Blast From the Past December 6, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christmas, worship.
Tags: Christmas, worship
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Within a day of one another, I received two messages asking for permission to use a Christmas song I wrote 34 years ago! I love the phrasing of the one request: “You came and preached at our church and brought that “gift song” a couple year’s ago. Do you still have that? Could we use it?” How could I refuse a request like that?
The song is called, “The First True Christmas Gift.” It is sung to the tune of “Pass It On” (#572 in The United Methodist Hymnal). I wrote it while in college for a special youth service we were doing at High Street United Methodist Church in Muncie, Indiana. High Street was almost destroyed by a gas explosion in January 1978, so this was the first service back in our rebuilt, completely renovated sanctuary. The song was written for that celebration.
In the event that anyone else likes it and would want to use it, consider this “express written permission” to reprint and perform it. I would love to think one or two churches might use it this year.
The First True Christmas Gift
Two thousand years ago, on a night so soft and gentle,
A tiny babe was born, in a small town, in a stable;
A miracle from God was born
On that first Christmas morn,
The Prince of Peace, Emmanuel
The first true Christmas gift.
Some shepherds in the fields, careful watch o’er flocks were keeping,
When suddenly appeared, an angel host proclaiming
“Fear not, the Savior’s come to stay,
Born on this special day,
The Lord of Lords, King of Kings,
The first true Christmas gift.
Then, wise men from afar, bearing gifts to give the baby
Were beckoned by a star, to make a sacred journey
The prophecy had come to light
On that first Christmas night,
A ray of hope, Light of the world
The first true Christmas gift.
And Mary saw and heard, these messages she treasured;
She held them in her heart, and always she remembered,
The wonder of his marv’lous birth,
Messiah come to earth,
The Prince of Peace, Emmanuel,
The first true Christmas gift.
Words: Dan R. Dick (©1979)
Music: Kurt Kaiser, 1969
Whose Christmas? December 22, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christian witness, Christmas, Identity & Purpose, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Advent, Christmas, Values
I had an interesting encounter at my favorite coffee shop (Beans ‘n’ Cream, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin — greatest people in the world…) last week. One of the regulars made the following observation, which led to a spirited conversation — “Christmas would be so much more enjoyable if all the religious people would just leave it alone.” On the surface, this is a ridiculous statement, but he made the following points to his argument — some of which make a lot of sense:
- the cultural experience of Christmas has overshadowed any religious intent
- we celebrate more Pagan aspects of the season than Christian, but even the intent of Pagan religion has been displaced and destroyed
- more Christians shop, cook, bake, decorate, drink and travel than go to church
- more money is spent on materialistic gift giving than are donated through our churches to help those in need
- Santa is more important to more people than Jesus
- the church has bought into the pageantry of Christmas and doesn’t even know/tell its own story with any integrity anymore
- Culturally, Christmas has become a time of stress, discord, depression and division more than a time of peace on earth and goodwill to humankind
- Secular celebration has nothing to do with the story of the Nativity — many people don’t even know what Christianity has to do with Christmas.
Manipunativity December 16, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christmas, Devotional Reflection, Seeker spirituality.
Tags: Advent, Christmas, Spiritual seekers
I can quite honestly say I am having a “cognitive dissonance Advent”. Late in November I received a monograph from two graduate students for review and comments. One of the most intriguing aspects of the monograph is that its authors are young females — one Israeli and one Palestinian. Their subject is an examination of the poor in first century B.C.E. Palestine (drawing mainly from sources written 60 – 2 B.C.E.), primarily in urban settings, but with rich detail comparison to rural life. It is slow going because I have been asked to do some source checking, and I find the work both well-researched and exhaustively documented. The problem with it is that it is challenging all of my 20th-21st century dearly held beliefs about the birth of Jesus! Our wonderfully crafted modern mythologizing transforms the accounts from Matthew and Luke into a pageant — grand, noble, inspiring, but also sterilized, palatable, and comfy.
Picture Mary. What images come to mind? The “wise” men? The shepherds? The stable and manger? The immaculately clean, well-behaved, reverent animals in western style stalls? The star in the sky? Joseph? The mean old inn-keeper? In its simplicity it is a sweet, gentle, kind, lovely story. Just the kind we love — don’t nobody mess it up! If you don’t want it messed with, stop reading. No, seriously, you won’t care for the rest of this blog. I mean it. Step away from the blog.
Whadjagit? December 25, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christmas, Devotional Reflection.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Christmas
Over the next forty-eight hours, one question will be asked more often than all others combined — “whadjagit for Christmas?” I use the contraction instead of “what did you get?” for a very simple, personal reason. When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I had a classmate – Wiley Mooningham (no lie) — who was a transplant from a southern state, and I remember his bright-eyed enthusiasm interrogating us all on “whadjagit” (strong emphasis on the git) from Santa. It was only years later that I realized that Wiley came from a dirt-poor family and that he was living vicariously through the presents his friends received. When the question “whadjagit” was turned back on Wiley, he would report that he got a pair of work pants, work gloves and a hammer. Interestingly, he never seemed disappointed. Never did he report toys or games or sports equipment — just practical stuff. Wiley’s Christmas did bring any joyful carol to mind, but “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need…” It was ever a mystery to the rest of us kids how Wiley could get so excited over so little.
The Story of Yuletide Carol December 19, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christmas, Personal Reflection.
Tags: Advent, Christmas
In every town, in every time, there are those rare individuals who become part of the “local color.” If they are wealthy, they are labeled eccentric. If they are poor, they are simply “crazy.” Outsiders see these people and marvel. Townies hardly notice them – they become part of the fabric – odd threads that give special texture to the whole piece. One woman – Yuletide Carol to the residents of Muncie, Indiana – was such a thread.
Growing up, I was ever aware of the troll-like woman who wandered the downtown streets of Muncie. I cannot recall the first time I ever saw her, but it was not until she died that I even learned her true name. Yuletide Carol just was. She waddled the streets spring, summer, fall, and winter bawling Christmas songs at the top of her lungs. Remarkably, her voice was not awful, and she had the uncanny ability to recall dozens of songs in their entirety. Dressed in a worn wool coat – regardless of the weather – Yuletide Carol would wobble, weeble-like, waddling along the sidewalks. A raspberry colored babushka encircled her jack-o-lantern face – squinted eyes, vegetable-lump nose, picket-fence grin, and potato-shaped, warted chin. She stood all of five-foot tall, but was a yard wide. Tree trunk legs propelled her on her way. Amazingly, most people in town didn’t even see her, so familiar a sight did she provide.
Christmas Affluenza December 15, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Christmas, Core Values, Identity & Purpose.
Tags: Christmas, Church Leadership, Faith Sharing, Values
- sitting in a coffee shop listening to three women talk about how much they HATE Christmas shopping… yet they are doing it daily, one of them reports that she has spent over $10,000 so far this year (to be fair, including jewelry she bought herself), and the shared an encyclopedic knowledge of sales, stores, and special items they want to buy. The longer they spoke, the more excited they got, leaning toward each other, raising their voices, becoming breathless and agitated. What I witnessed were symptoms similar to those displayed by addicts. One woman confessed that she has a “pact” with her husband — their goal each year is to make sure they spend more on Christmas presents than anyone else in the family. She said, “It’s a little contest we have to do Christmas the best in our family.”
- an excerpt from an email where a gentleman’s main point is that I am making a mountain out of a molehill: “I don’t see the big deal about commercializing Christmas. Religious people have every right and freedom to keep Christmas holy — they simply need to refuse to get drawn into the cultural crap. Let Christians take Jesus and the star and the wise men and church and let the rest of us have fine food and drink, trees with pretty lights, Rudolph and Frosty and Santa. I don’t get where you think religion should dictate the holiday for the whole world. My mom is a Christian and she isn’t worried about losing her faith because Christmas is a whole lot bigger than just Jesus.”
- a response from the pastor of the southern church I mentioned in my last post about their “religion-free Christmas Eve services.” He told me this was an evangelism program to draw in non-Christians and give them “a pleasant, exciting, upbeat, non-threatening” experience in a church. He told me “obviously there is some religion — we sing Joy to the World and Silent Night — undeniably religious songs.” But instead of prayers they offer personal Christmas memory reflections; instead of scriptures, they talk about the opportunity people have to make a difference in the world by supporting any of the dozens of good projects the church is doing; instead of a sermon, they show clips from old Christmas movies and ask the congregation reflection questions on what these clips are trying to say. Together, they sing nostalgic Christmas songs such as I’ll Be Home for Christmas, There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays, The Christmas Song, and (oh, yeah…) they slip in Silent Night and Joy to the World. “This is our most popular and well-attended Christmas Eve services — many of our full-time members (note to self: are ‘part-time’ church members a good idea?) also attend; but we ask them to tone down the religious stuff in sensitivity to the audience we are trying to reach.”
Christmas C.S.I. December 13, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christian witness, Christmas, Integrity, The Bible.
Tags: Advent, Christmas, Communication
My posts of the past two weeks have generated some fun and interesting discussions around Christmas. While I am not a fan of the “war on Christmas” rhetoric adopted by evangelicals operating from a victim mentality, I do agree that Christmas as a religious observance is in trouble. My contention, however, is that the threat to Christmas does not come from a godless, atheist society, but from within — from Christians who really don’t understand Christianity and plug their faith into their lives where convenient. When Christians don’t get Christmas, we can’t whine about how mean atheists and non-Christian believers are to our holiday. There are three things that Christians have done, engaged in, or allowed to happen that we can blame on no one else. Christmas as we know it today is exactly the Christmas Christians have created.
The three things I “blame” are these:
- commercialization — the process of exploiting something for profit or benefit
- secularization — the removal of spiritual and religious meaning from religious practices and observances
- ignoration (a made up word) — the intentional decision to not know too much about something in order to simply relax and enjoy it
An Unlikely Proposal December 11, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christian witness, Christmas.
Tags: Advent, Christmas
I have been commenting on the commercialization and cultural co-opting of Christmas, and a number of people ask, “So, what do you suggest?” Well, here is a suggestion — though I know full well and good it won’t fly. Solutions are only solutions if they work, and this doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance…, but anyway. Short of having a Santa-Jesus smackdown or celebrity deathmatch, here is how I would propose redeeming Christmas as a religious observance while also connecting with the joyous cultural celebration of our secular Christlessmas.
Define Christmas as the Twelve Days of Christmas — allow the four-week period preceding Christmas to actually BE Advent, then move into a true Christmastide.
Marketing the Messiah December 8, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Christmas, Congregational Life, Core Values, Identity & Purpose.
Tags: Christmas, church, spiritual practices, Values
From the Gospel According to Bob 1:26-2:12 (from the NKJV & The Message):
And on the night unto which the child was to be born, Joseph and his wife Mary sought shelter, but coming late without a reservation, Mary was vexed with Joseph, saying, “I told you so.” Joseph, aware that he was on thin ice, comforted Mary and assured her that he would find them a warm, safe, clean environment in which to deliver the one, true Son of God. He set off on his mission, returning sometime later with the good news (gospel) that, “two out of three ain’t bad…” Mary trusted Joseph, right up to the point where she realized that their was no room for them at the inn. She surveyed the stable that Joseph found, counting unto ten. Then Mary treasured all these things in her heart, being sure to remember them for a more opportune time. Secretly she hoped her child would be untidy so that through his life she might say to him, “What’s the matter with you? Were you born in a barn?”
When the time came for Mary to be delivered, she noted with agitation that Joseph seemed preoccupied. “It’s time,” said Mary. “Hmmm?” replied Joseph. “I’m ready to have the baby, here. What’s the matter with you?” Mary asked. “Oh, nothing. But I was just thinking — this has real possibilities. Son of God, humble beginnings, born in a stable, laid in a manger — it has a real appeal. In fact, I bet we could make tiny models of this and they would sell like crazy,” reflected Joseph.
The rest of the night was a blur. The tiny child was born, angels appeared, shepherds stopped by for a visit, but Joseph busied himself with sketches and copious notes. “All we need now are some magi and the scene will be complete!” crowed Joseph. “As soon as you’re up and around, we need to take a little trip. I know a guy in Egypt that can crank out these nativity sets as easy as you please.” “Joseph,” Mary observed, “I am not sure we should be exploiting this for profit. This is a most holy night, and I am not comfortable with the idea of commercializing it.” Joseph, chastened and repentant, answered Mary, “You’re right, as always my love. This is a holy event, one that should never be exploited for profit. Let this be a lesson to us all — the birth of the Son of God should be honored and not cheapened by commercialization!” (NKJV)
When Mary was about to have Jesus, she and Joseph realized they were homeless. He found a place and said, “I think I know how we can turn a profit on this.” Mary replied, “I can’t talk about this right now. I’m a little busy. And besides, I think it’s a stupid idea.” Joseph thought for a minute, then said, “No, you’re right.” (The Message)
Oh, what have we wrought? Was it ever in the mind of God that we would commemorate the birth of the Messiah as we do today? Inflatable, light-up cartoon nativity sets on our lawns? Angels dancing to “Jingle Bells” barked by dogs? The three Wise Men bearing gifts of pizza, nachos and a keg of bear? Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus made of sausage, meatloaf, gingerbread, or jello? Nativity scenes employing ducks, snowmen, Peanuts characters, Sesame Street characters, Lego, Star Wars, Pokemon… what splendid ways we have created to remember the birth of our Savior! The problem is, there’s big bucks to be made exploiting religion, and the church generally has no problem with selling out as long as it can turn a profit.
Christmas Ghosts December 24, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christmas.
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Having just watched the 19th different version of Charles Dickens’, A Christmas Carol, this year, I am impressed by how universal and enduring this story is. The redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge is so compelling, even as simplistic as it is. The visitation of four ghosts that result in total conversion resonates with both Christian and non-Christian alike. We all wish our better selves would emerge and transform us, not only at Christmas, but every day of the year. But I believe there is a simpler attraction to Dickens’ Christmas tale. It is the human fascination with spirits. Our current cultural climate is steeped in the supernatural — wizards, angels, demons, vampires, zombies, werewolves, gods and goddesses… as well as ghosts.
Christians are caught in a dilemma when asked if they believe in ghosts. It is hard to claim we don’t believe in ghosts when a ghost constitutes one-third of the Holy Trinity. Yet, there is serious question about the existence of discorporate spirits. Evidence and proof is in short supply, regardless of the best efforts of Ghost Hunters International. Still, it is interesting how easy it is to get people talking about ghost stories and personal strange encounters. Even my super-rational scientific/academic friends will open up with a few weird tales once you get two or three beers in them. I’m not exactly sure what I believe about ghosties and spooks, but I do have a couple “unexplained” stories of my own that I am just as happy to chalk up to beneficent spirits as any other cause. One in particular has a Christmas twist.