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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

nativity scenes

while stopping in at some friends' the other evening for eggnog, i noticed something for the first time. my friends collect nativity scenes. displayed there on the header, these are engaged in a veritable parade of nativity, each float telling the same story but doing so with style and aesthetic nuance that separates it from the others.

now THERE’s a collection idea: something that you can bring out once a year at a time when everyone displays theirs…i have some Christmas albums (in no particular order) that accomplish the same thing:

Band Aid:
Do They Know It's Christmas?

a band of pop musicians drawn together by bob geldof (of the boomtown rats) and midge ure (of ultravox) on november 25, 1984 to record a special benefit song written by geldof and ure to raise money and awareness for the victims of a famine of biblical proportions in ethiopia that year. a larger live concert event called Live Aid was staged the following summer for the same cause. through the concert tickets, recordings, books and other merchandise, as well as the benefit moneys that were raised during the actual global 'telemiracle'-type concerts, over $300 000 000 was raised. the band aid record and the live aid concerts, although not the first benefits of this type (george harrison of the beatles staged The Concert for Bangladesh on august 1, 1971 which probably served as a helpful model for geldof's Live Aid event) they seemed to usher in a new era where pop musicians began to use their celebrity and their influence as a conversive, rather than subversive force for world change.

Various Artists:
A Very Special Christmas
many pop stars who met each other for the first time either in the recording of 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' , the american music industry's benefit song 'We Are The World' (written by Michael Jackson) the canadian music industry's contribution 'Tears Are Not Enough', or in the blur that culminated on july 13, 1985 with Live Aid, rallied to put together an album of Christmas favourites old and new for Special Olympics.

Jon Anderson:
Three Ships
the singer of the progressively epic art rock band 'yes' and longtime collaborator with vangelis (electronic composer of the oscar awarded soundtrack to the film Chariots of Fire) put together a particularly spacey, mid 80's-esque collection of Christmas songs and justice anthems. The record was dedicated to raising awareness for 'Beyond War' which continues to be a voice for justice and peace even today.

John Denver & The Muppets:
A Christmas Together

the soundtrack of a 1979 television special of the same name, this muppet record features a rollicking version of the beach boys' christmas hit 'little saint nick' (which follows the same formula as their earlier tune 'little deuce coup') that i worked up with a group of grade 7's during my internship at lakeview school in 1987. yep, our performance featured puppets as well. those 'kids' are now all 34 years old... 11 years older than i was when i taught them.

Boney M:
Christmas Album
okay, i do NOT know why i have this album. i've never actually bought the record, yet have somehow owned 3 copies. however, speaking of christmas concerts, how would we live without 'mary's boy child' at least once in the holiday season?

Zero Mostel/ Alan Mills:
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
the grinch story is great, but only takes up one side of the record and, in truth, i've never played it. i bought this record at value village because of side2: Christmas Songs From Many Lands, Sung In English by Alan Mills. see, my brother-in-law used to play this folk record when we would come to visit at Christmastime to play games and drink egg nog. terry was twelve years older than his baby sister, my wife vonda, and was the closest thing to a true modern day renaissance man that i will probably ever meet. a brilliant artist, athlete, musician, leader, mathematician, educator, dad and friend, his friendship and approval were kind of a big deal to me as i was trying to find my place in my wife's family...we played tennis together and talked about God and the beatles and i always said i wanted to be like terry when i grew up. he was killed with his wife by a drunk driver on october 11, 2003.

George Frederick Handel:
handel wrote this entire oratorio over a three week period. a powerfully spiritual encounter for the composer resulted in one of the most famous and well respected pieces of music ever to feature words and music by God.

Michael W. Smith:
orchestra, choir, synthesizers and some basic guitar, bass and drums come together in an album so rich in classical texture and (with the exception of, perhaps a painfully 80's rendition of 'angels we have heard on high') timeless in its delivery that it can be played outside the Christmas season and still bring about a rich awareness of the presence of God in the room.

each of these tells the same story- albeit the details and priorities may vary from telling to telling, each one of these bears tidings of great joy which shall be to all people…for unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying
‘Glory to God in the highest- and on earth peace, good will towards men!’ (luke 2.10-14)

i know these words almost verbatim because linus has recited them yearly as part of A Charlie Brown Christmas since 1965.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

crazy thoughts

my friend posted a note on facebook one day, inviting anyone in the online network/community to comment on why her brain must be 'filled with craziness…' i wondered if she was looking for a serious answer or an ironic one, but realized that my most serious answer was inescapably ironic:

truth can be used to misdirect us, leading to the intense inner conflict that is the direct result of the right things being used the wrong way in order for the wrong conclusions to be drawn from the right arguments… that’s why we call it crazy.

the irony is that somehow it’s what we want.

if this misdirection feeds our misery, it’s because we somehow find comfort and stability in that; if it feeds our faithlessness, it’s because we prefer the doubts- embrace them even; if it feeds our sense of self-loathing or worthlessness or victimization, it’s because these things appeal to us more than their alternatives.

this irony is the thing that I find more perplexing than pretty much anything else in the human condition... but paul did too. in his letter to the roman church, chapter 7, verses 15-25, he shares probably the most frank and encouraging thing he has ever written.

it's a source of real hope as long as we can make it all the way to the end... to push through the despair that causes one to shout "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (7.24) to finally conclude with "Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (7.25)

it's just an ordinary day on the prairie
i feel the wind blow through my hair
and i know you use these times when i feel lonely

to show me that you really care

and i can feel your spirit
just like the power of the wind
and i can hear you whisper as you call my name

i'm beginning to understand

the daily burdens, they grow so heavy

at times i feel i may stumble and i may fall

then to feel your presence there to remind me

that i don't have to bear it all

and i can feel your spirit
just like the power of the wind
and i can can hear you whisper as you call my name

i feel it when you take my hand


but you know me, sometimes i get bothered

and i get feeling that all i can do is wrong
finally in my anguish i cry out to you
only to find
that you were waiting there all along

('windsong' was the first song i wrote in this part of the country. i was 19 and had just left home for college. apparently some things never really change... nor do some people. i'd probably choose different words today, but be saying basically the same thing.)

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

how do they know it's christmas?

i'm just listening to my 12" EP of band aid's 'do they know it's christmas'. on it, in addition to the song that raised millions of dollars and millions of prayers for those in ethiopia enduring a famine of biblical proportions, there is a lengthy 'bonus track' which contains spoken yuletide greetings from a number of musicians participating in the recording.

here's one:
'It's Christmas 1984 and there are more starving folk on our planet than ever before. Please give them a thought this season and do whatever you can, no matter how small, to help them live. Peace be with you.' (David Bowie)

so where are we a quarter of a century later? have we, with all this talk about being global villagers and the like, been moved to live Jesus' gospel of hope and justice in our everyday living?

John 3.16 does state very clearly that this 'only begotten son' and the 'everlasting life' promised should be available to 'whosoever believeth.'

the challenge is to make this gospel of grace believeable for all, through generous living and loving that touches others, wherever and whoever they are.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

any colour you like

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." (revelation7.9-10)
it's nice to just take an idea and run with it a ways; see where it goes. i was thinking about this big worship gathering revealed by God and described by john when something gelled...

the apostle john, exiled on the island of patmos while his faith brothers are all being systematically murdered for their terrorist ties with the rabbi known as jeshua ben joseph, describes the worship crowd gathered as multicultural, multi-ethnic, multilinguistic and so on. a fairly heterogenous group, all standing there waving palm branches just like when Jesus arrived in jerusalem, only instead of crying 'save us' (hosanna) they are proclaiming to whom salvation belongs.

but it's the white robes bit that really caught me, in light of all that comes before it. i suppose it's fair to say that white is Jesus' team colour, what with all that 'washes white as snow' talk. however, one might lose track of another possible significance of the multitudes clothed in white, defaulting to the simple truth that white shows dirt and can therefore only be seen as white when it is pure... the white stands for purity.

not that there's anything wrong with that.

so many things in our physical realm are not necessarily restricted to being only what they seem: take a simple beam of white light. we all remember the science class project where a beam of white light is directed into a glass prism which separates the colour spectrum of that beam of light and projects these colours on the wall adjacent to it. then there is, of course, the classic pink floyd album cover...

here's the thing, though: when we perceive a colour, we are really perceiving how just that band of the spectrum reflects back off of the coloured object: a green object only looks green because it is treated with something (paint, dye, whatever) that reflects only the green in a beam of white light.

a beam of white light contains all the colours of the spectrum in perfect balance and unity. it reflects off of the surface of something conducive representing this perfect balance and unity.

that the great multitude that no one can count, with representation from every nation, tribe, people and language, is singing salvation songs wearing white, reflecting the perfect brilliance of almighty God who is the only source of true light in the cosmos, suggests more than purity.

it speaks of perfect communion.