Unwrap Christmas

Perhaps more so than many, I am guilty of wrapping myself in the colorful nostalgic tradition of the holidays that I was born into

Ho. Ho. Ho.

Ho. Ho. Ho.

in 1976. With an ever-present nod to the visions of Clement Clark Moore and the sounds of Bing Crosby, I’ve reveled annually in the green, red, and shiny tinsel of the season. Christmas music, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, holiday lattes at Starbucks, and annual trips to the mountains of North Carolina for Christmas trees have all found their way into my family’s cannon of holiday traditions that make this season what it is for us year after year: a glowing, blinking, tinsel-strewn festival of merriment that, unfortunately, is as far away from the central, critical Christian focus of Christmas as it could possibly be.

In Reflections For Ragamuffins, Brennan Manning articulately described the crime that is so smoothly committed at this time each year:

The infant Jesus was born in unimpressive circumstances, no one can say exactly where. His parents were of no social significance whatsoever, and his chosen welcoming committee were all turkeys, losers, and dirt-poor shepherds. But in the weakness and poverty the shipwrecked at the stable would come to know the love of God.

Sadly, Christian piety down the centuries has petrified the Babe of Bethlehem. Christian art has trivialized divine scandal into gingerbread creches. Christian worship has sentimentalized the smells of the stable into dignified pagent….Pious imagination and nostalgic music rob Christmas of its shock value, while some scholars reduce the crib to a tame theological symbol. But the shipwrecked at the stable tremble in adoration of the Christ child and quake at the inbreak of God almighty. Because all the Santa Clauses and red-nosed reindeer, fifty-foot trees, and thundering church bells put together create less pandemonium than the infant Jesus when, instead of remaining a statue in a crib, he comes alive and delivers us over to the fire that he came to light.

Now, I’m certainly not saying that the happiness and warmth that is, in fact, shared by many during this season is bad. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m extremely thankful for the blessings that I experience on a daily basis and that come in the forms of a warm place to live, plenty of food to eat, a job, family, and friends and the holiday season is a time when such blessings can certainly be celebrated. But, what I need to focus on this year is carrying the same loving spirit that fills Christmas past December and into each and every day of the new year.

The notion seems simple enough to write about in a blog post like I’m doing here, but, what would that actually look like on a daily basis? For me it means filtering out the fat in my daily routine and replacing it with more time and interaction with my family. It will mean giving more of myself – my time, my creativity, my help – to others. My approach as a teacher has room for improvement, too, in terms of focusing more on the students that I teach and less on the content that I teach. It means spending less time reading sports articles and more time praying.

What would it actually look like in your daily life if you took the first steps in unwrapping the real meaning of Christmas and carried it into the new year?

To anyone kind enough to have given your time to read this. Thank you. I wish you a very merry Christmas in which you are able to fully, and happily enjoy your blessings. I also wish you, as I intend for myself, a leaner more giving New Year.

If you’d like to learn more about one of the major steps I’m taking in order to have a leaner new year, please peruse the posts that I’ve written focused on the Beards, Hands, and Feet Project. Then visit and ‘Like’ the Beards, Hands, and Feet Project Facebook page. Thank you and Merry Christmas!

“Greensleeves” with “What Child Is This” by Kevin Max and Stu G

Anyone who has read my blog for any period of time might know that I have a great deal of respect for the creative endeavors of singer/poet/author Kevin Max (former member of dc Talk, current lead singer of Audio Adrenaline). You might also know that I am a Christmas music enthusiast. While Max has a standard-bearing Christmas album that’s been out there for a few years already (see my review at Holiday Soundtrack Part 2: HOLY NIGHT – Kevin Max), this clip just showed up this evening and its rich. It’s my pleasure to post it for you.

Given

A faith embedded
Hope in which value
Is seen most when all
Else is least, a love
Galvanized by doubt’s
Onslaught, a joy that
From a solution
Rises, comprised of
Equal parts regret
Fear, compassion born
By discovery
That value defined
Is grace given
To a creation
Broken
Amen.

Sounds of the 2012 Christmas Season: Reverence for the Season – Bob Dylan and Jim Cole

886975732326Any friends or family of mine know that I am a what might be called a Christmas music enthusiast. My library of Christmas music grows by leaps and bounds each year and it’s already large enough to take several days to get through without listening to the same track twice. In this post I’d like to feature a couple of albums that have risen to the top in my Christmas rotation so far this season. I think both are worthy of your consideration if you’re looking for a couple of decent albums to provide the score to your holiday season.

Bob Dylan’s CHRISTMAS IN THE HEART, in the past couple of years, has become a staple Christmas album for me. Those not familiar with him usually, at least, raise an eyebrow at the first sound of voice as it drops on top of the lush, warm background arrangement. But, it doesn’t take long to find the groove and begin enjoying the album which comes across as a nostalgic remembrance of classic Christmas music of years ago. From “Here Comes Santa Claus,” to “Silver Bells,” and “O’ Little Town of Bethlehem,” the album is, indeed, a heartwarming collection.

Jim Cole’s UNTO US A CHILD IS BORN is brand new in my collection this season and, while it is a different direction than Dylan’s Christmas album, it also treats the holiday season and the notion of a Christmas album with an intentional respect that comes through clearly in each song. While Dylan’s album focused on popular Christmas songs, both sacred and secular, Cole’s album focuses on the sacred center of Christmas with traditional favorites such as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman,” and “What Child Is This?,” in addition to other tracks such as “In Bethlehem Tonight,” that, while lesser known, are just as carefully crafted and performed. The folk music tone of the album is reflective and quiet and Cole’s masterful guitar work provides a common thread throughout the duration of UNTO US A CHILD IS BORN. It isn’t as widely circulated as Dylan’s Christmas offering, but, certainly, just as worthy of your ear during the holiday season.

Focus At Christmas

I read a daily devotional by Brennan Manning called Devotions For Ragamuffins. It is indispensable to me as a source of encouragement and a lens to focus my perspective through on a daily basis. The month of December features a number of devotions focused on Christmas and the one that I read this morning really struck a chord with me because of its emphasis on what really should be more widely recognized as a central tenet of the Christmas holiday season and Christianity as a whole throughout the year:

The wailing Infant bears witness to a God whose Word is fresh and alive, who is not the defender of the old, the already settled, the well established and familiar. The God we encounter in Jesus is free from preoccupation with his own glory, free to be for us, free to be gracious, free to love and let be.

This Christmas such a God might well expect us to be creatively responsive and thus truly Christlike. Indeed, He might call us to set free captives bound by loneliness and isolation, to share our hope with prisoners of gloom and despair, to invite the unlovely to our table, to celebrate our freedom in forgetfulness about our comfort and convenience, to cry the gospel by ministering to widows and orphans, to be the Church by bringing soup to the poor, to ignore conventional expectations, to call His Son out of Egypt once more.

How we interact with and serve those who are less educated, less popular, less cultured and who have less money says a great deal about who we are as people and where our focus is. The real meaning of Christmas is found in facing those who feel like they have the least reason to celebrate.

First posted 12/20/08

Winter Call

“Take heed to enjoy your life
while your young”
Their warnings uttered
From frail lips
Weathered by winters
Too numerous past
That golden age of life
When everything was new
And optimism thrived
When they were invincible
With a spouse and kids
The American dream in tow
Before the empty house
Before being widowed
Before the fall
But after stepping into
The longest
Coldest
Winter of all

Thirty Days Into the Beards, Hands & Feet Project: Whiskers and Miles for Orphaned Haitian Children

Day 1: Clean-cut

Day 1 of No-shave November: clean-shaven.

It was a concoction of factors and circumstances that led to my discovery of the Hands and Feet Project which is a small organization that has been growing since it was first established in 2004 by members of Christian band Audio Adrenaline. In a nutshell, The Hands and Feet Project runs two Children’s Villages in Haiti where they care for orphaned children. By doing so they are addressing one of the most distinct and clear scriptural directives intended for Christians to follow. But, now, they’d like to grow their potential to meet the needs of Haitian orphans by building two additional villages, in effect, doubling their capacity. If you care to read more about why the focus of the Hands and Feet Project, caring for Haitian orphans, is near and dear to me, please read one of my prior blog posts on the topic. One of the avenues they’ve chosen to raise money is to recruit people to run with Mark Stuart, Will McGinnis, Kevin Max, and other members of the Hands and Feet Project/Audio Adrenaline in the Rock and Roll Marathon/Half Marathon series as part of the Hands and Feet Team. In order to take part as a member of the Hands and Feet Team, though, runners have to raise at least $500 which all benefits the Hands and Feet Project’s mission of providing for Haitian orphans. Their first team race is today at the Las Vegas Marathon.

My goal is to participate in the second Hands and Feet Project team run at the Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville, TN on

Day 30 of No-shave November

Day 30 of No-shave November: scruff and snowman pajamas.

April 27, 2013 and I’m sacrificing any groomed dignity I may have had as a way to raise at least $500 to benefit the work of The Hands and Feet Project.

I made a commitment to participate in “No-shave November,” by shaving clean on 11/1 and not touching the razor again for the full month of November. However, the original idea was that if I could get people to sponsor me at a rate of $5 a day, I would let it continue growing until the sponsorships run out or until the April 27, 2013 Half Marathon – whichever comes first. To understand why this is, at all, an interesting prospect, I should note that I have never been able to grow a decent beard. In one month, I’ve developed some sub-standard jaw line, mustache, chin, and neck coverage, but, all I get on my cheeks are uneven, sparse patches of whiskers that my wife complains about almost daily. My face looks more like a beaten up velcro strip than a beard.

That being said, I’m willing to let my facial hair go and take whatever uncharted form, shape, and appearance  it will as long as I’m raising money for the Haitian orphans being served now and in the future by the Hands and Feet Project.

So, what do you think? Would you be willing to step up and fund these whiskers? In doing so, you won’t just be improving the lives of many homeless Haitian children, but, you’ll make everyone else who is near me look nicer and more well-groomed by comparison. Finally, you’ll have the added satisfaction of knowing that you’ve helped to ensure that I will be one ugly, scruffy, stumbling, and sweaty mess at the end of the Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville on April 27, 2013. It’s a win for everybody!

Currently, thanks to the generous donations of a few early sponsors, my whiskers are safe through the 20th of January, 2013. If you are interested in donating to the cause, please contact me either via E-mail at mrocks7@windstream.net, on Facebook, or in person. Eventually there will be a link where people can donate in my name toward my $500 fundraising goal on the official Hands and Feet Project web page, but, because they’re still focusing on today’s Las Vegas Marathon event, they may not be publicizing the April event until later this month or January.

For more information on my progress visit my Beards, Hands, and Feet Project Facebook Page – and be sure to ‘Like’ it!

For more information on The Hands and Feet Project visit the official Hands and Feet Project Site and view the videos below: