Friday, December 24, 2010

g.k. chesterton | magician, person, storyteller

“I had always believe that the world involved magic: now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician. And this pointed to a profound emotion always present and sub-conscious; that this world of ours has some purpose; and that if there is a purpose, there is a person. I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a storyteller.”

G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

joseph's lullabye | ron klug

Sleep now, little one.
I will watch while you and your mother sleep.
I wish I could do more.
This straw is not good enough for you.
Back in Nazareth I'll make a proper bed for you
of seasoned wood, smooth, strong, well pegged.
A bed fit for a carpenter's son.

Just wait till we get back to Nazareth.
I'll teach you everything I know.
You'll learn to choose the cedarwood, eucalyptus, and fir.
You'll learn to use the drawshave, ax, and saw.
Your arms will grow strong, your hands rough like
You will bear the pungent smell of new wood
and wear shavings and sawdust in your hair.

You'll be a man whose life centers
on hammer and nails and wood.
But for now,
sleep, little Jesus, sleep.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

peter la grand | a christmas memory

It may surprise people that I once was a neo-hippie, much affected by the writings of Gandhi, Henry David Thoreau, Dorothy Day, and Jesus. At least it may surprise you (as it does my wife) that I also once had a full head of hair. This was a while ago when I was 20 years old and spent my time grappling with how to live the gospel in a radical way in a modern and western life.

In other words I had no job and attended a small Christian Liberal Arts College.

I obtained the requisite VW camper van, painted it with rolling green hills, a blue sky, clouds, sun, and various radical quotes and a jesus fish; I played guitar; I lived in the bad part of town where rent was cheap. Pretty standard Midwest stuff.

I tell you all this to set the stage for a Christmas memory that took place at this time in my life. On this particular Christmas my desire to get to the marrow of every experience and to follow the gospel as best I could was burning like a fire. At the time my three older brothers all had new families with which to spend Christmas, and my parents had to spend Christmas at the Church where my father was minister. These Christmases were not attractive to me, being either about children, which I didn’t have, or about work with sermons to give and carol sings to attend. So I chose to make my own way and to spend Christmas on my own, in my rented house, reading the Bible and praying.

I forgot to mention how pious I was.

The house where I chose to spend Christmas was an old wooden house that housed seven of us comfortably. On Christmas day, of course, all of my housemates were with their families. They had all reacted as my family had to my desire to be alone – with disbelief and with some hurt when I declined their invitations to join them at their own celebrations.

On that day, I woke up alone in a that big, empty house. I don’t remember what I had for breakfast, but I do remember drinking coffee and reading the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth, sitting swaddled in my sleeping bag (it was a cold house). I took my time reading, no doubt also smoking a cigarette or two. The thing is, though, that it didn’t take too long. I had no distractions, no family pictures or squabbles, no unwrapping to do, so before long I grew a bit bored. I then drank a Christmas beer, which I was pretty sure fit with the piety as monks brewed and drank beer. At least Martin Luther did, and he was the monk that counted in my tradition.

Sometime soon after I had the idea that I should sing and record some Christmas hymns – which I began to do on the four-track recorder that I had received for Christmas the previous year. I got fully involved in this project, and recorded a version of “Silent Night” in five part harmony – all the voices my own, all the harmonies written on the fly.

When I had finished Silent Night, I began to feel a little lonely. I wanted to share my song with someone. I had contemplated Christmas, but I was ready to now share Christmas. At this point my housemate Marcus came home with a plate of Christmas food he had taken from his parents house for me. Soon after our friend Josh showed up with the same, and we had a feast. I played them my song. The light was rosy and the cheer was good.


I did not think about this Christmas for a long time. It was one that was both full and lonely. Looking back I realize that while my intentions were good, I almost missed the point of Christmas – life. The coming of Jesus means many things, but most of all it means that we have hope in life. It means that we are not alone, that there is a God, and that God loves us. It means that we have reason to rejoice, that we have reason to connect and rejoice with the other. While there is a time for solitude, meditation, and prayer, Christmas is not properly celebrated this way. The birth of Christ was not a solitary affair. Not only was there a mother and child, but there was a father, there were animals, there were shepherds, wise men, angels – and the list might have been even bigger. Even my twenty year-old self somehow knew this unconsciously. I now see that I created my own 5 person community in a music recording in order to celebrate the birth of Christ. That day, Christmas really came in the form of my own two “wise” friends who brought food and presence to the stable I had chosen over the places I had been offered at the inn.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

rev. j.m. gates | death might be your santa claus

While we think on the 25th of December, we are expecting a great day. But on that day it is said that Jesus was born, but we celebrate Christmas wrong. From the way I look at this matter, shooting fireworks, cursing, and dancing. Raising all other kinds of sand.

Ah, but death may be your Santa Claus. Those of you who are speaking to the little folks and telling them that Santa Claus coming to see ‘em, and the little boys telling mother and father, “Tell old Santa to bring me a little pistol,” that same little gun may be death in that boy’s home. Death may be his Santa Claus.

That little old girl is saying to mother and to father, “Tell old Santa Claus to bring me a little deck of cards that I may play five-up in the park.” While the child play, death may be her Santa Claus.

Those of you that has prepared to take your automobiles and now fixing up the old tires, an’ getting your spares ready and overhauling your automobile, death may be your Santa Claus.

You is decorating your room and getting ready for all night dance, death may be your Santa Claus.

Death is on your track and gonna overtake you after a while. Death may be your Santa Claus. Oh man, oh woman, oh boy, oh girl, if I were you, I would be worrying this morning and would search deep down in my heart. For God I live and for God I’ll die. If I were you, I’d turn around this morning. Death may be your Santa Claus. Death been on your track ever since you were born, ever since you been in the world. Death winked at your mother three times before you was born into this sin sinnin’ world. Death is gonna bring you down after while, after while; Death may be your Santa Claus.

Atlanta, 3 November 1926
from "Goodbye Babylon"

liner notes
“This was Rev. Gates’ most successful Christmas sermon and his first on a topical theme. Good sales caused him to record many more topical sermons and to return to his theme in 1927 with Will the Coffin Be Your Santa Claus? and in 1939 with Will Hell Be Your Santa Claus? Rev. A. Nix recorded Death Might Be Your Christmas Gift in 1927. Preachers have always been somewhat ambivalent about Santa Claus, feeling that the emphasis on gift giving and materialism obscures the role of Christmas as a celebration of Christ’s birth. Rev. Gates offers a strong reality check for those who would celebrate the holiday with too much revelry and foolishness.”

Thursday, December 16, 2010

horton foote, harper lee | to kill a mockingbird

"Atticus, Jim says this watch is going to belong to him some day."
"That's right."
"Customary for the boy to have his father's watch."
"What are you going to give me?"
"I don't know that I have much else of value that belongs to me."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

lance odegard | impossible dream

Cribbed, cabined, and confined
Within the walls of a human life
The Infinite defined
Measured out in ticking time
Tell me have you seen
Such a strange way to redeem
It’s like selling all your acres
It’s a mighty big mistaker
To be cribbed, cabined, and confined

It’s way beyond the absurd
Thinking of a skinned on word
A pronouncement given in the mess
The Almighty’s endorsement: ‘flesh is best!’
Tell me have you seen
Such a strange way to redeem
I find it kind of crude
How He’s arriving in the nude
It’s way beyond the absurd

With the child a new economy
The bottom line it’s all for free
Now grace is growing on the trees
It’s in the roots and in the leaves
Tell me have you seen
Such a strange way to redeem
It’s like losing all your savings
all your monies and your makings
It’s a whole, new economy

It’s all yours, you merry little elves
Your manufactured joy on shelves
There’s a old party that’s in town
Hard to say where it’s at it’s all the upside down
Tell me have you seen
Such a strange way to redeem
If ya wanna get a little crazy
Try the incarnation baby
Cause God’s inside a lady
And no I don’t mean maybe
In God’s impossible dream

diane tucker | advent couplets

People are coming for dinner; lay the table
with freshly pressed green and yellow napkins.

On short dark days she draws impatience tight
around herself, black swaddling clothes.

By noon the page is half full of words.
By two the clock has eaten every one.

All day the stove has been dreaming of stew;
meat, roots, leaves, it performs their marriage.

The gardeners are gathering the fallen leaves
into canvasses to take them all away.

First Sunday of four. Hold your breath
for four weeks in the dark, then exhale a song.

diane tucker | christmas couplets

We are dumb animals, oxen chewing, cows
breathing steam in the litter. Greasy sheep.

We walk winter, nearly spent in the leafless dark,
waiting for some thrust, some flare of life in the belly.

The signs, wonders, angels hovering over stars
are not the gift; the gift is by birth and blood.

A woman and a miracle wrapped tight together:
God bundled in a girl, shepherd in the sheep’s womb.

There’s shit in the stable, flies and rotting hay,
but a pearl is hidden there, sleeping where animals feed.

When the world opens its greedy red velvet mouth,
shut it with the base and the exalted flesh – shut it with singing.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

luci shaw | mary considers her situation

What next, she wonders,
with the angel disappearing, and her room
suddenly gone dark.

The loneliness of her news
possesses her. She ponders
how to tell her mother.

Still, the secret at her heart burns like
a sun rising. How to hold it in –
that which cannot be contained.

She nestles into herself, half-convinced
it was some kind of good dream,
she its visionary.

But then, part dazzled, part prescient –
she hugs her body, a pod with a seed
that will split her.

Luci Shaw

illustration: Annunciation, by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898