Showing posts with label Christmas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christmas. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Holiday SMART goals

I was leading a meeting the other day where we were practicing developing SMART goals. You've heard of those, probably. SMART goals are
S: Specific
M: Measurable
A: Achievable
R: Relevant
T: Time-bound
And so as an exercise, we created SMART goals related to the holiday season, and I thought, "Why haven't I done this before?"

Here are a couple of examples I came up with:

Not-so-smart goal: I will make everyone happy

SMART goal: I will select and wrap gifts for the 8 members of my immediate family and ensure they arrive by Christmas day.

Not-so-smart goal: I won't get mad when Uncle Ernie talks about politics

SMART goal: I will develop, write down, and rehearse 5 strategies for responding in a healthy way when Uncle Ernie talks about politics at least 1 day before we have our family dinner gathering.

So, for what it's worth, I offer this exercise to you. How can you approach the holidays in a way that doesn't set yourself up for failure with unrealistic goals?


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Santa Meltdown!

A friend of mine always posts the best family updates on Facebook. She gave me permission to reveal the following touching family vignette.




It's the most wonderful time of the year. Isn't it?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Reading Auden for Christmas

I tend to look at blog stats too much, but I'm glad I did so recently when I noticed someone had clicked on Christmas Oratorio. What's that? I wondered, and found a post I'd done a year ago that was a poem by W.H. Auden that is fantastic. (It's reposted below.)

I did a little more digging and found it was one small snippet of a very long piece called For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio. The plan was for Benjamin Britten to set it to music, which would have been fantastic except it probably would have taken days to perform. It's 37 pages of text in the edition of Collected Poems I checked out of the library, and covers from Advent to the Flight Into Egypt.

And it ends there, with the flight into Egypt. I hadn't thought about that, about how Christmas ends with a cliffhanger. The order of events gets so mixed up in the calendar, with the magi arriving tomorrow on Epiphany (in the church year), but the Slaughter of the Innocents, which happens after they leave, occurred a week ago on December 28.

And so, with Joseph and Mary and Jesus on the lam, and with the recitative immediately before beginning, "Fly, Holy Family, from our immediate rage," the next-to-last section begins with "Well, so that is that." So shocking, and so wonderful.

There are so many wonderful, shocking moments in this work. I haven't made my way through it all yet. I loved part II in the Temptation of Joseph section. Here's a little bit:
  For those delicious memories
Cigars and sips of brandy can restore
To old dried boys, for gallantry that scrawls
  In idolatrous detail and size
A symbol of aggression on toilet walls,
For having reasoned -- "Woman is naturally pure
since she has no moustache," for having said,
  "No woman has a business head,"
You must learn now that masculinity,
To nature, is a non-essential luxury.
And Herod's essay/proclamation on The Massacre of the Innocents is incredible.

But the whole thing is. It's worth savoring. It gave me so much to think about in a deep Christmas mode, far past the manger. I can see this is a work I will have to revisit when Advent rolls around.

The oratorio ends with this text, which is in the Episcopal hymnal and have never heard sung. It makes much more sense in its original context.

He is the Way.
Follow him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.
October 1941-July 1942

From "For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio" by W.H. Auden

The Flight Into Egypt
III
Narrator

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes --
Some have got broken -- and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week --
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted -- quite unsuccessfully --
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid's geometry
And Newton's mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suffering. So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father;
"Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake."
They will come, all right, don't worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine. In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance. The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God's Will will be done, That, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

O Come All Ye Faithful

This will be the last Christmas hymn I post this season. Not that Christmas is over, but I think I'll be able to make it now, having weaned myself from constant Christmas music over the past few days.

Let's end with a classic. For to us a child is born: Come let us adore him.


Friday, December 28, 2012

Unto Us a Boy is Born [Feast of the Holy Innocents]

It's the Feast of the Holy Innocents today, which has a lot more resonance this year for me. This is the hymn that came to my mind shortly after the Newtown massacre for its verse about Herod -- "all the little boys he killed" -- what a horrible, horrible story.

And there's a strange thing going on in this story I hadn't thought about before: about how other people suffered when Jesus came into the world. Other innocent people. I don't have much more than that; it's something I'll need to ponder.

Here's the collect for today, which I think is powerful stuff:
We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
No subtitles today. This hymn isn't among Christmas' greatest hits. It is strange to be reminded of grief at Christmas, but important. The grief is there; burying it under layers of Christmas cheer is not to our benefit, I feel.



Unto us a boy is born!
The King of all creation,
came he to a world forlorn,
the Lord of every nation.

Cradled in a stall was he
with sleepy cows and asses;
but the very beasts could see
that he all men surpasses.

Herod then with fear was filled;
"A prince," he said, "in Jewry!"
All the little boys he killed
at Bethlehem in his fury.

Now may Mary's son, who came
so long ago to love us,
lead us all with hearts aflame
unto the joys above us.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Of the Father's Love Begotten

The Christmas sing-along continues with another hymn for you on this, the feast of St. John the Apostle, aka Man of Mystery.


Of the Father's love begotten,
ere the worlds began to be,
he is Alpha and Omega,
he the source, the ending he,
of the things that are, that have been,
and that future years shall see,
evermore and evermore!

O that birth for ever bless├Ęd,
when the Virgin, full of grace,
by the Holy Ghost conceiving,
bare the Savior of our race;
and the Babe, the world's Redeemer,
first revealed his sacred face,
evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven, adore him;
angel-hosts, his praises sing;
powers, dominions, bow before him,
and extol our God and King;
let no tongue on earth be silent,
every voice in concert ring,
evermore and evermore!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

In the Bleak Midwinter

Merry Christmas!

You know the thing that gets me about the way we celebrate Christmas in this country is not that we play Christmas music throughout December, but that it just vanishes at the stroke of midnight on December 25. I'd like a little more Christmas, please!

This video has subtitles so you can sing along. I'll also post the words below. Love this hymn


In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sunday Funnies, December 2, 2012

I've posted this before, but at a less timely time of year, and I think it behooves us all to take time to listen to noted jurist, Daily Show correspondent and Mac pitchman John Hodgman advise us on the proper time to put up Christmas decorations. Enjoy.

Photo of court-ordered "sadness tree"

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Funnies, November 18

This is a video my sister made. In case you're wondering what's going on, "An elf and a mouse battle over a flower in a field of Xmas tinsel." Because that's what happens when you own a gift shop in Portland, Maine.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A season of receiving

cross-posted on the Confirm not Conform blog

Today I happened to look at the collect for the First Sunday After Christmas--the only post-Christmas-Day collect we heard this year, what with Christmas Day on a Sunday. It reads:
Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
It made me think of Christmas as a season of receiving. For all that we are told that Christmas is a season of giving and sharing, I was reminded that one of the best things I can do to celebrate Christmas is to remember and give thanks for what I have been given. But not just to remember: to accept the gift. To take some time to rejoice in the gift of the Word made flesh who entered this world as a gracious presence of light in the darkness. In all of my efforts to give and share and be generous, there's something wonderful about being reminded on this last day of Christmas that I needn't hustle. I don't need to do anything. Instead, I can simply settle in and allow myself to receive.

All of this has made me think of Christian formation as an opportunity to receive. It's not about learning stuff. It's not about having more faith. It's about receiving the light that pours out all around us. It's about allowing that light to reach others. I don't need to control it. I just need to be as clear as possible so that the light can reach me and reach others through me.

But first I need to remember to receive, to bask in the light. It is from this receiving that I can go forth and give--not things or money, but only myself shining forth. And I can shine because of what I have been given, what I have allowed myself to receive.

It's the last day of Christmas and with the consumer frenzy over and the parties done and the decorations down and the presents unwrapped and the resolutions already broken, I feel I am finally in a position to receive. The pressure of Christmas is off. Perhaps the presence of Christ may now enter. I hope and pray that I may receive it.

I hope you receive something too, some light in your life this day. May God's light be poured out upon you and may it shine forth from your life. And a very merry Christmas.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Monday Morning Preacher: Christmas in Chelsea Square

On Christmas Eve at 11:30 pm, there was a special on CBS featuring a service of lessons and carols from the General Theological Seminary with a sermon by the Presiding Bishop called Christmas in Chelsea Square.  You can see it here.

First of all, kudos to General for getting this on the air nationwide. Secondly, mondo kudos for starting with an image of Bishop Catherine Roskam and featuring the Presiding Bishop, showing the world all these images of women in religious leadership.

That being said, I'm afraid it was a disappointment.  There's nothing quite like yelling at the television on Christmas morning, saying, "Would it hurt you to smile, dammit?!" And a merry Christmas to you, too!

Having had a week to reflect, I would like to offer these comments both for General, whose good faith effort I truly applaud, and for others who are thinking about doing more multi-media services and outreach.

First of all, who is your audience? At the beginning of the program, it seemed it was geared toward non-Episcopalians, explaining what General Seminary is and what the Episcopal church is.  But the service itself seemed to be complete inside baseball--or inside church.  I thought it appealed to a narrow demographic: those who were already steeped in high church tradition.

Which leads to the question, what will engage your audience? If your intended audience is people unfamiliar with the Episcopal church and liturgy, what will catch their attention from the start?  A hint: singing all eight verses of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is not going to do that.  As a friend of mine said, "That sound in verse 6 was the sound of televisions turning off all over America." Yeah, that's a real barn-burner, that one.

Here's one difference between going to a church service and watching a church service on television: once you're inside a church, there is a significant social cost to leaving, because to do so would draw attention to yourself in a very hushed environment.  Watching on TV, there is no such cost. It is very easy to leave. Therefore, you want to make it easy for people to stay by keeping their attention engaged all the time.

Also important: make sure the delivery of the message matches the message! O Come, O Come, Emmanuel already has a dirgelike quality, very at odds with the message of joy it brings.  To compound the issue, the congregation singing "Rejoice, rejoice!" looked absolutely miserable.  Eddie Izzard had it nailed:



Another difference between going to a church service and watching one on television is that on television, the congregation are also (for lack of a better word) performers.  They didn't seem aware of that--and the show was not edited in such a way to bring out what enthusiasm there was in the assembly. I feel for the guy in the red sweater who yawned. Why was that left in the final edit?  Because there's nothing that says, "Boy do I want to be part of this church!" than watching its most stalwart members exhibiting boredom.

If there's one thing that I think would have made Christmas in Chelsea Square much better, it would have been to tell the congregation, "Remember that the television viewers' eyes will be on you as much as they will be on those up in front. How you comport yourself will say a great deal to the viewers about what is going on here--whether it is joyous or dreary, whether it is a time of celebration or boredom. Be an outward and visible sign of the grace you receive here today. And make sure it's visible!"

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Reflections on Christmas 2011

Every year since the year 2000, I've preached on Christmas morning. This year I stayed home and the silence of it was breathtakingly beautiful. No rushing, no music, no message. Just silence.

The night before we'd sung "Silent Night" and the congregation had held candles as the ushers turned off the lights; as soon as the hymn was over, they turned the lights on again. I found myself thinking, "What was the point of that?" Tradition, I guess. But people didn't seem to know if it was all right to blow out the candles. I blew mine out. Why leave it lit?

I was sorry Christmas Eve wasn't more magical. There was no incense.  There was no cope. In fact, there was nothing unusual about the service at all, except that it was at night. And there was a moment with a candle. But very soon after the service started, I realized "this is just a garden-variety eucharist," and I was instantly bored. I knew that I would be there for about an hour and 15 minutes. I knew I would wade through the sermon and let my mind wander. I knew I would receive communion. And then it would be done.

So I did Christmas Eve. Like I was supposed to.

A couple of days earlier, I'd seen an article in the Telegraph in which the writer reflected on a couple of funerals he had attended. At the end, he related the story of the 7th Earl of Yarborough who "at his village carol service, he read the lesson about the shepherds deserting their flocks to see the baby in Bethlehem. “I’d just like to say,” he told the startled congregation, “that if these men had been my shepherds, I’d have sacked them.”" What it made me think was how going to pay homage to the Christ child is a deeply irresponsible act. And how hard we all try--perhaps at Christmas especially--to be so very responsible. But that maybe God is not calling us to act responsibly.

I made myself some French toast. I had some tea. I didn't do much of anything. And it was lovely.


Christmas Oratorio by W.H. Auden

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes --
Some have got broken -- and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week --
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted -- quite unsuccessfully --
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid's geometry
And Newton's mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suffering. So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father;
"Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake."
They will come, all right, don't worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine. In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance. The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God's Will will be done, That, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.

 [h/t Andrew Sullivan]

Thursday, December 22, 2011

There's never too much inflatable Christmas decor

We live across the street from someone who I think has every inflatable Christmas decoration known to humankind. Each year he sets them all out on his small front yard and porch. And if you're going to use inflatable (and often animatronic) Christmas decorations, I think "tastelessly and outrageously" is the way to do it.

Here's the full picture:
But let's take a little closer look, shall we?
Note the green item to the right of the picture. That would be a trailer. That Santa lives in. And you know this because the door opens and Santa pops out. (You can see him in the door in the first pic.) 

But what is Santa doing here?
There, behind the bushes! Leaving aside the "Snow Angel Station" with Santa spread eagled on what looks like an air mattress, what exactly is Santa up to? Let's go to video, shall we?

video

Oh, Santa! You may call it a "Rocking Horse." I'm not so sure.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Funnies, December 11


Let's see if this works.
video

And while you're at it, I suggest either reading or listening to The SantaLand Diaries by David Sedaris.





Enjoy!