A film and the magic of Christmas

I should probably put something on here about it being New Year’s Eve and have some suitable motivational phrase such as ‘so long 2014: 2015, let’s do it!’. However, I won’t: I don’t do motivational cliches. I also don’t know what the ‘it’ is that people who use that phrase want us to do.

I watched a film last week with my children: Nativity 3. It was not the greatest film ever: in fact it was probably one of the worst that I have ever watched. Please do not think that I only ever watch Swedish language films that peer into the existential abyss: I liked Nativity, the first film in the series. True, that film had more plot holes than a fishing net, but it had a story and it was ‘feelgood’ in a way that only good low budget British films can be.

Aside from the fact that Nativity 3 seemed to have a less coherent plot than the first film- my children thought it was weak- there was a bigger issue that made the film weak IMHO: it’s reliance on the ‘magic of Christmas’ to provide salvation for the characters and as a prop for the plot.

I made a brief comment on this idea last week (one of the first signs of delusion is citing yourself). The sense of ‘otherness’ in life devoid of any religious/spiritual trappings is something that I have sympathy for and can understand. This film instead ramped up the idea of the ‘magic of Christmas’. This concept seems to have grown exponentially over the last few years and is devoid of any reference to the Biblical story or even the pagan roots of Yule/solstice (except where they can be wheeled onto the stage, shot blasted of any content & used as an anaemic chorus to the ‘magic‘). ‘Christmas Magic’ is like a god created in our own image that serves our wants uncritically & it never acknowledges the pain & unanswered questions that bigger stories often do.

Essentially this seems to be a saccharine mix of buying too much stuff, making your kids unhealthily the centre of this time (& over plied with ‘stuff’) & a focus on ‘me and mine’. ‘Being nice to others’ is there in ‘Christmas Magic’, but I would argue that there isn’t much imperative in that; there is no story of self sacrifice/self giving to give it any force. Smiling at each other from the safety of over full lives, houses, stomachs does not make for meaningful relationships when it gets tough.

Whilst I feel for families who have lost money and planned trips due to the closure of a number of new ‘winter wonderland’ attractions, the common complaint is that it has ‘destroyed the magic of Christmas’ for children: I can’t see it and want to say ‘can’t you give them a bigger story?’ Perhaps uncharitably, I yearn to yell at the same people ‘grow up; why don’t you. The world is sometimes nasty- give them a story that acknowledges that and not ignores it.’

Maybe I am being too harsh and Meldrew like, but I think these things are important. If you continually feed children these values of ‘me’ and spending huge amounts of money on ‘me’,it eventually forms them as adults to do the same. I long for a simpler celebration (whether religious or not) of community, feasting, sharing and less spending. I think that would be more ‘magical’….

….and perhaps I long for that more as a new year approaches.

Ok…one more

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I have wanted to use this in a service before, but never found the space for it. Now I am unlikely to be in that position again for a long time; if ever.

The song itself is not one of my favourites. However with the video, it just about works.

Perhaps the video is knowingly kitsch or maybe it is a cynical bit of marketing, but at least it reacts to the big story of Christmas. Sometimes I believe you can see more ‘truth’ in pop culture than in any earnest Christian song, but I guess that is at least partly what Incarnation is all about.

..and it is still only the 5th day of Christmas: Christmas is not ‘over’.

Yet more Christmas Music

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Another song for Christmas that is neither twee nor lame.

I came late to Bruce Cockburn’s music and am still feeling my way through his work. I like his willingness to plough his own furrow, his anger and his artistry.

I love how this song retells the story through his own eyes and doesn’t rely on worn cliche. Plus, you can’t knock these lyrics:-

Redemption rips through the surface of time

In the cry of a tiny babe’

or

For it isn’t to the palace that the Christ child comes
But to shepherds and street people, hookers and bums.’

 

Sunday after Christmas Music

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What, more music? Well, in the words of the song, it;s Christmaaaaas.

I have written more times than I care to mention about my love of U2, about my MA thesis on U2 (it was ok: needed an editor though) & my…yadda, yadda, yadda; you get the picture.

This song is great for the nativity reading we never have: the massacre of the innocents- lest we spoil the sugary confection that is Christmas. I like the longing…the sense that what we have is not yet what it could be & the lament for what is missing.

…and that lyric, replying back to ‘Peace on Earth’:

‘Hear it every Christmastime; but Hope and History don’t rhyme’.

A more honest worship song than many I have heard.

Christmas Music

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As it is Christmas, I am keeping it light.

A good friend over at http://thisfragiletent.com/ introduced me to this song. It is beautiful: a song of wistful longing for people of my generation. I remember when Christmas letters were full of marriages, births and hope. Now my contemporaries share stories of divorces, children leaving home and illness/death of parents. The joy and hope is often more bittersweet and I think, more real for that.

This is a song for those times. I used it in some of my background thinking to Christingle last Sunday. The Light only means anything if the darkness is acknowledged.

Friday (Boxing Day) Music

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I have featured this before and a couple of years back I played it and preached on it. It is a great song for the Christmas season (which began at midnight on Christmas Eve and continues to Jan 6th…).

I like the song anyway, but I also like the juxtaposition of Brandon Flowers, Elton John & Neil Tennant; one artist with faith and two without formal faith (the latter 2 who have reasons to dislike formal faith)- sometimes the best songs do not come from harmony but jarring personalities.

I also like the theology: tying Joseph in with exile/wilderness.

‘The desert is a hell of a place to find heaven’.

Amen to that.

Christmas Eve

It is always difficult to know what to put on here on Christmas Eve. Chances are that no one will read it anyway.

By now, if you have hung around churches, schools, village halls etc for any length of time over the past few weeks, you will be all carolled out. I like carols, but confess that I struggle with many of the words: the 19th century ones that dominate tend to be mawkish & serve only to inoculate people from considering whether the Christmas story has any relation to life now.

Mind you, much worship music does the same (it’s my blog and I am allowed to make sweeping statements).

For my last school assembly, I went to a village school and they sang this as a Christmas song. I liked it immensely. Maybe that was because I/we face big changes in the new year and the way is not yet clear. However, I also think it was because it was ‘real’: it held together Hope/despair/longing and life as it is lived in a way that is rare.

I would love to sing it again…. it has that kind of wistful longing that is close to the longing that the Biblical Prophets had.

 

When the winter day is dying,

And the wind is blowing wild,

Listen for a lonely crying,

It may be a wand’ring child.

Light a candle in the darkness,

Let the night know that you care,

Light a candle in the window,

It may guide the Christ child there.

When at times you fear to follow,

On the track that you must tread,

Friendly promises are hollow,

For the tests that lie ahead.

Light a candle in the darkness,

When your final hope is gone,

Light a candle in the window,

And the child will lead you on.

When the world outside is waiting,

But you can’t give any more,

There’s no end to war and hating,

And you long to close the door.

Light a candle in the darkness,

Let it shine beyond your pain,

Light a candle in the darkness,

And the Child will come again

(A.E.Scholey)

Santa

There is usually one story like this every year around this time.

An overworked ‘vicar’ (‘cos in the media’s eyes we are all ‘vicars‘) commits the unforgivable sin of saying that Santa is not real.

Here was this year’s story: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-norfolk-30532016 . Note the comments:-

The Rev concerned had ‘spoiled the magic of Christmas’ and another parent had said that this had “put me off taking my children to church just in case something else gets said”.

I have made too many mistakes to count, but have not yet managed to destroy any child’s sacred belief in Santa (see for e.g. last Monday’s post) and think it is really important not to do so.

But…

…I just don’t get it…

I have neither encouraged or discouraged my children’s belief in Santa. Perhaps that is why they became atheist on this subject before any of their classmates did (and were then warned not to destroy anyone else’s belief). We still keep a lot of santa rituals, but knowingly- yes he does like a glass of whisky and a cake.

However, I find it disturbing that some people seem to hold vociferously to a belief in an entity that demands no allegiance, change of life, but instead pours out consumer products bounteously (maybe that is why: it is a childhood acting out of the adult values that rule our lives). And anyway: he is largely a creation of a massive company (Coca Cola).

And don’t get me started on the allied belief of the ‘magic of Christmas’ either….

I want to say…. go to a church: you might not have one shred of belief at all. But go to a church…hear the story, read the story (instead of relying on a 2nd hand knowledge through nativity plays). You may well think it a pile of cack, but it might stop you going all mushy over the disguised beast of excessive consumerism.

I do like presents, cards and parties, but if you can’t find me there, look under the ‘Bah humbug’ section.

 

 

The Monday after the Friday before…

I went out on Friday. I go out most Friday teatimes (and sometimes the teatime creeps past 9pm).

I went out on Friday, but this was different. Once a year, the freewheeling group that I hit the pub with, push the boat out. I say ‘freewheeling’, because whilst there is a regular core, I despise closed groups; anyone who is male and aged 47-50 is welcome….erm…there may have been irony there.

By ‘push the boat out’, I mean we arrive at opening time and we stay till we (eventually) go home. Food is eaten, drinks are drunk and ….well you can guess the rest: I am not telling.

This year, a decision was taken that it was black tie. I don’t possess one and my suit is cheap and old (like me) & besides ‘black tie’ means that anyone ordained can turn up in clerical collar: so I did.

There is always the debate ‘should I?’ It gets loud, perhaps too many drinks are consumed & the conversation is neither chaste nor refined. But then; these are my friends; this is what they do & I am a minister, so maybe their minister…and you don’t do that by backing away & separating yourself from others.

And ok: maybe I enjoyed it….