Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas Post #6

So Christmas is over. It's done. We have it now. As usual around the holidays things got incredibly busy with traveling and hanging out and my ambitious goal of putting up a new post every day this past week were soon modified. That being said I wanted to put one more thing up here (for now anyway. Who's to say though. I may sneak a Christmas post in when you're not looking. Maybe sometime mid-May or even the steamy beginning of August. That's just how I roll.)

I worked retail at the candle shop a lot this holiday season. One thing about working retail this time of year is that usually you get force fed a nice selection of upbeat Christmas-y tunes that I suppose are to stimulate the auditory nerve in charge of mass purchasing and subliminally cause your hands to reach for your wallet.

In any event the the candle shop boasted a nice mix of old and new standards that on first listen, back in November, were quite lovely and went a long way to spark the dormant Christmas Christmas spirit locked in my heart. Come late December some of the songs have lost their charm. Not through any fault of those who compiled the diverse mix but simply by virtue of hearing them over, and over again. I can't imagine any song that would stand the test of that much repetition.

The mix included lots of well known artists: The Barenaked Ladies, Rob Thomas, Rascal Flatts, and lots of familiar others. Each belted out the traditional standards with carefully crafted twists of pop sensibility: God rest Ye Marry Gentlemen. Joy to the World, etc. This litany of well known artist names and well know Christmas standards got me thinking: Do these people believe in what there singing? As they croon the hits are they conscious of the actual words they're recording? Because it's not like a lot of these songs are super ambiguous. Theme's like Jesus's birth, praising Him as savior, and God blessing creation through Christmas are pretty spelled out. Do they have a concept that they are claiming something incredibly specific about a particular religion or has "Christmas Music" just become such an accepted genre that it doesn't even occur to most artists that they are aligning themselves with the miracle of Christmas.

This got me thinking about the whole secular concept of Christmas. The fact of Jesus' birth removed from the equation why, of all times, is the holiday season the prescribed time of the calendar year for acts of generosity, goodwill and peace? Part of me wonders if, even though Christmas being celebrated on December 25 is a date that the church just arbitrarily chose, there is something urgent and joyful happening in the spiritual realm that happens in response to creation's conscious and unconscious anticipation of Christ's birth. I feel like maybe whether people know it or not that the Holy Spirit is doing something this time of year. And that the feelings associated with Christmas, the warmth, the fuzziness, the desire to embrace our fellow man is not simply based on marketing schemes, consumerism, old movies or even tradition but on the fact that the world is still in need of miracles, in need of love coming down, in need of an adventure larger than ourselves.

Either way now that the holidays are over I'll have to resign myself to hearing the old non-Christmas mix, which on one hand is proably a blessing, but on the other is a shift tinged with just with a hint of regret.

But just an hint.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Post #5

The story I'm posting today is a story that really brings into focus for me how many times I spin God's character to reflect my own fears, doubts and insecurites. Sometimes it can be so easy to make him over in some other image. Oh, he's still God for the most part but with a few significant tweaks tacked on. Sometimes on closer inspection I can see my add ons for what they are: my fear of rejection, my worries about never being good enough, hazy misprints of many of the men who have influenced my life. But in large part I'm still trying to see through lots of layers, lies and mis-interpretations about my Heavenly Father. And I think he's okay with that. He knows who he is, obviously. I don't think he's offened if I don't get it all the time.

I think because I a grown man in his twenties sometimes I forget that to God I'm still a little child. Learning, growing, trying. It would be ridiculous for an earthly father to be angry with his little son because he didn't know everything about him. The thought to be accusatory to his son would never even cross his mind. And yet that's just another thing I pin on God sometimes--that He might be upset with me because I don't really understand him, and then my mind worries that maybe if I don't really understand him I don't really know him. But I think that that is one of the great mysteries about God and thinking about Christmas about the incarnation: we don't have to be able to totally wrap our minds around it for us to fully enter in to it's significance, power or beauty. In fact the reality that God became a tiny baby was born on earth and then died for me is something I'm going to be trying to get my head around for the rest of my life. But that doesn't mean that the reality of it is not fully mine live in.

Here's the story that started me thinking about this. I love it for lots of reasons but an added bonus is that it reminds me of Jacqui who read it the first time I heard it.

God in the Doorway
by Annie Dillard

One cold Christmas eve Iwas up unnaturally late because we had all gone out to dinner - my parents, my baby sister and I. We had come home to a warm living room, and Christmas Eve. Our stockings drooped from the mantel; beside them, a special table bore a bottle of ginger ale and a plate of cookies.

I had taken off my fancy winter coat and was standing on the heat register to bake my shoe soles and warm my bare legs. There was a commotion at the front door; it opened, and cold wind blew around my dress. Everyone was calling me. "Look who's here! Look who's here!" I looked. It was Santa Claus. Whom I never - ever - wanted to meet. Santa Claus was looming in the doorway and looking around for me. My mother's voice was thrilled: "Look
who's here!" I ran upstairs.

Like everyone in their right mind, I feared Santa Claus, thinking he was God. Santa Claus was an old man whom you never saw, but who nevertheless saw you; he knew when you'd been bad or good. And I had been bad.

My mother called and called, enthusiastic, pleading; I wouldn't come down. My father encouraged me; my sister howled. I wouldn't come down, but I could bend over the stairwell and see: Santa Claus stood in the doorway with night over his shoulder, letting in all the cold air of the sky; Santa Claus stood in the doorway monstrous and bright, powerless, ringing a loud bell and repeating Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas. I never came down. I don't know who ate the cookies.

For so many years now I have known that this Santa Claus was actually a rigged-up Miss White, who lived across the street, that I confused the dramatis personae in my mind, making of Santa Claus, God and Miss White an awesome, vulnerable trinity. This is really a story about Miss White.

Miss White was old; she lived alone in the big house across the street. She liked having me around; she plied me with cookies, taught me things about the world, and tried to interest me in finger painting, in which she herself took great pleasure. She would set up easels in her kitchen, tack enormous slick soaking papers to their frames, and paint undulating undersea scenes: horizontal smears of color sparked by occasional vertical streaks which were understood to be fixed kelp. I liked her. She meant no harm on earth, and yet half a year after her failed visit as Santa Claus, I ran from her again.

That day, a day of the following summer, Miss White and I knelt in her yard while she showed me a magnifying glass. It was a large, strong hand lens. She lifted my hand and, holding it very still, focused a dab of sunshine on my palm. The glowing crescent wobbled, spread, and finally contracted to a point. It burned; I was burned; I ripped my hand away and ran home crying. Miss White called after me, sorry, explaining, but I didn't look

Even now I wonder: if I meet God, will he take and hold my bare hand in his and focus his eye on my palm, and kindle that spot and let me burn?

But no. It is I who misunderstood everything and let everybody down. Miss White, God, I am sorry I ran from you. I am still running, running from that knowledge, that eye, that love from which there is no refuge. For you meant only love, and love, and I felt only fear, and pain. So once in
Israel love came to us incarnate, stood in the doorway between two worlds, and we were all afraid.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas Post # 4

This post isn't super deep but this Christmastime quasi-mathmatical proof sure made me laugh, especially hearing my friend Beth read it outloud the other day. As a effort to create a little moment of personal theatre in your own life you could try reading it out loud too. Don't worry no one's watching. Give it a try. That is unless you're in a public space, like a cafe or something. Then everyone is watching. And waiting for you to perform.

In that case the choice is up to you, you can either order a round of peppermint mochas for everyone, stand on the nearest cafe table and belt it out for everyone's listening pleasure, you can wait until you're in the privacy of your own home and read it in a whispered, lips barely moving "I'm not really reading this outloud" voice, or best of all you can find a trusted friend or group of friends and share it with them as a controlled explosion of lighthearted holiday frivolity. The choice is yours. Enjoy!

Santa Claus: An Engineer's Perspective

I. No known species of reindeer can fly. However, there are some 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified. While most of these are insects and germs, this does not completely rule out flying reindeer (which only Santa has ever seen).

II. There are approximately two billion children (persons under 18) in the world. However, since Santa does not visit children of Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or Buddhist religions, this reduces the workload for Christmas night to 15% of the total, or 378 million (according to the Population Reference Bureau). At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per house hold, that comes to 108 million homes, presuming that there is at least one good child in each.

III. Santa has about 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 967.7 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with a good child, Santa has around 1/1000th of a second to park the sleigh, hop out, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left for him, get back up the chimney, jump into the sleigh and get on to the next house.

Assuming that each of these 108 million stops is evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false, but will accept for the purposes of our calculations), we are now talking about 0.78 miles per household; a total trip of 75.5 million miles, not counting bathroom stops or breaks. This means Santa's sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second---3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second, and a conventional reindeer can run (at best) 15 miles per hour.

IV. The payload of the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium sized Lego set (two pounds), the sleigh is carrying over 500 thousand tons, not counting Santa who is invariably described as overweight. On land, a conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that the "flying" reindeer could pull ten times the normal amount, the job can't be done with eight or even nine of them. Santa would need 360,000 of them. This increases the payload, not counting the weight of the sleigh, another 54,000 tons, or roughly seven times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth (the ship, not the monarch).

V. 600,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second crates enormous air resistance --- this would heat up the reindeer in the same fashion as a spacecraft re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer would absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy per second each. In short, they would burst into flames almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them and creating deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team would be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second. Santa, meanwhile, would be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500 times greater than gravity. A 250 pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of the sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force.

VI. In conclusion, if Santa ever did deliver presents to all the good childern on Christmas eve...HE'S DEAD NOW!

Christmas Post #3

Life is full of things I don't understand. In my life what I should do at a given moment is so often unclear; consequences are muddy, choices ambiguous. I long for God to simply slip me a note in homeroom and give me some of the answers I desperately crave.

But he doesn't. He won't just lay things out. It seems like it's not in his character to reveal too much. There are no neat, and tidy spreadsheets bearing a heavenly font (End Times New Roman? Eternal Garamond? Curlz?) that lay out my life in nice compartmentalized, easy to read boxes. And yet, even though I don't always take advantage of it, there are glimpses that there's something about this mysterious God who reveals things so slowly and complexly that, in the end, it captivates me more and draws me even closer to his heart.

I think that's the way God intends me to follow. He only shines enough light to illuminate the next half step because he craves that intimacy with me too. He desires my company, my attention, my love. If I had all the answers, if I always knew what was next or could divine every hazy signpost on my own then I might just run along by myself, confident in my own ability to navigate the path ahead.

I was thinking about all this in light of Christmas (In the shower of all places actually. Do any of you have that? Maybe it's because that's when I'm most vulnerable.) That part of the reason God chose to bring hope and grace to the world by becoming a helpless baby human was not just to work out some master spreadsheet of salvation, some dry equation for canceling sin but because he longed for intimacy with the world. With you. With me.

There are few things more intimate than birth. It's messy, physical, and extremely personal. Part of me wonders if he chose the way he chose because he simply wanted to be with us, speak to us, flesh to flesh, to literally walk with us for a time. And then to lay down that personal, real, human life because he desired to us to know just how close divinity was willing to draw near.

This is a short scene from a play by Ron Reed the artistic director at Pacific Theatre. I love the images it creates, especially the picture of Christ's excitement and longing to be born. I imagine him trembling with anticipation and joy, excited to enter time and the limitations of space and to draw so near to the creation he'd watched grow since it began.

by Ron Reed
(from the play "Dreams Of Kings & Carpenters")

[Darkness. Voices come from various points around the

ALL (staggered) God spoke.

1 My own true love.

2 My chosen.

3 My handmaid

4 has silence in her soul, untrammeled love.

3 A time to be born.

1 Sudden dive by dream into reality.

4 I felt

2 soft inward flutterings,

4 the Life

1 trembling through.

ALL (staggered) Love blooms,

1 bright

2 and wild.

4 Veiled in flesh,

3 Jesus begs to be born,

4 yields Himself to lie in prison,

1 in thee;

2 Yea thou art now thy Maker's maker,
and thy Father's mother;

1 Thou hast light in dark,

2 and shuttest in little room

ALL (except 3) Immensity

2 cloistered in thy dear womb.

ALL (except 3) He comes

Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas Post #2

I feel like I'm the type of person who seems spontaneous, but sometimes I feel like that's just a clever disguise, a calculated social illusion that I work hard to maintain. In the inner reality of what goes on at the heart of me often I feel very plotted out, very measured. I want to live wildly, passionately, recklessly moving in the paths God clears at a moments notice, but somehow that gets drowned in a thousand other pulls and demands and real world stuff: running errands, paying bills, slowly struggling under the countless, tiny worries and fears that often go hand in hand with simply waking up in the morning and trying to do what seems best with my life; what makes sense.

Thinking about this desire to live differently, to actually be available and ready to, as Timothy says "...take hold of the life that is truly life." makes me think about this Chistmas, and Christ's birth and Christ's promise to come again; about how wild and reckless it all was on that night in Bethlehem and how wild and reckless it all will be someday again. And also how the seeming spontaneity and thunder of Christ's birth is tempered with something solid as bedrock because it is, in the same instant wild and reckless and yet incredibly anticipated, waited for, desired. I love getting glimpses of this and remembering that there really is some solid canvas behind all the vivid colors and splashes that make up the picture of Christ's messy, seemingly ill timed manger birth.

I don't know what any of this means really but it leaves me with hope for my weary heart and reminds me that I am also a son of this God who recklessly unfolds things that he has anticipated for millennia. On some level it's both weird and comforting to think that he anticipates, longs for and rejoices in the fruition of moments in my life, even if it's as simple as the second my eyes open to start another day.

Here's the poem that sparked some of this for me. Let me just say that I love Madeleine L'Engle.

The Irrational Season
by Madeleine L'Engle

This is the irrational season,
When love blooms, bright and wild;
Had Mary been filled with reason,
There'd have been no room for the child.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas Post #1

Here in Columbus it is currently a steamy 60 degrees and it feels very odd to have Christmas right around the corner. However, in hopes of kindling some of the Christmas spirit in my own heart I'm endevoring to post a Christmas related poem or story each day this week for your and my reading pleasure. There's something that happens every time this year that makes me really want to enter in to the mystery of Christ's birth. I want to tug at it, I want to have it illuminated. So in that vein I've been reading some other peoples writings whose words ring true and thoughtful and stir something in me that makes my heart nod ever so slighty in agreement and in anticipation. First off is a poem that my friend Karl read outloud last night. It made me smile to hear it and snatches of it have been ringing in my head all day.

by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powder blue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone Cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck crèches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
in a Volkswagon sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
with German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
for everybody's imagined Christ child

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carolers
groaned of a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
ice skated wingless
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary's womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody's anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest
of Second Comings

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

We have a dog.

He's a wiener dog named Oscar. He was my dog when I was growing up. My family got him when I was fifteen so he just turned a stately ten. He is categorically, empirically and scientifically my favorite dog in the world.

As a child I wanted a wiener dog starting at the tender age of 3. My mom would read me Whistle for Willie and The Snowy Day, two picture books by Ezra Jack Keats, and the dog featured in the book was a black and tan dachshund. It was a long twelve years to wait until I reached fifteen and Oscar was added to the family one snowy Christmas.

He's getting old now but he can still be pretty frisky when he sees his leash in my hand or when it's meal time. Most of the time though he just likes to cuddle. So if you're ever come to visit us in Columbus and are in possession of a lap (most people are these days) get ready to be snuggled.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I have a job

Earlier this fall, after earning a merit badge in job hunting, I became gainfully employed at Jeni's Ice Cream a local small business. My duties there include but are not limited to: Scooping ice cream, making delicious sundaes, keeping the shop clean, running the till, stocking large buckets of ice cream, stirring and heating various sauces until they reach their optimal "deliciousness" (a word I've picked up since being in the ice cream biz), and using small spoons laden with ice creamy "deliciousness" (See, there it is again. I had to attend a "deliciousness" conference to learn how to use it this many times with the ease of an ice cream professional) to entice customers to purchase our frozen confections.

Jeni is an actual person and she's pretty brilliant when it comes to ice cream. She refers to her wares as "modern American ice cream." Which I take to mean "sort of fancy but amazingly tasty flavors." Recently she's been getting a lot of national recognition. She's been in several national magazines, for all you TV buffs I think there's been a rumor swirling that her ice cream is going to be featured on the Tyra Banks show, and just yesterday I learned that Johnny Depp himself was having some shipped out his way. Look out world.

Here is a list of some of our top sellers: Salty Caramel, Thai Chili, Butternut Squash with Pecan Pralines, Black Coffee, Lemon and Lingonberry, Toasted Brioche with butter and jam, Creme de Violet, Sweet Banana, Star Anise with Candied Fennel Seeds. The list goes on. She usually has about 30 flavors on hand at any given time; 15 signature flavors and 15 season flavors that rotate according to what fresh ingredients are available. She also tries to use mostly local ingredients and organic stuff whenever possible which is cool. So while I don't think I'm in the ice cream biz for the long haul for now it's a pretty decent place to spend my work day.

So if you're ever in Columbus, stop by, I'll be ready with some little spoons.