Cheating At Christmas

Misdirected emphasis on items that come home in a shopping bag
Lights stranded in the cold on a green plastic-encased wire
They don’t make it any easier to see to touch, to feel, and to believe what is true
The scent of nostalgia brought on by familiar songs and tales
Feelings of pseudo-community brought on by germinating seeds of anticipation
That are discreetly, indeed cleverly, rooted in selfishness
We’ve traded in a willingness to accept steadfast grace
In favor of an annual date with comfortable and fleeting greed

Grace, Truth, and the 25th of December

Without grace I would have no hope. Though much of our culture has been suckered into thinking that Christ was actually born on December twenty-fifth, the reality of the fact that He was born and that He did die, as a sacrifice in our stead, is the foundation on which wholeness, peace, and meaning in my life are built. While I continue to stumble and fall on my face daily, the trust that I have in His mercy and the peace that exists because of that trust, sustains me. There is nothing else that is worth so much in this world.

We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done. For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Romans 3:22-23 NLT

Originally Posted 12/07

Coming To Grips With The Reality of Christmas

At 32 I still find myself uncomfortable with the experiential gap that exists between the nostalgic ideal of the traditional American Christmas and the reality that is experienced through broken hearts and empty stomachs on the downtown streets and the rural back roads in every part of America, let alone the world.

The truth is that all of the traditions, the flashy paper, the blinking lights, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and Bing Crosby, have very little to offer us once the last of the presents are opened and the anticipation of Christmas vanishes like a vapor.

The true joy of Christmas can be found year-round by unfolding your arms, getting out of your chair, and making an effort for those who populate the neediest segments of our society. Lonely elderly people whose best days are long gone, children who live in homes with abusive and addicted parents, men and women who find themselves moving from one homeless shelter to the next. They, and so many others, embody the real Jesus that we all claim to celebrate through Christmas hymns, inflatable nativity scenes, and Christmas pageants.

If we are really serious about celebrating the birth of a king, then, just as the wise men did, we should seek him out and give him the gifts that we have to bring. Look up a homeless shelter, children’s home, hospital, or nursing home in your area and give the most valuable thing you can: your personal time and attention.

“The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ Matthew 25:40

A relevant post of mine from about a year ago: Christmas In Perspective

A poem that embodies this message by Musician/Poet Kevin Max:

Christmas dreams in a Dark City

hold on to your seat
as we fly past the other side
of the tracks
where wounded mouths
and festering stillness grow
like Evil plants led to bitter water
where wormwood takes root
turn the heater up
and find a good station
the one that plays Bing Crosby
like Religion
the one that reminds us of
our tradition, our family plots
and store bought munitions
our pottery barn lamps
and wing backed chairs
our majestic walls
and our grand stairs
the very same stairs we climbed as children
and came down reverent on Christmas morning
to the smell of baked bread
and apple cider
and pine needles
where we rolled and laughed in the arms of grandparents
and endless boxes of gifts and paper
we know the feeling of Love.
shut down your conscience
as we drive through the Dark City
home to the unfortunates
the ones with bad teeth
and cracked clothing
filled with restless roaming
the gloaming of our lights
mark the sites on which they sleep
fractured sleep
cold, frostbite
and the smell of impending doom
hold on to your seat
as we fly home.

Review: Crashing Gates by Kevin Max (2008)

Crashing Gates is a formidable snapshot of just how much Kevin Max has developed as a true artist to be reckoned with since the long gone days of dc Talk. The EP shares some thematic ties with The Imposter (Kevin Max, 2005), like the topic of the apocalypse for example (“Out Of The Wild”), but this recording has raised the bar to a new level with Max’s tactful and intelligent lyrics and fresh songwriting.
“Future Love Song” and “Baby, I’m Your Man” both feature infectious melodies that refuse to stop reverberating in the brain of the listener for some time after the song has finished playing.
The guitar work on “Out Of The Wild,” beautifully captures the desperate and desolate tone that one might expect to witness in end-time America while the bridge provides an exquisitely bittersweet change-up in mood and tempo that, somehow, fits the song perfectly.
Another common thread between The Imposter and Crashing Gates is the song “Beautiful Mind” which as been redone with acoustic treatment and a more personal and desperate vocal tone for Crashing Gates. The new version, in my opinion, is an improvement over the original because it features a less-polished and more sincere, personal feel.
Overall, Crashing Gates is a landmark release for Max that should finally help old dc Talk fans to get off the dc Talk reunion bus and, instead, board Max Airways for a flight to an altogether different destination. In addition, Crashing Gates has the potential to break through to a wider mainstream audience where his artistic maturity can be appreciated and the subtle tact of his lyrics can simultaneously coax listeners to ask more questions about what they believe and who they are being lead by.
Crashing Gates indeed.

Holiday Soundtrack Part 2: Holy Night by Kevin Max

Holy Night is a delicious change of pace when compared with the bulk of what is released in the category of holiday music. There is tremendous consistency in style, quality, and vision from the first track to the last. The general spirit of the album is one of respect for the original historical contexts in which many of these classic Christmas songs were written and an apparent desire by Kevin Max to present Christmas music as art as opposed to pre-formatted, Christmas pop. He seems to have intentionally shunned the crowded commercial sound often employed by artists when they decide to record a Christmas album. Many of the tracks adopt a darker and more mysterious mood. For example “Joy To The World” seems closer to David Bowie than it does Mahalia Jackson. Yet reverence for the focus of the lyric is maintained and the quality and craftsmanship of the music is remarkable.
While a consistent thread of lonesome reverence is injected into each of the songs on Holy Night, a few of the tracks are hung on an up-tempo frame that, while continuing to maintain a level of intimate, personal sincerity, also breathe a sense of spirited optimism rooted in the birth of Jesus Christ. While songs like “What Child Is This” employ lush strings and the taste of a full orchestra for the musical backdrop, the basic, quick-tempo of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is much simpler, yet, equally infectious and undeniably mood-lightening. Both songs have a character that grabs the heart of the listener and makes it feel just a little bit more than it did before.
A personal favorite from this album include “O Little Town of Bethlehem” which opens treading lightly with a particularly lonely sounding piano, but, soon unfolds into what I can only try to describe (and perhaps not accurately) as some kind of Soviet/middle eastern kind of rhythm. Max’s unique and lush vocals inject an often-heard and under appreciated song with a sense of renewal that draws the listener in.
The lowest point of the album in my humble opinion (if there is one on this album) is “Greensleeves” which seems to be thematically out of place. But, one blip isn’t enough to darken the bright light that is the quality of this album from front to back. The fantastic match between Max’s unique and piercingly powerful voice and the understated, yet masterfully present musical backdrop that blankets each track on this album is, indeed, magical if not, at least, worth a listen.

Holiday Soundtrack Part 1: COME ON CHRISTMAS by Dwight Yoakam

Holiday Soundtrack Part 3: OLD TIME CHRISTMAS by Randy Travis