Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Cheers!

Christmas is an interesting and exciting time of the year that allows us to take a foggy look into the cluttered soul of Canadian culture. Largely, we live our lives day-in and day-out in the constant pursuit of more things; more vacation days, more energy consumed, more events experienced. It is of little wonder then that, when we celebrate a holiday – such as Christmas – that holiday becomes somewhat of a hyperbole of how we already live.

And so, in my own mad rush to get out of the office, through security, and into a climate too cold for human survival, I give you my all-too-quick commentary on Christmas drink, food, tradition, consumption, and Jesus.

Attitudes towards Christmas food and drink are often at odds with each other. On one hand, we rightly applaud the many volunteers of the Operation Red Nose campaign for keeping the eggnog and rum off the road. On the other hand, we sing songs that include phrases like “Oh, bring us a figgy pudding…and a cup of good cheer/We won’t go until we get some, so bring some out here.” In other words, nobody is planning to leave the party until they’ve had their fill of “Christmas cheer,” which, in all likelihood, is referring to a cup of Christmas beer, as opposed to a cup full of Christmas good times.

On the topic of alcohol, while many churches and pastors condemn the over-indulgence of holiday spirits, it is also not uncommon for these same people to eat until they could actually fill out that big jolly red suit. While gym memberships and bottle recyclers make a fortune in January, excess of both food and drink are explicitly condemned throughout Christian Scripture. In the church, well-mixed hops get the evil-eye and the roasted turkey gets a feast. Why is this?

Most feasts, by the way, are meant to be shared with our families and loved ones. Yet the extra hours and stress spent at work, so that we can somehow manage to pay the over-inflated Christmas prices, are, at best, taken out on our families in the form of fighting, dysfunction, and all around Grinchyness. Unfortunately, for our homes and families, the turkey isn’t the only one to be feathered and skinned by our rush for consumption during the holiday season.

Some of our traditions, though currently fueled by our culture’s materialism and greed, originated out of motivations that are hard to criticize. One legend holds that St. Nicholas Bishop of Myra, of whom we get the modern-day Santa Claus Bishop of the North Pole, paid the dowries of young girls who were in danger of being sold into slavery and prostitution. Of course, this issue is an ever present reality that continues to need the immediate attention of modern day saints and sinners alike.

I suspect that St. Nick might have been on to something here; I suspect that maybe he had learned to live a life that was slow enough, observant enough, and uncluttered enough to engage in the hurt and need around him on a regular basis. I suspect that, for him, the celebration of Christmas wasn’t characterized by the rest of his life, rather the rest of his life was characterized by the reality of Christmas; Emanuel, God with us.

Singer, songwriter, and author Michael Card says it this way, “The celebration of the birth of Jesus should be ever new, however; the scenery of Christmas has become too familiar and comfortable. It blocks our view into the depth of the stark mystery of it all…Perhaps the reason so many of us find it difficult to celebrate the birthday of Jesus is that we have confined the celebration, in many ways, to a single day… and, at that, a day that’s become more cluttered than any other day of the year, a day that better represents the noise and business of all our other days.”

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Books: Indian Creek Chronicles

A number of years ago while on a winter climbing trip in Joshua Tree, CA, Candace and I met and befriended a lone-traveler/climber from somewhere in the southeast. Georgia maybe. His deep drawl and funny words attracted us to him and we soon found ourselves climbing, eating, hiking, and remembering together. Eventually, as we each told our stories, we learned that he was on a quest into the wild with hopes of "finding himself." The inspiration for his trip came out of three things: 1) confusion about life, 2) a book titled Wild at Heart, and 3) a different book titled Indian Creek Chronicles.

At the time, I had just finished reading Donald Miller's book, Through Painted Deserts, and, having the book with me, we traded. He, for my Donald Miller book, and I for his Indian Creek Chronicles.


Today, after years of this book sitting and collecting dust on my book shelf, I finished the last page. Pete Fromm, the author and main character, recounts his 7-months living alone - in a tent - through a winter in the Idaho mountains guarding salmon eggs, sipping mountain whiskey, diverting disaster, experiencing the thrills of hunt and survival, and coming face-to-face with the realities of life alone in the mountains.

This tale of adventure in the mountains should be a must read for anyone who loves the mountains and for those others who have not grown weary of the classic "coming of age" story. I'm sorry I hadn't read it sooner.

To our friend from the southeast, I hope you made it through the pass and found what you were looking for.