Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Worst Christmas Song Ever

A few weeks ago on my blog I named "Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth" by David Bowie and Bing Crobsy as the coolest Christmas song ever. Now, unfortunately, it's time to name the absolute worst Christmas song ever recorded to date. And boy is this one a doozie! A thousand nails on a thousand chalkboards could not equate the horrible sound of this horrible saccharine-coated pile of dog droppings.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you . . . "The Christmas Shoes" by Newsong:

Oh, how do I loathe this song? Let me count the ways:

1. The obvious theological mistake of thinking that your dying mother needs to "look good" if she's about to "meet Jesus." Apparently Daddy never told this boy that when you die you leave all your earthy possessions (including shoes) behind. Besides, many of Jesus' early disciples were too poor to afford shoes, so I highly doubt that He's all that concerned about footwear.

2. The overall hopelessness of the song. Even though the boy got his shoes in the end, his mom's still gonna die.

3. Not only did it spawn a crappy book series, but also a crappy TV movie with Rob Lowe.

I would go on, but I feel as though this song is about to burrow its way into my brain like a parasite, so I'll leave it there and listen to "Christmas in Hollis" instead.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Grandpa’s Star of David

Memories of Christmas past always flood my head for obvious reasons this time of year; driving by the array of Christmas lights these past few weeks always leaves me thinking of my Grandpa and his Star of David.

I should say at this point that I come from a long line of gentiles; there is no one even remotely close to being even kind of sort of Jewish even by marriage.

Grandpa was never the religious type; Grandma was a church organist, and a pretty well known one at that, but Grandpa rarely attended services to see her play. That’s not to say he wasn’t spiritual, but Sunday’s for him meant spending time in the garage, smoking a pipe, and listening to the radio—I suppose there was actually something religious about his devotion to this routine, but it had little to do with a higher power.

How the star came about, I am not sure; I’m not even sure he knew what the star symbolized. What I know is one Christmas he decided the house should have one, and so off he went to the garage to build it. When he finished, he came hither from his garage carrying a wooden five foot tall Star of David, wrapped in foil, and decorated in Christmas lights most likely found in the neighbors trash the Christmas before.

He carried it proudly to the front of the house, and climbed to the top of the house to hang his beloved star at the homes tallest peak.

As Grandpa aged, and diabetes overtook his body, he started losing chunks of his foot on regular bases; he was barely capable of walking, let alone climbing a ladder and wandering around the rough. And yet he did—too proud to ask for help, and too stubborn to accept help when it was offered.

Neighbors would question him about the star; most wrongly assumed he was Jewish; mostly he ignored them—refusing to explain his motives for hanging this star, and why it was so important for him to hang it every year.

I wish I could say that I have a happy ending for all of this, but I’m afraid it’s all anti-climatic, as he died years ago never really explaining why he loved the star so much. I’d like to believe that it was symbolic for him—that it was his way of telling everyone the true meaning of Christmas; I’d like to believe that, but ultimately I think it had more to do with irritating someone than being symbolic.

Whatever his motives, I’ll always have the memory; as Christmas passes, and people who used to be around for Christmas are gone, memories are all we have—Grandpa left me one that I’ll never forget; his motives were likely not sincere, but it doesn’t matter because I still have it.

This is my last post before Christmas, and likely the last of the year; I wish all of you readers out there a Merry Christmas with your family; as you sit around the table of fellowship with all those you love (or are supposed to love), cherish those memories, because one day that’s all you will have.

Share the gift of love!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Why I Don't Get Mad When I Hear "Happy Holidays"

I think there’s something wrong with me. Christmas is just a week away, and yet I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to. Don’t get me wrong, I am preparing my heart for celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, but something’s missing. It seems that no matter how hard I try, I just can’t get angry whenever I hear phrase “Happy Holidays.”

Believe me, I tried. I really did. I spent hours watching Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, and listening to James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family,” but it just didn’t work. In fact, whenever some one wishes me a happy holiday, I automatically smile and say, “Same to you.”

Yeah, I know!

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I don’t care about keeping Christ in Christmas. Far from it! I just think we have bigger things to worry about than the phrase “Happy Holidays.” For starters, “Happy Holidays” really isn’t such a bad expression. It’s basically a short way of saying “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukah,” “Happy Kwanzaa,” and “Happy New Year” all at once. There’s certainly nothing wrong with wishing everyone a happy holiday, whatever that holiday is, is there?

To me, the biggest problem we Christians have to face during the Christmas season is not the phrase “Happy Holidays,” but the increasing consumerism that’s taking over the meaning of Christmas. On Sunday mornings during the Advent season we sing “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” preparing our hearts for our Savior’s birth. By Sunday afternoon, however, we’re running around the mall ducking and dodging the other shoppers on our quest to grab the latest hot gift before they’re all sold out (or no longer on sale, whatever comes first). At church we greet each other with “Peace be with you,” but at Target we grumble “Watch where you’re going!” to each other as our shopping carts nearly collide. I don’t know about you, but I have a feeling this wasn’t what the angels had in mind when they sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

But then again maybe I just have my priorities mixed up. Maybe the phrase “Happy Holidays” really is part of the radical Left’s socialist agenda to destroy Christianity, or something like that. Either way, have a very merry Christmas . . . or a happy holiday.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Free-Market Parables?

As you may remember a few months ago I wrote about the so-called Conservative Bible Project. Well, recently Conservapedia's Andy Schlafly was on The Colbert Report, and near the end he says that all of Jesus' parables were "free-market based."

Now I'm no theologian, but I always thought the parable of the talents is about using the gifts God gave you. And I can't see much capitalism in any of His other parables. I mean, you could say that since Jesus talked about the Church, not the government, providing for the poor, His parables could be considered "free-market based." But the free-market isn't the point of the parables. Jesus' parables are illustrations for the Kingdom of God, which transcends all market systems. Besides, didn't Jesus throw money exchangers out of the temple? A good capitalist would simply say, "Keep up the good work, boys!"

Now don't think I'm suggesting that Jesus was a socialist or anything like that. I've said it before and I'll say it again: God is not a liberal, a conservative, a libertarian, a socialist, etc. He's God, period. Let's leave it like that.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Will the Real Reason for the Season Please Stand Up?

It's that time of know, the time when Christian have to force their message of "the real reason for the season" on anyone who will listen.

I came across one of these "real reason for the season" in the form of art not to long ago; there are many different versions of it--from ceramic art to actual painting--but they all of them have Santa bowing down to Baby Jesus.

I get what the artist is trying to say, but I don't really like the message. If you must tell a child about Santa (or heck a non-Christian for that matter), can't you just say he's a jolly fat guy who gives gifts to people because that's what Jesus would want him to do--he's giving out love and wanting noting in return; who cares about the historical "real Saint Nick" who wasn't very Saintly?

The painting above and all it's variants seem to much like a cheap gimmick, and one that really spreads no message at all; it's not saying anything about Jesus and what he stands for--it's just saying Santa worships him, so you better too.

If you must use Santa to illustrate a point, I sort of like the one below, which is both disgraceful but also too true.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Real Meaning of Christmas, or How Dirty Water Kept Me From Being a Grinch

Today's post is brought to you by Chase Andre. Enjoy!

"Happy Birthday Jesus!" reads the illuminated sign that casts a light across the 405 Freeway this time a year. Below the sign stands the headquarters for the largest Christian television network in the world. Directly across the 12 lanes of traffic stands South Coast Plaza: Orange County's ritziest of mega-shopping centers.

The two seem to face each other, and dual out "The Real Meaning of Christmas" every year.

"Presents and Holiday Deals!" screams the one, in bright fluorescent.
"Keep Christ in Christmas!" the other matches its electric tone.

This banter happens like clockwork (Well, that's not entirely true. It seems to start earlier and earlier every year. I believe I started seeing "Holiday Special!" sales in August, and my pastor started his "Nativity Series" in mid-September this year...I digress). Either way, you can count on seeing it.

I have to admit, though, I tend to dread it. Not to get all Charlie Brown Christmas on you, but I don't think either sides of this debate is "the true meaning of Christmas." The whole thing makes my head spin, and to be honest, I get downright Scroogey. Or maybe Grinchy. Depends on the mood; or how many @JimCarey tweets I've read.

But this season, I heard a statistic that put legs to my Bah-Humbug.

In fact, I became downright... disturbed.

Every year, Americans spend $450 Billion on Christmas.
Only $10 Billion of that would solve the Clean Water Crisis, Globally.

That same crisis that is claiming 42,000 lives a week.

What does this mean? It means that if we all shaved roughly 20% of our Holiday budget from ourselves and gave it away, we could give life to nearly a billion people who live without this Basic Need. But what do we do instead? Buy Toys and Tinsel.
(Excuse me sir...your Grinch is showing.)

Despite my flaring Bah-Humbugs, Hope has grown in me this year. It's a Hope that comes from the promising prospect of Change; and not the kind offered by any politician.

Instead, what I see is young people, like ourselves, who are beginning to take Jesus at His words:

"Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me." (Matt 25:40)

As Travis mentioned, a group of friends and I went out on Black Friday to remind folks of the tangible impact their money could have on their Global Neighbors. We started a Facebook Event Page for what we were doing and it spread to more than 3000 invitees, and over 600 positive responses from around the country.

When you hold a protest/picket/whathaveyou such as this, you never truly know what the response will be. Overall, our small group (around 10 friends who banded with us in our area between the hours of midnight and 9am), was very well received.

One man, in line for the midnight opening of Toys'R'Us, stopped in his tracks. You could see on his face that what our cardboard signs stated disturbed him, too. "$20 could provide clean water for a person in a third world country for 20 years? I have to give!" Immediately, he pulled out his iPhone and tapped in "I'm donating right now!" he told us, before he crossed the store's threshold.

Another, about my age, sprinted out of Best Buy at around 5:30am with a flat screen TV under his arm, and a grin-of-victory spread across his face. I offered him a bottle of water, and told him why we were out there when he asked.

"You need to get laid, bro," came his response.

I gave him a bottle of water anyway. He accepted, without breaking stride. As he rushed off to wherever he was rushing to before sunrise, I called out, "And, uh...I hope...that TV, gets you... laid?"

Humorous as I found it, I was saddened to know that is the gauge-of-success much of our culture carries. It affirmed why my friends and I were out there.

Yet with every story like that, we find stories of Hope and change.

For example: a friend, Brandt Russo, is fasting from all food until he raises $15,500 "to help Ryan Alexander of Not Fashionable in his quest to end hunger by helping him provide medicine to deworm 1,000,000 children." (To find out how you can help Brandt in his Operation:STARVATION, or learn more about the cause, click here)

We all know that this stuff -- the toys, and tinsel, and TVs -- won't last. Nor will they bring us anything but momentary happiness. Yet, year after year, we persist to buy them.

If I could make one request, it would be this: Give Life. This Christmas, let's not get wrapped up in the ribbons and glitter and electric allure of the Sales and Specials. Let's not say "Happy Birthday, Jesus" and do nothing to offer him a drink of water (See Matthew 25:40-46).

Instead, let's realize how greatly our blessings & excess could impact another. We could save lives. If the Hope for Change I see rising is a trend here to stay, then Save Lives, we will.

"And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

Merry Christmas, Friends.

"Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men." Luke 8:14, as told by Linus.

Photo Credit: Sarah Jean Photo

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Naked Gospel

Thanks to Andrew Farley's The Naked Gospel, I can no longer beat myself up with guilt and legalism. I'm not sure whether to thank Farley or curse him.

Even though we know we are no longer under the Law of Moses, Farley writes that many Christians don't really believe it. If you're like me, you somethings think that you have to follow some sort of moral code in order to get into Heaven, and you beat yourself up when you feel like you're not good enough. But as Farley explains, that's the Old Covenant, which is dead. While the Law shows us God's ways, following the Law cannot save you. Only Jesus' death on the Cross can totally pardon our sins--now and forever. Farley reminds us that we are new beings, and sin no longer reins over us. Of course, we still unfortunately sin for time to time. But according to Farley it's not because of our "human nature," but because the force called Sin still lives inside of us (Romans 7:17).

"The message of 'Jesus plus nothing' . . . is often too humbling for us to swallow," Farley writes. "Instead, we opt for performance hoops to jump through in order to impress God. Sure, we trust Him alone for salvation and a place in Heaven. But when it comes to daily living, it's difficult to fathom that he wants to be our resource and carry the load."

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I'm way too hard on myself. Even though I know what grace means, my mind still can't believe it. I don't have to jump through any proverbial hoops to win God's favor? And Jesus already did all the dirty work? There's got to be a catch! But no, there isn't.

So now that I don't have to beat myself up with legalism and guilt, what am I supposed to do now?