Tag Archives: Christmas


The Upside Down Kingdom Does Football

If you’re tired of giving the regular answer, and someone asks you what Christmas is about, you can tell them that sometimes it’s about football.

(And not the Charlie-Brown-and-Lucy kind either.)

Some people refer to Christianity as a backward religion, but I prefer to think of it more as an upside-down kingdom.

Obviously, I’m not the first person to coin such a phrase, but sometimes I think it just fits. Because, when you get right down to it, Christianity at its core tends to run counter against everything this world tends to stand for. And sometimes the contrast is downright startling.

Like, for example, this story, brought to the masses by Sports Illustrated’s ESPN’s Rick Reilly. I’m not usually one to prop up the work of a mass media juggernaut like ESPN, but in this case I think this story deserves all the hits it can get.

Suffice it to say, though, it won’t make everyone happy. I’m sure that Christopher Hitchens could read Reilly’s piece and think, those dumb Christians… they can’t even figure out which side they’re on. And in a way, he’d be right. Most of the time, we don’t.

But every once in awhile, we figure it out, and the results are priceless.


Don’t Just Do Something: Experiencing God In Snowpacalypse 2008

(My apologies to a commenter at Eugene Cho’s Beauty and Depravity, from whom I so judiciously ganked the term “snowpacalypse” … considering all the hysterics from Seattlites and Portlanders who aren’t used to a ton of snow, it just seemed perfect.)

First, I offer a passage from the latest edition of Experiencing God, a Bible study that I have recently embarked upon:

Don’t Just Do Something

We are a doing people. We always want to be doing something. Every now and then someone will exclaim, “Don’t just stand there; do something!”

In contrast, I think God is crying out to us, “Don’t just do something. Stand there! Enter a love relationship with Me. Get to know Me. Adjust your life to Me. let Me love you and reveal Myself through you to a watching world.” A time will come when doing will be called for, but we cannot skip the relationship. The relationship with God must come first.

Truer words have never been spoken or read, especially for me in this time.

Most of my heroes in the faith are men of action, people who identified injustice and were led by God to do something about it. People like my friend Kevin Bruursema, whose heart for God is the engine that turns his holy motor. (As an aside, doesn’t Holy Motor sound like a Christian metal band?)

I am reminded, by this Henry Blackaby passage, that action is always a byproduct of, rather than an avenue toward, relationship with God. And this truth has been made real to me in a very practical way.

Today is the eighth straight day of snow and subfreezing temperatures in the Portland area. I am not unfamiliar with such weather after spending eight years in Chicago, but this kind of heavy snowfall almost never happens in the urban centers of the Pacific Northwest.

This time of year, most of the conversation I have about weather usually consists of bragging about how people here don’t know how to operate in snow, how after an inch or two the whole city shuts down.

Only this time it’s not an exaggeration. After almost a foot of snow in the last 24 hours, the city really has shut down. And the most visceral part of that shutdown was that yesterday morning, we canceled church.

Yes, we canceled church. And we weren’t the only ones. Most of the churches in the area canceled service.

On a normal week that would actually be a relief for me, but this week it was particularly sad. See, yesterday was supposed to have been our big Christmas service. We had all kinds of special music planned, and a little pageant for the kids. It was going to be the highlight of the season.

Only, it never happened.

Yesterday, during a time of pensive contemplation, Holly mused that maybe this was God’s way of telling us we all need to slow down. Maybe He’s trying to humble us. She thought of James 4:13-15 (rendered by Eugene Peterson’s The Message):

And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, “Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.” You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, “If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.”

Even though service was canceled, I headed down to the church anyway, because I’m sorta stubborn like that, and I wanted to be there to greet anyone who didn’t get the word of our cancellation and trekked out in the snow anyway.

(Plus I wanted to have fun doing doughnuts in the church parking lot.)

While I was there, I had a lot of time to think.

So much of what I’ve been trying to do for God has been so fruitless. My motive has been good, but I’ve just gotten into the habit of hunkering down, squaring my shoulders, and soldiering on in the work of the Lord. Preparing music, scheduling rehearsals, sending emails, making phone calls, following through on action items, et cetera, et cetera.

As our church has gone through so much drama and decline, I think I was partially motivated by the desire to provide a seasonal respite from the neverending church drama. No matter how bad it gets for our church, went my thinking, the least we can do is do Christmas right.

But in the end, my specially-arranged Christmas music (including a hip-hop rendition of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”) was no match for a foot of snow blanketing the metro area. Apparently, God had other plans.

One of the best things about twelve inches of snow (and still falling!) is that the monumental effort required to go anywhere provides a disincentive for running errands and scurrying about. Weather like this beckons us to just sit, and be calm, be thankful, behold the beauty… to just be.

This, I am stubbornly and painfully learning, is where God wants me right now.

So despite my pride at finally putting chains on my Pontiac for the first time, I will resist the urge to go out just because I’m not afraid of driving in the snow. I will be satisfied with loving my wife and taking some time for introspection. I will learn my lesson and be grateful for the humbling experiences God has blessed me with.

I will sit and be.

And I will experience God in the process.

I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for Mixin’ It Up with me.


Just Saw Fred Claus. No, Really. It’s Good.

So I gave into a small guilty pleasure tonight.

I watched the movie on the airplane.

Usually if I’m watching a movie on an airplane, it’s something I’ve brought myself for that express purpose, and I’m watching it on my computer. I normally can’t stand watching the movies that the airlines play, because I hate craning my neck, staring at that tiny little screen, and listening to the terrible audio.

But I made an exception, and I’m glad I did, because I enjoyed it pretty thoroughly — more evidence that a fun story with compelling characters can cover a multitude of shortcomings. If a film’s characters are cardboard cutouts and the story does nothing interesting, then it can be showing on an IMAX screen ten times a day, for free, and I’ll still probably avoid it like the plague.

My guilty pleasure was last year’s Fred Claus, starring Vince Vaughn (The Break-Up, Dodgeball) and Paul Giamatti (Sideways, The Negotiator). Like many interesting pictures, Fred Claus is a mashup of three time-worn story archetypes, the wholesome holiday fairy tale, the fish-out-of-water tale, and the slacker-does-something-good-for-once story.

The heart and soul of the movie comes from the bond of two brothers – Nicholas (a.k.a. Santa Claus) and his maladjusted younger sibling Fred, frustrated and misunderstood after living in the shadow of his jolly, charismatic older brother.

I had relatively low expectations for this film, but found myself being pleasantly surprised over and over. Some of this was Vince Vaughn’s patented blend of abrasive charm. Despite maintaining the grounded, smart-alecky style of delivery that made him a star in the first place, many of Vaughn’s lines as Fred sound downright conservative. This is what makes Fred such a sympathetic character, because even though Fred doesn’t always make the best decisions, his heart is always in the right place – like when he lectures a young girl who attacks him for repossessing her family TV. That scene is golden.

Mostly, though, it was the interesting family dynamics that really pulled me in. In a sense, Fred Claus is like many holiday films based around families (The Family Stone, Dan in Real Life, This Christmas), except that the deftly-cast family involved just happens to belong to good ol’ Saint Nick.

As such, the movie has a winning way about it, because it manages to depict a well-known — but normally boring — character as a three dimensional figure. Sure, he’s Santa Claus, but first he’s a regular guy, who has regular guy issues. He struggles with enforcing his boundaries. He’s got weight issues. He has to deal with tension between his wife and his mother.

Most distressing is the pressure he receives from a joyless suit (Kevin Spacey) intent on cracking down on inefficiency at Santa’s workshop. This is the first movie I’ve ever seen that manages to make Santa Claus seem not only human, but downright vulnerable.

Fred Claus is not without its issues, of course. It still maintains many common Christmas movie clichés, including wrapping up every conflict way too neatly — gift-wrapped and bow-tied for the convenience of screenwriter and viewer alike. And for those who suffer from acute saccharine intolerance, there are a few scenes that will prompt bouts of eye-rolling and plenty of oh-please-give-me-a-break.

But staving off the overdose is a nice combination of levity and gravitas. Two of my favorite scenes have good amounts of both.


There’s a scene where Nick confronts his brother and the confrontation goes downhill, first into name-calling, and then into a full-on brawl. And then later there’s a scene where Fred visits a support group for siblings of famous people. (Cameos aplenty here.) In both scenes, the humor is undergirded by the simmering tension of decades worth of unresolved issues between the two brothers.

As Christian, I have to learn how to extract the laudable and virtuous elements from the other aspects that might not be in line with my standards or worldview – otherwise, I just wouldn’t watch any movies at all. Fred Claus is no exception. The main message is that troubled kids are just as deserving of love and attention as nice kids, and this is a great message that I wholeheartedly endorse. That this message is saddled with the baggage of ambiguously relativistic morals is unfortunate, and occasionally annoying.

Key example: the film’s shining reunion between Fred and his love interest [ANOTHER SPOILER] culminates in him magnanimously announcing that he’s moving into her apartment and they’ll be living together. The scene is written, shot and edited as a climactic, romantic proposal. His proposal, though, is mere cohabitation.

NOTE TO SCREENWRITERS: in a real family film, this couple would’ve actually gotten MARRIED. It’s called commitment, Vince Vaughn. Check it out sometime.

On the plus side, though, there is no profanity whatsoever, and very little crass humor. (One suggestively-costumed, cleavage-showing woman, and one fleeting reference to marital sexuality.)

That, combined with the powerful relationship between two adult brothers, makes Fred Claus more than worth the price of a rental. It might actually be the rare holiday film that is, dare I say, rewatchable.

Just make sure you don’t let any of those Santa-themed Christmas songs get stuck in your head. Those things are brutal.


It’s Christmas; Embrace the Unexpected

I imagine that the one thing that most of us really enjoy about Christmas is the sense of nostalgia and tradition that it has come to represent in our lives. We choose to spend time with family, and we take part in activities that help us to get into “the Christmas spirit.” You know, eggnog, tinsel, mistletoe… all that good stuff.

In the big picture, however, it seems like all the focus on Christmas tradition is a little bit… well… misplaced. Not that traditions aren’t important — they’re great. They’re one of the things that help to hold families together. But in light of all the events that precipitated the first Christmas, our collective focus on the traditional seems, to me at least, a little bit absurd.

Because Christmas, fundamentally, is about unexpected change.

Let’s face it — if some teenage girl suddenly showed up pregnant and tried to convince the people around her that The Holy Spirit was the father of the child… my guess is, most of us wouldn’t just go on with our regular business. We’d be peppering her with invasive questions. Some of us would try to psychoanalyze her. Or try to book her for an appearance on Jerry Springer.

Plus, the whole idea of God coming down here, where we are… well, without any divine revelation, the whole thing seems kind of ridiculous. Why would he want to do that? Does God know how ugly it gets down here? With the pollution and the hostility and the road rage from people who can’t drive in the snow?

It’s crazy down here, God. Are you sure you know what you’re doing?

See, that’s what I think God loves to do the most. He loves to dote over his children, and just when they think they’ve got Him figured out — booyah — He goes the other way. He pulls something out that’s totally unexpected.

And it makes history.

And even though we’ve all heard the facts about the Christmas story a thousand times over, I think we miss the collective whoa factor of it all, because we have the benefit of centuries’ worth of perspective and commentary. But if something that crazy happened today, I don’t think it would just be business as usual.

The only comparison I can think of is what happened a few years ago at a Dairy Queen in Coppell, Texas. Customers at this normally sleepy location were lined up around the block to get in, because manager Parrish Chapman had a new trainee that day — internet billionaire Mark Cuban, the owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.

A few weeks earlier, Cuban had criticized then-head of NBA officiating Ed Rush because he felt his team was being unfairly penalized and Rush’s office wasn’t listening to his repeated complaints. During a postgame interview with local media, Cuban, fuming as usual, said that Ed Rush couldn’t manage a Dairy Queen. Naturally, the good folks at DQ heard about it, and challenged him publicly. Basically, their attitude was, if managing a DQ is so easy, why don’t YOU give it a try?

So he did.

And this, in my opinion, is — pardon the cliche — what Christmas is all about. The inexplicable madness of someone with all of the money, status and clout of Mark Cuban, taking the time to learn how to work the ‘Blizzard’ machine and make dip cones. An unexpected, almost random act that demonstrates an underlying passion. In this case, it was Cuban’s passion for publicity more than anything else. But with God, it’s a passion for His people, a desire to show us how to live this life the way He intended.

Now don’t take this and run too far with it.

If anyone asks you, “So, what did Jelani have to say in his Christmas column?” and your answer is “he says Mark Cuban is God,” then you’ve missed the point entirely.

My point is that part of the (*ahem*) magic of the season comes from the fact that God is continually at work in the earth in ways that defy our imagination and expectation.

Yes, God is a righteous God, yes, he wants us to be law-abiding, moral people… blah blah blah. You can hear that message at a lot of churches this time of year. What I’m saying is that He’s not just the Great Hall Monitor in the Sky, boring us to death with a bunch of rules and regulations and restrictions on all the really fun stuff.

On the contrary, God is alive and well, and His level of creativity and omnipotence is second to none. And sometimes his plans consist of the most incomprehensible combinations of phenomena.

I mean, I can just imagine the Father, in his divine conference room, drawing up his plans on the heavenly whiteboard while Jesus and the Holy Spirit ask clarifying questions.

“So, we’re gonna send Jesus to earth, and he’s gonna live the life, okay, I get all that, but okay, where is he gonna start?”


“Well, actually Bethlehem. And then, you know, later on, Nazareth.”

“Hmm… you’re sure about this now?”

“Yep. Trust me, Jesus, it’s gonna be great.

“So who are gonna be the parents?”

“Mary and… well, technically, I guess Joseph, too.”


“Well, yeah. I mean, he’s gonna raise you up, show you how to tie your sandals, you know, all that.”

“But he’s not actually going to…”



“So how is she gonna get pregnant?”

[Another pause.]

“Funny you should ask…”

I’m having fun with this, of course, but don’t let my propensity for imaginary dialogue distract you from the Truth.

Christmas is about God interacting with our world, and the eternal hilarity that ensues as a result. So as you continue in your holiday cheer, keep that in mind. Don’t be rattled by the inevitable surprises He will put in your path. Just trust Him and enjoy the ride.

I’m G*Natural; thanks for mixin’ it up with me.