Christmas Eve

  

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The Beater With A Heater pt. 2

If you’ve been following along with my little writing challenge for the month of December, you’ll notice that I missed my writing goal yesterday. But I’ve got a really good excuse that has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it was my son’s third birthday and I was at work.

I had every intention of posting at some point in the evening because, due to no reason in particular, Chipotle has been really slow this week. At about… 7pm, my manager asked me if I felt like going home early. Normally, I would try to stay and close because it’s money in the bank that we desperately need but for whatever reason, I’ve felt like I need to rest more than normal this week. It’s 2pm as I write this and I’m struggling to keep my eyes open despite the fact that I’ve had 40 ounces of coffee today. I finished work early at my day-job as well but that’s not what this is about.

I left work at 8:15. About five minutes down the road, I was on the phone with my wife explaining that I was currently in the Jeep on the shoulder of the road and that I was stuck. Completely stuck. The engine wouldn’t turn over and it wasn’t the battery and it wasn’t a lack of fuel.

About ten minutes later, my brother-in-law and my sister were there looking at what was going wrong with the Jeep. We opened the hood/bonnet and there was power steering fluid all over the place. He checked to see if it was the fuel pump. Nope. And then we looked at the ground. It was covered with fluid of some sort. Kyle, my brother-in-law, tried the engine again and it looked like rain underneath the Jeep. And it was definitely gasoline.

By the looks of things, a previous owner had “fixed” the fuel line and now I was reaping those benefits. At this point, Tracy and the kids arrive because I was absolutely determined to see my son for more than five minutes on his birthday. So I switched places with Tracy and had a bit of time with the kids while she helped Kyle figure out what needed to be fixed so that I could at least drive it home.

In the end, some zipties seem to have fixed the problem but as long as the heater was on, it smelled of gasoline so it was a shivery ride home.

My entire thought process during this situation was that I was just so grateful that it happened at 8:30 rather than 11 at night, which is when it would have happened if I had worked a normal night. And that is why I didn’t actually manage to get a post written yesterday. I really did try but the trajectory of the day and then the night simply didn’t allow for it to happen at all. But at least I got this one done.

The Big Push

The Wednesday before I lead worship is one of the most stressful days of the week for me. It’s the first of my stretch of three double shifts. It’s also my last day to possibly get any of my liturgy stuff done before I have to send it out on Thursday morning. And every time, it feels like I’ve let it all go to the last minute but I’ve been working on this liturgy for over a month now trying to figure out what will work and what won’t work.

When you lead two different worship teams, there comes the challenge of figuring out which songs play to each team’s strengths and weaknesses. There’s also the task of making sure that everyone involved has been contacted and given the right info.

This week has proven to be a very difficult week to plan and I’m still at a loss as to why that is. It’s currently 11:30pm as I type this and I’ve only just found the final reading that I need for this Sunday.

Add to that the fact that by the time this is actually posted, it will be my son’s third birthday and I’ll be at work all day. But I don’t want to whine.

I will say that if you go to Redeemer, you should look at my post about expiation songs in preparation for this Sunday. We’ll be singing the additional verse that I wrote for God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. And we’ll be reading from Psalm 95, 1 Timothy 1 and Hebrews 1.

My goal while leading during this Advent season was to try and find some way to pull in verses and imagery that isn’t generally associated with the season. I’m not sure if I’ve been successful with that but I can say that the Hymnary has been an absolute necessity in that work. Somehow, they’ve assembled basically every scripture reference for nearly every hymn. This has helped me understand more of the theology of what we are singing as well as seeing more of the Bible used in ways that you wouldn’t expect, musically.

I have to apologize for this somewhat rambling and disjointed post but my brain is currently fried and just waiting for me to hit my word count so that it can shut off and go to sleep for a few hours. I’m oddly grateful for the fact that it was absolutely dead tonight at work so I was able to get out on time and make it home to finish the liturgy for Sunday and also to get this post done before midnight. I wasn’t sure if that was going to be possible but here I am with only 30 more words to go.

While work, money and lack of sleep give me a remarkable amount of stress, I cannot overstate how grateful I am that I am in a position to be able to provide for my family and keep us in a home that is literally a 10-minute stroll to our church.

Dad jokes, cultural ignorance, flipping houses and urban dictionary

I’m not old but mostly, I am so old. This is made remarkably apparent to me every time I work a shift at Chipotle. These 16- and 17-year-olds weren’t even conceived when I was absorbing the culture that has stuck with me to this day. This feeling of agedness is cushioned by the fact that my managers there are either my age or a little older. It makes it possible to make jokes and references to things that my other coworkers simply do not and cannot understand.

It gives me sympathy for dads everywhere, particularly those that are my parents’ age. Because at the moment, that is kind of the average age of parents. My dad is getting toward the tale end of what most would consider a mid-life crisis but, in practice, is a lot more like a real-time version of Flip That House but with motorcycles. It’s interesting to see played out because going over to their house means never knowing what bike is going to be sitting in the garage after the last one was sold.

If you read through this post by my dear friend and arch nemesis, Tommy, you’ll witness his admission of an error of speech that happens when you’re isolated from a big chunk of culture by even the slightest amount. I had no idea either and now my coworkers possibly have more opinions about me. I’ve become the guy that has to look up what these crazy kids are saying on Urban Dictionary. And they’re saying some absolutely filthy things. But anyway, that’s not the point I was trying to make.

When you become the kind of dad who cares whether your kids actually live or not, some things get pushed to the side. This happens when you get older and lazier as well but it’s accelerated when you become a dad because suddenly your entire world is work and your wife and kids. You lose the time that would normally be dedicated to things like reading books listening to music or figuring it what kind of a person you’re becoming because you’re too busy trying to work enough hours to put food on the table and clothes on your kids.

You work harder because every one of your successes is a success for the family. It means you and your wife can breathe a little easier. Your kids don’t have to ask you why you have to go to work again because you’ve finally reached a point where you can relax a little bit.

I’m still working on getting us to that point. That’s partly my motivation for keeping this writing goal every day for a month. If I can manage to write 15000 words in the month of December when I have to lead worship four times, have time visiting with family and friends, etc, then I might actually have what it takes to show up every day to turn words into money.

Podcasts that made the cut

My semi-sabbatical from stuff isn’t just limited to being on Facebook or Twitter. I noticed that another big unintentional cause for the… anxiety is a strong word but I don’t know a better one, is that I was feeding too much into my brain. Even though I am a musician, songwriter and worship leader, I don’t really listen to music.

This isn’t for any reason other than practicality. Music is generally stereo in nature and I only get to have one earbud in while I am working. So I fill my head with words in the form of podcasts.

When I began my break from stuff, I knew I was going to have to cut down on what I listen to. Overcast, the app that I use, was bulging at the seams with the number of unlistened-to podcasts I had. All of this ended up creating a low level stress that added to the additional stress of reading the things people share on Facebook.

It may seem strange that something as insignificant as this would cause me to freak on a semi-daily basis but I was subscribed to literally dozens of podcasts.

The podcasts that ended up making the cut had to follow a few criteria. In no particular order, here they are:

funny

If I’m going to be stuck at work, then I’m going to need something to lighten the mood. I’m not particularly fond of my day job but it’s a job that provides for my family. Having something humorous to listen to definitely lowers the amount of general anxiety that work gives me.

interesting

This is probably a given, but it’s worth saying. There are a lot of podcasts out there and not all of them are really that interesting. For me, interesting revolves around story-telling, science, tech and philosophy stuff.

longish

While it’s great to have something short to listen to like 5 Minutes in Church History, which I do subscribe to, it’s even better when the program is one to two hours long. It keeps me from counting the day out in the number of shows I’ve listened to and, depending on the show, gives me a good long stretch of not having to think about what to listen to next. Most people seem to like 30–40 minute podcasts but my sweet spot has lately been about 90 minutes.

With all of that said, here is the list of shows that I am actually subscribed to. This is not necessarily a recommendation of them, it’s just what I enjoy. Some of them feature some… remarkably colorful language but they still fit within the parameters and I still end up learning things. I’ll update with links at a later date, for now, I’m just trying/failing to meet my word deadline after finishing up the knitting project I had for the staff Christmas party.

  • Hello Internet
  • Roderick On The Line
  • Top 4
  • The Reformed Pubcast
  • 5 Minutes In Church History
  • Analogue
  • Bonanza!
  • Cortex
  • Road Work
  • And the no-longer active but always hopeful for more episodes, You Look Nice Today

Knitting, writing, and Blackberry thumbs 

The best thing about Secret Santa and being a fiber artist, (oh my word, did I really just say that?) is that you have a stash of yarn. One of my jobs is holding a Christmas party in a week and rather than sticking to the $20 limit, which seems a bit steep for a work thing but anyway, I’m knitting a hat. If I was charging money for it, it would cost more than $20 so it’s really a bargain but I’ve got the yarn and I’ve actually got the time tonight to possibly actually finish it.

This is due, almost entirely to the fact that I have forced myself to learn continental knitting. Here’s how I make this apply to the world beyond yarn and needles:

When I began knitting nearly 6 years ago, I was a thrower or an English knitter. This is the most common way for someone who is beginning to learn. It’s easier to keep control of the yarn tension so that all of the stitches are even. But it’s not very fast and it’s woefully inefficient, requiring you to let go of the right needle every time you do a stitch. This is partially why it’s taken me so long to get my projects done, besides simple lack of time.

This year, though, I made it through a project that took me 7 months to complete. Had I started it by forcing myself to knit in the much faster and much more efficient continental, or German, style I would have been done by summer’s end. Instead, what began in April was not finished until basically the end of October. Each row felt like a death march because it would take me anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to complete a single row.

“No more!” I said, and decided that from then on, I was going to force myself to change how I knit in order to get my projects done faster and with less strain on my tired hands.

I started slowly and with really messed up tension, but now, I can barely stand to knit the other way, which is sometimes necessary.

When you find that you are working on a lot of the same projects and they take longer than you would like to get done, it really helps to step back and assess what it is that you can do to make finishing and shipping easier. Or if not easier, at least not something that you dread trying to do.

If you’re trying to crank out a 500 word blog post everyday for a month, don’t draft them with pen and paper before writing. And don’t box yourself into a setup that requires you be in a certain place at a certain time. That’s just going to create friction that will prevent you from getting it done. I write in Markdown using Byword on my iPhone. It isn’t particularly comfortable to write 500+ words using my thumbs but being able to write and format my text in real time means that I just have to copy and paste the final product into WordPress and I’m ready to publish.

But what about the expiation songs?

If you follow any sort of liturgy for a worship gathering then Advent can either be a relief for planning or difficult. At Redeemer, we use a liturgy that is based off of Isaiah 6 and includes the following elements:

  • Revelation (v. 1–2)
  • Adoration (v. 3–4)
  • Confession (v. 5)
  • Expiation (v. 6–7)
  • Proclamation (v. 8a)
  • Dedication (v. 8b)
  • Commission (v. 9–13)

And for the most part, we are able to choose songs that fit within this structure that match the sermon.

Until Advent…

At Christmastime we tend, rightly and wrongly, to focus on the Incarnation and the birth of Jesus. It’s the start, kinda, of the plan of redemption being put into action. It’s good to remember and find yourself filled with awe at the Word made Flesh but that can’t become the entire focus. Because the purpose of the Incarnation was for Jesus to live a perfect life and die a death He did not deserve before being resurrected.

Which brings me to the problem: There aren’t a lot of Christmas hymns about expiation. As far as Redeemer’s worship leaders and elders are able to discern, there’s pretty much What Child Is This and that’s it. We have songs of expectantly awaiting the Savior, songs of adoration, songs of dedication and commission, but not really anything about expiation. So I made one of them work.

I’ve done this before, having added a couple of lines to the end of The Gospel Song so that rather than ending with Christ’s death, it ends with the hope of His second coming. My pastor wrote a post about that, if you’re interested.

This time around, I took God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and made it into a 5-verse song. We’ve traditionally sung four verses and this one goes right between the last two verses:

His blood would flow down the spear and stain the cross the same

While blameless, willingly he’ll take upon himself our blame

To make propitiation, saving all he calls by name

We sing songs of expiation to remember what Jesus did in our place and for us. By His life, death and resurrection, He didn’t simply wipe the slate clean and make us pure, the way I was taught to believe. When He died on the cross, He took our sins upon Himself, sins that He did not commit. This can’t be boiled down to wiping a chalkboard with a damp rag. While taking upon Himself those sins, He also put His righteousness upon us so that when the Father looks at us, He sees only the work of Christ. By dying the death that He died, He made propitiation meaning He satisfied the Father’s just and holy wrath upon sin.

It’s a lot to try and fit into a song that also acknowledges and celebrates the Jesus came to us at all. But my hope is that I’ve successfully made something that will be helpful and useful for our church and others to include as they sing of the Savior this Advent season.

This is what churches are for

There’s a video in which, during a panel discussion, Stephen Fry[1] goes on about the ills that the church has committed with regard to moralism and slavery and it ends with him asking the question:

Then what are you for?

His tone is harsh and biting. To his mind[2], the Church has outlived its usefulness. When you see things like Westboro or the child abuse scandals in the Catholic church[3], you have to ask yourself the same question. Unless you’re actively involved and engaged in the life of the local church.

There, it’s easy, blindingly so, to see what the Church is for.

Being Broken

The Church is for broken people. I said yesterday that we all, those saved, were once broken mirrors. As we spend time with Jesus as our God and with the church as our family, those cracks begin to heal[4] but we all start out broken.

Celebration

The Church is our family. We are brothers and sisters under God our Father because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the sanctifying, uniting work of the Holy Spirit. With family, you celebrate. Whether it is the birth of a child or the beginning of a new earthly family during a wedding, we share meals and stories and drink. We remember the good times that the Lord has blessed us with and enjoy the simple act of being in one another’s company.

Mourning

Since I got back from the UK in 2011, I have played music for five funerals. I served as a musician today. It is not secret that the world we live in is broken and that until Jesus returns, we will witness and mourn death. This death is a result of sin and while we know we already have eternal life in Christ, we must still wait for the promise of life eternally with Him. This is part of the Kingdom of God being already and not yet here. Just as families celebrate, they also mourn together. When we share our burdens, our pain, our struggles, we are able to carry them easier. There is great comfort in knowing that those that you call family are praying for you and helping you through hard times. It’s one of God’s greatest blessings to us, a blessing that has been in effect since God created man incomplete without a companion.

To say “we were made for each other” is often exclusive to romantic relationships. But it applies to family and friends and the Church as well. God, in His providence, made us to need each other for love and fellowship and celebration and mourning.


  1. Regardless of the fact that he is a very staunchly atheist, anti-Christian, he is a national treasure in the UK and a brilliant writer and actor.  ↩
  2. And that of Dawkins, Hitchens, Adams, Cox, Minchin, Savage…  ↩
  3. I’m including them in this post because even though I am staunchly Protestant, they are part of Christendom writ-large.  ↩
  4. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. – Romans 6:22  ↩