Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas...and Peace on Earth

Posted by Tim

Glory to God in the highest! Peace on the earth and good will towards men.
- Luke 2:14

Merry Christmas from Mulberry Street! Jack, Carlos, and I (along with the rest of our community) would like to wish you all Grace and Peace as you remember Love Incarnate, Jesus Christ, this season. May we never grow tired of hearing how God put on skin and showed us how to love. The miracle of Christmas is not the Nativity itself, but the Notion behind it. He gave up everything, that we might have Peace.'s so easy to talk about Peace during Christmas. It's all over cards and billboards, written into songs and sermons; but how much peace do we honestly experience? Many take time off for Christmas, but between gift wrapping, tree decorating, caroling, and candlelight vigils, the season in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus seems to be one of the most hectic times of the year. Add the busyness, heavy traffic, and congested shopping malls to the anxiety of finding the perfect gift and the strain of visiting relatives, and you'll find a season where many people get downright miserable. I'm afraid that sometimes we are in such a hurry to give of ourselves that we drown out His presence.

Peace...a hard concept to grasp when this year the Christian West celebrated the deaths of Bin Laden, Gaddafi, and Kim Jong Il, withdrew from one battlefield only to contemplate another, and watched as violence rose again in Afghanistan despite the presence of our "peacekeepers." It is hard for the Church to claim Peace while trusting in earthly armies to protect it. The Child in the manger conquered death by yielding to the sword, not wielding it Himself.

The Angels that appeared to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem rejoiced, but they weren't proclaiming generosity or victory by might. So how do we share the Gospel message in a culture where Peace is so foreign? Can we offer Good Will to all men? 800 years ago, a young monk named Francis offered this prayer:

"Lord, make me an instrument of your Peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen."

This Christmas, make it your goal to shout light into the darkness where you find it, because the darkness cannot overcome it. Just as Jesus gave completely of Himself, pour yourself out to family, friends, and enemies this Season. And when you have exhausted what you have, give more. And when we have given it honestly to everyone we know, maybe we ourselves can find Peace this Christmas.

We Love You,

The Mulberry House.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Rebel Jesus

Posted by Jack

This year, I have tried to be intentional about reclaiming the Christmas mythology. The following will serve as my final entry on this topic: a vision of the Rebel Jesus.

Part 1: The Grinch was Right
Part 2: Rudolph was a Gimmick
Part 3: The Candy Cane is a Lie

Part 4: The Rebel Jesus

All the streets are filled with laughter and light
And the music of the season
And the merchants' windows are all bright
With the faces of the children
And the families hurrying to their homes
While the sky darkens and freezes
Will be gathering around the hearths and tables
Giving thanks for God's graces
And the birth of the rebel Jesus

Well they call him by 'the Prince of Peace'
And they call him by 'the Savior'
And they pray to him upon the seas
And in every bold endeavor
And they fill his churches with their pride and gold
As their faith in him increases
But they've turned the nature that I worship in
From a temple to a robber's den
In the words of the rebel Jesus

Well we guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why there are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus

Now pardon me if I have seemed
To take the tone of judgement
For I've no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In a life of hardship and of earthly toil
There's a need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure
And I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus

As an alternative to unnecessary shopping, consider reading this post and giving the gift of clean water to families in Haiti. Jeff Cook has drawn our attention to a beautiful group of Jesus followers who are drilling wells in areas that need them most. Click here to sacrifice unnecessary stocking stuffers on behalf of the poor and needy.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Candy Cane is a Lie

Posted by Jack

A candy maker in Indiana wanted to make a candy that would be a witness, so he made the Christmas candy cane. He incorporated several symbols for the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ.

He began with a stick of pure white, hard candy: White to symbolize the virgin birth and the sinless nature of Jesus, and hard to symbolize the solid rock, the foundation of the church, and firmness of the Promises of God.

The candy maker made the candy in the form of a "J" to represent the precious name of Jesus, who came to earth as our Savior. It could also represent the staff of the "Good Shepherd" with which He reaches down into the ditches of the world to lift out the fallen lambs who, like all sheep, have gone astray.

Thinking that the candy was somewhat plain, the candy maker stained it with red stripes. He used three small stripes to show the stripes of the scourging Jesus received by which we are healed. The large red stripe was for the bloodshed by Christ on the cross so that we could the promise of Eternal Life.

Unfortunately, the candy became known as a candy cane-a meaningless decoration seen at Christmas time. But the meaning is still there for those who "have eyes to see and ears to hear."

Every year, this amazing and heart-warming story finds its way into my email inbox. This year, I received a candy cane from my employer with this story attached, and I was also given a storybook version of the legend to read to the children this holiday season. There is no question that the story is touching. But there is one little detail that persists in bothering me…

The story is complete and utter bulls***.

It turns out, candy canes existed long before Indiana did, and there is little in this story that rings true. Fact-checking gurus at cried foul on the crooked tale years ago, and other verifiable histories exist. The internet abounds with various contradictory accounts, but regardless of the true history of the candy cane, it is clear that the treat has little or nothing to do with Jesus.

Of course, charming folklore bears no threat. But it should be noted that many people in leadership (knowingly or unknowingly) perpetuate this story every year in response to questions of the candy’s origin.

(Psst. Did you know that PEZ dispensers were created by a Sunday School teacher in Pennsylvania who wanted to teach his children about sanctification? Spread the word.)

I am all for reclaiming cultural practices and re-clothing them with new meaning and Kingdom values. If something can be redeemed, or reworked, or celebrated in light of the reality of our King, then by all means, let’s do it! If someone wants to live old-world practices with new-Kingdom understanding, I find nothing wrong with that. If the candy cane reminds you of all those doctrinal truths, great!

But is it necessary to rewrite history? Must we create false origin stories to justify our favorite cultural practices? Should we take something completely secular, or neutral, and make it seem as if it has been “Christian” all along?

(Maybe we should go back and photoshop Jesus into the background of all those Coca-Cola Santa advertisements…)

I got a similar vibe a few years ago when I was attending a church Christmas pageant for children. Santa made an appearance in the program. After passing out gifts to the children (including a card that spins a bogus candy cane yarn), Santa turned and knelt before a cross. It was then explained to the children that Santa Claus is a servant of Jesus and that the jolly old fat man always pauses to remember the true meaning of the Christmas. What the Fa-la-la-la-la is that?

It seems efforts like these are an attempt to make our own Christmas traditions more acceptable. Some people seem to think there is no place for certain cultural practices unless they are somehow Jesus-related. So, these people take on the cheery chore of squeezing Biblical concepts into every nook and cranny.

This type of thinking looks something like this: If we can make the Christmas tree about Jesus, it is okay to have one. If we can make the gift exchange about Jesus, it is okay to have one.

(“No, children. This is not a gingerbread man. It’s a ginger-angel! Now go hang your Jesus-footies by the fireplace and get to sleep!”)

Listen, there is no danger of the Gospel losing its power. Even if the population at large is consumed with consumption, we do not need to sneak Jesus into their stories in hopes of winning them over. Changing world traditions to incorporate our beliefs may make us feel better, but it is not necessary.

We are not needed to “guard” Christmas in the public square. It is not our job to infiltrate holiday traditions and inject Scripture. We are not soldiers locked in battle to protect Christmas. Instead, let us fascinate others into a relationship with the newborn King.

There is no need to create a new Christmas mythology. And we certainly don’t need to change existing Yuletide traditions to reflect a Savior they have nothing to do with.

This holiday season, break the influence of the candy cane.

  • Fear not! The meaning of this season is lost ONLY if the people of God get distracted and become contaminated by the shallowness of worldly practices.

  • Good tidings! Share the true Christmas story. Do not invent a new one.
  • Great joy! Allow Jesus to fill your life; do not cram your life full of Jesus by stuffing Him into places He doesn’t belong.

As an alternative to unnecessary shopping, consider reading this post and giving the gift of clean water to families in Haiti. Jeff Cook has drawn our attention to a beautiful group of Jesus followers who are drilling wells in areas that need them most. Click here to sacrifice unnecessary stocking stuffers on behalf of the poor and needy.

Also, be sure to visit the Advent Conspiracy to learn more from some very creative friends.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Rudolph was a Gimmick

Posted by Jack

This is part 2 of my own personal "war on Christmas" (not this kind). For further context, be sure to read my earlier post about why the Grinch was Right.

Today, we turn our attention to the popular and beloved character, star of stage and screen, subject of song and sonnet, one Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

For the unenlightened, Wikipedia provides a charming introduction:

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer is a fictional reindeer with a glowing red nose. He is popularly known as "Santa's 9th Reindeer" and, when depicted, is the lead reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh on Christmas Eve. The luminosity of his nose is so great that it illuminates the team's path through inclement winter weather.

I think we all know the story. Actually, most readers are probably familiar with the song, or the famous Rankin/Bass stop-motion television special. But many don't know that the tale of Rudolph began as a storybook.

Rudolph was created in 1939 as part of a promotional gimmick to attract customers.

Montgomery Ward, a popular retailer and chain of department stores, had been buying and distributing coloring books to their customers each year at Christmas. The promise of a free coloring book was good for publicity, and it was a draw for holiday shoppers.

Well, all of the other department stores used to laugh and call them names. See, Montgomery Ward was not saving money by having their in-house copywriters produce a giveaway book of their own. By having a Montgomery Ward employee produce a storybook to pass out to customers, the retailer could spread holiday cheer at a cheaper rate.

So one foggy Christmas eve, the department head came to say, “Robert May with your skills so bright, write a children’s book tonight!” May was a copywriter who had a gift for writing clever limericks and children’s stories, so he was given the assignment of creating a character and story for commercial purposes.

May drew on the story of the ugly duckling and his own background (having apparently been teased as a child for his small build) and developed the story of a misfit reindeer, ostracized for his physical abnormality. Throughout the process, May tested the story on his daughter, Barbara, to ensure that it appealed to children.

May actually tested and rejected several names before deciding on Rudolph. He considered “Rollo,” but found it to be too cheerful and carefree a name for a misfit reindeer, and “Reginald,” which sounded “too British.”

At first, there was some concern over the glowing red nose (an image apparently associated with drunkards at the time). But once May tapped his friend in the art department, Denver Gillen, to draw some illustrations, the department head gave his approval.

(I like to imagine Don Draper and the cast of Mad Men standing around in the board room discussing the matter. “Red noses did not test well with the focus group. Will this reindeer sell any Lucky Strikes?”)

Then how the department store loved him! How they shouted out with glee! In 1939, the department store distributed 2.4 million copies of their new book. Wartime paper costs slowed production a bit, but by 1946, 6 million copies had been distributed.

(You know, Rudolph, you just might go down in history).

Rudolph was in tremendous demand, but because May had created the character as an assignment for Montgomery Ward, he did not own the rights to the character and could not collect royalties. Years later, in 1947, May would acquire the rights to the character from corporate president Sewell Avery. May was in debt from medical bills related to his wife’s terminal illness (who died around the time Rudolph was created), and was able to live out the rest of his days on profits related to managing his popular Christmas character.

In 1949, Gene Autry recorded a song version of the story (penned by May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks), and various cartoons, short films, television specials, and merchandise followed.

The popularity has not faded. Today, Rudolph is a popular figure in Christmas folklore, and he has even managed to squeeze himself into the previously sacred Santa Claus legend(an impressive feat for a simple advertising campaign).

I am not suggesting that you must kick Rudolph to the curb. If you enjoy the story, song, or television special, then, by all means, enjoy them! But I think this particular origin story bears repeating.

Rudolph started as a way to attract new customers. He was a mascot. A logo. A commercial. It does not make him evil; it is simply an observation.

What if that guy on the Lucky Charms box transcended the temporal plains of breakfast cereal and muscled his way into St. Patrick's Day folklore? What if we passed down the legend of the Michelin Man to our children on the weekend of the Daytona 500? Or if we sang songs about Little Caesar and his pizza on the ides of March?

I know those things sound silly. But I must beg the question: what does it say about us as a people if marketing campaigns play a formative role in our holiday traditions?

How thin is the dividing line if commercial gimmicks can so seamlessly blend with cultural practices? Which ones are our sacred stories, and which ones are our commercials? At what point did the line become so blurred?

Ronald McDonald was created to sell hamburgers. Tony the Tiger was created to sell cereal. And, friends, Rudolph was created to sell Christmas.

And now, a word from our sponsors. This season, don’t be drawn in by advertising, like a moth to a flame:

  • With your nose so bright, pierce the fog and guide others to an understanding of Christmas that does not center on sales.
  • Intentionally practice traditions that are rooted in the meaning of this season. People will notice (they will even say it glows!) Don't bend to flashy gimmicks or shallow novelties, and surely don't let those things color your identity as a Kingdom person.
  • Invite everyone to join in the reindeer games. During this season of joy and peace, remember those who are alone, forgotten, and marginalized. Do not help widen the gap between the haves and have-nots by indulging in unnecessary spending and consuming.
  • Shout out with glee! Choose to day to live in light of the reality of our coming Deliverer, our Prince of Peace, the Wonderful Counselor, our Mighty God. And we don’t crawl onto his lap once a year to make a wish…

As an alternative to unnecessary shopping, consider reading this post and giving the gift of clean water to families in Haiti. Jeff Cook has drawn our attention to a beautiful group of Jesus followers who are drilling wells in areas that need them most. Click here to sacrifice unnecessary stocking stuffers on behalf of the poor and needy.

Also, be sure to visit the Advent Conspiracy to learn more from some very creative friends.

Merry Christmas.