A late Christmas present

Drabblecast

One of my favourite podcasts is The Drabblecast, which features short fiction and a heap of other other whacky and unusual stuff.

The Drabblecast is produced by the multi-talented Norm Sherman. As well as doing some incredible voice work on a few projects, he’s a half-decent singer/songwriter with a flair for the less than normal in his songs.

I’ve never blogged about the Drabblecast before, but the most recent episode—which came out a few days ago—was a fantastic example of what listeners can expect, and I liked it so much I thought I’d better tell someone.

This week’s episode consists of a song by Norm, especially written for Christmas. It’s called The Government Saves Christmas. If you’ve shaken your head at the way the US Government has spared no expense in bailing out the people who caused the economic mess we’re in, and you like Christmas, you’ll appreciate this song.

The story is called On Dasher and is by Jonathon C. Gillespie. It’s a touching story about a reindeer who needed to be performance managed.

You can get this week’s episode here (41 MB mp3 file — right click and save it to your machine if you want. Go on, Norm won’t mind!) or subscribe to the podcast.

Go on, it’s Christmas!

A trip to the Twelve Apostles

We’ve had my sister, her husband and their son staying with us for the last few days. It occurred to us yesterday that we only live an hour or so away from the Twelve Apostles, so we thought we might take a trip along the Great Ocean Road and have a look.

UR doin' it rong!
UR doin' it rong!
(Before I continue, I want to leave a couple of notes for anyone who might come to this post looking for information about the Great Ocean Road. First, good choice. It is spectacularly beautiful and you will not be disappointed. Second, a tip: If you are driving along the road at forty km/h below the speed limit and you notice there are a dozen cars following you closely, you may be Travelling Slowly. There are many ‘Slow Vehicle Turnouts’ along the way, in which Slow Vehicles can pull over to let other traffic past. Please, if you are in a Slow Vehicle, consider using the turnouts! Don’t get me wrong—it’s worth taking your time. But remember, many of the people behind you have probably travelled along there before and aren’t so interested in looking at the scenery. And besides, they’re probably busy watching the road in front of them, and trying not to get too close to your Slow Vehicle. Don’t rush. Don’t speed. Just be aware of the legitimate needs of other road users.)

Sorry. I had to get that off my chest! Anyway, back to the trip.

The Great Ocean Road is one of Victoria’s premiere tourist attractions, and this was always going to be one of the biggest tourist weekends of the year, so we expected a few people. We stopped for lunch in Apollo Bay. I’m not the sort of guy who sees divine providence in every small thing, but we found car parking with no appreciable difficulty. We’ve had trouble in non-holiday times, so getting a park on the busiest day of the year was a real bonus. The local merchants knew it was a holiday too—fish and chips for four and two 1.25 litre soft drinks cost $48. Next time we pack sandwiches.

The Twelve Apostles
The Twelve Apostles
We got a real shock when we finally arrived at the Twelve Apostles. The place was absolutely humming with people. We very nearly missed out on parking. I knew it was a popular attraction, but I seriously haven’t been in a crowd of people like that since moving to the country. There were people everywhere, most with cameras in hand, all trying to get a good view of the Apostles. You could be forgiven for thinking there were rock stars about to perform. But all it was was a few rocks sticking out of the water.

Lots of people
Lots of people
Now this is a nice piece of scenery. But I simply couldn’t understand why there were so many hundreds (if not thousands) of people jockeying for the best position to see it.

Lots more people
Lots more people

Clever marketing? Canny tour operators? Herd instinct? A simple desire to see what all the fuss is about?

Explanations, anyone?

Christmas Greetings

While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have her child. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger because there wasn’t any room for them in the inn.

Luke 2:6–7

We all spend a lot of time waiting for Christmas. The kids have been religiously counting the sleeps until Santa comes. It’s a busy time, and I’m looking forward to my annual Christmas Afternoon Snooze! We enjoy the frantic pace, but be honest–how many of us enjoy the thought that Boxing Day is only around the corner?

Mary spent nine months waiting for Christmas. As any mother knows (so I’m told) that last month of a pregnancy seems to take forever. Add the trip to Bethlehem into the mix, and Mary could be excused if she got a little impatient.

The nation of Israel had waited for four hundred years for a sign that God cared. They had been faithful to their silent God, but the friendship was starting to wear a little thin. They were occupied by the Romans, their leaders were corrupt, and love for God had been replaced by ritual and empty formalism.

The promised Messiah seemed to be taking his time. Would Christmas never come?

In two short verses, Luke records that break in history. Mary’s time as the nervous but expectant young girl was over, and she was now a loving but inexperienced mother.

And Israel had received the Messiah that had been promised. Hope had come.

It may not seem like it, but God has some pretty good things in store for us. He promises to look after us, and he will deliver, even if it’s not the way we expect.

Have a blesséd and happy Christmas, and may the hope of the season not be lost for you.

Church boycotts carol service over popular hymn

HYMNALS STARTED TO FLY when Brokeback Community Church, situated in the town of Colac in Victoria, Australia, decided to boycott a local community carol service because organisers insisted on singing a controversial verse in the song ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing.’

The church, which is a vocal critic of the idea of same-sex marriage, believes the famous carol teaches that God and Jesus are homosexuals.

‘In many ways, it’s a good song,’ said Senior Pastor Freddy Hudson. ‘It’s a got a catchy tune that can really get a crowd moving. But homosexuality is an abomination to God, and this song is yet another to pervert our children by the gay lobby. I was always a bit suspicious of Charles Wesley.’

The issue lies with a line in the second verse, which reads, ‘Pleased as man with man to dwell/Jesus our Immanuel.’ Pastor Hudson comments, ‘My Bible says that Jesus will not countenance any ‘man with man’ cohabitation. To say that Jesus is himself is involved is blasphemy of the highest order.’

Event organisers are not surprised, saying that the church nearly pulled out of the event last year because an ice-cream seller intended to sell the ‘Golden Gaytime,’ a popular treat. That result was averted when the ice-cream seller joined Brokeback Church and attempted to burn his entire inventory.

Reverend Don Johanssen, Organising Secretary for the event, claims he tried to find an appropriate solution, but without success. ‘We suggested changing the line to ‘person with person,’ but Fred squashed that idea. He said we got rid of the PC thugs in the nineties. And we couldn’t get rid of the verse—we’ve sung it for the last fifty-seven years and that sort of change will confuse the band.’

Discussions are underway to resolve the problem before the ecumenical Palm Sunday Service in April. ‘Fred’s not too sure about the song, ‘Ride on, ride on in majesty,’ says Rev. Johanssen. ‘Hopefully we’ll be able to talk him around.’

Wait—it’s Christmas!

Christmas is a time for many things, but I’ll always associate it with waiting. It starts back in September, when the Fathers’ Day displays disappear and shops begin to fill with Christmas merchandise. So we say, ‘That can wait.’

December comes along. The kids, surrounded by glitzy ads ask for more and more, and we say ‘Wait! You don’t know what you’re getting for Christmas!’

Mid December comes, and you can’t wait for your final pre-Christmas pay so you can finish the shopping.

Christmas Eve comes, and you finally bring yourself to go to the supermarket to get that last bit of shopping, and end up waiting in the queue for an hour and a half.

At six o’ clock the next morning the kids decide they can’t wait any more, and are up and into the presents. You try to look enthusiastic, but you know you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to get any more sleep.

You get yourself a nice new present — a razor, a new power tool (shed or kitchen), a radio… but the kids decide that their new toy needs the batteries out of it more than you do. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to use it.

In the morning you go to church to show off your new Hawaiian shirt and the tie that doesn’t match, and you’ve got to wait while the officer delivers his sermon. The kids start screaming again — they want lunch! First though, they have to wait while you go to visit Great-Auntie Jemima at the nursing home.

You get home, and lunch comes out. The kids are about to dive in, when they’re told, ‘Wait! Can we say grace properly just once this year?’

Finally finished for the day, it’s time to do the dishes. You look at the pile, and yes, they can wait.

You look at the new calendar you got. Just 365 more days until Christmas. Can’t wait!

The first Christmas heralded the end of a long wait — the Jews had been waiting for someone to rescue them from all their problems for hundreds, even thousands of years. Yet when he arrived, most missed him.

We have a lot of problems of our own, and we’d love some sort of Saviour. Yet we don’t have to wait long — he’s been around for two thousand years, waiting for us to respond. You don’t have to wait until Christmas is over to ponder the message of the baby in the trough!

Don't make me call my dad
In which the Son of God stands in queue

Cameron’s top ten Christmas songs

Over the last three weeks I’ve been to a huge number of carol services, carol sing-a-longs, Christmas parties involving the heavy use of carols, Christmas concerts and, of course, church on the four Sundays of Advent. I can cope with the busy-ness of Christmas. For musical reasons I’m over it for 2008.

Still, while at a community carols night I was at last night I found myself wondering what my favourite Christmas song was. ‘Tis the season to compile top ten lists, so I present to you:

Cameron’s Top Ten Christmas Songs.

The criteria is simple—I looked at the lyrics, tune, presentations I’d heard… and it all comes down to whether or not I like it enough to go in my top ten. They didn’t have to be religious—merely related to Christmas somehow.

So here it is.

10. O Come all ye faithful

This one is a good, traditional, no nonsense Christmas song. The tune is very singable, the lyrics are solid and it doesn’t get old after fifteen carols services.  However, it stands out to me because of an incredible arrangement we have on an accompaniment CD. Christmas Day is one of the few times I’m glad to be without a pianist at our church—we get to sing this version of the song! When we exhort ‘Sing choirs of angels, sing in exultation…’ I’m sure the angelic host is actually jealous of the music we have.

9. A starry night

I’ve only heard this song a couple of times. It was written by Joy Webb, a famous Salvation Army sing writer from a few years back. My brother-in-law Colin detests the song, and he told me I’ve got to put it on my list because it’s so horrid. I don’t think it’s that bad, but if it annoys him, it’s got to be good. (Colin’s birthday’s on Christmas Day, so I suspect there are unresolved issues that need to be addressed through copious amounts of carol singing.)

8. O come Immanuel

This is just a really nice song that captures Advent beautifully. It speaks of the hopeful expectation for a Messiah. I heard a Rebecca St James recording of this some time ago, and I’ll find myself humming her version of it some time every Christmas.

7. Mary did you know?

This is a fairly recent song written by Buddy Greene and Mark Lowry. It ponders exactly what Mary knew about the son she delivered in Bethlehem. The theology is fascinating:

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Did you know
That your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know
That your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little boy
You’ve kissed the face of God?

6. Carol of the birds

There seem to be a few songs by this name, but the one I want to mention is a beautiful song by John Wheeler and William James. It’s a nice break from the usual wintry fare we are expected to sing. Here in the Southern Hemisphere we’re in the middle of summer. Whilst it doesn’t refer to Jesus at all, every time I sing it I can’t help but think that Jesus came for all creation, not just humans. You can find the lyrics to this song here: Carol of the Birds.

5. Carol of the drum

This one is better known as ‘The Little Drummer Boy.’ It brings a tear to my eye every time I hear it. Few of us have gifts worthy to give a king, but Jesus doesn’t expect us to give gifts we don’t have.

4. Happy Xmas (War is Over)

John Lennon is quite unpopular in many Christian circles. Maybe it was the drugs. Maybe it was the dream that there would be ‘nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too.’ Or maybe it was the assertion that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus Christ.

Still, the idea that peace on earth might actually be a good thing for everyone regardless of their skin colour is very attractive.

3. The stable door

Unfortunately this carol isn’t known outside the Salvation Army. It has a hauntingly beautiful tune and some exquisite lyrics.

Open wide the stable door,
Monarchs rich and shepherds poor
Wait to tread the holy floor
Where lies the son of God.
See they bring him gifts of gold,
Tender lambs from Judah’s fold,
As with awe their eyes behold
The infant Son of God.

2. Six white boomers

This is Australia’s answer to ‘Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.’ It might surprise a few people to see it included here, but every time I hear it I think that this has to be the greatest Christmas song ever written. Here’s a link to the song, which is sung (and written) by Rolf Harris.

1. O holy night

This is the one Christmas song I like more than ‘six white boomers.’ The tune is beautiful, and I absolutely love singing it. In fact, it’s probably been the most commonly sung song in my shower this year. There have been many beautiful arrangements and presentations of it over the years. The band arrangement I play of it is a challenge to play, so it never gets boring.

And let’s not forget the lyrics. This has to be one of the best examples of lyric writing I’ve seen in many years. Every time I hear the song I discover something new, and as far as I know it only has three verses.

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
O’er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before the lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before the lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

Conclusion

So, do you agree with my choices? Are there any I’ve missed out? Are they in the right order? Please let me know what you think, or even try writing your own list and let me know!

A meeting of the Heavenly Host

This is a piece I wrote for a corps newsletter a few years ago, and it’s also appeared in the OnFire magazine. It’s just sitting wasted on my hard drive right now, so I thought I’d release it to the world!

Once upon a time, about two thousand years ago, the Captains of the Heavenly Host had their morning mission briefing.

Michael got up and said, “Rightio lads, today’s orders have come through. We’re due in that large paddock three miles south of Bethlehem at 2100 hours. Song books are required.”

Sariel put his hand up. “How many are going sir?”

“We’ll be taking the whole garrison,” replied Michael. “Gabriel will be in charge of communications, and Anael will be directing the music.”

Sariel wasn’t sure. “A field in the middle of the night? We’re singing to sheep?”

Michael replied, “Shepherds, actually. There are half a dozen or so who are due to set camp at around 1800 hours, and intel suggests they’ll do a few loads of laundry before turning in.”

Anael looked a little miffed. “The greatest choir in the Universe, wasted on shepherds and sheep. With all due respect sir, has the King got his Throne Rooms mixed up?”

Raphael spoke. “Why is Headquarters so worried about a few dirty farm hands? I mean, we’ve got things to do back here—singing glory to God, tuning our harps, training to fight the enemy. You know, important stuff.”

“That’s right,” said Uriel. “It’s all very nice for the King to sit in His Throne Room with the Seraphim and the Cherubim all day, issuing orders to blokes like us. Why can’t he go for once? Too dangerous?”

Michael paused. “Let me tell you what this is about.”

There was silence.

“The King himself has volunteered for a top priority secret mission Earthside. He’s not worried about the danger. In fact, indications are it’s a suicide job. All he’s asking us to do is tell a couple of people.”

There was more silence. “You mean,” said Uriel, “he’s going… out there?”

“That’s right,” said Michael. “And if we’re going to call ourselves His soldiers we’ll do the same. So who’s coming?”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

‘Tis the season to be sneaky

Okay, ‘sneaky’s’ probably not the right word.

David Malki of Wondermark has an idea—why not send your left over Christmas cards to total strangers?

He recognises there are risks involved, for the person receiving the card as well as sending it. And you’ll probably never know what the effect of the surprise will be. Still, it can be fun.

I recommend writing a warm, perfectly normal note (no “Thanks for the backrub last night” or “The aliens are after you”), and for maximum puzzlement, enclosing a brief family newsletter. Again, the aim is to be perfectly banal and typical, with nothing to show your hand that you don’t know these people.

A touch of the weird is fine. Your newsletter can talk about your accordion concert tour across Bulgaria. But keep it subtle.

Let us know how you go.

What real evangelism looks like

A few of my readers would be familiar with Penn Jillette, a gifted illusionist and very outspoken skeptic and atheist. You might have caught his late-night show ‘Bullshit’ (hey, I didn’t name the show!).

If you’ve seen the aforementioned show you’d know he can be a little, um, abrasive. That, and the fact that he’s 198 cm (6′ 6″) and 140 kg (300 lbs) means that he’s not the sort of guy you’d just walk up to and hand a Bible to. No, you’d probably walk past him and start haranguing his cat instead.

Well, one guy didn’t. As you will see in the video below, Jillette’s reaction wasn’t quite what you’d expect. And there’s a lesson in there for anyone who believes it’s their mission to evangelise. It’s… well, you figure it out.

(Thanks Tony Jones!)

Enough with the Bible Already

Adam Walker Cleaveland has a provocative piece up today about the way way Christians should deal with homosexuals.

From the article:

For some, I believe the Bible has become an idol. Some place the Bible above Jesus’ compassion and love, Jesus’ radical inclusivity, and hold steadfast onto what they believe to be the correct interpretation of a small amount of verses that speak about same-sex relations. To those who repeatedly start quoting Leviticus and Romans verses as soon as anyone brings up the topic of homosexuality, I’d suggest perhaps you stick your Bible back up on the shelf for awhile. Perhaps it should collect a little bit of dust. And maybe, just maybe, you need to go out and grab coffee with someone who’s gay. Maybe you need to hear their story, learn about what they’ve been through, how they’ve experienced Christians and the church.

Regardless of what you think of homosexuality, I don’t think anyone who claims to follow the way of Christ could disagree. Or could they? Comments gratefully accepted!