These are the chronicles of the esoteric . . .


a foundation, pt 4

Now, what I have written is going to seem like bold words - and that's only because they are. Some may think I am being too harsh and perhaps too cynical - and this may very well be true - but I am doing this in order to accomplish a goal. By picking at the problems, and by raising the issues, we are opened to providing solutions, and perhaps we are even made available to generate change. It is my ultimate goal to make the theological gears move - to make each mind think and re-think what they have perceived and believed. And why Christmas? Because Christmas is the quintessential example of Christianity's impurity; Christmas is a starting point for a realisation of what Christianity ought to be, for here in Christmas - if we allow ourselves to look hard enough - we can see that the event, the Being and the purpose around which we are to pivot has been shifted. The beating heart of Christmas has slowed as the Baby Jesus' manger-throne is gradually and perhaps deviously usurped.

Christmas for the Christian is critical - the Advent season is the indispensable counterpart to Lent, in the same way as Christ's crucifixion completes His birth. And so what I am proposing is that, in this celebration that is so unmistakably different than other holidays - having its very own full month of exposure to its own traditional songs, decorations, and themes for everything from advertisements to food to clothing - we must recognise that December is made up of two distinct festivals, and we must also recognise that these two holidays, while not entirely disqualifying each other, do not wholly or necessarily mesh together. Christmas should be acknowledged and identified for what it is and not confused with something other - lest we, as Christians, are mistaken for our non-Christian counterparts and become of the world as opposed to being only in the world.

Certainly, at the very least, we must be aware, in order to keep the purity of Christmas alive, that December has become the home of two separate celebrations:
  1. The Holidays, with its trees, wreaths, gifts, and colours; and

  2. Cristes Maesse,1 the celebration of the birth of Jesus, who is the Christ - the entering into creation of the God-Man, the Word being made flesh.

1. Cristes Maesse is the Old English term which is literally translated as 'the Mass of Christ,' or 'Christ's Mass.' It is the phrase from where we get the name Christmas, placing Jesus as the focus in the same way Christianity is a derivative of Christ.

[posted by ericjordan at 1338 hrs]  

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a foundation, pt 3

Some of you may, in continuing with me on this journey, get the impression that I am rebelling - that I am completely disapproving and disheartened by my childhood Christmases. But this is nowhere near the truth. In fact, I have the fondest memories of Christmas as a boy - a fondness that resurfaces every single year of my adult life, very much including this year. I still to this day look forward to winter, to December for what it brings - all that it entails. Nay, I have in no way intended to impress upon you, the reader, that my parents raised me and my two siblings with poor or lacking theology; it is my belief that it is because of their good theology that I have come to hold the perspectives stated in these blogs (and all other blogs). It is in fact because they never neglected to keep Jesus as the central - the vital - event of Christmas that I am able to think the way I do. Indeed, I believe I have only reached these particular conclusions because my parents taught us well. That being said, growing into an adult, that innocent child posing with his family next to the decorated tree has also grown into a sort of discomfort with the general appearance of Christmas - especially in our highly tolerant (and therefore highly absorbing and distorting), highly consumerist Western society - and the growing secularism in the mind-set of not only our culture, but also the growing secularism in the mind-set of Christianity.

Unquestionably, the Christian tradition has been, in many ways, bent out of its pure shape over the course if its 2 000 years of life - a fact which is terribly unfortunate. Indeed, in my observations of the panic of gifts and the panic of food that come along with December, I have found that we have become more readily susceptible to forget why it is exactly we are celebrating. The customs we uphold of this particular season, I fear, have the danger of devaluing and cheapening the heart of Christmas to a side note, or a sort of bonus - especially in this postmodern world. Yet, while the Christmas rituals we participate in often overshadow all else and become the center of attention, they are merely a small part of the celebrations and are not the reason for it.

What I am proposing is what I hope to be rather obvious - what I hope to be the furthering actualisation of a good Christmas theology, the next steps of what we all, as Christians, have been brought up to believe. What I am proposing is not a condemnation of trees and bows and carefully wrapped gifts, nor a reprimanding of the gathering of families and friends around the feast of various dishes prepared by loving hands. By no means do I have in mind to insult or offend, but while family and friends, and the drawing near in the spirit of peace and joy are important, I am proposing that these things do not in any sense of the word - in any stretch of the imagination - give Christmas its meaning. What I am proposing is that Christmas is in fact Christmas without all these frills, trappings and additives - and it is now perhaps become necessary for us to unwrap this holy day in order to re-discover the true event. The true meaning and substance of Christmas, I fear, is slowly being packaged up and in this way lessened and diluted - pushed aside from its very own designated holiday in place of something more consumer friendly, more tolerant, and therefore more universal. As a result, Christians have lost their hold on Christmas and it is due time to rescue the day we celebrate Jesus' birth before it becomes completely disfigured.

[posted by ericjordan at 1247 hrs]  

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a foundation, pt 2

While not the incident that altered my view toward the holidays, Christmas of 2008 certainly did play a part in my already shifted perspective. That particular winter, December was nearly unrecognisable; the first weekend of that twelfth month did not witness the setting up and decoration of my parents' tree. Unlike the yards outdoors covered in thick, white snow, my parents' living room was bare of holiday ornaments. December 20 found my family and I leaving on a plane to spend Christmas and New Years with my mother's family in Nicaragua - a trip especially difficult for me as I would leave my fiancée of seven months behind for those eleven days.

December in Central America is a stark contrast to December in Manitoba. While there, we experienced temperatures ranging from 32-38° C (89-100° F).1 Conversely, a December in Winnipeg sees temperatures averaging at about -32° C (-25.6° F). Needless to say, there is no snow to be seen in Nicaragua - but I did spot at least one Latino Santa Claus, which was a rather humorous scene to behold. Celebrations there consisted of a midnight meal, interrupted by an exciting display of fireworks set off all around the neighbourhood so it sounded like a war zone - but looked like a colourful, repeatedly blooming garden. There were no devotionals read, but there was a church service - which we did not end up going to, although my grandma naturally did. But there was gift-giving. And of course, there was a decorated tree. It was tucked away into a corner of my grandma's sitting room, but it was there in its colourful holiday splendour.

While our celebration of Christ's birth followed a similar framework to what we had grown up knowing - albeit with modifications and a distinctly genuine Latino flavour - returning home to Canada found me feeling like we had missed Christmas altogether. Perhaps it was the fact that I lacked my soon-to-be wife. Perhaps it was that our celebrations lacked familiarity. Perhaps it was that I did not receive any Biblical input that Christmas night.

My current opinion is that my Christmas-discontent resulted from a combination of these three. The fact that my fiancée was not with me led me to experience natsukashii and in some ways caused me to neglect a bit of what was going on.2 The fact that we were in a foreign culture, celebrating God's entering into space and time in an alien way led me to gloss over the event as I attempted to drink it all in. And the fact that we did not Biblically recognise the significance of our celebrations - at least not outwardly, in a spoken, formal manner - led me to feel like we were simply having a 'family fun night.'

It became my realisation that Christmas for me meant more than Christ's birth. Christmas had come to encompass, in an essential way, the gathering of family, the meals, the games, the decorations, the gift-giving, the days off - all the rituals, tastes, smells and sights that everyone experiences in one way or another - and these customs were beginning to share, if not usurp, the beats to the heart of this Christian season. They were in fact becoming the most recognisable and the most easily distinguishing characteristics of Christmas.

Undoubtedly, Christmas itself, for the majority of people, has also come to be jumbled with a variety of ideas and an assortment of celebrations. Christian tradition piously feeds us all sorts of different notions as a result of its assimilation of pagan rituals - pagan rituals which, while aiding in the promulgation of generations of Christians, in turn has resulted in an impurification of Christian thought, practise and tradition. It is a surprisingly unknown fact that Christianity is layered with unbiblical influences - its theology affected by outside philosophies, its doctrines skewed by surrounding cultures - all setting Christ's attempts at reviving and re-inventing Judaism, the faith of God's people - to an off-center tilt.3 Indeed, the faith of the Christ-followers' is wobbling at best.

1. Granted, we did experience colder, but it was only when we did sightseeing 1 344 m (4 409 ft) atop the volcano Mombacho - where it fell to a breezy 18° C (64° F).
2. Natsukashii is the Japanese term for 'homesickness' and 'longing.' It is an existential descriptor for the pining we feel toward something or someplace - that is, it implies more than merely an emotional dissatisfaction and instead denotes a yearning within the being itself. It is not nostalgia in the sense that English generally understands it - as a sentimental and wistful feeling - but is an experience of emptiness, of being without. See Elaine MacInnes' Zen Contemplation for Christians: A Bridge of Living Water (Sheed and Ward, 2003) for her brief discussion in the first chapter.
3. It is also surprisingly overlooked that Jesus did not intend to create a new religion, but instead, God, through His Son, was attempting to revitalise and renew - to revolutionise - the Israelite system of faith.

[posted by ericjordan at 2103 hrs]  

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a foundation, pt 1

Growing up, the descent of glistening white winter brought along with each snowflake certain expectations and actions - expectations and actions which characterised the season so much that without these winter simply was not complete. In fact, December would be nearly unrecognisable without one particular occurrence - as unrecognisable as winter would be without snow for those living in Winnipeg. Indeed, it was the first weekend of every December in our home that the 'Christmas tree' was set up and decorated. And there it would stay in all its colourful holiday splendour for the rest of the month, being promptly disassembled with the introduction of the new year.

In my child's mind, winter was essentially interchangeable with Christmas; Christmas, in effect, was the season in which winter happened (the months following merely an extension of what has taken place, serving as recovery while also moving in anticipation toward summer). With the first snowflake, the scent and sights of Christmas fell upon us - snow existed as the voice in the wilderness of falling leaves and clawing trees that delivered - heralded! - to us the message of the time of year. When snow came, it was Christmas.

And then the music we heard only in this season would fill our ears like the angels' songs. The all-familiar sights of wrapping paper and holiday-themed advertisements in every store and television commercial became more and more prevalent. Then the tree was decorated, and we knew it was December - and we became acutely aware of what now was only weeks, only days away. Classes came to an end and people were rosy from the cold and from the joy (or, as in some cases, from being flustered). Friendliness, happiness, peace and love were all tangibly visible in the smiles and greetings of every person met on the streets and in stores - all co-existing with panic, zeal, and the rushing of anxious, busy bodies.
Green, red, white; toys, candy, turkey; family, family, family.
And it was Christmas.

As part of a Nicaraguan tradition, my mother's side of the family - then a small number of aunts and uncles with barely any cousins - would begin gathering in my parents' house mid-evening of Christmas Eve (now the numbers have grown so that we are forced to rent the basement of my parents' church to accommodate everyone). There we would play games together until midnight when we would sit at the table for a grand, delicious feast my mother had slaved over all day. Afterwards, we would huddle in the living room, next to the decorated tree, and we would all listen to the Scriptures - usually read by my dad - and together sing a few hymns. As we grew and the family grew, so too did our little program; occasionally it would feature a special number performed by each child - a song, a reading, a memory. And then the gifts would be exchanged. While I have many fond memories of giving presents to my siblings and giving presents to my parents along with my siblings, I have no recollection of what they were - nor do I recall anything I myself received. The point was that we were together. The point was that Jesus had been born.

Of course, being raised in a Christian family, my parents always made sure that we were aware of 'the reason for the season.' Like the tree in December, Jesus was never absent in our celebrations (unlike Santa Claus who never stood a chance). As surely as the snow fell, we gathered as families to commemorate and rejoice in the conception of God in a human body. We ate together, gave gifts to one another, sang songs, read stories, laughed and felt a range of emotion all because God entered space and time - an undeniably remarkable event in the history of the world.

[posted by ericjordan at 2149 hrs]  

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