Christmas Cards

CHRISTMAS CARDS ARE IMPORTANT. I’m just sentimental enough to believe that traditions are important. The keeping of traditions is one of the things I like best about the holiday season. But Christmas cards; they’re special, at least to me, because they are one of the last bastions of congeniality. Remember when people used to write letters, notes and cards? Just last night, following a magnificent performance by one of our Grand-Girls in the school Christmas musical, I returned to the car to find a hand-written note on my windshield. It was a note of encouragement, telling me I should do a better job of parking next time.

It takes a certain human intentionality and connectedness to sit down and write a note, put in an envelope, address it, lick the flap, apply the stamp and drop it in the mail. Now we text, email, send birthday greetings on Facebook, etc. This season I’ve received a few virtual Christmas cards via email. Next time save yourself the trouble, I’m not buying the sincerity.

MANY CARD-SENDING SEASONS AGO, I was looking through an assortment of boxed, pre-printed, Christmas cards at a bookstore: “I like this one, but I wish it said this… This one is cool except for that creepy angelic creature lurking among the clouds. Surely Gabriel didn’t resemble that!” and so my mind went; on and on. And, then, I thought, “Why not design a Christmas card of our own?!”

There have been several of these homemade, bespoke card designs over as many years now. BTW: If you don’t get one in the mail, don’t despair. Your Christmas will be full and complete without one.

Several times, I’ve collaborated with other designers and artists for the card design. These are my favorites. My all time favorite was with an amazing Japanese/American artist named Julie Robertson, aka: Juuri. Julie and her husband Eric are very dear friends and special people to us.

For the collaboration, I gave Julie a poem I had written and asked her if she would do a watercolor to go along with the poem. The front of the card looked like this—


Copyright 2010. Juuri & Dave

Copyright 2010. Juuri & Dave


The inside of the card looked like this—

Copyright 2010. Juuri & Dave

Copyright 2010. Juuri & Dave


Julie is, among other things, an amazing mural artist. She has painted murals around the world, literally.

Julie at work.

Julie at work.

Work in progress.

Work in progress.

DONE!

DONE!

I invite you to visit Julie’s website juuriart.com to see more of her work. Good news—if you would like to have one of her works, you don’t have to have a giant wall for a mural. She has smaller works as well. And, even prints.

So, that was our card in 2010. Now it’s 2018. I struggled more with the design of the 2018 card than I have with any other design. That’s largely because of the inner struggle I am having with the twisting and distorting that I believe is being done to the nature and beauty and truth of Jesus by the religious right. Compared to the card Julie and I did for 2010, the 2018 card may seem like I just threw something together—it’s black and white, looks cheap, and cynical.

That verse though… the one from the Gospel of John… about the Incarnation… It doesn’t need adorning or beautifying. It just needs to be wrestled with. So I’ve been searching my soul and my world for evidence of that mysterious, mind-blowing, heart-changing, soul-searching thing called Incarnation.

In case your copy of the card was lost in the mail, here’s the front—


Artboard 2.png

And here’s the inside—


Artboard 1.png

Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him. —Matthew 2:2

Follow that star. Merry Christmas.

The Stat Sheet

I’ve noticed a turn of phrase used by sportscasters and commentators these days, they speak of players that “do a lot of things that don’t show up on the stat sheet.”

If you watch OKC Thunder basketball games on TV you’ll hear them make this comment about guys like André Roberson. He doesn’t score many points at all, and in fact when he shoots he seldom even hits the rim. Yet, he’s a starter. Why? Because his contribution doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. No one on the Thunder team works harder, gives more or defines team-player more than André. His defensive effort is relentless.

andre-roberson-sunset.jpg

Our culture, more than ever, however, prizes and praises those that light up the stat sheets, and not just among athletes. We have data and stat sheets on everything. Even our current POTUS loves to brag about his own stat sheet. Metrics matter; to some.

I use a web service called Squarespace to publish this blog. In the Squarespace tools are analytics where you can see how your blog is doing in terms of traffic to the site. I seldom look at the reports because I’m not trying to reach the masses. I’m too out of touch to be a masses kind of guy, and anyway, at the risk of sounding like the grapes are sour, the masses are a fickle lot.

However, the other day I got an email from Squarespace telling me about a new analytical tool where I can see geographically where the readers of About POPS are located. Now that’s just interesting. I assumed that there would be two dots: one at my house and one at my mother’s house.

Boy, was I surprised. Here’s the latest report:

squarespacegeo.jpeg

I’m assuming that all the visitors from China on down with the exception of maybe France and Australia, are probably dark web hacker types out to steal my identity and dignity.


Let’s talk about Christmas, the birthday of a King, the type that had to have been a huge disappointment to those expecting a big stat sheet kind of king. A big-league, loud, in your face, flamboyant kind of dude. (I started to add that they expected one of those tell-it-like-it-is kinda guys, but He was that and it turns out they didn’t really want to hear-it-like-it-is; and we don’t either.)

Remember the Ray Stevens song, the one with the chorus that went (asking about Jesus):

Would He wear a pinky ring, would He drive a brand new car?
Would His wife wear furs and diamonds, would His dressin' room have a star?
If He came back tomorrow, well there's somethin' I'd like to know
Could ya tell me, would Jesus wear a Rolex on His television show?

Without a doubt, my favorite painting of Mary and Jesus is the one painted by Caravaggio called “Madonna di Loreto”.

Madonna_di_Loreto-Caravaggio_(c.1604-6).jpg

I love it because of the humanity of it. The realness. The rawness. Two pilgrims, not bearing gold, frankinscense, or myrrh; just two people, who likely won’t show up on any stat sheet other than the one thats says they were born and they died, kneeling in a moment of awe of a baby who would one day be their savior. And, He was a lot like them… human, poor, frail and humble; just the way God planned it, and of whom it is written:

Jesus Christ, Who, being in very nature God,
        did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 
        but made himself nothing,
        taking the very nature of a servant,
        being made in human likeness. 
And being found in appearance as a man,
        he humbled himself
        and became obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:6-8
        

The other day, prompted by a friend, I wrote this in my journal:

Christmas—it has been:
Commercialized
Sentimentalized
Romanticized
And now politicized
If only it could be realized.

To culturally update Ray Stevens song: Would Jesus care how many Twitter followers He had? Maybe he’s looking for a different kind of follower—the kind that doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet.

PEACE Everyone across the USA and beyond, and to you 11 Aussies.

Christmas Carols & Cracker Barrels

A FEW NIGHTS AGO, on the road near Gainesville, Texas, we were road-weary and ready to eat. It was dark and cool. If you’re hungry on a winter night and you see a Cracker Barrel sign, somehow it just seems right. The place was nearly empty, but a big fire was going, and a game board of giant checkers was set up and ready for any pair wanting to rock and play a game.

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My Amazing-Missus was browsing the gift shop, I was seated by Rachel, with four stars on her apron, to have a cup of coffee. Playing over the sound system was a “Christmas” song I had never heard before. It was like a caricature of song, sort of a mash-up between bluegrass and country/western called, “Call Collect on Christmas.”

With a little research I found it was recorded by a guy named Del McCoury, about a drifter who was recalling, following the passing of his dear mother, that her last request was that he call her collect on Christmas. I bet his mother would have loved Cracker Barrel.

Christmas music is one of those things people either love or not. I know some who start listening to Christmas tunes as soon as Hobby Lobby puts up their yuletide decorations on July 5 every year. On a scale of Love It on the left, to Hate It on the right, I (as I do politically) tend to be somewhere near the middle but leaning left.

One of the things I love is discovering new tunes and arrangments. Don’t get me wrong, I love the classic carols and songs like Dean Martin’s version of “Silver Bells” and “Mele Kalikimaka” by Bing Crosby.

Remember The Band, that band from the 60s? Surely you know their big hit, “The Weight”? Well, a guy from The Band wrote and they recorded a song called “Christmas Must Be Tonight”. It’s a wonderful song.

A while back, a fresh young group called Bahamas covered the song and it is one of my annual favorites. Their arrangement is delightful on so many levels. Here is a link to the song on YouTube. Enjoy, and by all means put on your best set of headphones to savor every slide guitar chord, every wonderful lyric and each and every “shoop, shoop woow” of the backup singers.

Bahamas. Christmas must be tonight

Christmas music is so memorable, in my opinion, because these tunes have the most beautiful melodies ever written. "The Wexford Carol" is a example of what I mean. Fortunately, for us all there is an arrangement of this carol recorded by Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss. Check it out.

Yo-Yo Ma, Alison Krauss. The Wexford Carol

Oh, and if you would like to give a listen to Del sing his broken hearted little ditty about his poor lonesome momma, it’s on YouTube too (and playing at a Cracker Barrel near you). I recommend you listen to it while enjoying a hot cup of coffee and a biscuit slathered with apple butter.

Del McCourt. Call Collect on Christmas

I have to include one more. This is Nataly Dawn, one of my favorites. She is so multi-talented. I recommend you pair this with gingerbread cookie and a mug of mulled-wine.

Snow. Nataly Dawn

I would love to hear from you. What are your favorite Christmas tunes and arrangements?

About Babies

LET ME INTRODUCE YOU! This is Brooke and Kyle's little baby and our sixth Grand. It is no secret if you read this blog at all, that we have five beautiful, gifted GrandGirls. Will this little one be another girl or maybe a boy? We won't know until it makes its grand entrance sometime in May. One thing is certain, as you can tell from it's picture here that it is a lovely and loved child.

So, it's Christmastime, that wonderful time when many of us celebrate the birth of Jesus, our hope and peace. What if, and I'm just imagining here, ultrasound technology had been available to Mary and Joseph? I hope it's not impious to picture the young teenage parents at the clinic. The technician says, "It's a boy!" and Mary says to Joseph, "The angel was right!?"

I'm guessing that only a young, expectant mother can begin to understand the emotion of that moment, when it all first becomes real, when a human sort of advent begins. In my over-imaginative mind, I picture Mary laying her hand gently on her belly and saying, "I hope he has his Father's eyes."

As it turns out, not only does he have his father's eyes, but he said, "If you've seen me, you've seen my father."

If you'll allow me, an old man, to use that masculine reference "Father", I would only hope this season that I too could have my Father's eyes--that I will somehow be able to see people as He sees them. To see His creation as He sees it. To somehow see beyond the hate, the division, the bleakness; and to see the beauty of it all.

Last year about this time I posted here on the old About POPS blog some thoughts about Beauty and Pain. I invite you to check it out by clicking this sentence.

Merry Christmas Ya'll.