Wednesday, December 25, 2013

On Christmas Day (a playlist)

May this Christmas Day bring you hope and joy, celebrations full of  love, laughter, and dancing. 

Speaking of which: may the dancing commence... now!

Thanks for journeying with us through Advent once again -- 

Merry Christmas!

                                                                                  -- Lindsey and Anna

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Possibility of 'Enough' (Hannah Rand)

"It was cold that night,
just like tonight,
the stars were burning bright
like angels taking flight

But nothing in the world --
nothing in our world --
nothing in the world felt really right"

What to do when everything is full of beauty and it's still all wrong? The creche is ready to welcome Jesus, it's "O Holy Night" time, and we're still squirming in our own skin, or keeping vigil over a deathbed, or rushing to some finish line we can't quite define. 

But maybe that's exactly as it always happens at Christmas, and we just normally don't see it. Brené Brown reflects:

"I went back [to church] for the wrong reasons. I really went back because [in my breakdown] I was like 'This is hard, this hurts' and I went back to church thinking that it would be like an epidural, like it would take the pain away... [but] faith and church was not like an epidural for me at all. It was like a midwife, who just stood next to me, and said:
'Push. This is supposed to hurt a little bit.'

Advent, as it brings us right to the threshold of Christmas, is supposed to hurt a little. All our wild longings, our needs, the brokenness and violence of the world... there are no insta-tools to answer and fix these. Jesus doesn't come with a super easy cure for sorrow or a quick-fix for fear. He comes with nothing 'obvious' at all, born simply from the blood and tears and determination of his mother, the faithfulness and hopefulness of his father... into a little nowhere place in a nowhere town.

"you came with nothing
you came with nothing but love
you came to show us:
love might be enough"

Lindsey: I often wonder about the familiar characters of the Christmas story, whether they experienced the signs and wonders of angels and a star, and God’s movement among us, with the same bewildered, uncertain curiosity that I sometimes feel when I glimpse God moving. Frequently, when I experience God, I am not quite sure what is happening, or if I am imagining things, but I try to be able to say, maybe, just maybe, God is up to something here

Perhaps Mary and Joseph and the shepherds knew exactly what was going on -- how huge and important this moment was. Perhaps. Or perhaps in the midst of the uncertainty, in the tension between the expected Messiah and the stable birth, in the company of this strange cast of characters, they rested in what might be. Perhaps for them, as for us, the simple miracle is that in the glowing light of that manger, we can open ourselves to the possibility, give our hearts to the idea, choose to believe together that Love might be enough.  

With Nothing by Hannah Rand and Me, You & Her 
(HERE for more album info and free download from the artists!)

Anna: In reality, we are midwifed into Christmas by the Advent season: pushing through our layers of worry and waiting, hope, doubt, rage, desire, grief, and finally...perhaps... we fall silent in wonder at the inconceivable determination God has to just love us throughout history, straight into the flesh and blood of life... to be with us in the midst of everything.

"sing alleluia
sing alleluia
sing alleluia
let love be enough"

Is Love enough? If it's just the really sweet, peaceful, comforting, warm feelings we want at Christmas, I'm not really sure it is. But let's remember that it's this same exact Love that years later wakes up the fishermen, Peter and Andrew, from their lakeside nets, the same exact Love that shakes up the Pharisees and the tax collectors and the townspeople, that same. exact. Love. that shows up so clear and so strong that eventually we just had to look away and cover our ears and...

But no one wants to go there at Christmas. We want to stick with the epidural version of love, even when we all know that often "nothing in the world feels really right." We want to flee to the Christmas Eve candlelight, or the chaos of the children's nativity reenactment, and be charmed or soothed into Christmas, even though we also know that for love to truly be "enough" to speak to the hurt in this world it can't just lull us to sleep.

Yet what might be happening in the midst of the actual chaos of this world is that instead of singing us lullabies, God might be saying "Push." God might be asking us to participate in the birth of Christ in a way we normally don't dare imagine: not as spectator or shepherd, but as Mary herself, living in the pain and the unknowing and the chaos of the present-tense. Choosing to believe that God-in-Christ might indeed be born within all this mess -- and that Love is, indeed, enough.

It will be cold and dark where we live tonight. We will arrive at the Eve of the Light's Coming worn out or confused, unready or joy-filled. The point is: no matter how we come, if we are willing to live into the discomfort and the doubt enough to PUSH --- we can allow Christ to be born again, a little more fully, in us again tonight.

May your courage open you to what is being born anew tonight in the world and in yourself. May your hope guide you to look for where Love is dawning. May you shine on, shine on, on this blessed Christmas Eve.

Sing Alleluia!!

-- Lindsey and Anna

"The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
    and the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
    and all the garments rolled in blood
    shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
    and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
    He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this."
- Isaiah 9: 2-7

Monday, December 23, 2013

Keep Holding On (Danny Mitchell)

"earth is white 
ground is cold 
its hard to see the seeds you've sown 
all our life and love 
buried beneath the snow 

days are short, 
the dark is deep 
move along on cautious feet..."

In these last days before Christmas, a song that is a simple prayer, a meditation, and a promise:

"be still, my love, 
keep holding on 
through the cold December gray
we will
have faith, 
'cause there's a Savior on the --
a Savior on the way."

Savior on the Way (acoustic, 2012) by Danny Mitchell

"so turn your eyes dead east 
and be the very first to see 
the rising sun"

May your feet carry you forward with trust, may your eyes be open to the Light. 
Shine on.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Why We Do It Again, and Again (Frightened Rabbit)

Graffiti Alley by AshtonPal
"It's Christmas so we'll stop 
It's on with the lights to warm the dark 
- It can go elsewhere -
As the rot stops for today
Let the rot stop just for one day"

What if the incarnation doesn't happen this year? Not literally, of course, but in the secret ways we hope for: the change in perspective, the prayer answered, the possibilities fulfilled... the tangible ways in which we are desperate to feel God moving today, now. 

What if they don't happen? What if we don't feel anything and nothing changes? Why do this Christmas nonsense at all, then?

This is a deeply uncomfortable question, because I do believe that celebrating Christmas is more than just a nice ritual or quaint historical remembrance. I believe the incarnation of Christ has power to turn this world entirely upside down every single year. 

But no matter what I think, the fact is: there is ZERO evidence that this happens. Families fall apart, or beloved friends die, or things just stay as screwed up as ever. Meth labs operate on Christmas. People get raped on Christmas. Children get killed and terrible memories get made just like the nice ones.

And the day after, or twelve days after, we put away the tinsel and... nothing. Life goes back to what it was. 

Maybe I sound like a Christmas depressive, wanting to join Frightened Rabbit in both their hopes and prayers in this song to "let the rot stop just for one day" and then realizing that "the tree lights brightened the rodent's eyes." 

But here's the difference between this song and what I believe: I believe this song is 100% true (rats and all) and believe that the incarnation is right here anyway.

Do you hear it?

Frightened Rabbit - It's Christmas So We'll Stop

I didn't hear anything but sadness the first ten times I listened to this song, because on the surface of these lyrics, there are only dashed hopes. But when we live into the Incarnation -- I mean, not politely, but free fall, base jump, hang glide, deep plunge into the Incarnation -- we agree to go way past the surface of things and risk sounding a little unrealistic and a lot strange. We agree to give our hearts to nutso stories of God coming as a baby, and we agree to act like these are more than just interesting symbolic ideas. We agree to believe, in the face of all facts and reality, that the world has fundamentally changed because of God's drawing-near. We agree to live in trust that opportunity, transformation, and redemption lie behind even the most ugly, inhumane realities.

Because Incarnation happens in the ugliness. Incarnation happens in the lostness, and sin, and deepest, most bone-shattering grief we can imagine. And these places don't get fixed. They don't, maybe, even seem to change at all. And yet, Incarnation is there. 

This belief isn't just some self-reassuring treacle to make me feel better on Christmas morning -- in fact, this knowledge should make me more uncomfortable than ever. Can I really begin to perceive the world like this without trying to gloss over the pain of others, or become complacent to need? Can I live like this song is true and like God-made-flesh is true, too?

I don't know. Probably not, most of the time.

So this is why I practice. 


I drag out the lights and sing the songs and make the food not because any of this is required, but because, within reason, these rituals force me to consider how important all this baby Jesus nonsense is to me after all. 

Is it worth doing again, this Christmas thing?

I say yes, and again: YES. Because I need this revolutionary story for myself as much as anyone, and because this is the core of how we Shine On. 

As Advent draws down into the particularity of Christmas, we Shine On into the world's unmet expectations and unclear hopes and unanswered needs with joy-filled defiance, with humor and clear-eyed hope. We Shine On with the bizarre and still totally passionate belief that this small being, this Christ child, is, for now and always, the fulcrum on which the whole world spins, is the only power that matters, and the only hope worth following. 

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. ...For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things..." 
- Colossians 1: 15-17, 19-20

So I Shine On this Christmas. And onward again, until there is a time when I can hold this song and my Advent hopes together and do full honor to both (on any given day) and know that Christ is being born again in me right now, Incarnate, humble, divine.

May you radiate passion and compassion in these days, 
may you mirror the truth of the world and the Truth of God, 
may you shine onward with defiance and grace 
and a beautiful broke-down hope 
as you participate in this messy, gorgeous world 
and look beyond the surface 
for the Incarnation that holds it all together.

                                                                                    -- Anna

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Baby Rebel (Jackson Browne)

"And the families hurrying to their homes
As the sky darkens and freezes 
They'll be gathering around the hearths and tales 
Giving thanks for all god's graces 
And the birth of the rebel Jesus." 

My brother makes fun of me, for many things (I know, that's what kid brothers do). But specifically at this time of year, he is annually hilarified by my chronic inability to remember the lyrics of Christmas songs. The carols my family has been singing every year since I was able to talk, those ones that get stuck in your head for days and weeks, yep, those. I can't remember their words, or more accurately I will mix them up, combine them in weird ways, sometimes make things up.

My defense is usually that they are hard to keep straight, many of them say very similar (really lovely) things about peace and joy, night, sleep, glory and light (I do really love Christmas hymns, but I can't just roll over when my brother makes fun, you understand) and besides they have old-timey language and phrases, like the one that led me to believe that "Hark the Herald" was a verb phrase for many years of my life. 

In contrast, today's song is pretty straight up, just putting it out there with the plain speak of every day life, which might be part of why I like it. Also, because it is the only Christmas song I know (or remember) that refers to the babe of the manger as The Rebel Jesus. 

Full lyrics here.

The lyrics don't pull any punches, the singer's not mincing words, but saying exactly what's on his mind. There are some lyrics that I am not sure I like, and some that make me wonder about the singer's perspective and then about my own, but that is why it stays on my Advent playlist. It is evocative, there are several ideas, phrases, words that raise questions for me, that elicit reactions and bring me up short. In the end, maybe Jackson Browne captures the spirit of the rebel Jesus pretty well, that baby rebel about whom the prophet said: 

“This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.” 
Luke 2:34

...that baby who grew up to turn the status quo inside-out, who answered questions with questions, and redrew all the lines; that rebel who still challenges us, makes us think, trips us up.

So today, friends, I am throwing it back to you. What does this song evoke for you? Which lyrics catch you? What questions do they ask you? 


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What Turns Up (The New Pornographers)

image courtesy aphotoshooter (Flikr)

"What's love, 
what's love, 
what's love,
but what turns up in the dark?"

In these days closing in on the winter solstice, what I want to do is grow meditative with the darkness, but I often catch myself just resenting the long nights, like I'm racing to complete as much as possible before the last blue seeps from the sky.

Fact is, everything about how I live (cell phone, work schedule, holiday list) resists a meaningful way to move in harmony with the rhythms of light and dark, life and death, at this time of year. I know this, and yet I can't always stop myself. My cultural training is to think of the darkness as ending, as loss, as emptiness. After all, when people say, "she's carrying a lot of darkness in her" they usually don't mean that as a good thing.

"Up in the Dark" feels like a song about this sort of negative darkness: secrets and hiding. Fear and deception. And yet in the midst of all these "dark" emotions, love shows up. Not what I expected from an Indie pop song. 'Desire,' maybe, 'hopelessness,' possibly, but in fact, the refrain suggests that love, by definition, is 'what turns up in the dark'. 

First question: When has Love shown up for you "in the dark?"

Up in the Dark from The New Pornographers on Myspace.

Yet as much as the prevailing culture around me has taught me to understand darkness in only one way, I have also learned that darkness is where the roots grow. Even during this dark season, as the plants and trees sleep, a greening energy is moving deep within the heart of things. Life is stripped to its core so that it may return renewed. Darkness deepens life.

"What turns up in the dark?
What turns up in the dark?"

Second question: When have you discovered Love waiting for you in the shelter of darkness?

Could it be true that not only does Love not abandon us to the darkness, 
but a sheltering and peaceful darkness is what can help Love grow strongest? Could it be true that befriending the darkness, where it doesn't threaten to engulf us, could be a way to understand our belovedness more fully, to understand God as our Ground-of-All-Being more totally? Could it be true that in the dark all the exhausting running and hiding and games can end, the veil can be dropped, and we can encounter our vulnerability and truth within community and with God?

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
    who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
    my God, in whom I trust.” 
- Psalm 91: 1-2

So as we dwell in the shadows of some of the darkest days of the year, may we hold the paradox of this space well: the possibility and the difficulty, the life and the death. May we remember that in this solstice darkness we are invited to die to old ways of clinging and lying, hiding and fearing, while also inviting our deepest wholeness and renewal in that very same darkness. May we remember that Christ dwells in this Advent space, in this almost-Christmas space, ready to be born in darkness, ready to be encountered in darkness, ready to be fully revealed in light.

All we need is this time in the dark.

Shine on.

                                                                                    -- Anna

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Find A Way Home (Hem)

"Cause it's colder than hell
Out here on your own
But I'm moving fast
I'm almost home."

Home is a slippery concept for me. There have been places I've lived for months and years that never quite felt like home, and other places where I still feel like I am part of the very earth, though I haven't lived there in a long time. I have visited places in which I have felt more at home in one visit than I have at others, after a life time of visiting. What is it that tells us when we've found home?

General wisdom would suggest that feelings of being home are more about the people you are with than the place you are in. More about our level of belonging and comfort, how well we feel ourselves known and accepted in these home-places. This makes it harder to predict, I think: some of us find a sense of home with our relatives and some with chosen family, some in places of deep familiarity and some on sojourn or many worlds away from where we originated. And sometimes it changes, and we lose our sense of home or find it anew.

Christmas time brings to the surface the power of home, which christmas-pop-culture is happy to reduce into the jolly hallmark images of perfect families laughing over train sets or singing at pianos or sipping hot cocoa by a fire. But what comes up for most of us is more complex than that, it's fraught with joy and disappointment, nostalgia and regret, loneliness and our deep longings, all the brokenness and the blessedness that can be mixed up in going, or thinking about or missing home at Christmas time. 

Today's song names both the longing and the hope. Singing not only about a desire "to be with you for Christmas," but also about the belief that the miles of the journey will "lead to the day you let go of the past, where there's joy inside and there's peace at last."

The lyrics remind us that in this season which heralds Peace on Earth, part of our hope is that that peace might come to our personal lives too, to our families, our relationships, the places we make home; and more importantly to our hearts as we navigate those places and relationships, however we find them from year to year.   

As we were reminded yesterday, Christmas' only requirement is that we show up at the stable. When we do, we see the ragtag group that is assembled at God's birth: dirty, poor, rejected, foreign, laying before the Christ child whatever strange gifts we have carried in from our journey.  We gaze upon this assembly and see the good news of Christ's coming, that like that motley crew gathered in the manger, there is a place for each one of us in the chosen family of God. For God invites everyone into the warm light of that manger, to be assembled into a home of sorts, a welcome space for all people.

" living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house..." 
-1Peter 2:5

God our Mother, God our Father, guide us as we journey toward home. Draw us all to the light of peace and let us find family among those who gather there.