You know it was...a holy night

A year ago, a friend of mine sent this to me at a time when I needed a little inspiration. When the whole world was rushing and pushing and acting all secular Christmas-y, this helped me to slow down and really remember what the holidays are really about. A nice reminder away from all the commercialism and greed that seems to swirl all around and back to the basics. I found it spoke to me such that I had to share it with my husband and then, well, pretty much everyone else I knew who hadn't already heard it. Any way, I hope it gives you as much joy as it gave to all of us last year, and each time we hear it, because it really keeps giving and giving... sometimes for hours... even days later, it continues to ring in my ear and give a smile to my face. Even now as I type, I can't help but smile, as I think about you all receiving this gift for the first time. Merry Christmas from me to everyone, please enjoy!


Pre-Christmas MANIA

I really should be locked up until Christmas is over and done with. But since being committed would mean no more truffles or holiday moonshine, I am instead going to post a little song from the Futurama series' Xmas episode. This little depiction of Santa's workshop helped me get out of the nasty spirit this season. Enjoy, before I get a cease and desist order from Fox. I've tacked on the lyrics for your convenience. I strongly suggest you click on the link for some oddball listening pleasure.


We are free and fairly sober with so many toys to build.
The machines are kind of tricky. Probably someone will be killed.
But we'll gladly work for nothing.
Which is good because we don't intend to pay.
The elves are back to work today. Hooray!
We have just a couple hours to make several billion gifts.
And the labor isn't easy.
And you'll all work triple shifts!
You can make the job go quicker if you turn up the controls to super speed.
It's back to work on Xmas Eve! Hooray!
And though you're cold and sore and ugly,
Your pride will mask the pain.
Let my happy smile warm your heart.
There's a toy lodged in my brain!
We are getting very tired and we can't work any faster
And we're very, very sorry.
Why, you selfish little bastards!
Do you want the kids to think that Santa's just a crummy empty-handed jerk? Then shut your yaps and back to work!
Now it's very nearly Xmas and we've done the best we could.
These toy soldiers are poorly painted.
And they're made from inferior wood!
I should give you all a beating but I've really gotta fly.
Robot Santa:
If I weren't stuck here frozen, I'd harpoon you in the eye.
Now it's back into our tenements to drown ourselves in rye.
You did the best you could, I guess, it's not that these gorillas are okay.
They're adequate! Hooray!
The elves have rescued Xmas Day! Hooray!

Courtesy of the fansite Can't Get Enough Futurama.

So, Merry Freakin' Xmas, everyone! I think I see three ghosts approaching!



I wonder what Christmas was like or is like in your house.

A lot of people have stories of waking up at early hours, way before their parents ever stirred. They lie there in their beds, waiting, watching, listening for the first sign that it’s OK to get out of bed…some of you have those kids, some of you were those kids.

I was one of those kids who would never wake up on-time for school, but come Christmas morning, when I *knew* that gifts were waiting for me under the tree, I would shoot out of bed, creep down the stairs and peer over the banister as far as possible so that I could see into the living room, and, perhaps, catch a glimpse of whatever might be under the tree.

I didn’t want to get caught. My parents insisted on getting down stairs first… but not for presents – they were headed toward coffee. The antici-pation grew stronger.

Ever so quietly I would creep further down the stairs… testing the boundaries further and further until they had their coffee, and then the maelstrom began.

But that was just the end of the long, long period of anticipation.

For the weeks leading up to Christmas, my parents and I engaged in a near- spy vs. spy level game.

Even now, I can’t stand to know that there is a surprise coming. So knowing that there were presents in the house was the worst, most excruciating torture for my child mind.

I was bad.

I used every trick in the book – seriously: from pressing the paper against the box to see through and read the label on the box, to prying and steaming the tape in hopes that I could peel it without it tearing the paper. My parents resorted to hiding the packages – mislabeling them – putting my sister’s name on some, the dog’s name on others – they’d leave them in the trunk of the car – take them to work and leave them in their office – and they even resorted to the ultimate thwarting, waiting until the last minute (at least that’s what they said).

For every one of my anxious and impatient attempts to find out what was under the tree, they had a counter move.

And this continued for years and years until I finally learned my lesson.

In my attempts to find out what was there for me, I ran across an unlabelled, wrapped box under the tree.

As I pressed the paper against the box, my favorite letters peered through – L – E – G – O.

I was so excited.

My favorite gift of all – those cool plastic lego building blocks. My mind wheeled with excitement – and I already had begun plans for what I would use them for, what I might build, how they might add to the giant Lego city already standing in my room.

But in my excitement I never expected that that box of Legos would actually be a gift that I had to give to someone at a Boy Scout Christmas Party only a few days later. I hadn’t even opened the gift, and yet I thought I knew who it belonged to, what it meant – in reality, I hadn’t understood that gift, I had not yet learned the whole point of giving and receiving gifts *or love* – and I certainly had not learned, yet, what it meant to wait patiently for anything.

The season of Advent is about that kind of waiting.

The kind of waiting where we pant with anticipation, where we long for, and where our very bones ache from being full of potential energy, where our minds race and reel with the possibilities, and where we hover somewhere between the unbearable anxiety of the unknown and the tantalizing near-quenched thirst of touching the fullness of God’s love.

Indeed, the people of Israel had waited for ages with this kind of longing. They had been promised the presence of God.

The prophet Isaiah said, “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing” because “They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.”

Generation after generation they had been taught to look for the signs. The presence of God meant strength for weak hands, firmness to feeble knees.

Even more, “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; … the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.”

Imagine being a young person in Israel; imagine hearing these words over and over again. Imagine the hope of every person around you being focused on this one thing: “everlasting joy” and “gladness”, and a world where “sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

Into this world John the Baptist had come. We have already heard, in the first week of Advent about being watchful – staying alert and watching for the coming of God – and last week, the second week of Advent, we heard the voice of one crying out in the wilderness – and now, that voice, John the Baptist, has found himself in prison, contemplating this very thing.

There would be very little else to do while in prison waiting to die, besides sitting and wondering: Have I wasted my time? Have I worked for the right thing?

For John, that meant wondering whether or not the man, Jesus, was really the messiah – is he really the presence and gift of God in the world?

John the Baptist sent word to Jesus and asked, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

It should be no surprise, then, that Jesus answers John’s question by directly quoting that same prophecy from Isaiah – “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear” – and even more than you were taught to expect, but “the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

No doubt John was caught between that unbearable anxiety of the unknown and the tantalizing near-quenched thirst of touching the fullness of God’s love – he had heralded the presence of the Son of God – he had exhorted the people to create a high way for the Lord – all things offered in the midst of the same verses of Isaiah that Jesus quotes, and in his longing and anxiety to know the answer, Jesus reminds him of the holiness of patiently waiting for all things to come to fruition.

“The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” – this is not the answer to John’s anxiety, it is not meant to relieve him of that on-the-edge-of-your-seat feeling of anticipation, or to somehow reveal the outcome of the events before their time. It was meant to do exactly the opposite.

A simple “yes, John, my cousin, my friend – I am the one who is to come” would have done all of those things – it would have revealed the answers, but it would have obscured the meaning of things. A clear and concise answer would have allowed John and others to go on with the answer to their questions – but it also would have allowed them to go on with their assumptions.

No – instead, Jesus gives John an answer that tells him to look around – to see and hear what has been going on, and to understand­ the meaning of the Gift of God’s presence. That the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them is happening all around John, and around others, should not only give proof to the presence of God, to the presence of his Son, but should also serve to provide understanding to what that Presence means.

It was a promise of restoration - “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing”, and yet, in all of their anticipatory waiting, the people of Israel were more like me waiting for my Christmas gifts than they were like the farmer that Paul talks about, who waits for his precious crop from the earth with patience until it receives the early and the late rains.

No, they, like me, were imperfect at awaiting the precious gift. They were horribly imperfect and did everything that they could to bring about the presence of God before the right time – they pressed and steamed and ripped and tore at the edges of that gift until they ceased to understand what was inside.

When I went to my Boy Scout Christmas party and saw my friend opening up my present I was mortified – I threw a tantrum, red in the face, full of rage and yet full of so much misunderstanding.

My parents took me home. They sat me down and we finally had a talk about Christmas – about the giving and receiving of gifts, and even if the lesson didn’t stick in the front of my mind then, I understand it now: The gift was not the toy inside of the box, but in the effect that the gift has on the one giving and on the one receiving. The gift is not about the buying and wrapping, but in the thoughtfulness and love and relationship between the giver and the receiver.

Jesus told John to look around: The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. The fact that he is the Son of God is not the point. The point is the effect of his presence on these people.

Jesus’ answer to John the Baptist pointed John away from Jesus – it isn’t about whether or not Jesus is or isn’t the Son of God – like I said, the gift had already been given, the presence of God was and is near – the point is not in finding out what or who the gift is – the point is in the thoughtfulness and love and relationship between the giver and the receiver.

As we contemplate the giving and receiving of gift in honor and celebration of the Incarnation, the birth of the Son of God – what is it that we are doing? In our preparations, how are we developing and cultivating thoughtfulness, love, and relationship – how are we enticing those around us to long for and pant after the presence of God?

Because of our love, “they shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.”

May it ever be so.


$5 Bargain Bin DVD Review: Westender

OK, I promised more B-movie reviews.

A guy goes on a quest for a ring, and he walks across most of Oregon to do it.

It’s a simple enough premise, which is marketed well for an indie film. Pictures and quotes from the movie's website here. Here’s what the producers, MOB productions, have to say about their movie:

"Westender is the story of one man's long journey toward redemption. Not quite a mainstream genre film, and not quite an art film, Westender strives to be a unique type of movie; a category unto itself. It looks like a mainstream film, was shot with mainstream sensibilities, and has genre appeal. Yet the core story of Westender is ultimately far more of an internal odyssey than the plot-driven narrative it appears and feels."

Ultimately, in trying to be too many things at once, Westender fails at all of them. However, the movie does have some powerful moments. Westender touches an archetypal struggle, and it manages to do so despite its shortcomings.

Now, I might seem like I’m nitpicking here, but a major strike against Westender is that it doesn’t play. The DVD actually did not play in my DVD player—it wasn’t even recognized. So I watched this on my laptop. Even then, the transfer was not so great. In fact, the poor transfer hamstrung Westender’s greatest strength—the natural beauty of Oregon.

Without giving anything away, I’ll summarize the plot. A knight (Asbrey of Westender) has fallen from grace—exactly how, we are not told. It is strongly hinted that Asbrey’s fall was due to a forbidden love (a woman who was burned at the stake by the same authorities Asbrey served). Asbrey clings to the only token of his glorious past—a ring recovered from the ashes of his lover. Unfortunately, Asbrey gets drunk and gambles the ring away. He spends the rest of the movie trying to find it, and ultimately has to make a choice. Does he sacrifice his ideals to regain the symbol of his knighthood? Or does he forsake the ring in order to act the part of a true knight?

This choice represents a larger struggle that Christians must face. (Yes, I’m plumbing the depths of a B-movie for theology). More on that later.

I’ve hinted at the movie’s weaknesses. Aside from the poor transfer, the dialogue is (in many places) simply awful. There are few speaking parts in the film, and the jester/minstrel guy (Glim) is just embarrassing to watch. Glim’s lines seem taken straight from a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, and they are delivered with skill reminiscient of Rudy Ray Moore in Dolemite (although actor Rob Simonsen does deliver charisma that even outperforms the pimp-cane-totin’ Moore). A second major speaking part is given equally dismal lines, but they are delivered with considerably more skill. The gypsy woman who appears at the beginning of the film is very well portrayed (I believe it’s Sarin, played by Darlene Dadras … but she is not credited on the movie’s website. A pity. Strangely, Dadras’ only other film performance is in the Waiters, in which she plays “Erin.”) Dadras is gorgeous and sincere, and plays her small part so well that when Asbrey walks away from her offer of employment (and companionship), we want to smack him on the back of the head and say, “Dude! What were you thinking?”

Then there’s Asbrey himself. Actor Blake Stadel stands out as the true talent in the film, and he is even able to take his part and run with it. Stadel underplays his part very well. The fallen knight—who deftly avoids the redemption he desperately needs—takes on an archetypal quality. Long after the movie is over and you regret spending $5 and 90 minutes on it, Asbrey’s struggle stays with you.

Partial credit must be given to Rob Simonsen—the same guy who cast a pall over the first part of the film with his depressing delivery of the film’s superfluous comic relief. Thankfully, Glim is written out of the script early. Too bad he wasn’t written out entirely, because then we could remember Rob Simonsen for his best contribution to the film—the score. Simonsen’s music is subtle, and it combines flutes, strings, horns, and vocals (take that, James Horner!). The music blends well with the deserts, forests, rivers, and mountains of Oregon. Simonsen never overuses a theme, nor does he repeat one unnecessarily (hear that, Hans Zimmer?) Every track has a new variation. Honestly, Simonsen’s excellent music deserved a much better movie. (I personally use it for jogging in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains).

MOB Productions should also be given credit for telling a story. A good story leaves the audience asking questions at the end. Why was Asbrey’s lover burned at the stake? What happened to the jester? What becomes of the slave family Asbrey rescues? Does he ever eventually find the ring? Mainstream Hollywood should take note; there are too many “action” epics that painfully pursue every side story and backstory until the audience feels as if it has been subjected to a thorough reading of the tax code.

In short, Westender could have been very good if it had been an art film, instead of an art film that tried to also be a fantasy film. Oregon is the best actor in the film. Its lush forests and cascading rivers give way to parched deserts and skeletal trees—just as Asbrey’s illusion of himself as a knight is stripped from him. Asbrey is confronted by a wolf at two moments in the film when he begins to rebuild himself; at a critical moment, the wolf shows Asbrey the way through the desert (before it vanishes into the landscape).

Unfortunately, Westender’s fantasy elements make watching it again an unpleasant experience. The writers seem to have taken dialogue lessons from such fantasy debacles as Krull, and that thing Tom Cruise was in before he was famous, and that thing Peter MacNicol was in before he was famous. A perfect example: Asbrey’s homeland seems nothing more than the most generic picture of late medieval Europe (which would work as an archetype if it weren’t made so corny by dialogue and acting). Near the end of the film, Asbrey encounters another culture—a race of blondes whose acting lessons consisted of watching Billy Idol sneer.

Why is an Episcopal priest taking the time to review this film? I was intrigued by the beginning titles: “In the beginning, no man was higher in birth than any other, for all were descended from a single father and mother. But when envy and covetousness came into the world, and might triumphed over right, certain men were appointed as guarantors and defenders of the weak and humble.” This is from the French classic, Lancelot of the Lake. The ideals of knighthood espoused therein were likely never attained by the corrupt feudal lords of the day, but it never hurts to dream, eh? Apparently, by the time Asbrey becomes a knight, the ideals have changed somewhat. Asbrey’s knightly commission seems more concerned with the failings of others, and less concerned with acting as a beacon of hope: “Go henceforth with unstained blade and wash sin and heresy from this land.” (I’m hearing echoes of the Crusades, the Inquisition, and more current Anglican Inquisitors). Asbrey’s downfall comes when his true love is deemed to be a representative of sin and heresy, and is burned at the stake (at least, this is what the film hints). The film also hints that Asbrey’s return to knightly service is for the purposes of reforming the corrupt system from the inside (but maybe I’m reading too much into the script).

Asbrey’s choice at the end of the film is spelled out clearly. Does he pursue the villain who has stolen his ring, and in so doing, abandon helpless captives to a life of slavery? Or does he risk his life to save the captives (and let the ring escape)? In other words, does he abandon his vows to chase after lost glory, or does he sacrifice his ego to become a true servant?

We are in an age when our beloved church (at least, the institution) is continually exposed to the world. It is rife with corruption (not to mention sin and heresy). The Episcopal Church stands at a key moment in history (as it has several times). Several factions within our ranks have already made their choice. Several church leaders, lay and ordained, have abandoned their vows to chase after glory. Others have made the more humble choice (and therefore, their choices are not highly publicized, unless they are also being highly criticized). What would making the right choice look like? What would a true servant look like at this moment in the Episcopal Church’s story? If Asbrey’s struggle is any indication, then true servants (lay and ordained) will need to be stripped of their pride and desires—an experience that will be painful whether we are radically progressive or reasserter-ive. We will need to “cross the barren desert” until we are ready to receive redemption. We must, like Asbrey, cast off our armor (whether that armor is progressive or homophobic) so that we may wear the “breastplate of righteousness.” We, like Asbrey, will need to die to ourselves.

The ideals of knighthood and kings (and queens) are still with us. We recently (about a month ago) celebrated the lesser feast of King Edmund of East Anglia. Confronted by an unbeatable army of marauding Danes, Edmund was offered the chance to live like a king as a figurehead, if only he would abandon his vows and forsake Christ. Instead, Edmund mustered his army and fought a battle he knew he would lose. Edmund and his army were lost, but his kingship lived on. If we (lay ministers, bishops, priests, and deacons) can truly abandon our dreams of pride and glory, then Christ’s kingship will live on in us. If (and considering the egos involved, this is a pretty big IF), we can die to ourselves, then we might be able to teach the world about a certain victory of life and peace. As King Theoden states in that other movie about a ring, “Hail the victorious dead!”



This was passed on to me, and I couldn't believe it. Nothing like a pair of diamond earrings to say, thanks for pushing out eight pounds of wiggling flesh these last 17 hours, honey. I hope you read at least the first few paragraphs, because it really is unbelievable. The idea, I guess, is for a guy to make up for the fact that they are going to be useless for the first year? Or is it just that we have become so materialistic that we have to reward something our bodies are supposed to do, something I would guess many of us have chosen to do. And then to expect something even better the next time you choose to have another baby? To quote someone who, upon reading this, exclaimed, "Who are these people?" Seriously. How did they get so greedy and wasteful and out of touch? (Plus, I love that this is described as some kind of "movement", something a kin to civil rights or feminism.)

I am still not believing the whole idea of a mother getting (much less expecting) a gift directly following birth. As if the baby isn't enough of a gift. After my 20 hours of labor with my son, all I wanted was to get that oxygen mask off. Then all I wanted was FOOD, and lots of it (those ice chips did not do it for me, really). I wouldn't even let my husband give me a diamond for our engagement (because he couldn't afford it and I really don't need something that expensive on my finger, when there are a lot of people out there that don't have food or shelter - yes, I am a hippie control-freak), so there is NO WAY I would let him spend the money we know we are going to need for our son on something so frivolous. So, I guess you know how I feel about all of this. When my husband read that, he said, "That is the worst thing I have ever read - anything I said before is now trumped. That's the worst." Amen, brother.

You know we're in it bad when the beautiful gift (granted, when they come out they are all deformed and covered in a sticky white goo, with blood globules all over them, but they're beautiful all the same) of a child - the combination of your genes and love and partnership - isn't enough, and we need something sparkly. I am reminded of what a priest friend of mine told me once (pre-ordination) when my church was looking for a new rector. "Beware of the shiny ones. They may look good, they may even sparkle and draw you in with their glimmer, but that's usually all they are - shiny." In a thousand years, those rocks on your ear are going to be used to fuel your stupid H3, which is also destroying our earth. So, go ahead and enjoy them, while the rest of us actually give a crap about other people.