Christmas gifts and letters

With all the fuss I made earlier about gifts on Christmas I must say that I still like to get them. In fact Emily and I had a number of long talks about Christmas gifts, traditions, and theological implications concerning these things (and what we want to and don’t want to do with our children someday). These conversations we engage in are one of the things that make me love Emily is ways I can’t express, her ability to articulate, argue and think creatively about issues is one of the first things she hooked me with when I first met her.

One thing we discussed was the difference between the celebration of Christmas and the celebration of the incarnation, today these are two different things. Though the two are intertwined this does not mean that they are the same thing. In fact I think that the “new Christmas” is something completely different than the one we want to signify. Gift giving has nothing, or at least very little to do with the birth of Christ, shopping certainly doesn’t, and even meeting with family isn’t really a located within the Christmas story – if anything Mary and Joseph were dislocated from their families because they were on the run.

Of course these things are not bad things. Christmas has become a time where we have a “great excuse” to give our loved ones something special, something we may not do any of time in the year. I don’t see anything wrong with this, granted that it doesn’t get out of hand, simplicity is always a guiding principle here. But even still these gifts should be done in a way that is Christ like, sacrificial and reflecting upon our position as people in need – ultimately of a heavenly gift. I am left at this paradox, at least for now, that God became human and lived among us – his birth should be rejoiced and reflected upon and we love to give gifts (at least to those very close to us) to others, and by making some sacrifice we reflect God’s own nature. But typically the practices we now engage during this season look very little like the stories we read about in the Gospel account.

So, for good reason early Quakers rejected the celebration of holidays, even Christmas as such. Because they saw everyday as a holy day, a day to be rejoiced and a day to celebrate the Spirit’s active role in our lives. They, in good quakerly fashion pushed hard the other way rejecting the world’s delusions and hoping to make a Witness to Christ’s ongoing role in the world.

I am not like those earlier Quakers, insofar as they didn’t see any redeemable aspects in the practices of the world. I do. For I believe that the powers and practices can be redeemed, but sometimes there must be a radical reversal of those practices before redemption takes place.

And so here I am having spent another Christmas going through the motions, but maybe for the first time noticing what those motions were and how they have enslaved me and my own culture (and the church). We are in conversation about how to do this, not only with our family when it begins, but also next year and the year. Practices take a long time to form, or break and so we are headed on the track of transforming the way we celebrate our savior’s birth.

One thing we did this year, an idea I got from a co-worker, was to write each other a letter reflecting on our relationship over the past year. This was by far the most meaningful thing we did for each other. We, or at least I, rarely have stopped to think about the year behind me, the important events, decisions, and experiences we had. Then on top of that, reflect on them and how they interacted with our married relationship. It is very interesting how we see those events and decisions so differently, its good, to see the year from the eyes and heart of another. Its transformative really, to talk about the same things but with a different voice. Those reflections Emily gave to me, helped me to see this past year and our relationship in a way that would have been unavailable to me any other way (for we know that we write things we’d might never say) and so she helped to heal me this year with her written words and stories – the Christmas letter gave birth in me a new world.


on our way back home

Tomorrow morning at about 6:30 our good friend, Emily Page is taking us to the Burbank airport (heaven compared to LA international airport) to fly back to the good ol state of Ohio.

Heading back home is always a double-edged sword for me. As most normal people I love to go back to the place where memories stretch back further than 2 years. Where families dwell, old friends, and the streets are as familiar as a loved one’s voice. I look forward to hanging with my siblings, seeing my mom and Roger (her fiance) – as well as spending time with Emily’s family. Then I will hopefully see a couple friends, though our time is short this time around. I guess this is part of the other-side of the story. Because we are only able to go home at most two times a year, we have such a busy time spent trying to see everyone and feeling like we saw no one. It makes it hard to return home each time, because we feel those important relationships becoming thinner and thinner and we wish that they could be different.

I remember when we first moved here to LA, that we had those high hopes of keeping in touch with everyone, everyone friend and family member with no exception. Over the last two and a half years we’ve found how serious those sentiments were, but how impossible they really are.

For these reasons, and many more, we hope that we end up in or near ohio in the next few years – to begin a family, let our roots down and live out our theology with a community of Christ followers. And so, as we are “on our way back home” I think about family and friends – and how without them we are out of context. I think about all our favorite places, our those memories, along with all those troubles and quirks that make home, truly home “were everybody knows my name.”

For now I am happy to be traveling this road we’ve come down, but we keep looking back to the home we’ve left behind and looking ahead to the one we’re headed towards.

I’m out here a thousand miles from my home,
Walkin’ a road other men have gone down.
I’m seein’ your world of people and things,
Your paupers and peasants and princes and kings.
~Bob Dylan

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home for christmas

Emily and I are staying in LA for Christmas this year, mainly because we couldn’t purchase tickets for before Christmas due to Emily’s work schedule and the price of tickets going out of LA the night before the sleigh touches down. At first glance this could be a sad occasion, and of course on the one hand it is sad to not be with our families for Christmas eve and Christmas day – after all this may be the most important part of the holiday a part from the very catastrophic event that motivates this celebration.

But then again – we, or at least I, and very happy to have the day to ourselves. Growing up I have had the disadvantage of never being in once place on for the holidays. I switched Christmas eve and Christmas day every year between my mom’s house and my dad’s. Christmas for me has always been a something characterized by rushing around, and juggling. I think that this also kept me from every really experiencing certain traditions, my family was always pre-pared to have me leave and go to the other – I could never settle either.

Then when Emily and I got married, we added two more families to the mix. I love the richness of so many families and loved ones, I would never trade them for the world, but this year I look forward to silence — this after all may be our only year to ourselves. And so we are taking it slow – cherishing our time together, we have planned a wonderful Christmas dinner, and are planning on working on our letter’s to one another tomorrow as part of our day together.

All in all – the day will be a day of rest. Maybe this is what it was meant to be, maybe not, but for this time around we’ll try something different.

Of course in this — preparing for rest, that hole is felt, the hole where family would fill. I began thinking about our friends here, most of whom are from someplace else. And thought about California Natives that we know – those who we might try and spend time with if we desired too. In this moment I realized that for one year – this is sufficient but for all times this would not work so well. We are geared for family and friends.

We are fortunate to have Chase, Kate and baby Wren come over for Christmas Eve breakfast tonight with us and share in the breaking of bread. Their presence will make it feel much more warm and Christmassy…

What Goes On – Sufjan Stevens from the album “This Bird Has Flown: A 40th Anniversary Tribute to The Beatles’ Rubber Soul” by Various Artists – Razor & Tie

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christmas a couple days early

Emily bought for me Ecto today – a web-blog publishing platform fully equipped to keep me busy working on posts, and glued to the blue screen of my ibook. Currently I am trying to figure out the whole badge process – which typically I would be opposed to, I am not much for advertising, but as it goes for now I find it interesting to see what other bloggers use for tools so a few of mine are below.


christmas and Quakers

Street Corner Society offers a very thoughtful look into Quaker practices concerning the holidays. This feeds into and also challenges what I said yesterday.

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testing new ways

I’ve been toying around with new blog templates, haloscan and ecto so forgive the multiple changes updates lately I am trying to get this right.

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Cristes maese and the American Soul

So today Emily and I worked my last day of work for about 10 days. We are ready for a break, who isn’t really. It seems like our world is built around a “dog eat dog” mentality – this is nothing new, the trouble is, is when it carries over into our more sacred times of the year. Earlier in the year I posted about Halloween and how it had the possibility of being viewed sacramentally. Granted Halloween requires more creative thinking to view it sacramentally than Christmas or Easter does – or so it seems at least on the surface.

Then again, I am not so sure its all that easy to take part in Christmas sacramentally either. While I was stocking textbooks earlier today I heard an automobile driver lay on his/her horn for more than a block out of frustration and impatience, we received a nasty email from a very impatient professor yesterday concerning the store’s policies, and we had a gentleman come into the store last night and repeatedly insult, and lie to one of our clerks about being faculty so he could receive the faculty discount. Tis the season.

The Beatles have a great song,

I, Me, Mine
from their famous album – “Let it Be.” I listened to it today during lunch, I was filled with sorrow and a bit of despair when I realized this Christmas we Americans are singing.

All thru’ the day I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
All thru’ the night I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
Now they’re frightened of leaving it
Ev’ryone’s weaving it,
Coming on strong all the time,
All thru’ the day I me mine.

I-me-me mine, I-me-me mine,
I-me-me mine, I-me-me mine.

All I can hear I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
Even those tears I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
No-one’s frightened of playing it
Ev’ryone’s saying it,
Flowing more freely than wine,
All thru’ the day I me mine.

I-me-me mine, I-me-me mine,
I-me-me mine, I-me-me mine.

All I can hear I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
Even those tears I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
No-one’s frightened of playing it
Ev’ryone’s saying it,
Flowing more freely than wine,
All thru’ your life I me mine.

The culture surrounding Christmas has undermined the possible sacrament that it could be. We are so distracted by gifts, we either pride ourselves in how much money and time we put into a gift, or we pride ourselves in how little we spent and how “we really don’t care much for gifts.” I know – I am guilty, I love gifts…I love to know that people are thinking of me, have put some thought into trying to figure out who this “Wess really is” and “what he might like.” I also understand how giving gifts became so important.

First – and rightly so, it is because Christmas signifies gift giving, Christ the Messiah – the Son of God was given to us as a gift from Yahweh – to save us from our sins, our pride, our distractions away from God.

Secondly – the wise guys brought gifts to the babe in the manger to show their reverence to him who came.

Thirdly – Gifts more negatively have become so important because they cost something, namely cash. And cash is what makes America go ’round.

For the first two – we take part in some of the sacrament of Christmas when we too give gifts to those we love (who doesn’t like to give a gift to our loved ones). But it is the third part that has spoiled and so undercuts much of what happens – so much so that all good-tidings, brotherly and sisterly love, and joy are succumb to marketing, greed and a last minute gift-rush that leaves all the Christ-like virtues behind the shed in the backyard.

But what about that babe?
Who flipped worlds upside down. How does the babe flip Christmas around this year or any year for that matter?

For one thing – there are no gifts to be given or received that has not already be given to us. What this means is that the significance of Gift giving must be lowered – for we have already received our gift this year – a babe wrapped in a manger.

But to leave it here is to still put all the attention on gifts…that is gifts that are centered on ourselves.

There are other themes that must be reminded in the Christmas story.

  • A teenage virgin mother who faces the fear and scandal of having a child out of wedlock.
  • God places his trust in a Galilean woman (a very lowly position in society) to carry out his mission.
  • It is the powerless and social outcasts who assemble to celebrate the birth of a homeless child.
  • Hope comes through peace not power, prestige, riches or any other expected source of good.
  • Yahweh has his people in mind, he wishes to redeem creation.
  • Christmas also reminds us that we are, as Christians, different from the rest of the world because we believe in a baby to save the world. This foolishness, this scandal of the Christmas story is to also placed into the center of our thinking about Christ’s birth. It is God himself who continues to shatter our expectations while still offering hope and joy to the world.

Simeon says,
“This Child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed–and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Luke 2:34-35

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thoughts on class

This past quarter i had the great privilege to be Ryan Bolger’s teaching assistant for his class Transforming Contemporary Cultures. He has done a great post reflecting on things he’s learned from the standpoint of the teacher based on the students comments the last day of class. Taking his lead I thought I would do something similar.

First I wanted to post the links for their group work, which consisted of ten groups creating wikis (and some groups did podcasts for extra credit) that dealt with an issue in today’s world, a background to the issues, and how Jesus followers (and congregations) might respond to these issues.
1. Ageism and Ableism
2. Global Health Concerns
3. Global Media and Culture
4. Global Media and Family
5. Global Technology
6. International Economic Issues
7. Issues in Africa
8. Religious Fundamentalism
9. US Economic Issues
10. War, Terrorism and Militarism
For the whole quarter the students read books, and searched for resources on each of their issues, in the process they became versed in the specific vocabulary needed to communicate in each of the areas. I think it was about the 5th week when I really started to notice that their vocabulary was changing, that they were understanding and using specific terminology the pertained to their topics. In this class the students became specialists of their certain fields, able to at least in some degree offer knowledge, resources and possible ideas about how congregations can go about educating and responding to these issues.

For me it was a lot of work to keep up on all their individual blogs, group blogs and work on their wikis – but because of their work I felt like I got to see learning in action. This was something I’ve never experienced what it looks like for this learning process to take place from the “other side of the desk” so to speak. I thoroughly loved it.

There were difficult things about it besides the work. I was surprised how hard it is to communicate expectations. Ryan didn’t want to box the students in too much, not wanting to be too strict and wanting to allow for some creativity, we decided to not draw hard and fast lines about every expectation. But this seemed to be a greater challenge to the students than we have anticipated. This caused me to reflect on how pedagogy is approached altogether. There is something about the way we are schooled that unless things are really write out word for word, we have a hard time deducing certain things, I saw various struggles this past quarter. This is something that was good for me to see because I am a very independent learner, coming from a home-schooling-type atmosphere in high school I know what its like to motive myself to learn. I do my best when there is little control exercised over me – but I think that this is not the normal situation and that many people have not had opportunities to have creative space to think and become better thinkers. Ryan really challenged us all in this area.

It confirmed for me the desire to teach but also showed me the difficulties ahead. After watching Ryan teach I realized that it is also a very very hard profession, I know how much time he spent preparing, and trying to re-think how to approach things. It is one of those jobs were there will always be challenges, no easy ways out.

Working with Ryan was a real good time also. It was great because I really feel like I can learn a lot from him without being afraid of him, he definitely made me feel like a peer – as if my ideas were useful (when all along they were his!). Finding people who believe in you and trust you is always something that has the possibility to transform your own perspectives of yourself and the world – this class in keeping with its title did that for me.

I look forward to next quarter when I help with the “Emerging Churches” course.
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one more moment of tech stuff

Okay – I confess that I’ve been a little distracted by all the tech stuff as of late and sorry for the less thoughtful thoughts instead, about “haloscan” and other strange things. But I’ve been looking around alot for new social software, and other freeware types of things that can be used in Ryan’s classes. He has found a lot of stuff, and taking his lead I continue to digg for things that may be of “instructional” use. Of course I am also just trying to find things that are useful in locating information of my own.

Here are some sites I have found useful as of late.
1. Rojo – Recent Stories from all Feeds
2. suprglu (a place for all your tags)
3. Writely – The Web Word Processor or ThinkFree (though writely is more stable)
4. openomy (storage online)
5. Wink (news source) or digg
6. All Consuming (blogging stuff)
7. Welcome to Flickr!
8. to dos or Kiko Calendar – Weblog Commenting and Trackback
10. Technorati: Home

Of course you’re always welcome to watch my page.
to see what I am running into as I search for these things.

Next up some real thoughts about real issues – stay tuned.

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a ton of really cool stuff

The Best Web 2.0 Software of 2005 (
this website has links to some really cool software I didn’t know anything about.
the writely is the best thing on the list I’ve checked out so far.

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