Home For The Holidays

I’ve been so proud of myself for growing up

and shedding this suburban scenery for more subtle forms of snobbery.

I the butterfly, you the broken cocoon. I the artist, you the coloring page.

I’ve proudly colored outside your lines.

But wintery tradition brings me back behind that picket fence

and I’ll whisper that I’m humbled by this homeyness.

I the weary traveler, you the cozy inn. I the prodigal, you the open arms.

This town pulls on my compasses.

 

On the way to that one coffee shop and who can think of anything else but that

the corner of 17th and Juniper is nothing if not the time I turned around to hear him out and welcome home another brother in the front of that movie-making robot

and that dirty donut shop is nothing if not the place I realized they were gone forever, interpreting the news of a shrinking world with coconut crumbs ignored

and the sidewalk across from Filippi’s is nothing if not the stage of my debut and the meeting of my first embodied inspiration at my entrance to the underworld

and that drive down the boulevard from Sunset to Grand is nothing if not the highway of my heart and the cornerstone of my conscience in every immanent sense.

The truth is that you made my good deeds good.

January Anniversary

For Laine and Walker, eight days till their wedding.

Family members filling up the family room, finally together.

She glances across the group with understanding peaking out,

sneaking out, and showing up in her smile.

She knows him and his habits and his way of wondering why.

She has seen him weak and worried about where he’s walking.

She was there last night.

No one like her man. Many may imagine themselves to be mighty

but he considers not his courage. Silently strong.

Lighthearted talking and loudness of laughing,

but he feels her looking, that lady he’s loving.

He knows her and her habits and that wild wandering in her.

He has seen her breaking, beaten up by bad timing.

He was there this morning.

Others audaciously offer themselves as if it were obvious

but she’s subtle. She takes seeking.

He glances back across the group and understanding glows in his gaze.

Holiday happiness and full hearts around the hearth

and a wedding waiting for one more week only.

That understanding will thrive over time, then in thirty years

–in a family room filled with old friends and new faces–

they will think back on January and be thankful for this.

What We’re Made Of

Christmas 2014: Genesis 2:7, Philippians 2:6-7

I. Physicality.
Watching a toothless child fall asleep still attached to a woman’s naked breast;
His tongue stuck to the bottom of his mouth and perpetual drool wetting his chin;
Their sweat mixing with mine in a hug that sticks us together, and the taste of salt;
Pain in the bathroom and shifting in our seats as we smell the shame of it from here;
Jesus’ stomach growling on the beach, waiting for the fish to roast, breathing in the smoke.
Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground.

II. Spirituality.
Watching a child decide to retreat from the war being mongered on the playground;
His distress as the invisible duel between his conscience and his pride starts to hurt;
A callow heart aching for love in a darkness disrupted only by a flashing cell phone light;
Early morning efforts to conduct the train of thought and launch it off the heavy ground;
Jesus’ joy when he considers God’s humility and its poetry over top our arrogant noise.
And breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.

III. Humanity.
Watching embodied spirits try not to lose control at each other in an overly silent room;
The competing emotions manifested in the moving muscles and the audible breaths;
A sweaty embrace soaked through with loyalty and the smell of a friendship that understands;
The clenched hands of pain, of desire, of anger or fear, and the commonalities there;
Jesus dying slowly with forgiveness on his tongue and a bad taste in his mouth.
And the man became a living being.

new takes on an old story

The story of how Jesus’ birth happened is of course very old. For many people today, it has entered into the realm of cultural mythology, in the same category as little George Washington fessing up to chopping down the cherry tree and Christopher Columbus setting sail to prove the earth is round. Not strictly true, but a nice story for the kids.

For Christians, if Christmas is not strictly true, we are wasting our time. Jesus’ birth meant the enfleshment of God himself, on earth, before the eyes of very human humans, as a real, crying, needy baby. We call this the Incarnation – perhaps the most mind-boggling event in creation’s history. This is the event Christmas celebrates and commemorates, year after year.

And every year, artistic people in the family of God come up with new ways to celebrate the old story with creativity and originality. I love it. Here are two videos I really like (both made last year) that tell the Christmas story in new and insightful ways:

“A Social Network Christmas.” “This video is an artistic take on how the story of the nativity might have read had a social network existed at the time of Jesus’s birth” (from the website). A poignant reminder of the disgrace Joseph and Mary went through (and Jesus was born into) because of the Lord’s uniquely supernatural conception.

“The Christmas Story,” as told by the children of St. Paul’s church in Auckland, New Zealand. Sort of reminds me of the excellent movie “Where the Wild Things Are.” And the music is so catchy! Not to mention the incredibly adorable children, especially with their New Zealand accents. This one is difficult not to watch repeatedly.

Do you know of any others? Share them!

the problem with Santa’s list

A big difference between juvenile fiction and adult fiction is the complexity of the characters. In most juvenile fiction, there are two fairly clear groups: “good guys” and “bad guys.” There are heroes, whom we root for, and villains, whom we root against. Good guy-bad guy stories are fun to read and easy to understand. They do little to illuminate truth about the human condition, however.

The mythology of Santa Claus follows a similarly simplistic breakdown of the world. According to the songs, Mr. Claus divides all the children of the world into two camps: naughty and nice. The nice children get toys, the naughty ones get coal. Not that I have ever heard of children whose parents had the heart to follow through with the threat of coal in return for bad behavior, but still, that’s what we say.

For the Christian, Santa represents one way of viewing the world. Santa may know if you have been “naughty or nice,” but all he can see is your external behavior. He can tell whether you did chores or threw a tantrum, but he has no way of knowing why you did either of these things. To him, the child who does chores is good and deserving of a reward while the child who throws a tantrum is bad and punishable. It’s simple. Too simple. A worldview which breaks the world down into camps of “naughty and nice” people, like Santa’s list, does not, and cannot, address the heart.
The same is true of our judgment of each other. On their website Mark Driscoll and the guys up at Mars Hill church in Seattle say this:
Religion says that the world is filled with good people and bad people. The gospel says that the world is filled with bad people who are either repentant or unrepentant.
People who understand the gospel understand that we are all more alike than we are different. They consider the sin in their own hearts as more weighty than the sinful behavior they see in the people around them.
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 1 Timothy 1:15
The Bible, thank God, does not fundamentally follow a good guy-bad guy/naughty-nice dichotomy. Its anthropology is much more sophisticated. Like good novels and honest biographies, the Bible exposes the contradictory truths about the human heart through both evocative story-telling and well-reasoned teaching.
It does make distinctions between the “righteous” and the “wicked,” especially when speaking of things such as oppression, abuse, and other evils perpetuated by people who have no reverence for God or people. We also must make such distinctions, as people concerned with holiness, justice, and righting the world’s wrongs. God forbid that we “call evil good, and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20) for the sake of appearing non-judgmental.
But we may not leave it at that. God says, look at yourself. Look into your own heart and see the evil there; if your circumstances have prevented you from seeing the darker side of your own depravity, consider what you might be like had you grown up differently and lived in someone else’s shoes. We’re more alike than we are different.
David, a man who wrote often about the wickedness of the wicked and the righteousness of the righteous nonetheless referred to himself as “feeble and crushed” under the weight of his own sin (Psalm 32:8). He stole another man’s wife and conspired the man’s murder; his children committed rape and murder against each other, largely because of his monumental failures as a father; throughout his life the man was prone to lust, pride, fear, and complacency.
Why would human authors, on their own, choose to include such despicable details of the life of their greatest king and hero? For that matter, why would David publish his private poems of confessional prayer, to be read and studied throughout his nation? Even today we are still studying his failures and confessions.
It is because the Bible’s anthropology does not fundamentally break the world down into good guys and bad guys, or naughty children and nice children. “No one is nice, no, not one” (paraphrasing Romans 3:10). All need atonement and grace; none are disqualified from receiving it.
Jesus makes Santa’s list irrelevant. That’s the gospel. As my pastor loves to say, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” Or, since it’s almost Christmas, “The ground is level at the foot the feeding trough.”
Gospel people treat Santa’s list as irrelevant too. That’s the gospel applied. No more treating outsiders as outsiders, as people who will never “get it,” or as people who need to clean up their act (and appearance) before they come to church.
Such Santa-ish thinking is exactly the opposite of what the church is here for.