An Agnostic Christmas December 26, 2011Posted by Matt in Christianity, Christmas.
Tags: Christianity, Christmas, church of christ, experience, hopeful agnostic, Jesus, The Episcopal Church
It’s no secret to those who know me or who read this blog that I’ve undergone a period of spiritual change over the past few years. This is most visible in our change in churches, from the Church of Christ to the Episcopal Church, but for me the transformation runs far deeper than the denomination with which we associate. It goes from the morality espoused to the attitudes expressed to the very theological foundations upon which everything is built.
As I’ve said in the past, I came to the realization a long time ago that my idea of God had evolved a great deal and that the classic theistic description was no longer tenable, that I could no longer say I believed in that idea of God. Please note that this doesn’t exclude God altogether, far be it from that, but it does mean that the commonly taught descriptors of God no longer worked, so I was forced to recalibrate, to rethink my personal theology, so earlier this year I decided that the best phrase to describe my current philosophical state was “hopeful agnosticism.” Though I’m pretty unclear and questioning on the theistic version of God, I do wholeheartedly believe in something bigger than myself, working through and embodied by people throughout history. It’s a force of love and compassion, of mercy and radical forgiveness, one that permeates the fabric of reality and dwells in all people and things.
The Christmastime idea of Incarnation bothered me for a while, especially when looking critically at the evidence and coming to the conclusion that it may well be a myth meant to later bolster the claims of Jesus’s followers, because I had trouble accepting it and, truth be told, I still don’t accept it as fact, but I recognize something there in the experience of Christmas, particularly as embodied in our services at St. Timothy’s. There is something quite beautiful about the story of Christmas and, whether it happened or not doesn’t really seem to matter. What matters is the effect the story has on you. I can tell you that sitting in a pew at our church during the Christmas Eve mass is one of the most wonderful and moving experiences I’ve had, and in the end, isn’t that what really matters? Once we get past the sniping at each other over the factual nature of the account, isn’t the real meaning found in the effect it has on you?
That’s what I think at least. You can keep your reams of studies attempting to prove the unprovable, to know the unknowable. I’ll rest on the experience, the mystical knowing beyond knowing.
Posts of Christmas Past December 24, 2011Posted by Matt in Christmas.
Tags: bad poetry, Christmas, Communism, fiction, Nativity myth, Santa Claus, zombies
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Here at Words of Wisdom, I’ve been writing about Christmas for years. Some posts have been funny, some have been serious, some have turned controversial, some have caused involuntary eye-rolling, but whatever your reaction might be, the posts have long been a mainstay on the blog. Today I thought we could revisit a few of those posts of past times.
Given the recent undead craze, you may have heard all you ever wanted to about zombies. If not, check out “Twas the Night Before Christmas…with Zombies.”
Or, if zombies aren’t your style, here’s a poem from 2009 entitled “The Day After Christmas.”
If you want to know how to really stir things up in your conservative church, I’ll give you hint: make a case for the nativity story being a mythical account. Yeah, that won’t get you invited to Christmas dinner.
Back in 2008 I wrote a Christmas short story entitled “A Finger Between Friends.” At least I thought it was pretty funny.
Did you ever think there was something strange about Santa Claus, that maybe, perhaps, he wasn’t who we were always led to be believe? I did and back in 2007 I wrote Get Behind Me Santa!, an expose that showed his ties to the evils of Communism.
And there have been several more that weren’t quite as interesting. Merry Christmas, y’all!
Lucero and a Bottle of Christmas Cheer December 23, 2011Posted by Matt in concerts.
Tags: Amy LaVere, Ben Nichols, Christmas, concert, Drink Till We're Gone, Lucero, Memphis, Minglewood Hall
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When you think of Christmas, what comes to mind? The Nativity? Santa Claus? Reindeer with mutant powers?
How about a concert by Memphis Southern rock heroes, Lucero?
If that last one isn’t on your list, it should be. Last night I had the opportunity to catch Lucero’s Holiday Show at Minglewood Hall in Memphis and it was truly a night to remember.
I arrived at the venue shortly before the listed start time of 8:00, grabbed a beer, and soon met up with friends from Arkansas and Memphis who were also in attendance. We took a spot pretty close to the stage, sipped our beverages, and visited, catching up on the happenings in our lives and chatting about our shared love of music.
Opening act Amy LaVere hit the stage around 8:15, grasping her upright bass tightly, plucking and caressing the strings with a lover’s touch. Her lovely appearance was enhanced by the macabre nature of her songs, as tales of death and murder poured forth in a fountain of Southern gothic imagery. Opening with the strong bass line of “Washing Machine,” she and her band tore through several numbers from her three albums like “You Can’t Keep Me,” “Red Banks,” “Stranger Me,” the timely and appropriate “Pointless Drinking,” and one of my favorite tunes of the year and one that she described as “the only love song I know how to write, “Damn Love Song.” It was a great set from an incredible Memphis artist.
Lucero hit the stage around 9:30, with vocalist Ben Nichols, skinny and heavily tattooed, taking the center. He smiled at the adoring crowd of several hundred, “We thought about doing a different opener, but, ah, what the hell?” and the band launched into their standard set starter, “That Much Further West,” the song building to a crescendo with Nichols’ whiskey-soaked vocals masterfully leading the multitude of fans in a huge singalong, taking on the role of pastor to his flock of loyal followers, turning them into a single organism, moving and singing as one.
It was obvious that he and the band were glad to be home and hugely grateful to their legion of fans, so much so that they played and played, tearing through an unbelievable setlist, one that lasted more than 3 full hours. There were old favorites like “My Best Girl,” “Raising Hell,” and the encore opening “Drink Till We’re Gone.” They played a killer “Chain Link Fence” (my 9 year old daughter’s favorite song), a church choir-like “Nights Like These,” and ripped through favorites like “She’s Just That Kind of Girl,” “Sixes and Sevens,” and “Can’t Feel a Thing.” The band was in rare form, laying their claim to not just Minglewood Hall, but the entire city of Memphis, showing once again that they are the city’s rock stars, and one of the greatest “unknown” bands working in America today. At some point, Ben broke out a bottle of tequila and in between the killer songs, he took time to address the crowd, talking and joking with everyone like they were old friends (and I’m sure many of them were). As they neared the end of their encore, my friends and I looked at each other, bewildered, running through song lists in our minds and wondering what could possibly be left to play. When the final song kicked in, my friend Chris and I looked at each other and nodded, a knowing look in our eyes, “Tears Don’t Matter Much.” Of course.
After the show, as the clock neared the 1:00 mark, we stood around as the building slowly emptied, soaking in the last bits of the atmosphere floating about, breathing it in before stepping back out into the cold December night of Memphis. We knew we had just witnessed something really special, a momentous occasion that would stick with us, perhaps even forever. Of all the Lucero shows I’ve seen, this one may have topped them all. But, before we exited the building, there was another pleasant surprise in store: the band came out to visit and meet with the few who stayed behind. I had the chance to say hello to Amy LaVere, to tell guitarist Brian Venable about my Lucero-loving daughter and the band shirt I bought her for Christmas, and I got to meet and visit with Ben Nichols himself after the show. And though I only had a few moments with them, you could tell that they were real, down-to-earth kinds of people who were grateful for their fans and happy to do what they do.
And Ben posed for a picture with me, which I thought was pretty awesome too.
“Life is short
In spite of your plans
So tell the girls they’re all pretty while you can
‘Cause one day they’re gone
And all you got left’s
An empty bottle and an old country song”
Voice of an Angel December 14, 2011Posted by Matt in Christmas.
Tags: Christmas, school program, solo
I was not born with much in the way of music talent.
I can’t carry a tune to save my life and have never had the motivation to become proficient with an instrument.
Luckily, that inability doesn’t run in the family.
I’ve long known that our oldest daughter, Rachel, did have a naturally endowed knack for music. Going all the back to her toddler years, she has had a wonderful voice and an innate ability to sing in tune and on key. But, though I’ve known this, I had never really heard her let loose with her instrument, to truly put her heart and soul into a singing performance.
Then I saw her last night.
We had known for some time that her music teacher had chosen her for a solo part, the character of “Heather Holiday,” in the 4th grade Christmas program, but she was always reticent to sing her piece in front of me. That being the case, I must admit to being a bit concerned, wondering if she was proctrastinating (which she has been known to do) and not doing what she should, but I didn’t push very hard, just asking her in a half-joking manner if she would sing for me. She would just smile shyly and decline.
Yesterday evening we filed into the school gym and found seats among the bleachers, facing the holiday decorated set below us. My mom had driven over for the show from Arkansas and soon after the program started Mother Clelie, our curate at church, joined us as well.
Rachel was resplendent and beautiful, dressed in a homemade Christmas dress and wearing a tiara, looking much older and more mature than her nine years. The program progressed as most school programs do, with group songs and speaking parts, all of which centered around a story dealing with the holiday season. Then, about 2/3 of the way through the show, the big moment arrived. Rachel stepped to the microphone, poised and confident, took and deep breath and began to sing.
All of a sudden the clouds parted and the gate to heaven itself was opened, the voice of an angel filling the cavernous gymnasium. With mouth open wide and tears streaming down my face, I tried to hold my iPhone steady and capture these beautiful two minutes.
Needless to say, I am a proud dad.
A Christmas Carol, Part 2: The Day After December 13, 2011Posted by Matt in A Christmas Carol Part 2.
Tags: A Christmas Carol, Christmas, Conservatives, ghost, politics, Republicans, Ronald Reagan, Scrooge
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Marley was still dead, of that Scrooge was quite sure. For though he had born witness to the apparition of his partner only the night before, he was convinced that Marley was most certainly dead as a door-nail.
Scrooge was now a changed man, as one who is reborn, for the spirits of two nights prior, that fateful Christmas Eve, had shown him the err of his ways, putting forth visions of Christmases past, present, and future, and it all started with the visitation from his now eternally cursed and most assuredly dead associate, Marley. He was now a kinder, gentler, and infinitely more joyful man, with intentions of sharing his bountiful riches with those less fortunate, to lift up the downtrodden, to work for the ever-elusive common good of humankind. Also, there was Tiny Tim, the young son of his employee Bob Cratchit, whose plight in life he vowed to right, to use his great wealth in every way possible to ease the disabled child’s life. It was now a personal mission, one that he foresaw would be a source of great joy to the family and to himself.
All the day of Christmas he had made merry with his nephew’s family, becoming in turn the joyful patriarch, the smiling, beloved Uncle Scrooge, discovering happiness in his drear life once again, changing his countenance to one of great joy and mirth. The following day he celebrated yet again, this time with the poor Cratchit’s, bestowing upon him an increased salary and blessing the family with the largest turkey to be found. Yes, he was a new man, one now endowed with a sense of giving and festiveness, of humor and love.
It was a dark night as Scrooge made his way home from the office, his now ever-present smile permeating the foggy blackness as a beacon of hope in the mournful atmosphere. He and Bob had laughed and joked throughout the day, creating an atmosphere of joy at work as never before. It was lighthearted and even fun, two words never before uttered in the firm of Scrooge and Marley.
Before that portentous Christmas Eve, there had been nothing odd about the knocker on the door, but on that particular night it had taken the form of Marley’s ghostly face staring into the night with its dead eyes. Thus, Scrooge was a bit more cautious than he had been before as he reached for the knob, keeping his eyes focused upon the knocker on the chance that it might happen to change yet again.
And as he watched, it did change, only this time the face was no longer his tortured partner, it was another familiar visage, a face well known by all.
Then, just as it had transformed the first time, it changed back, becoming nothing more than a knocker once again. Scrooge breathed deeply in the cold night air, and then opened the door to his quarters. Lighting a candle, he glanced furtively around the room, checking every dark corner for a ghostly presence, but saw nothing.
“Perhaps,” he said to himself, “it is truly something I ate, maybe this time it was really a bit of undigested beef.” For it was true that he had been eating quite merrily these last few days as if he were making up for Christmases past.
Suddenly the great bell, the one that harkened the approach of the spirits some two nights prior, began to ring, loudly sounding in the darkness, jarring Scrooge to his senses.
“Oh, spirit, oh, Marley, must you come and visit me yet again? I am a changed man, Marley! I will keep the spirit of Christmas alive!” he wailed into the night amid the pealing bells.
The cellar door again loudly flew open, just as it had two nights prior and Scrooge listened to the footfalls slowly climbing the stairs. Then, coming through the same heavy door, the ghost appeared before him as the dying flame leapt, as if to announce the ghostly presence.
Open-mouthed, Scrooge stared ahead, “President Reagan!”
“Yes, it is I, President Ronald Reagan.”
“Why have you chosen to visit me, Mr. President? Why do you trouble me? I am a changed man! I have seen the light! I am no longer a selfish miser, set to live my days alone and without joy. Spirit, I have changed!”
“Yes, Ebenezer Scrooge,” he thundered, shaking the house with his ferocity, “That is what I have been told and that is exactly why I am here.”
“But, but, Spirit, I don’t understand.”
“Silence,” he roared, “You have strayed from the Conservative path, Ebenezer Scrooge, and I have been sent to bring you back. Tonight you will be haunted,” the ghost audibly sighed if that sort of thing is possible for an apparition, “by three candidates for President.”
The Spirit continued on, unperturbed, “They will give you the other, more fair and balanced side of the story. Pay attention to them Ebenezer Scrooge and they will steer you back to the path of Conservatism!”
The ghost of Reagan turned and began to walk back into the cellar, but then his head seemingly perked up and swiveled around with a dead stare upon Scrooge. “Got any jelly beans?”
“Uh, no sir, Mr. President.”
“Dang. Farewell, Ebenezer!” He passed through the door again, a cold breeze rustling through the room and then all was silent and dark, just as before.
Christmas with the Wisdoms December 29, 2010Posted by Matt in Christmas, family.
Tags: birthday, Christmas, Christmas Eve service, Episcopal Church, Eucharist, family, gifts, Santa Claus
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It’s been an eventful and exhausting five days since I last posted, so let’s take a few moments to catch up.
Our holiday spring began on Friday when we were able to attend our first ever Christmas Eve service, the Holy Eucharist at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church. The nave (that would be the auditorium for you CoCers out there and the sanctuary for you Baptists) was beautifully decorated, with two large Christmas trees adorning the front of the room, greenery draped throughout, and candles lit at each row of pews. The lights were dimmed quite low as the parishioners made their way into the building, found their seats, and took a few moments of silence to pray, reflect, or tell the kids to be quiet.
The service itself consisted of four scripture readings, one from the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah, one from the Psalms, one from Paul’s letter to Titus, and finally, following the singing of “Angels We Have Heard on High,” Luke’s account of Christ’s birth. Father Patrick then addressed us with not one, but two sermons, the first of which was geared towards the children who gathered around him at the front of the building and the second to the adults. The two mini-sermons dealt with the implications of incarnation and both were quite interesting and meaningful. After the sermon, we then participated in the recitation of the Nicene Creed, the Prayers of the People, and ended with the regular greetings in the Peace of the Lord.
Though the first part of service was complete, the main event, aka Holy Communion, was still to come. We have grown accustomed to the practices of the Eucharist over the past two months and this was similar to that which we have done before. Row by row, the parishioners trooped to the front of the nave and knelt before the altar, where Father Patrick and another member would administer the bread and wine while the musicians played a mixture of soft Christmas music. Then, following the Post-Communion Prayer, the parishioners stood and sang Silent Night, with only the soft glow of candles cutting through the darkness. It was a moving experience and one more reason why I like the church.
Once the service ended, many of the congregants retreated to the CAB for a dinner of crawfish soup, red beans and rice, wine, and host of other morsels to make our Christmas Eve a little brighter. We ate and rejoiced in each other’s company, making this a Christmas Eve to remember. By the time we left, the kids were nearly falling over with exhaustion, so it was not difficult in the least to get them in bed and asleep, awaiting the arrival Santa Claus. Santa had a late night, though, particularly since his wife had to go to work at 10:00, but with the help of egg nog and the TBS marathon of A Christmas Story, all was completed by about 2:00am.
The kids were up bright and early Christmas morning, around the time that Diana arrived at home, so we did our first round of presents then. Rachel got the Nintendo DS she wanted, Bekah got a Leapster 2 (though she was certain Santa got them mixed up because she asked him specifically for a DS! We told her that Santa wanted to make sure she could take care of a Leapster first and that maybe she would get one next year.), and JD had several cars and trucks, including a large police vehicle with noise-making buttons. We ate a nice breakfast of waffles, then headed back to St. Tim’s for our first Christmas Day service.
Where the Eve service was much more solemn and introspective, the Christmas Day service was one of great joy, one in which the kids were free to roam about the nave, and infectious laughter and fun spread quickly among the parishioners. There were a few added wrinkles to the service on this day, however, including Patrick’s blessing of the gifts, in which congregants laid their favorite gifts, which included everything from jewelry to a unicycle to the three gifts I mentioned above, in a pile on the altar and he pronounced a blessing upon them. At one point, as he led the congregation in prayer he laid his hands on the gifts, inadvertently touching JD’s police truck and filling the room with the blaring sound of a police siren. Good times. The Eucharist that day was also a bit different that usual, for this one consisted of a white chocolate bread and sparkling grape juice to make it a little more fun and kid friendly, and this time even our now-2 year old JD got to participate. At the end, everyone called out in one loud, joyous voice, “It’s a boy!”
We flew home afterwards, grabbed a bite to eat and hit the road, heading toward the next stop on our yuletide journey, Beebe. Upon our arrival, we first went to the home of Diana’s parents, where we were able to enjoy a nice dinner, some good conversation, and some gift-giving. By the time we left she was in a near-comatose state after being awake for some 30 straight hours, so we drove over to my parents’ home and she collapsed in bed. Both that night and the next one I had long conversations with my dad, mostly about our most recent church experiences. My parents are very open minded people and highly supportive of us, and they were interested to learn more about the church and the people with whom we have spent the past two months. We talked at great length about things and I tried to give the best answers I could, though my knowledge of Episcopal theology and doctrine is still in its fledgling stages.
The next morning we went to church with my parents and, though it is still definitely a Church of Christ, I must say that there was a marked improvement over what it has been in the past. I mean, they even had a Christmas message on their sign! In case you weren’t raised in CoC circles, the church has generally never acknowledged Christian holidays, preferring to treat no day as any greater than another. After worship, we headed back to the parents for a huge Christmas dinner of crown pork roast, all the trimmings, and a vast assortment of desserts, all of which I had to at least sample.
My family has always made a big deal out of Christmas and the room full of gifts given this year was no different in that regard. There was an assortment of video games, Barbie dolls, and more cars and trucks for the kids, some cookware for Diana, and for me, a Playstation 3. Now, I had been lamenting for some time to Diana that I wished I had a system conducive to playing sports games (yeah, Techmo Bowl on the old NES is fun for a while, but it does get a little old), so with her guidance, my family gave me this huge and very cool gift. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of use out of it, particularly the NCAA Football 11 that I received. I was very proud of the gift I picked out for my dad: two front row (I believe) tickets to see Leon Redbone, one of his favorite artists of all time, in concert later this month.
The next day, Monday, we had yet another big event: Jackson’s 2nd birthday party! Diana’s mother came up for the party and we had a ball celebrating our little man’s big day. I think he enjoyed the extra attention, especially since it involved a big slab of cake.
It was a great Christmas weekend and we stayed at their house until yesterday, when we finally packed up all of our things and made the journey back to our Southaven home. Today, I’m back at work, but that’s okay. I’ve got a long season of NCAA Football ahead of me…
Yes, We’re Weird… December 24, 2010Posted by Matt in Christmas.
Tags: Christmas, nerdy gifts, plush microbes, the gift of herpes, Think Geek
I think it’s safe to say that, when it comes to gift giving, we can sometimes be a little on the strange side. Diana and I generally don’t spend very much money on each other for Christmas, so we have to be creative when it comes to presents.
Diana works in a hospital lab where she identifies various pathogens and other bad stuff that invades the human body, then gives it to the doctor to aid in their diagnosis. Well, a few years ago I started a little family tradition using the website ThinkGeek, where I would buy her a plush microbe. Over the years I’ve given her the likes of E. coli (which was affectionately named Eli), swine flu, and syphillis, and for 2010 I picked out yet another gift that keeps on giving: herpes.
The package arrived yesterday and I quickly opened it, thinking of the look on her face Christmas morning when she peered expectantly into her stocking, but alas, the company sent the wrong thing. A book! Instead of the plush herpes!
So, I went ahead and told her what had happened and we had a laugh about it. Now we’re trying to figure out whether we should return the book or gift it to someone else. We’ll see.
But, I really wanted to give my wife herpes this year…
A Finger Between Friends December 23, 2010Posted by Matt in fiction.
Tags: Christmas, funny story
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A wrote a Christmas story two years ago that I still is pretty funny. Check it out if you’re interested:
A Finger Between Friends
Taking the Christ out of Christmas December 22, 2010Posted by Matt in Christianity.
Tags: Christianity, Christmas, secular holiday
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I just read this blog entry today and found it to be quite enlightening, particularly when considering the rabid nature of those who insist on creating a war on Christmas. You should check it out.
The Birth Myth Revisited December 13, 2010Posted by Matt in Christian Beliefs, Christmas.
Tags: Bible, Christmas, Jesus, mythology, nativity
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Last year I posted a series regarding the nature of mythology as it relates to the stories of the birth of Jesus. I put a good bit of effort into it and, though it caused a bit of controversy in this small corner of the blogosphere, I think it brought about some interesting discussion. In case you missed it then or if you would like to revisit the series, I’ll post the links below.