Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

Who knew the rock group Smashing Pumpkins 1995 release named in the title was a Christmas album? It certainly wasn't intended as such but it seems to me to fit. The rocker who wrote most the songs on the album said Mellon Collie spoke to " the human condition of mortal sorrow." Not bad for a rocker, eh? The album sold ten million copies in the U.S. and had seven Grammy nominations but before now it was never used in the context of a Christmas album. I actually know nothing of the album except my son had it and had a cool poster of the album cover on his bedroom wall as a teen. But if you've lived long enough, gone through the Christmas season enough times and you are honest, then you know: there is a melancholy and sadness lurking just below the surface of all the joy and festivities of the season. We don't talk about it, we may not admit to it, indeed part of all our frenetics of the holidays may be a mask to hide it, but it is there and Christmas brings it out. So go ahead, face it, name it, look it in the eye and don't ignore it or sweep it under the rug, Christmas has a sad face of grief under Santa's whiskers. Why is that you ask? It is because this time we have declared as joyous also points out what is missing and the loss we feel. This can't be helped. So you won't take that trip you always make, there's no one at the end of that road anymore. You gather for Christmas dinner and the chair where ______ always sat is empty. No one wants to sit in it but some little kid doesn't know any better and hops in it and you actually are relieved. But that empty chair reminded you of the loss and it hurts. Melancholy moment. Maybe it hits you when you gather 'round the tree to exchange gifts. There's one less this year to give and you pretend not to notice but you do. I still miss the pinky ring my nephew made everyone out of a dollar bill and gave at Christmas. You shake it off and go on but it hurts that the wreck took him from all, especially my sister. Melancholy moment. It may be the trip you planned, the dinner you shared, the toast you made, the cookies you stirred, the reminisces you recalled, but disease, age, distance, finances, broken relationships and death changed everything and Christmas and the holidays act like a magnifying glass bringing light to your loss. You feel like an ant under it. Melancholy and infinite sadness. This is the curse of our fallen world where there is loss, pain, sorrow and death. Christmas just seems to highlight this truth. But Christmas brings an even bigger truth: God has felt the pain and suffering and He wraps Himself in humanity and history to feel that pain and loss through His own human flesh. He knows and so He declares that these losses and separations need not be forever. Indeed, they have one root cause and it is humanity's sin-separation from God. It is His chair at our table we most need filled. It is supper with Him which can fill our empty souls. It is the trip through life with Him made possible by faith in Him that we most need to take. It is receiving His gift of eternal life that we most need to receive and that is why He stepped into history and humanity to deliver us and bring us hope and the promise of eternal life in our Father's home. I know next to nothing about Smashing Pumpkins but I'm learning more about the One who smashed the curse of sin on us all. In spite of the darkness, yea because of the darkness, the Light has come and the melancholy and sadness are no longer infinite nor are they eternal. They are mere shadows fading in the eternal Light of Jesus. So celebrate Christ-mas, the birth of the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior. Merry Christmas, Terry

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Domino Effect

It was a rough start to the last month of the year that was itself a tough one on many fronts. There were some bright spots: the quagmire-building in Afghanistan was moving forward, now nearing its ten-year anniversary. The government set new records in deficits, currently numbering into the trillions (whatever that is) with the promise of even greater deficits to come. Perhaps the best news was the the government bailout of the economy was working in that it only cost five-hundred thousand dollars to create one $8 per hour job. It was probably hard to notice these bits of good news in the wake of losing Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett so close together. These molders and shapers of American culture cannot be easily forgotten despite Octomom , Tiger Woods and Dancing With the Stars attempts to knock them from the headlines. Since I've always been a sucker for the underdogs I couldn't help but feel sorry for the other folks having a hard time this year. The poor Eggo people never stood a chance but to their credit they never waffled. In all the other good and bad news perchance you never heard-there's an Eggo shortage, a story no doubt pushed to the margarines of society. Yes, due to a flood in one factory and some equipment failures in another plant, there will a shortage of Eggo's for a few months. It's a cruel world. Aunt Jemimah and Mrs. Buttersworth were visibly shaken at the news but managed to keep their tops about them. This was remarkable for this pair is known for being syrupy and spilling their insides when pushed over by life's grasping hands. Unfortunately, Eggo hoarding has been widespread so when someone says "leggo my Eggo" you best be on guard. Don't look now, but there is also a pumpkin shortage. We managed to make it through Thanksgiving but the Christmas pumpkin pies may be smaller and more expensive if you can make them at all. Industry analysts have suggested using canned pumpkin pie filling or even sweet potato pie as a substitute. A spokesperson for SPI ( Sweet Potatoes Institute) decried the suggestions saying, "I yam what I yam! As a tuber that has known racial discrimination and profiling for years at the hands of white potatoes, we simply cannot comprehend why a fellow orange vegetable industry would place this burden on us." Perhaps the greatest injustice of recent days has been made against Lorraine Collette Peterson, better known as the Sunmaid Raisin girl. For over 90 years Lorraine was the the sign and symbol for one of America's healthiest snacks. That gig has dried up. Now, at least in advertisements, if not on the boxes themselves, Lorraine has been hung out to dry. A more modern Sunmaid girl now weaves through the vineyards picking raisins. Her features are more defined and she appears to have been working out or visiting her plastic surgeon. One commentator suggested she looked a bit like Julia Roberts with implants. I assumed he meant dental implants. The Sunmaid people thought a more modern looking woman might reach out to a younger clientele (then why did they keep the bonnet?). With our luck the ad campaign might work and we would have a shortage of raisins. That would force us to eat oatmeal-oatmeal cookies. Then we would have a shortage of oatmeal. That in turn would force us to change our breakfast habits and we would have to eat waffles. No, wait there's already an Eggo shortage! We're doomed! In our world there is no shortage of wars to wage but there is a shortage of wisdom on how to win a war we must not lose. Is there a way to wage peace in the face of fundamentalist terrorism? There is in our halls of government a shortage of money or is it possible that there simply was a shortage of discipline and responsibility and a flood of greed and selfish ambition teamed with instant gratification? In our culture there is an acute shortage of contentment, commitment and character. We've let the stars shape us instead of the One who shaped the stars. We place people on tall pedestals and the taller they are the more easier they are to topple. I've yet to hear much talk about Tiger Woods poor soul and the kind of sin sickness he must have to ruin a marriage, break hearts, risk losing those children except for weekends and summers and disappoint the God who so wonderfully blessed him. The questions are all about 'will he lose endorsements' and 'do you think he will still be able to play golf?' There but by the grace of God, a few billion dollars, and the best golf swing in the world go I. What do we do in a world where these shortages seem to have domino effect that topple governments with greed, nations with war, marriages by infidelity, and lives with empty worship? I suggest we embrace the domino effect. Look it up. Domino is a word of French origin taken from the Latin benedicamos. Domino means "let us bless the Lord." It came to be used of clergymen and the hooded robes they wore that came to be known as Dominos. One couldn't tell one clergyman from another in their dominos, they all just blessed the Lord. Could it be that if we embrace this domino effect to invest our lives in blessing the Lord instead of spending so much time, effort, money, emotion, entertainment and worship on ourselves that the shortages that are killing people and our planet would themselves dry up and blow away? Maybe that's the annual call of advent: to re-turn us to the One in whom there is never a shortage of peace, hope, joy and love. And in Christ we learn the world has been given what she really is longing for, a Savior who is in spite of our shortages... Dominus Invictus Terry

Friday, December 4, 2009