Favorite Christmas Song

Trev and Darrell have already posted something about their favorite Christmas songs.

I’m going to break away from the traditional carols; right now my favorite is Christmas Canon, by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I heard this as Muzak in a grocery store last year, and it blew me away. Tonight, I heard it again, tracked it down on the Internet, and bought it from iTunes.

It’s an arrangement of Pachelbel’s Canon in D, sung by a small children’s choir, so perfect that that it takes my breath away. The simple spirituality of hope and prayer to emulate the Lord we worship brings tears to my eyes every time. There’s nothing quite like it. Here are the lyrics from the longer version on The Christmas Attic

Merry Christmas
The hope that he brings

This night
We pray
Our lives
Will show

This dream
He had
Each child
Still knows

We are waiting
We have not forgotten

On this night
On this night
On this very Christmas night

Beyond Belief: Rocky Is the Way

<sarcasm on>
Hey Pastor!

Rocky VIHaving a bit of trouble coming up with Sunday’s sermon? Is your congregation tired of those humdrum “Love your neighbor” messages that just make them feel guilty? Are they fed up with this “turn the other cheek” crap when there are countries to bomb and people to kill? Want to give them a Christmas message that won’t put them to sleep in that “Boring Town of Bethlehem” with the same old prayers for peace on earth?

Why not give them what they really want for Christmas: self-esteem! That’s right. More than Jesus, even more than fruitcake, they want to believe in themselves. At RockyResources.com, we know how to help you care for your flock’s real needs. Visit RockyResources.com for a message from our Sly guy on how vague “faith” and generic “values” moved him to make the sixth inspired epistle of St. Rocky Balboa to the Ticketbuyers.

But that’s not all! Check out our “Faith-based” Leader’s Guide. Our handy “five-round” plan can spare you from having to listen to the Spirit for a full five weeks! And if anyone needs a break from God, it’s you, right? Senior pastors, be sure to try Idea 1 in Round 4:

During your sermon, show a film clip from a Rocky movie that demonstrates the values of teamwork, and the futility of going it alone.

(After all, we know where that got Jesus, right?) And youth pastors, you can’t go wrong with Round 3, Idea 2:

Plan a TKO: The Kraziest Outreach. Get all five Rocky movies and do a Rocky-thon at the church—maybe on New Years’ Eve! Finish at the theater with Rocky Balboa! Stay awake!

If your youth don’t believe in hell now, they sure will after twelve consecutive hours in the ring with Rocky!

And just in case you have any doubts about our motives, or letting the Italian Stallion guide your flock for the next few weeks, just remember these two things: There’s no better way to celebrate the Lord’s birth than by spending money, and … Rocky isn’t gay!

<sarcasm off>
In all fairness, this movie is getting fairly good reviews. And as most of you know, I love to find spiritual parallels in movies… it’s the very reason I write reviews, and Rocky probably does have some excellent spiritual lessons. But something about the crassness of selling Rocky as spiritual resource on a par with the teachings of Jesus was more than I could take.

Listen to the NPR report on how Motive Media sucessfully converted some pastors (some very well-known) to sell this rocky “gospel” according to Sly.

Drew Goodmanson at least wasn’t one of them.
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Just in from Reuters: Virgin Birth Expected

And this just after I gave a speech at Toastmasters about contemplating the Virgin Birth as a mystical symbol! Reuters reports that a virgin birth is expected, possibly on Christmas Day, to a Komodo dragon in a London zoo. See article.

Hey, if dragons get salvation, a few verses in Revelation might need to be rewritten! Unless—what if Yeats was right?

What rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches toward London to be hatched?

Folks, it could be the Antilizard!

Happy Hanukkah and Esperanto Day

Today’s the first day of Hanukkah, the beginning of eight days of remembering the miracle of the oil involved in rededicating the Temple. So, the next week can be a great time for anyone, Jewish or not, to remember what miracles have happened in their lives. What do you remember that you’d like to share?

Also, the Esperanto League for North America has designated December 15 as “Esperanto Day,” a day to further awareness of the extremely easy and expressive language, Esperanto. Bloggers are encouraged to translate their post for today into Esperanto, so:

Hodiaŭ estas la unua tago de Hanukkah, la komenco de ok tagoj por memoranta la miraklon de la oleon tiun uzis pri redediĉi la Templo. La sekvonta semajno povas esti granda tempo por ĉiu, judano aŭ ne judano, memori tiujn miraklojn okazitis en iliaj vivoj. kion vi memoras ke vi volus skribi ĉi tie?

Ankaŭ, la Esperanto Ligo por Norda Ameriko nomitis Decembron 15 “Esperanto Tago,” tago al pli konscio pri la ekstreme facila kaj esprimplena lingvo, esperanto. Blogantoj tradukitas iliajn poŝtojn por hodiaŭ esperante.

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Happy Buddha Day, Immaculate Conception

Blessed MotherThe “holiday season” is well-named. It’s not just Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, but also Sundays of Advent, The Feast of St. Nicholas, The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Twelve days of Christmas, St. Stephen’s Day, Epiphany, and the Baptism of Jesus. And also, of course, Hanukkah, Rohatsu or Buddha Day, Yule, and sometimes Ramadan and Eid.

standing buddhaI’ve come to really appreciate December 8th, which is both Buddha Day and Immaculate Conception Day. A wonderfully non-commercialized respite that’s sacred to Catholics, Japanese Buddhists, and anyone else who wants an excuse to take a break from the hustle and bustle. And although I have fairly little “Marian devotion,” I can’t wait to get to Mass tonight and sing “Salve, Regina,” one of my favorite hymns.

May all of us be inspired to follow the examples of Mary and the Buddha who in their different ways both brought the light of the world into the world.

Blogjam vs. Block

Everyone’s familiar with “writer’s block,” the point where a writer working on a specific project either can’t start or can’t finish. (The movie Stranger Than Fiction not only gives a great portrayal of the problem, but some wonderful spiritual analogies and philosophical questions as well.)

Bloggers—at least those of us who share our lives and insights rather than links to news releases and such, have a different problem: it’s not a block, but a logjam. Blogjam. There’s not a scarcity of stuff to write about, but everything touches on the theme of your blog, and choosing what part of everything to present is the challenge.

Here’s an example of the challenge as I’m experiencing it:

  • I came back from a mini-vacation to spend Thanksgiving with my parents, whom I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. Blog material there? Not really.
  • I’m still processing the ongoing ideas that Mark and his sensei have been sharing this month at Eternal Awareness. Blog material there? You betcha. But I’ve little to add because Mark says it all so well.
  • I watched West Side Story last night for the first time in ages. It made me cry as it always does. I thought about just putting up a post asking you to share what movies make you cry. Seemed kind of flimsy, though, like my last real post this month on studying Spanish!
  • And then there’s just this thought that’s been in my head today. It’s from an observation that Fr. Matthew Fox made in The Coming of the Cosmic Christ. that the Greek god Chronos ate his children, but Christ gave himself to his children to eat. I’d thought I’d give some nice, deep, philosophical observation on the destructive and constructive principles, time vs. eternity, or some similar bullshit. But I’d feel that it’s bullshit, so I wouldn’t. Except that I just did. Oh, well.

So that’s my blogjam. In fact, I’ve got four drafts ready to go on different subjects that I thought I’d use when I didn’t know what else to post, but none of them feel appropriate to the day either.

So take your pick, comment on whatever you like–blogjams, movies that make you cry, metaphysical principles, what’s going on in your lives.

Language, Language!

Ever since I was a kid in grade school, playing with simple codes, I’ve been fascinated by other languages, and the myriad ways that meaning can be wrapped in shells of sound and symbol. In high school I studied German, and in college, Russian. Along the way I also studied a little Biblical Greek and Biblical Hebrew, and in a month or so I learned more Esperanto than I did of German in two years (Esperanto is easy!). Since I grew up on the Mexican border, a bit of border Spanish seeped through the cracks as well.

Recently, my study of languages like PHP made me realize how much I’ve lost of my human languages, a common problem for many Americans who seldom use them. I decided to take some steps to reverse the trend. I’m pretty much willing to write off my Russian and Biblical languages, but I want to improve my German. And more than that, I want to get to the point where I’m truly decent in Spanish, Esperanto, and Catalan (the language of Barcelona and northwestern Spain — a new one for me).

I plan to cycle through periods of a few months each concentrating on Spanish and Catalan, with short periods in between to improve my Esperanto. (This weekend I practically brought my level of Esperanto back to where it was twenty years ago.) German, I’ll tend to later.

Learning languages now is a hell of a lot more fun than it was when I was in school:

  • Podcasts
  • International TV broadcasts and newspapers on the Web
  • Blogs
  • Web courses
  • Easily-ordered foreign-language books (I’m reading El Alquimista en español)
  • Movies, videos, and DVDs (I’ve already rented several Mexican and Spanish films from the Naro)
  • Wikipedias. (Did you know the German Wikipedia is the second largest, with nearly 500,000 articles? Or that the Spanish wiki has nearly 170,000, that Catalan has 46,000? Or that oft-denigrated Esperanto is resurgent with 61,000 Wikipedia articles and now a full-time TV station?)
  • Music (Check out this achingly beautiful song by Jorge Drexler, courtesy of Luis Coelho’s link.)
  • E-mail, forums, chat… it just goes on.

Why bother? Well, yeah, I want to visit Spain, especially Barcelona, but it’s more than that. The Internet makes it possible for the first time for any willing, literate person to truly transcend the limitations of living within a single culture, and become a citizen of the world. I’ve always felt I was, but I want to realize that more concretely.

I think studying the words of another culture brings home how arbitrary the words really are, and primes us for seeing what’s beyond the mere words and thoughts. At least, like everything else, it can if we let it…

Paz y amor, pau i amor, paco kaj amo, Friede und Liebe! —jon

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Ubi Caritas

Bob Griffith of Hypersync posted a link to this YouTube video of a boy in the Netherlands singing about the love in his unconventional family. Aside from the obvious questions it raises, such as why the Christian Right is apoplectic over the idea of letting everyone have the right to marry whomever they choose, there’s something deeper here besides.

As I commented on his post, I remarked that ironically, as Europe has become less “Christian,” and church attendance has plunged, Europe may be becoming more “Christian” in other ways, not associated with religion. So where is God in “post-Christian” Europe?

For me, the answer is a universal one, found in an ancient hymn of the Church:

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

(Where there is charity and love, there is God.)

Something in the boy’s song gives me hope. Not just for equal rights for gay people, but of something far more profound. God is love. Love conquers all.

Ice Cream Truth

Millions of voices of the world clamor for belief. You are asked to believe that 123 is a better cable channel than 234, that Sandscrape is a better toilet paper than Scratchroll, that M.T. Promisiz is a better leader than I. B. Lyin.

Then you’re asked to believe “in” pure abstractions, for instance that the area called Rolling Hillarity is a different “country” than the area called Dulland Flatlandia. And whether you are Rolling Hilarious or Dulland Flat, you need to believe that your country is the best one!

But the belief-net isn’t finished entangling you. To be “really” complete, you must have a “belief system,” too. In other words, you need to cram an elaborate mental superstructure into your head comprised of numerous associated concretized thoughts—that is “beliefs” about things you can neither see or touch. And you need to believe that it’s right, and preferably believe that all others are wrong. If that sounds like hard work, it is.

But fortunately, some have tried to make it easier for you. The most popular belief systems have come in ready-to-use packages, and luckily for you, a mere a half-dozen or so brands have satisfied fully 90% of the people of the world. Some have strong incentives if you buy this brand, you will enjoy bliss forever, and if you don’t, you’ll be in agony forever. (If that’s not incentive, what is?)

Occasionally, though, people come to the point of wondering what is true, what is real. Is it the belief system, or is it something else, maybe something the belief system is trying to describe, no matter how awkwardly. I propose a simple test:

Does it help you enjoy your ice cream more?

It’s amazing how irrelevant beliefs are when eating ice cream (or calamari, for that matter). An evangelist whose name I forget, despaired of trying to get ministers of different denominations to associate together through “ecumenical events.” He found that it worked quite well though when the occasion was getting ice cream. Belief systems don’t eat ice cream, but people do!

And for God’s sake, don’t believe a word of my beliefs here. Just see what makes your ice cream taste best. That just might be real. Taste and see (Psalm 34:8). If it does, it’s probably more real than a belief.