Thinking Out Loud

December 26, 2017

Of a Christmas Yet to Come

Filed under: Christianity, Christmas, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:31 am

This is the third of the four stories we’re presenting over the Christmas season; two by myself and two by my wife.

by Paul Wilkinson

The Winterfest parade snaked its way down the main street and stopped near the town hall where, as had been the custom of the past few years, local performers entertained the crowds which had followed the parade’s last float.

You could still sense a little unease, particularly among the older residents at the changes which had taken place. By the start of the 2020s the so-called “silly debates” about saying “Merry Christmas” had ceased and had been replaced with genuine interest in the historical roots of the season. But now, here we were a decade later, the few remaining local churches had lost their tax exempt status and the mere verbalization of partisan religious sentiment had become a misdemeanor.

I was so relieved not to have to have this event as an assignment. The reporter for the regional news organization I work for didn’t dare use the C-word, and even when covering things in an historical sense, or clarifying the laws, I had to get special permission to include it in an article.

Especially upset were those who had held membership in local churches which had closed. I stood next to two men who I’d seen in one church the week of its final services.

“Sure ain’t what it used to be,” said the one.

“No it isn’t,” said the other.

They left it at that, speaking a forced code because city police were milling about and any sustained references could constitute an unlawful assembly. Better to save that for the living room of a private home.

It is strange though how they look the other way sometimes. It was widely rumoured that a few weeks before the 25th about 60 of the faithful attended a house meeting in a suburban neighborhood, parking their cars at the mall to avoid attention. When nearby residents confronted the situation the town said they knew about the event and that it was a “discussion of philosophical and ethical concerns” to avoid it escalating into a mass confrontation.

I remember just a few years ago when business owners were told that signs and decorations bearing “Merry Christmas!” should not only be removed, but that they should be taken to large bins where they would be pulped and recycled. “Season’s Greetings!” and “Happy Holidays!” replaced them, but in quiet whispers I often would tell friends that the word holiday actually means… well, you know. I don’t think anyone envisioned how far things would go.

As the talent portion of the program began, I chose a spot standing next to Mayor Jason Herold whose reputation is such that everyone else is afraid to be anywhere near him. We know each other personally, and generally get along.

The selections this year were especially traditional and they had invited some talented younger vocalists from other cities to participate; I wondered if perhaps they had won a contest or something like that. First, a girl from a nearby city did a jazzy version of Winter Wonderland and then a boy from a town several miles west with an incredible vocal range did Sleighride and at one point we all sang Deck The Halls.

Next, a young man stepped to the platform and completely unaccompanied began to sing,

Once in royal David’s city
Stood a lowly cattle shed
Where a mother laid her baby
In a manger for his bed.

Everybody knew where he was headed with this and a few people turned around to glance at Mayor Herold at the same time as two members of the police also looked as though waiting for a cue from the Mayor.

“Let him finish it,” was all he said.

…Mary was that mother mild.
Jesus Christ, her little child.

Mayor Herold left the spot where we were standing and slipped backstage as the young man, his voice shaking, sang all five verses. As he left the stage he was escorted by the two uniformed officers into a waiting cruiser, his eyes filled with tears.

As my colleague would post to our website, “The talent portion of the Winterfest parade was marred when a guest ameteur artist performed a song which was deemed inappropriate. He was charged under the recent act banning public religious expression and released several hours later to await further trial.”

In the meantime, I decided to walk nearby where the two men I’d seen earlier were standing.

“Sure ain’t what it used to be,” said the one.

“No it isn’t,” said the other.

As I made my way to the parking lot, I heard more than one person humming the tune. It seemed that with each try to suppress Christmas it seemed they were making it stronger. As I keyed in the code to unlock my car I heard a woman singing openly,

…Mary was that mother mild.
Jesus Christ, her little child.

Seconds later, who should walk by but the two men I’d been watching all day.

“Mayor Herold seems quite upset,” said the one.

“Yes, they must have contracted out the printing of the evening program to some place where they don’t know him,” said the other; “They’ve misspelled his name without the letter “l” in all three places.”

I turned around to go back to grab a souvenir copy of that since it was a sure bet he’d find a way to get them reprinted before the event started.

“Sure ain’t what it used to be,” said the one.

“No…” said the other, “If you look back, I think it’s always been like this.”

 

 

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December 25, 2017

Christmas

Filed under: Christianity, Christmas, music, worship — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:34 am

Somehow, that’s not quite how I remember the Peanuts Christmas special. (Click the link for what Linus actually said.)

In the meantime, here is some music for your Christmas day.

First of all, a song that will leave some of saying, “What? Again?” If you think I’m obsessed with this particular Christmas song, you’re right.

This is the Christmas version of one of my favorite non-seasonal worship songs. One of many Paul Baloche songs that has an alternative version for December singing.

This 2016 song was new to me this year, discovered when Glenn Schaeffer posted it on his blog, Go and Make.

Now, a change of pace. This 2009 video was also discovery this year; yesterday in fact, as I assembled this list. Allison Kraus and Yo-Yo Ma. 1.8 Million views. Christmas has been the spark igniting so much great music that we only hear once a year.

Finally, we’ll end with something upbeat. We first posted this on the blog four years ago.



Don’t have a Linus to tell you what Christmas is all about? Perhaps you’ll settle for Billy Graham. A much younger Dr. Graham. The references are dated. It wasn’t the substitution of “holidays” for “Christmas, it was the use of “Xmas.” It wasn’t the threat of North Korea, it was the Korean War. …But the message is timeless nonetheless.

 

December 23, 2017

A Retail Celebration of the Birth of our Lord

Filed under: Christianity, Christmas — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:16 am

Reading the Retail comic helps keep me sane at this time of year.

This is the 23rd year that our celebration of the birth of Christ has been directly tied to the operation of a retail store. While this is somewhat of a full-time occupation, I am only present in the physical location for 14-16 hours weekly, which means that while we are immersed in the running of it, I can also observe it with a degree of detachment.

My blog also offers me a much wider perspective, or at least an escape.

In those 23 Christmases there have been good years and bad years. This is one of the bad ones. We are far from meeting our sales target for December — everything started unwinding in the 3rd week of November — although we are are current with all but one supplier. That we offer faith-focused, Bible-based, potentially life changing products might justify all the effort somehow — make it seem like a higher, nobler purpose than regular retail — we are still caught up in the notion that the recognition of the incarnation of the 2nd Person of the Trinity is marked by the exchanging of fashion, appliances and electronics.

Obviously, we want people to consider the eternal value of the products we represent.

I am able to set this little business aside at the end of the day, enjoy a beautifully cooked supper my wife prepares, watch a little television and then head off to bed for some end-of-day reading and sleep. But like the proverbial albatross, the store is ever-present. Like the dependent child, it requires constant care and feeding.

I would love to simply ignore Christmas altogether. Not the incarnation part, the rest of it.

The last 23 years have robbed me a little of the joy of Christmas music. In the past few weeks where I’ve been needed at the shop, I played Wow Hymns. It sounds Christmasy and besides, many people ignore the in-store music. Yesterday, it was a 6-month old bootlegged copy of the 20 The Countdown Magazine radio show.

I do enjoy giving.

I’m looking forward to seeing some pleasantly surprised look on my wife’s face when she opens my gifts. Ditto the kids. Giving is part of the Advent/Christmas narrative. Giving is a good practice; I would argue it should be among the list of spiritual practices and disciplines.

Part of me however, would like to dial it all back a notch.

I don’t want to be part of one of those sects where Christmas is simply ignored. That swings the pendulum too far the other way. I like the tasteful decorations that adorn the sanctuary in one of the two churches where I worship. I do want to sing some carols tomorrow. I hope, in all the modern worship, we still do that.

But I don’t want an extravaganza.

That’s hard to write, considering I spent my formative spiritual years in Canada’s first megachurch, and was part of the annual Living Christmas Tree production; complete with all the lights and volume. While it wasn’t the Disney fireworks — I’ve experienced those twice — it was for woman I spoke with after the ‘show’ a case of sensory overload. She knew she needed to make her way back to parking lot and get in her car and leave, but she was somewhat overcome by the energy of the production. Why do we feel we need to do that? (See, for example this video posted this morning at Internet Monk.)

Again, the retail side of Christmas leaves me scrambling next week to pick up the pieces.

We need to decide where we’re going. What to offer on sale. What to pack up in boxes. What to plan for the two remaining Christmas seasons on our present lease…if we last that long. Most of all, we need to interpret the unexpected drop in sales over the last five weeks, and what it says about our local Christian community and the nature of our ever-declining industry.

Then we need to get ready for Easter.

 

 

December 21, 2017

Merry Little Christmas

Earlier this year, my wife and I participated in a Christian Christmas short story contest writing two stories each. The competition was tough. This story is actually part of a series of stories she wrote featuring the same characters. We’re sharing all four of our stories here; this is the second.

by Ruth Wilkinson

This was Tony’s first Christmas on his own for, well, ever, really. First with his parents, then with Meg, then Meg and Shane. Last year, with Meg moved out, Shane had been with him, then off to his mom for New Year’s.

So this was Tony’s first real single guy Christmas and he wasn’t going to let it suck. He was going to decorate and play the tunes. Eat tourtiere, eggnog, and nanaimo bars. And not feel sorry for himself.

Christmas Eve was going to be OK. He’d found a sign-up sheet on the bulletin board at work for a charity hockey game. One of those 24 hour things to raise money for the hospital. A few guys had already signed on, and Tony thought it sounded fun. He hadn’t played in a few years but he hadn’t been bad in his day.

Over coffee he told Walt all about it. Walt had become a good friend since the winter when Shane had set out to make money shovelling driveways and ended up adopting him and Esther as extra grandparents.

Walt smiled and said, “Sounds like fun!” Then, more seriously, “Now what about Christmas Day? You’re on your own?”

Tony shrugged. “Looks like it. No plans, exactly.”

“Same here. Let’s get together! Christmas dinner!”

“Great! I didn’t know you could cook.”

“I can’t. I was hoping you could.”

Having established that neither of them knew one end of a turkey baster from the other, Walt asked around. He found out about a church downtown having a turkey dinner on Christmas day that was open to everybody, especially the homeless. He was excited. Tony less so.

Oh, well. If nothing else, it would be an adventure. And, Tony thought, I won’t be in any danger of feeling sorry for myself.

He wondered what to wear. Seemed like you should dress up for Christmas dinner, but in the basement of a downtown church where most of the diners would be homeless or slightly better off?

Walt would wear the same thing he always wore. Shiny black shoes, neatly pressed trousers with a matching suit jacket, a snappy fedora and, of course, a tie. Walt had the most amazing tie collection. Dozens of them. Some spectacularly “vintage.” He’d told Tony that he’d kept buying them over his years of wearing priestly black with dog collar. He just kept buying ties, promising Esther that someday, he’d wear them. Every single one. She’d just laugh. His favourite sound. Gone now.

Aside from the occasional hideous cravat, Walt was sharp, neat, respectable. Not a wrinkle, not a speck of lint. Tony had never known such a tidy person. He was kind of looking forward to seeing Walt surrounded by rumpled street dwellers.

❄❄❄

The Saturday before the big day, Tony launched an expedition into the crawlspace under the basement stairs. It was amazing how much stuff was crammed in there and even more amazing how all the stuff you wanted was behind and under all the stuff you weren’t looking for.

He ploughed through the foothills of disco albums and old clothes only to get lost in the forest of yearbooks and hockey equipment (there it was!) He waded knee deep through Shane’s toys, ages 1 through 9 — no mean feat, bent over at the waist — to get to the Christmas decorations in the far back corner. Crouching in the dust and cobwebs, looking back across the great landscape he’d just traversed, imagining the return journey with each of 4 boxes, his enthusiasm faded a bit.

Buck up, Tony, lad, he thought, You’ve come this far…

Soon enough it was all out and it only took a few minutes to make his spine the right shape again.

He decided it would be tree first, outdoor lights second, and finally the creche. Start with the worst, end with the easiest. He hated putting up the tree.

It was the one he and Meg had bought when they got married. Ugly as dirt. Kind of green — sort of an army tank colour. There were some nice ones now that almost looked real. This one had no such pretensions. It was wire and plastic, all bent in strange directions from sitting in the box for 11 ½ months. Dozens of assorted bits that had to be laid out on the floor and sorted by size so your tree didn’t come together upside down or worse.

But it was his and he loved it. Or maybe he just had no intention of shelling out for a new one. Maybe a bit of both. Sentiment is not always a pure thing.

He put on a few really good Christmas albums — Cockburn, Guaraldi, Motown, Cash — and a couple of hours, half a pound of shortbread and one beer later he had an honest to goodness Christmas tree.

By then it was dark – no time to go out and hang lights, so he dug out the creche: a little stable kind of thing, a ceramic donkey, a couple of sheep. Three wisemen, two shepherds, an angel. A little manger and a baby that fit in it. Mary, dressed in light blue. Joseph. A carpenter. Like Tony.

He held Joseph in his hand for a minute. Picked up his drink. Took a sip. Sat down.

He’d never noticed the look on Joseph’s face before. He looked a little stunned.

Tony smiled. Yeah, well, you probably were, mate. Stunned.

Thought you were going to marry a pretty girl, settle down, build things, have a family. Probably had a nice workshop at home, full of tools, a few unfinished projects waiting until you got back. Back from a trip to someplace you didn’t want to go. A trip that wasn’t nearly over yet.

Doing the right thing. What you were told to do. Being faithful. Being brave. Protecting and providing. Looking after a kid that wasn’t even yours. Because it was right.

An ordinary man doing ordinary work. But it was what God had told him to do. God had gone to a lot of trouble to tell this ordinary man to just keep doing the ordinary right thing. Don’t be afraid, be true, look after your family.

God had told him to do that.

Such a small thing, but it mattered. A lot.

Just a little family. That changed the world.

❄❄❄

Christmas Eve.

The game was about half over. They’d started at 8 that morning. They’d finish at 8 tomorrow. The stands were surprisingly full. Tony had his old skates and new sticks and he was having fun. This was a good day.

He was sitting in the box when he heard a voice behind him.

“Hey, dad! Dad!”

He looked over his shoulder. There was Shane, halfway up the stands. He was standing beside Walt and — oh. Meg.

Shane and Walt were wearing big foam hats with ‘TONY’ painted on them and big foam fingers that they waggled at him, and red rubber noses, grinning like idiots, each wearing three of the ugliest ties ever to see daylight, two straight and one bow.

Meg sat and looked bored.

He grinned and waved. Shane and Walt waved back. Meg made a gesture that was half wave, half checking her watch. Tony wondered whether she’d practised that move in front of a mirror and got annoyed. He thought, She didn’t have to come.

And checked himself. No, she really didn’t have to come…

Shane shouted, “Score any goals?”

Tony nodded, took off a glove and held up 3 fingers. He’d got lucky. Then he was back on the ice.

Waiting for the puck to drop, one of the guys asked him, “That your family?”

Tony glanced over at his son, the old man he was just getting to know, and his ex-wife. He took a deep breath and said, “Yeah, that’s my family.”

And he laughed and wondered whether he looked stunned.

He’d take time later to ask God for help — help to do the right, ordinary thing.

He was kind of busy right now.

December 19, 2017

Christmas Sunday: The Best Music and the Toughest Theology

Filed under: Christmas, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:56 am

Over the last several months, my wife and I participated in a Christian short story contest. I’ve never actually entered one of these before; it was blind judging so the process by which you remit your entries was rather complex. We each submitted two entries, but apparently the competition was fierce. Over the next two weeks we want to share them with readers here. This story appeared here before in a slightly different form.


by Paul Wilkinson

Doug and Gary were always the last to leave the office and this day was no exception. Doug always turned off the lights as Gary set the alarm and as it was the weekend, he turned down the heat.

“It’s December, Gary,” Doug reminded his co-worker; “It was freezing in here on Monday morning; the company’s not that broke.”

If it was a Friday, Gary always asked Doug if he wanted to join him for church that weekend. Usually the excuse was sports related. In summer, a weekend at the cottage or heading Stateside for some cross-border shopping. In the winter, a child’s hockey practice or cross country skiing with his brother’s friends. So Gary was a little surprised by the response.

“Actually, I’m going to church with my wife on Sunday,” Doug replied.

“Oh right. I forgot. You’re a CEO,” Gary said smiling.

“A CEO?”

“Christmas and Easter only.”

They both laughed, then Gary continued, “You know it’s good that you’re going, but you always pick the two hardest days.”

“I know,” returned Doug, “The parking at that church is miserable at Christmas.”

“No, that’s not what I mean; you always choose what we could call incarnation and atonement Sundays. They’re the toughest ones to grasp.”

“Wait a minute, I thought you wanted me to attend church.”

“I do, but think about it; if you show up for The Good Samaritan, the message is ‘love your neighbor,’ that’s easy! And if you show up for Mother’s Day and the preacher’s text is ‘husbands love your wives,’ well, two minutes in and you’ve got that one. Come with me on Thanksgiving and the message is ‘give thanks.’ But incarnation –“

“Do you mean the flower?”

“No it’s the idea of God becoming man, God becoming one of us. People who study theology have wrestled with that for centuries. How can I describe it? See, God is like those triplicate forms we use to requisition materials from head office. The kind where what you write on the top part goes through to all three. It’s one form, but with three parts. But then God Himself rips out one of the pages — let’s call it the middle one –“

“You know, Gary,” Doug began, “I did go to church when I was younger and I’ve heard people talk about the trinity before, but that triplicate form thing is a first. Did you just make that up?”

Gary was on a roll now and ignored the interruption. “– and then the letter to the Philippians tells us that that part of God took on the role of a servant and entered into the human condition, even to the point of experiencing human death, and a rather excruciating one at that.”

“So you’re talking about Jesus. Incarnation is saying he was 50 percent man and 50 percent human. Like a centaur?”

“No it’s not 50/50, more like 100/100.”

“So that’s gotta hurt. Why would he do that? Why bother? Why go to all that trouble?”

“Well that’s the Easter part, the atonement part; the part that tells us why bother. In another letter, to a young disciple named Timothy, the same writer wrote that ‘Christ came into the world to save sinners, of which I’m the worst.'”

“The guy who wrote part of the Bible said he was the worst?”

“We’re all pretty much the worst, when you think of how pure God is. Jesus himself said he ‘came into the world to look for and save people who were lost.’ In another part he said that he came into the world to give his life to pay off a debt for all of us; and in yet another written account of his life we read that he didn’t come to condemn — which is what a lot of people think church is all about lately — but that through him everybody could have life that never ends.”

“Preach it! You really know this stuff. So now you’re talking about going to heaven when you die?”

“Well, actually, eternal life starts now.”

“How come I never heard that at a Christmas service before?”

“You did, but you probably weren’t tuned in to it. You’ve gone to church for so many Christmas services…it’s like…well…did you get a flu shot?”

“Of course I did; you know that.”

“Then tell me this,” Gary asked, “What did you get? What was in the shot?”

“I think it’s an inactive form of the flu strain. The body reacts to it and boosts your immunity.”

“Well, that’s you. You’ve showed up at so many Christmas Eve services that you’re immune. You sang the carols, and you enjoyed the soloists and maybe some years your kids were shepherds or sheep in the play, but you missed the connection between incarnation and atonement, and you can’t have the one without the other. Ultimately, Jesus — the baby in the manger — came to die for the world, for me, for you. The people in your church already know this so they don’t stress the big picture story. They get locked into the micro details to the point where they forget to explain the big story arc for CEOs like you.”

“Well…” Doug paused for a few seconds and then added, “Thanks for explaining that.”

By now a light snow was falling and it was time for both guys to get in their cars. “Don’t get me wrong;” Gary concluded, “The details are amazing, but our churches tend to forget to connect the dots in the macro story for those on the outside. Once you’ve got the big picture, it’s a story that you can’t ignore; it begs some type of response.”

While they’d been talking, a light snow had started and some flakes were sticking on the parking lot. Doug was thoughtfully mulling over all his friend had said. He opened his car door, but Gary had one more thing to add; “I think I can also help you with the Christmas church parking problem.”

“How’s that?” Doug asked.

“All you need to do;” Gary smirked, “Is show up at church ten minutes earlier.”

December 17, 2017

Four Reasons Why CBS Wanted to Write Off the Peanuts Christmas Special

This year marked 52nd airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas. 52 years of the same show in an endless repeat. But according to a 2011 story (no longer online) in the National Review by Lee Habeeb, the show almost didn’t happen:

As far back as 1965 — just a few years before Time magazine asked “Is God Dead?” — CBS executives thought a Bible reading might turn off a nation populated with Christians. And during a Christmas special, no less! Ah, the perils of living on an island in the northeast called Manhattan.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” was a groundbreaking program in so many ways, as we learned watching the great PBS American Masters series on Charles Schulz, known by his friends and colleagues as “Sparky.” It was based on the comic strip Peanuts, and was produced and directed by former Warner Brothers animator Bill Melendez, who also supplied the voice for Snoopy.

We learned in that PBS special that the cartoon happened by mere serendipity.

“We got a call from Coca-Cola,” remembered Melendez. “And they said, ‘Have you and Mr. Schulz ever considered doing a Christmas show with the characters?’ and I immediately said ‘Yes.’ And it was Wednesday and they said, ‘If you can send us an outline by Monday, we might be interested in it.’ So I called Sparky on the phone and told him I’d just sold ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’ and he said, ‘What’s that?’ and I said, ‘It’s something you’ve got to write tomorrow.’”

We learned in that American Masters series that Schulz had some ideas of his own for the Christmas special, ideas that didn’t make the network suits very happy. First and foremost, there was no laugh track, something unimaginable in that era of television. Schulz thought that the audience should be able to enjoy the show at its own pace, without being cued when to laugh. CBS created a version of the show with a laugh track added, just in case Schulz changed his mind. Luckily, he didn’t.

The second big battle was waged over voiceovers. The network executives were not happy that the Schulz’s team had chosen to use children to do the voice acting, rather than employing adults. Indeed, in this remarkable world created by Charles Schulz, we never hear the voice of an adult.

The executives also had a problem with the jazz soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi. They thought the music would not work well for a children’s program, and that it distracted from the general tone. They wanted something more . . . well . . . young.

Last but not least, the executives did not want to have Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. The network orthodoxy of the time assumed that viewers would not want to sit through passages of the King James Bible.

There was a standoff of sorts, but Schulz did not back down, and because of the tight production schedule and CBS’s prior promotion, the network executives aired the special as Schulz intended it. But they were certain they had a flop on their hands.

The CBS executives saw what they had as, at best, a tax write-off.

I couldn’t help but think that actually parallels the original Christmas story in more ways than one.

John the Baptist was sure that Jesus was the Messiah on the day that Jesus stepped into the Jordan River to be baptized. But later, in the isolation of a jail cell, he wondered if he had backed that wrong horse. He thought he a flop on his hands.

Certainly there were people in the crowd who loved the miracles and the multiplication of the fish and bread that fed 5,000 men and countless women and children. But when he started turning his remarks to the “hard sayings” and spoke of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, the crowd thinned out considerably. Having seen other Messiah figures come and go, they figured that, once again, they had a flop on their hands.

Judas Iscariot was one of the original twelve, and no doubt entered into that select group with enthusiasm and optimism. But into the third year of apprenticeship with the this particular rabbi, dreams of political conquest and liberation from the Romans turned into disillusionment when the talk turned to a Messiah that would suffer and die. Like the parliamentarians of today who ‘cross the floor’ to join the other party, Judas figured he had a flop on his hands.

Time exonerated the decision and vision by Charles Shultz, and the events in Acts 2 showed the world that something new and exciting was beginning; that instead of a flop, the disciples had a hit on their hands.

And today, there are those who complain that the Christian faith and worldview is foolishness. They have a checklist of things that they would change about the Christ story. They think we have a flop on our hands.

But the ratings have yet to come out on that one. The ultimate scene in the play has yet to appear on stage. Stay tuned…

We do know how the above story ended, though:

To the surprise of the executives, 50 percent of the televisions in the United States tuned in to the first broadcast. The cartoon was a critical and commercial hit; it won an Emmy and a Peabody award.

Linus’s recitation was hailed by critic Harriet Van Horne of the New York World-Telegram, who wrote, “Linus’ reading of the story of the Nativity was, quite simply, the dramatic highlight of the season.”

charlie-brown-christian-content-warnings

December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas from Paul and Ruth and Thinking Out Loud

Filed under: Christianity, Christmas — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:04 pm




December 22, 2016

Christmas Alone

cd-on-cd-editedI’ve mentioned elsewhere on the blog that each Christmas Day our family has assisted, in varying degrees, with a project started here over a decade ago, the Christmas Dinner on Christmas Day.

The December 25th noontime meal — a full turkey-and-all-the-trimmings dinner — originated in a community that my wife co-founded, the purpose of which was to serve people on the margins, people living on welfare, or working people unable to have good, nutritious, tasty food.

But as we engaged people in conversation, we realized that many people attending were people of means. There was a donation box if people cared to help out, and some of these people had no hesitation in dropping a $20 bill or even $50. The reason is simple: They just didn’t want to be alone on Christmas Day. They wanted to feel part of a community.

Many of these accomplished this by serving as volunteers. There was no shortage of people willing to help in the kitchen — where my oldest son served as lead cook — or as table hosts. If pressed however, they would confess that their need to be with other people on the 25th was equal or greater to the poor people we were serving, but it was social, not financial.

cd-on-cd-generic

Alone on Christmas Day.

That’s something I can’t imagine. In her later years, transporting my mom to our place simply got too complicated. As I stated, my wife had been a co-founder of the organization from which the Christmas Dinner was a spinoff, but we hadn’t attended the earlier iterations of it because of my mother staying with us. But when that ceased to be an option — we then visited her on the 26th — she told us how the seniors’ home pretty much cleared out on the 25th, with only a core staff and a handful of residents. I would imagine some of her fellow residents felt rather melancholy. At least my mom got a couple of phone calls and knew we’d be there the next day.

Well…all that to say this…

I came across something on social media that arrested me in my tracks earlier today. A group of people for whom the holidays means loneliness and isolation, because they can’t go home. The writer posted:

A shout-out and lots of love and good wishes to LGBTQ members who can’t go home for the holidays because of hate and misunderstanding

Wow.

So…told not to come home, or choosing a self-imposed exile?

In the former case, I can’t imagine saying to one of my kids, “We don’t want you here.” But it happens. I’ll bet it happens many times with Christian parents, too.

In the latter case, I can’t imagine one of my kids feeling so unwanted — feeling so strongly that going home is not an option — that they would prefer to stay away. Sad to say, I’ll bet some of those are Christian homes as well.

But this isn’t an issue in my family. That’s why the social media post shocked me, I guess.

Thankfully, another group in a nearby community is doing the Christmas Dinner this year. It’s actually the town where the first one started, but then the event was split into two locations. While I don’t know the serving team — and we’ve opted to stay home this year — I’m glad there is a place for people to go on the 25th.

Clearly, the above example illustrates we don’t always know why people show up for something like this, and in the case of a younger person who simply isn’t welcome with the rest of their family, they’re not likely to want to share the whole story.

But we can be thankful that people organize events like the Christmas Dinner. If there’s one in your community, contact them and ask if they’re in need of any last-minute food donations or kitchen help. Sometimes it’s just a matter of peeling potatoes the day before and you can still do your own Christmas thing on the day.

It will bless you as much as it blesses them.

 


A disclaimer: Sadly, among readers here will be those who have no sympathy for this situation at all, and others who may assume that by posting this I have strong gay sympathies. I hope instead you will reconsider the teachings of Jesus in general and in particular the Parable of the Prodigal Son and realize that our only response in a situation like this is love and acceptance. Heck, even countries at war will announce a cease-fire for Christmas Day. How can we not do the same?

December 13, 2016

The Christmas Gift Exchange Game

christmas-gifts-tiled

You know this game.

Everyone brings a wrapped gift and places it under the Christmas tree. Everyone gets a number. The first person picks a gift from the tree and unwraps it for all to see. The second person has a choice, they can pick a gift as well, or steal the item the first person has. The person who just lost their gift now picks another gift from the tree. The third person can steal something, from the first or second person, who then can steal something or pick a gift from the tree.

And on it goes.

My wife is not a particular fan of this game. The game is a trigger. Of what, I do not comprehend. Myself, I like Christmas parties to contain two elements, food and conversation. When someone says, “Now we’re going to play a game;” I take off to the spare bedroom for a prolonged conversation with the family cat.

But last night, at the staff party we hosted, of our own volition, we played the game.

But with some differences.

First of all, everybody got four numbers. There were eight of us, so 36 gifts in total.

Second, we (my wife and I) bought all the gifts ourselves.

Third, you couldn’t really tell what anything was by the way it was wrapped.

Fourth, it just so happened that every single gift had exactly the same monetary value.

In case you’re wondering how we did this, the gifts were from Dollar Tree. Each item had a retail value of $1.25 CAD, and everybody knew this.

…and yet…

First, there was just as much emotion over the acquisition of and the loss of various objects as there are in the traditional version of the game where more value is at stake. There’s a lesson there somewhere.

Second, the game still played to our sense of personal property. One particular item that someone had held onto for most of the game was stolen at the last minute. It takes only minutes for something to be ours. There’s a lesson there, too.

Third, all the items were practical and usable by the average participant. There wasn’t anyone going home with something that couldn’t be used at some point over the next few months. Normally, when you say giftware, you’re including so many things that no one specifically needs.

Fourth, everyone’s take consisted of more than one item. Their loot wasn’t entirely consisting of one single item which they may have chosen, or simply ended up with by the luck of the draw.

Fifth, there was complete equity in terms of the dollar value of the gifts. No one can seriously complain that anyone got more. (And anyone who feels they missed out on something can go to Dollar Tree and simply buy the thing for pocket change.)

I think we had just as much fun as when we’ve played the game with $25 items. Maybe more. No, definitely more.

One thing I learned doing this was that Dollar Tree carries great merchandise. Several people were surprised that we had obtained the items at such a low price.

One thing I regret is that we didn’t do all this buying for a low-income family. Or even a refugee family.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a version of the game that solves some issues associated with it, may I suggest just buying everything yourself at a dollar store.


Sidebar: To my many UK readers, what do you call the equivalent of “the dollar store” there? Or do you have them?


The rest of the rules:

  • If someone steals your gift, you can steal someone else’s gift or choose and open a wrapped one.
  • Continue until everyone has had a turn for a gift. A turn is ended when an unopened gift has been opened.
  • A gift can only be “stolen” once during a turn. If a gift is taken from someone during one round, she cannot take it back during that same round. She can, however, take it back in a later round if she is in a position to select a gift.
  • Once a gift has had 3 “owners”, the 3rd owner of a gift gets to keep it – it is retired and can’t be stolen again.*
  • The gift exchange ends when the last wrapped gift is chosen and opened.

* We forgot that rule last night; that’s the problem with a game you only play once a year.


This game is also played as the White Elephant Gift Exchange, but in that case people bring gifts “…defined by something of dubious or limited value or an object no longer of value to its owner but of value to others. Thus, in its basic form the game calls for people to bring ‘gag’ gifts or gifts they received that they have no use for.” [source] The version we would play at a friend’s annual party started out as gag gifts but morphed into higher quality merchandise. Unfortunately, for a couple of years we didn’t get the memo; we just thought a few people were being extravagant or very generous.

December 26, 2015

Heaven Came Down

Filed under: Christmas, music — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:01 am

Enjoy some music by the band Life Wide Open that’s become my favorite Christmas song over the past few years:

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