A snake in the manger

Screen shot from “Love Actually”

By Steve Beard

There is a grand Christmas tradition at our house on the evening of December 25: separating the crumpled wrapping paper from the bows that can be reused next year. For many families, Christmas Day signals the winding down of the holiday. Soon the decorations will be packed away and the Christmas tree will be at the curb.

For many Christians around the world, however, the Christmas season only begins on December 25 and is observed over the next 12 days until Epiphany (January 6) – marking the visit of the Magi to the Christ child and the revelation of God becoming flesh.

Remember the song “The 12 Days of Christmas,” with its Turtle Doves, French Hens, Swans-a-Swimming, and Pipers Piping? There are all kinds of theories about the song’s origin, including it being used as a catechism tool to teach theology. Among the Geese-a-Laying and the Maids-a-Milking, there was supposed to be a symbolic spiritual message generations ago.

In our modern era, the quirky British comedy Love Actually inevitably shows up on television at Christmas time. One of the more memorable scenes is when Daisy (Lulu Popplewell) proudly tells her mother Karen (Emma Thompson) about her role in the Christmas play at school.

Daisy: I’m the lobster.
Karen: The lobster?
Daisy: Yeah.
Karen: In the nativity play?
Daisy: Yeah, “first” lobster.
Karen: There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?
Daisy: Duh!

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Generous Love: The Salvation Army

Courtesy of Salvation Army.

By Steve Beard –

For more than 150 years, The Salvation Army has been the most consistent, creative, and trustworthy symbol for a warm hearted faith and a generous helping hand for those in need. With a legacy of rushing into where the need is greatest, it has earned a coveted reputation for integrity and compassion without prejudice or discrimination as both a Christian church and an excellent charity.

Although it is most well-known for its Red Kettle campaign at Christmas, the Wesleyan-oriented ministry works year-round to alleviate human suffering and offer hope.

Having served survivors of every major national disaster since 1900, its industriousness is a powerful testimony for its purpose and passion. The Salvation Army annually helps more than 20 million Americans fight poverty, addiction, and economic difficulties through a variety of outreaches. Through emergency relief in disaster situations, rehab work with those battling drug and alcohol abuse, providing food for the hungry, and clothing and shelter for people in need, The Salvation Army operates from 7,600 centers around the United States. It is simply indispensable. Continue reading

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Gratitude and the Rock of Ages

Gratitude is priceless. Norman Rockwell’s 1951 painting Saying Grace, however, sold for $46 million in 2013.

I can still faintly visualize it. Many years ago, I was watching the first game of the NBA Championship series when it was announced that the rock band U2 would be performing for the half-time show. U2’s concert was in Boston while the basketball game was being played in Los Angeles. When the cameras suddenly switched from one venue to the other, television viewers saw Bono praying on his knees.

“What can I give back to God for the blessings he poured out on me,” he asked. “I lift high the cup of salvation as a toast to our Father. To follow through on the promise I made to you.” The lead singer of one of the most popular rock band on the planet was loosely reciting a prayer from Psalm 116 (The Message) on nation-wide television in the United States.

Most viewers probably would not have known what he was reciting. However, it was kind of a startling opening shot of a rock star on bended knee quoting from an ancient psalm about gratitude. Those with eyes to see, saw it. Everyone else enjoyed the show. Continue reading

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I Spent Years Searching for Magic – I Found God Instead

Photograph by Joshua Davis/Unsplash

A few beautiful selections from Tara Isabella Burton’s fabulous piece in Catapult:

“The faith I found proclaimed a sanctified world, and a redeemed one—an enchanted world, if you want to call it that—but one where meanings were concrete. It offered me not just a sense of emotional intensity, but a direction in which to channel it. It contained magic not  for the sake  of magic, but rather miracle  for the sake  of goodness. God died and came back from the dead not because magic was real, but because love was stronger than an unmagical world.”
***
“One of the many odd things about Christianity is that it trades not in grand narratives but in their subversion. Christ the king comes into Jerusalem on an ass.  An ass!  This unprepossessing carpenter from Nazareth (can anything good come out of Nazareth, people ask) who confuses the hell out of everyone around him is actually the promised Messiah. He has a Passion and a death and then a few days later he’s alive, because death doesn’t matter, because death has been defeated, because the way you think the story is going to end isn’t the story at all. Also, you never get to be comfortably, certain of Not-Nothing, ever again. You never get to be certain of anything.  Blessed are those who have not seen and believe. 

“The claims magic made on me—grandiose, vague, extravagant—were incompatible with the person I was becoming, who I wanted to be. The person who learns to love not just The Story, but also the human being telling it, and the parts of the story the human being is not ready to tell, just yet.”

Read the entire article HERE

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Happy Birthday, Wanda Jackson!

Wanda Jackson, Queen of Rockabilly

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God, Drugs, and Rock n Roll: Greg Laurie interviews Alice Cooper

Some Alice Cooper fans might be surprised by this interview with Pastor Greg Laurie from Riverside, California. After all, Alice Cooper is considered to be the original full-scale “Shock Rocker” and has sold more than 50 million albums worldwide. Despite a tongue-in-cheek horror rock show and a over-the-top stage persona, Alice Cooper is a family man, top-notch golfer, and a committed Christian.

The interview is conducted at The Rock (a Teen Center created and started by Alice that I visited a few years ago), Laurie asks about Cooper’s faith and his desire to help at-risk young men in his community.

To watch the interview, click HERE 

 

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Back Row America

Chris Arnade

Chris Arnade earned a PhD in theoretical physics and spent 20 years on Wall Street making piles of money as a bond trader. In a season of disillusionment with his lucrative career, he began walking around New York City to relieve stress and take photographs of graffiti artists, Schwinn bike clubs, and pigeon keepers. That hobby led him to eventually become an irreplaceable photojournalist and chronicler of the down-and-outers and drug addicted in our ferociously polarized society. 

For three years, he went in search of those who “lived under bridges, in abandoned buildings, in sheds, in pits, in broken-down trucks, on rooftops, or, if they scored enough money, in per-hour motels,” he writes in Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America (Sentinel 2019). Traveling more than 150,000 miles to has-been communities struggling to survive, he photographed and interviewed the poor and strung out in places such as Buffalo, New Haven, Cleveland, Selma, El Paso, and Bakersfield. “In each of these places, people have a sense of being left behind and forgotten – or, worse, mocked and stigmatized by the rest of the world as it moves on and up….” Continue reading

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Has Kanye Lost His Jesus Complex and Found Christ?

If you find it challenging to sort out the spiritual impulses of Kanye West, a recent story by Kate Shellnutt for Christianity Today may be of interest.

Perhaps you have heard about West taking his “Sunday Service,” a religious weekly hangout for celebrity friends and family, to the Coachella music festival on Easter Sunday. Or you may have read the recent Forbes cover profile about West’s creative process and his upstart Yeezy shoe dynasty.

“I’ll be working on home designs and looking at references from three thousand years ago and reading the Old Testament at the same time,” West said in a video interview with Forbes. “It’s like a soundtrack to the visuals and the shapes and ideas and ideals of what we are creating. A lot of my creative friends, I tell them the Bible is better than Pinterest. You can bring something into space and time we exist in, while reflecting thousands of years of truth.” Continue reading

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‘More Fun in the New World’ follows L.A. punks into the ’80s

I devoured Under the Big Black Sun (2016) because X was one of my all-time fave bands as I grew up in Southern California. Compiled by John Doe of X and Tom DeSavia, a writer and record industry veteran, the book goes a long way in helping tell the story of the origins of Los Angeles punk and roots rock.

The new volume from Doe and DeSavia, More Fun in the New World, is just as compelling to midlife retreads like myself who still summon up happy memories of punk rock and rockabilly shows in the 1980s.

“This was never going to be a simple story; and Doe and DeSavia aren’t looking to simplify it,” writes Jay Gabler in The Current. “As the ’70s bled into the ’80s, life for the stars of Penelope Spheeris’s era-defining 1981 documentary The Decline of Western Civilization — bands like X, Black Flag, and Circle Jerks — was a mix of agony and ecstasy. … DeSavia says telling the story that way would be depressing, even if it might be accurate. So instead, Doe and DeSavia corralled the usual suspects — some contributors to the past book, some new ones — to write about what happened to all of them when the MTV era dawned.”

I saw X a few months ago while on their tour with the Violent Femmes.  Their show was fabulous. Their longevity is notable — and appreciated.

“X has weathered many battles, successes, and failures and, to this day, remain a working, touring band — one who celebrated a fortieth anniversary in 2017 by playing over one hundred dates in the U.S.,” writes Doe in More Fun in the New World. “In those forty-some years Exene and I married, divorced, and stayed friends; Billy Zoom beat cancer twice, quit the band, and rejoined ten years later; and somehow DJ Bonebrake continues to be known as ‘the nicest man in rock ‘n’ roll.’ We can’t play casinos or state fairs because we never had a bona fide ‘hit.’ If you ask Joan Jett or Blondie, they may say that can be a double-edged sword. I’ll admit that sometimes we wish we had the bank account or luxury to reach the masses like they have. But at every X show I see some twenty-something or younger in the front row, losing their s–t and getting schooled in original American punk rock. In that way it’s the best job anyone can have.”

To check out Jay Gabler’s review of More Fun in the New World in The Current, click HERE.

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Ken Burn’s Country Epic

“They connected every dot,” said musician Rosanne Cash, “from Appalachia to Bob Wills to Bakersfield to my dad. It was artfully done, and so moving.”

Cash was referring to Ken Burns’ new 16-hour, 8-part documentary on country music that will be begin airing on PBS on September 15. According to Rolling Stone, it will distill 101 interviews, more than 700 hours of archival clips, and 100,000 still photos.

“It’s really important people know country music is a hybrid, a creolization that comes out of African and European cultures mixing,” Rhiannon Giddens told Rolling Stone. Giddens is an award-winning vocalist and musician, as well as an early-American-music scholar. “Also, most importantly, it comes from working-class people mixing,” she continued. “That’s the thing that’s often forgotten, that where people made these interactions musically was in the fields, on the riverboats, or wherever – and that this music is our music, all of us together. It’s very dangerous to subscribe to it as ‘white music,’ or as this monolithic thing, because it’s not. And that’s the beauty of America, I think – all the positive stuff comes out of that aspect of the mix.”

“This is the history of an art form whose roots are dark and complex and part of our collective unconscious,” says Cash, “rooted in our migration and history and who we became as Americans. It’s all there in this story. All these songs came from Scotland and England and Ireland into Appalachia, and the slave songs and work songs that came from Africa, the melding of that: That’s our history. And it’s important to know your history.”

 

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