Archive for December, 2010
A few shots from a slightly different Christmas location. I loved the moon shining down on us on Christmas Eve, a little like a Bethlehem star.
Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a rich celebration throughout the Christmas season – it’s only just begun today. All the other stuff before this was only the prelude. And without all the -in-your-face marketing, you have a better chance of finding the centre and hope of the season. Enjoy.
While I have a face for radio, nonetheless, earlier this fall I accepted the invitation to be a part of the Christian TV show called The Bridge on the Alberta based Christian network, The Miracle Channel (thanks Lucretia for getting me on the air).
We taped two episodes of The Bridge that day, focusing on the ancient practice of praying the daily office and how spiritual practices are critical to our spiritual formation. You can check out the two shows here (look for episodes 82 and 83).
Sometimes you need someone outside your self, family, culture, or faith to help you see accurately, truly. Here is Jackson Browne doing that for all of us who celebrate Christmas. From a self-named “heathen and a pagan on the side of the rebel Jesus” comes a musical theological reflection on the radical nature of Christmas in the song “The Rebel Jesus.” And accompanied by the Chieftains, its gorgeous.
To kick off the final week before Christmas, a few images of the Christmas lights around where I’m visiting, a place where dolphins and pink flamingos seem to be traditional Christmas ornamentation. And that “ornament” in one of the photos is not a decoration – think large citrus fruit.
Do you hear what I hear? A whole lot of bad holiday music, that’s what! Let me play Scrooge for a moment in order to save me from having to run raving mad through a mall food court if I have to suffer another of these saccharine seasonal songs.
Honestly, where do you witness such unadulterated, sappy sentimentality and insanely stupid lyrics as in so much “holiday” musical fare? And consider for a moment the irony here – helping us to deeply celebrate the radical love of God in Christ are merchants and marketers piping in and broadcasting these jingles, hoping to hop us up on a seasonal high, the unconscious accompaniment as we spend far too much on things we don’t want or need.
Let’s set aside the musical quality for a moment and simply focus on the lyrics, which are often sternly moralistic (be merry and light-hearted or look out). They have invitations to outright denial (Have yourself a merry little Christmas’s line about “All our troubles will be far away.” Really, and that’s why the family Christmas celebration is known as the peak of family dysfunction!) or teach cozy revisionist theology (Away in a Manger’s cute little heretical statement about “The little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.” Oh, that’s right, he wasn’t really human after all; that body thing, just a good get-up to trick us all). And yes, let’s talk about the bad musicality, the absence of most any originality or the lifeless, sometimes awful, singing of much of it (O holy Crap, you completely missed those high notes).
And yet I love Christmas music. I listen to it before Advent hits and continue throughout the year. It’s music that reflects the reality of life as we live it and yet the bright hopes of the gospel. And what puts a smile on my face is how many of these overt gospel songs ring out through the voices of artists who profess no Christian faith (you really need to read a good article on this by Paul Vander Klay at ThinkChristian.net)
So let me recommend a few of what I’ve come to love. These versions are frequently changed from what you might usually hear, which is also what breathes new life into them. Here’s what I think is a great Christmas playlist, a few covers of carols and original songs that get played again and again on my Ipod.
- O Come, O Come Emmanuel – Sufjan Stevens (from vol. 1 of his 5 volume Christmas set – quirky, spare and nicely timed)
- Mary Had a Baby – Bruce Cockburn (from arguably the best Christmas album in recent memory, this song has the craziest line – “the people keep coming but the train is gone.” I want to hang out with whoever wrote this one at a Christmas Day worship service)
- Magnificat – Steve Bell (I love the whole album, The Feast of Seasons, and prefer this over the traditional Ave Maria)
- Good King Wenceslas – The Skydiggers (this has to be my all-time favourite Christmas cover – the studio version is brilliantly harmonized but you can see it live below. Great last line – “ye who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing”)
- Winter Wonderland – Harry Connick Jr. (a finger-snapping instrumental cover, from the When Harry met Sally soundtrack)
- Christmas Song – Dave Matthews band (the master Matthews in top form, musically and lyrically)
- I pray on Christmas – Harry Connick Jr. (OK, now we’re unwrapping the real-world hopes of Christmas. Even if you don’t believe in the Christmas story, you’ll wish it were true once you listen to this song)
- It came upon a midnight clear – Bruce Cockburn (the depth and aching beauty of the lyrics are breathtaking and simply putting this carol into a minor key transforms it into magic – and then there’s Cockburn’s guitar and harmonies with Sam Philips)
- Santa Claus is coming to town – Bruce Springsteen (well, because he’s the Boss)
- What Sweeter Music – Vancouver Cantata Singers (for a complete change of pace, try out this hauntingly gorgeous a cappella album of Christmas material. You can’t listen to this in a mall; you have to light a few candles and be still)
- Jingle Bells – Barenaked Ladies (because my kids go crazy for this version and it’s appropriately silly)
- What child is this – Sarah McLachlan (elvish, not in the Will Farrell vein but more what I imagine Galadriel might sound like singing a Christmas carol)
- God rest ye merry gentlemen/We three kings – Barenaked Ladies with Sarah McLachlan (another one of the best covers of a Christmas Carol – infectiously fun and worshipful at the same time, the perfect joy-filled pair for the holiday)
- Maybe this Christmas – Ron Sexsmith (what’s not to love about Mr. Sexsmith – one of the best songwriters who captures the hope of Christmas)
- Christmas is Coming and Skating – Vince Guaraldi (two Christmas classics introduced through the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Original music, fine jazz musicianship, communicating the hope and expectation of Christmas without a word)
- The Rebel Jesus – Jackson Browne with the Chieftains (my favourite non-carol, a John-the-Baptist like prophetic “calling the bluff” of every Christian looking for Jesus and celebrating Christmas)
- The Friendly Beasts – Sufjan Stevens (I love Sufjan and this pitch-perfect performance; a better “Little Drummer Boy” that makes me willingly want to be a stable animal, like an ass)
- Cry of tiny babe – Bruce Cockburn (a fresh retelling of the Christmas story – love the line of how “redemption rips through the surface of time in the cry of a tiny babe”)
Do you have some favourite covers? I’d love to hear from you (but can we all agree that anything by Justin Bieber is disqualified from the get-go?).
And here is where you can view the Skydiggers live performance of Good King Wenceslas (but do yourself a favour and download the studio version).
Writing a book is a risky act of faith. You labour for countless hours, rising way too early, working in silence, not knowing if anyone will ever read what you write, let alone embrace it.
Which makes the news of the good reception to my book Seeking God’s Face really sweet (you can buy your first edition copy here while supplies last). It was released in October and I spoke with the publisher last week and found out that sales are so good there’s a reprint now being planned for January.
And then even better, I’ve been so pleased with the reception its receiving from everyday people and churches. I know of three churches that are committing to praying the daily office throughout the year as a whole church community. I’ve spoken with a prison ministry in the U.S. who wants copies so that the inmates part of his ministry can pray the daily office during the frequent roll call or “count” that’s a daily part of prison life. And a friend of mine is blogging on the scriptures of Seeking God’s Face – you can read her blog here.
All of which makes me want to keep on writing.
I was on retreat early this week at a place called Kingsfold, a great place to rest and renew. If you find yourself in the Southern Alberta area, find a good excuse to get yourself there.
One day I walked through the valley floor along the Ghost River where, in the winter shadow, the trees were covered in beautiful hoarfrost, a little like stumbling into Narnia.