they had a cell phone with a camera.  They go and find Jesus in the manger just like the angels said they would.  They then tell everyone they can find and go back to their sheep praising God.  What a life changing experience. Truly a good night.  (See the Gospel of Luke for this story.)

One question this song makes me ask is "do I believe in angels"?  Short answer yes, angels are spiritual beings.  Some of these angels serve as God's messengers.  Long answer is that I believe the "spiritual" world is closer than we think or act.  I see it as a world that is intimately involved with us on a daily basis.  It is not a place out there, but a dimension that is woven in, out, over, under, around and through our very existence.  On my own I am incapable of accessing it, sensing it or interacting with it.  I seem to be more bound to the physical then the spiritual.  Yet the spiritual feels like my true world.  Where I can be my true self.  I sense my physical self is real, but without my spiritual self, it is an empty shell.

On Christmas God melded the physical and spiritual world together in a whole new way.  He brought together the physical aspects of humanity with the spiritual aspects of Himself.  So now, because of Jesus' life, death and resurrection I have access to be my true self.  I am not bound to what I can see, feel, touch and hear.  The spiritual world is alive and well and accessible.  God has made a way for us to experience life as we were meant to experience life--a life of freedom and a life linked with Him.  A life beyond our physical existence.  In the sky that night over Bethlehem, God opened a window into the world that exists side by side with us.  The shepherds saw the spiritual angels interacting with the physical world.  We are designed to be physical and spiritual without separation—just like Jesus. This Christmas, in addition to seeing the beauty in the lights, the songs, the presents, the services, take a moment to open your heart and mind to see that for which you were made.  A life of freedom.  A life beyond.  A life of fullness.  A life with Him.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Song 18--Where are you Christmas?

"Where are you Christmas?"

I love the Grinch movies.  The cartoon and the live person.  In the live person one, when little Cindy Lou Who looks out the window and pleadingly questions the location of Christmas--simply moving and magical.  Touching--really.

There was a time when I questioned where Christmas had disappeard to as well.  I grew up loving Christmas.  We had felt cut outs that we would masking tape onto the walls.  Homemade Christmas cookies and candies.  Two of my favorites gifts that I remember were 1.  a Snoopy attached to a piece of metal and a controller that went around in a circle and you tried to knock down Red Baron targets and 2.  the kicker thing that you pounded on his head and he kicked the football.  It was fantastic to have a long narrow hallway for that toy.

But then I grew up.  During my college years, there are many Christmases I flat out don't remember.  There were years where I was an absolute jerk and spent as little time with my family as I could.  I remember not even caring and just feeling depressed and angry.  I was pretty big on blame and not so big on personal responsibility.  I allowed my feelings to take control and totally lost my spiritual bearings. 

But there were also some traumatic events and losses that occurred. I know people who described the first Christmas after someone close to them passed away as being "colorless" and feeling like they were just going through the motions.  Tragedy happens even at Christmas.  Parts of us get damaged and lost.  We begin to drift within our own beings.  Some people may never come back to the joy they once knew.

I am very fortunate. Somewhere along the lines I was able to reconnect with Christmas and reconnect with my own spirituality.  I believe a lot had to do with being able to forgive others and to forgive myself for the jerk I was, the mistakes I made, the people I hurt.  Somehow people loved me through that time and I was able to find Christmas once again.  Somewhere I learned how important keeping my heart clear is.  I need to care for others and trust that I may not always get what I want, but my needs are being met.  I may not always be loved like I want to be loved, but that should not stop me from loving others.  I can give even when I don't get what I want.  I can help others be happy even when I'm not feeling 100%.  I may not be able to keep Christmas all the time, but I can give it a shot.  So can you.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Song 19--Winter Wonderland

"Winter Wonderland"

I seem to be on a snow kick yesterday and today.  Could be the result of the snowfall we had Friday night and Saturday, huh?  A few things come to mind with this song.

One is I enjoy the crunch of a crisp, newly fallen snow under my boots.  I love the way ice covered trees appear to be glowing in the moonlight.  The air feeling sharper and hitting my lungs like a full body brain freeze.  Sometimes it really does look and feel like a wonderland.

The second thing that comes to mind is that I never remember building a snowman and asking him to marry me to any of my playmates!  Granted this part of the song seems to be for a more adult audience, but still.  In my opinion the expert on building snow people is not this song, but Calvin and Hobbes.

The third thing is that I begin to wonder who those mean kids were that went around knocking down snowmen dressed as circus clowns.  They didn't live in my neighborhood.  Plus, the newer version of the song has cleaned this up so the kiddies just "come around" and don't "knock him down."

The last thing about this song is that there are times that I do enjoy playing in the song even to this day.  I'm not known as an outdoors lover.  Sometimes I can be perfectly happy with a mug of coffee, a book and never leaving the house.  Yet, I find myself watching my kids sledding down hills, building snow things, burrowing snow tunnels, climbing snow mountains and joining with them as much as I am able.  May you too enjoy frolicing and playing in this Winter Wonderland.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Song 20--Let is Snow, Let it Snow, Let is Snow

"Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow"

Let it snow.  I remember the anticipation of snow days as a kid.  We would turn up the radio and wait and wait and wait.  It seemed like we were the longest hold out of all the school systems in our area.  But more than just snow days, this song reminds me of the one time that a snow day was a given.

You see I lived in Toledo, Ohio during the Blizzard of 1978.  We had wind gusts over 100 mph.  We had drifts that covered cars.  Everything came to a standstill.  We ended up with around 13 inches of snow, but the snow came on top of  ice and slush.  The stories included people getting to work and to the hospital on snowmobiles!  I still remember the way the snow was piled up against our house.  It felt like we burrowed out of the front door.

When we were able to burrow out, the first thing we did was check on our neighbors.  A lot of people were without power, but everyone in our neighborhood was okay.  After the first day it became obvious that no-one was driving out anytime soon.  By the second or third day, the news said some stores were open.  Remember we didn't have this thing called the internet.  We were probably listening to battery powered radios some of the time.  The neighborhood figured out what everyone needed and a convey of sleds and tobaggans headed to Churchill's grocery store around a mile away.  Everyone looked out for each other and everyone was kept safe.

It was probably one of the most unique weather experiences I have ever had.  As a teenager it was a blast!  Unfortunately the storm was not without casualties.  Nearly a dozen people died in Northwest Ohio.  I guess that's the two sides of letting it snow.

Snowmobilers, skiers, winter resorts all need the snow.  I enjoy a fun snowball fight with my kids.  People make sculptures and snowpeople and all sorts of stuff.  But too much cold and snow also lead to car accidents, people going through the ice, cars getting stuck with people stranded and people's heat going out. With the two sides of letting it snow, let's be smart, have fun and watch out for one another.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Song 21-Silver Bells

"Silver Bells"

"Silver Bells" reminds me of a couple of things.  One is that I really like Christmas lights.  Not enough to put them up outside, although I do think people who do that are super cool.  I like the big displays, the simple lighting of the eaves, the nativities, the reindeer, the roller coaster--what ever it is I like it!

One of my favorite memories of Christmas lights occurred 16 years ago.  This wonderful woman bought me a plane ticket and flew me into her state.  (Long story).  I met her parents and we went out to dinner.  After dinner, her dad handed me the keys to his car and said, "I hope you paid attention because you're driving home."  He proceeded to get into the backseat with his wife while his daughter sat in the front seat trying hard not to laugh.  As I attempted to find my way back to their house we ended up driving around looking at all the Christmas lights.  It might not have been the most direct route, but it was the most beautiful.

And then just last Sunday I had the opportunity to go to the Lights Before Christmas display at the Toledo Zoo.  It was magnificent.  Moose, bear, penguins, frogs, bats--all sorts of light displays.  Gorgeous lights dancing to music.  A huge Christmas tree that we suspect was decorated by a helicopter dropping a net of lights on it.  Sharks with Christmas hats on and model trains running around three or four tracks.  It was amazing.  Best of all my kids loved it!

The second idea the song brings to mind is that "silver bells" refers to the tradition of ringing a bell by a Salvation Army kettle to invite donations.  I have been fortunate that my kids and I have had the opportunity to ring bells together.  We have had good weather and bad weather.  Snow falling, wind blowing, toe numbing experiences.  Yet it's all good.  I have enjoyed this time with them and feel a bit more grateful for what I have when the hours are up.  I encourage you to go ahead and spend an hour or two by a red kettle this year.  Take your kids or your friends.  Ring a bell.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Song 22--Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer

"Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer"

Yes, I'm going to pick on Rudolph today. I enjoy singing this song and I enjoy making fun of this song.  I enjoy watching the cartoon--truly a classic song and classic show.  A classic story of the unwanted and different being picked on and driven away.  By leaving he learns about sacrifice and tries to save his friends by going it alone.  Yet in the end the very thing that caused him to be cast out is the very thing needed to save the day.  Everyone has a change of heart and happiness abounds.   So maybe I've seen the movie too many times and it blends in with the song...  Anyway.

As fun as the song is, I still get bothered by the image of Rudolph being picked on and forced to the outside.  You see, I have never felt like an insider.  Growing up I constantly questioned where I belonged.  I didn't seem to fit in.  I experienced being bullied from third grade on through high school.  Did it make me "stronger"?  Did it make me "more of a man"?  Did it "toughen me up" and "teach me life lessons"?  NO!--I felt powerless.  I felt depressed.  I felt like an outsider.  I was like Rudolph, but I couldn't run away and not go to school.  I was stuck. 

There is a lot of talk these days about bullying.  Children are taught how to deal with bullies.  There is anti-bullying curriculum available.  But what happens when the bullying is from the leaders?  How do children feel when the adults in their lives turn a blind eye and give silent consent to bullying?  It's really cool in Rudolph that the other reindeer and Santa have a change of heart possibly due to necessity.  But what if Rudolph had accepted his differing ability and chose not to save the day?  Could anyone have blamed him?  Were there any bad consequences to the poor reindeer and elfin behavior?  Where were the adults to stand up for Rudolph?

Three last thoughts on Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.  One--take a stand for those that are prone to be picked on.  Don't bully and don't let bullies win.  Two--don't discount someone because of their abilities or background.  At Christmas, I am reminded that the savior I follow was born in a stable surrounded by animals.   Instead of baby powder, he smelled of straw and dirt.  Third--if you struggle with a blinking red nose, or maybe depression or acne or a disability--please trust me when I say you are loved and there is a plan for you.  You can accomplish something that no-one else can.  You matter!  Don't believe the other reindeer.  You do belong.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Song 23--Jingle Bells

"Jingle Bells"
Words---come on you know 'em

It is very hard, nigh impossible for me to sing this song without smiling.  Go ahead and try it.  Right now--sing it-Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way.

This song is about fun and celebration.  Even with a bunch of vacation days and holidays and weekends--I don't think a lot of us celebrate enough.  Sometimes our celebrations turn into a lot work.  Sometimes they are excuses to look good or to pay back a favor or feel like something we have to do.  Whatever happened to just being around friends and family and enjoying them for who they are?  I don't care if your house is clean.  I understand your kids can be cranky.  I don't need a big meal.  Celebrations are about the people.

Jingle Bells also reminds me of car rides to go see relatives.  My mom came from a big family and every Christmas her numerous brothers and sisters, who were responsible for all my cousins, would gather together.  There would be eating, drinking, laughing and a humongous gift exchange.  Santa would sometimes appear.  Yes, sometimes things got a bit out of hand.  No, I didn't get along with every cousin.  Yes, a couple of my uncles were scary.  But it was a celebration.  My dad on the piano and carols being sung. Even helping with the dishes was fun on Christmas. 

I don't know if I will ever experience Christmas like I did growing up with my relatives.  But I hope that in the midst of everything I will remember to have fun and celebrate.  I hope you will too.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Song 24--Mary Did You Know?

"Mary Did You Know?"

So this God following teenager finds herself listening to a messenger from God.  Short story--she's gonna be pregnant as a virgin.  HMM--luckily, she has a very understanding fiance who also gets a message from God.  So from the beginning she knew something would be different and special about her baby, but come on--He would cast out demons, give sight, give hearing, give mobility, give life, teach, pray, be praised, be laughed at and be killed?  And come back to life?  Did she know?  I doubt it.  She could not have imagined the infinite greatness contained inside her little baby boy. But she trusted and she believed.

Children are fantastically unique individuals.  Each one a gift.  Each one beautiful and wonderful.  Each one needing to be discovered and nurtured for who he or she is.  And yet, even as we do our best as parents, we have no guarantees.  At some point, like Mary, all we can do is trust and believe.  Trust in our love for our children and believe in their uniqueness.

This song makes me think of the parents I have met through my job.  I know a lot of parents who have one or more children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder or a Developmental Disability.  Some of these parents tell me how hard it was when they began to see their child not develop like his/her sibling or neighbor.  The parents felt something was wrong, but didn't want to believe it.  They talk about the grief they went through when they realized their child was different from others.  How they had to give up on the dreams they had for their children.  How they had to change their expectations.  But they never gave up.  They keep doing what they can to help their child become the most he/she can be.

This Christmas I hope I can slow down and enjoy my children.  I don't know what the future holds.  I don't know what they will succeed at or be challenged with in this world.  Yet I can trust and believe just like Mary.

The stories of Mary and her fiance can be found in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Song 25--We Three Kings

"We Three Kings of Orient Are"

"Star of wonder, star of night..."  There are so many parts of this song that come to mind.  The first thing to jump out is the fact that these three wise man travelled together.   They probably had servants and hanger-ons.  So--think community.  This Christmas-don't travel alone.  If you plan on a physical or spiritual or emotional journey--take a friend.  Personal note--I know the importance of community, but I am not very good at it.

Second thought--they were seeking.  They saw a star, deduced its meaning and followed it.  They wanted to see the King.  They prepared to see the King.  They prepared to worship Him.  They weren't satisfied just knowing about this King, they wanted/needed to go see the King.  I would rather meet a king than just know about a king.  Plus, the person they were seeking was worth the time, money and effort.  Sometimes I seek things that are stupid.  This Christmas I hope to seek a joy that is worth it, not just seek more stuff.

BUT--the thing that I really think about with this song is that the the wise men were anticipators.  (Probably not a word, but let's go with it.)  They didn't just happen to see a star one night and wonder what it meant.  They studied what was available to them so they were ready and knew what the star meant.  When they went on the journey, they were prepared to see the King.  They brought gifts.  They brought hearts open to the King.  I can imagine the conversations on the long journey:  "What will he look like?  Will he be in the palace?  Will we be welcome?  Will we get to see him?"  Or maybe they believed that with this birth, the world would be changed.  They anticipated watching and experiencing history.

These weeks leading up to Christmas are celebrated as Advent in some Christian practices.  It is seen as a time to anticipate and prepare for the coming of Christ as a baby.  There are traditions such as the advent candle and the advent calendar.  Ways to mark the passing of time and build the anticipation. 

I remember one Christmas growing up when times were kind of hard around our house.  We anticipated not having a lot under our tree.  But then, we were blessed by members of our church sharing gifts with us.  I was so excited.  The gifts came wrapped and we gathered around on Christmas Eve when they were delivered.  Mom let us open them that night.  But when we opened them, they were second hand clothes and nothing we wanted or needed.  Today, I can appreciate the desire to help, but back then (as a child) it was very disappointing and disheartening. 

God is not in the business of handing out second hand gifts.  He wants his best for his children.  He expects us to give our best to those in need.  That Christmas has served as a reminder for me to take a part in the various opportunities I have to give this year.  To give something new, fun, useful, wanted.  To give like God calls me to give.  To give in hopes that when that child or family receives the gift, what they anticipated will not even come close to what they have recieved.  That is what God did on Christmas.  The wise men anticipated a new King, but what they and the world got is so much more.

Anticipate, participate and celebrate. 
Be like the wise men in the Book of Matthew.