Saturday, December 24, 2011

23rd, 25th - Aaron Alford

He lay at peace in the grass, the warmth of his mother beside him.  He closed his eyes and let the last, ruddy light of the day play upon his eyelids.  The grass was cool, and the sun was warm.  He had had his fill today, skipping until he could hardly stand, splashing himself silly in the stream, running himself dry in the endless meadow.

She had watched him at play all day, and her own heart sang with his.  She put her mouth to his ear, and told him she loved him in a voice soft and tender.

He felt her voice at his ear, and he smiled inside, but he tried not to show it.  He opened his eyes with a lazy squint to the sun in the west.  It was crouching low behind the hills, and he felt something in his spirit humming in tune with those last red rays.  That sun and that sky were up to something, and tonight that sun was setting with a secret.  He heard it speak, its voice still and not unlike his mother’s.

The stars have a surprise for you tonight.

I know, he said, and laid his head on the cool earth.

The shepherd stood nearby, crook in hand, gazing at the same sun.  He, too, felt the strange, quiet hum in his heart, thrumming in harmony with that setting sun.  And he could almost hear it speak, but he turned his eyes to the sleeping lamb and its mother resting at his feet.  He wondered what dreams they may be having, what thoughts were at play in their spirits.  The air was different tonight, toying with the thought of a breeze, gusting gently with a whim.  It seemed to invite such wistful thinking.  He closed his eyes and let the air tug gently at his clothes, his hand gripped and resting on the crook that had belonged to his father.  He couldn’t hear the sun the way the lamb at his feet could, but he also somehow knew.  A secret was in the air, and that setting sun knew more than she was telling.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Death By Presents - Aron Smith

I will always have fond memories of my first real Christmas, which occurred when I was 28 years old and a law student.  Having grown up in a non-Christian culture, Christmas barely moved the needle on my compass; it was nothing more than a two-week school holiday during which I would escape the icy New York winter by traveling to Florida with my parents and sisters.
In fact, until I was ten years old, I never felt I was missing out on a thing.  Sure, we didn't have a Christmas tree, blinking lights or piles of presents, but neither did any of my friends with whom I attended a deeply religious private school.  Even in my public junior high and high school, the very large number of non-Christian students in the community resulted in Christmas being muted into a virtual non-entity.
Things changed for me a bit when my family moved about 70 miles north midway through my junior year of high school.  I'd always gawked at the Christmas displays at the mall, secretly in awe of the garish decorations and lights, all geared to suck the parking lot full of moths into the capitalist flame.  But this was my first experience with a school where they literally decked the halls,  At home, we'd tune in to the local radio station in the morning while we were eating breakfast and getting ready for school and work.  I'd listen attentively when the jewelry store commercial came on, always starting with a vocal rendition of "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas."  If the announcer finished reading the news and put on a recording of "Silver Bells" or "The Little Drummer Boy," I knew my mother would quickly change the station.  But I picked up what snippets of Christmas culture I could so that I didn't seem like a total doofus at school.  I smiled, I nodded and I pretended a lot, leaving an explanation that I was of a different faith as a very last resort, knowing the looks of pity I'd receive.
Our family trips to Florida during Christmas vacation yielded some amusing moments from time to time.  The drive took about 24 hours, and we'd frequently be on the road on Christmas Eve.  As we rolled through rural areas of the South on the interstate, only one or two radio stations wuld come through the crackling static up and down the dial.  If a preacher was holding forth or the ubiquitous Christmas music was playing, my mother would yell at my father, "Turn that off!  I don't want to hear it!"  But sometimes it would be late at night, Mom would be sleeping and my father would need to play the radio to stay awake as we cruised down I-95 through Virginia and North Carolina.  My sisters and I would be in the back seat, with me in the middle to keep the girls from fighting, where eventually I'd endure one sleepy head conked out on each shoulder.  On the radio, José Feliciano would be singing "Feliz Navidad."  One of my sisters would wake up and we'd listen closely.  We didn't understand a word of Spanish, but later, when my parents weren't in the room, we'd try to imitate what we thought sounded something like "fay-less buh-dee-dud."
The year I was 12 years old and my sisters were eight and ten, we stopped for dinner at a roadside diner in South Carolina on Christmas Eve.  The waitress proceeded to gush over how cute we were.  "Is Santy Claus gonna bring you lots of presents tonight?"  the waitress cooed.  The three of us looked down, embarrassed, in silence.  "They're shy," my father apologized.  All of us knew that there are many places where it is just assumed that everyone is a Christian, particularly such a lovely looking family with such cute children.
When I graduated from college and started working, that's when I really started to appreciate Christmas.  No one wanted to work that day, giving me the opportunity to pick up extra shifts and overtime money.  But it wasn't until I moved to Massachusetts to attend law school that I experienced Christmas firsthand.
My first year in law school, I disappeared right after final exams to make the trek to Florida by car with my parents.  My sisters had long since married, moved away and had started their own families.  I grabbed my girlfriend and the four of us headed south.  Things did not go so well on this particular trip; my parents argued incessantly, alternately yelling at each other and at me.  I vowed that this would be my last time.
The next year, I stayed put in Massachusetts for Christmas break.  Along with several other law students, I was renting a room from empty nesters who had found themselves rattling around in a huge house and decided to have all those empty bedrooms help pay the bills.  In early December, as I was pulling all-nighters and generally freaking out about impending final exams in several classes in which I was not doing well at all, the McGees put up an enormous Christmas tree in the living room, decorating it with tiny lights and many ornaments that their children had made or given them over the years.  Soon, gifts started appearing under the tree.  I noted the steady accumulation as I headed out the door to school each day.  It began as a trickle of boxes and ribbons, and slowly picked up into a stream, a river and then a veritable torrent!  By the time I had finished my last exam and my girlfriend drove up from New York to spend a few weeks with me, one side of the living room was covered with a deep pile of literally hundreds of gifts.  The McGees' four children would be home for Christmas, three of them with their spouses.  There were many gifts for everyone, which Mrs. McGee had lovingly purchased throughout the year.  One of her sons-in-law, who grew up without a mother and was not accustomed to such holiday hullaballoo, dubbed this spectacle "death by presents."  As for me, well, I had never seen such a thing in all my life.  I gawked in awe.  And I knew there was only one thing to be done:  When in Massachusetts, do as the Yankees do.  I headed for the card shop across the street from the law school, bought several rolls of wrapping paper and began making my own contributions to the growing pile.  After all, I planned to be there on Christmas Eve, not in a car on the way to Florida, and I wondered how many hours it would take to open all of these, whether a shovel or a backhoe would be needed to reach the bottom of the pile, and whether any of us would ever see the living room carpet again.
It turned out to be a lovely experience.  I wasn't quite sure of the appropriate etiquette for witnessing the dismantling of Mount Generosity, but it was comforting to me that I would be spared the embarrassment of having to open gifts myself.
But sitting in the convivial glow of the fireplace, listening to the laughter of the McGee family, sipping egg nog and watching the pile of torn wrapping paper grow higher and the mountain of presents grow smaller, I realized that I hadn't missed a thing growing up.
I could never have appreciated the beauty of Christmas back then.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday videos - The Nelson Family

Terry and Cynthia Nelson and their kids wish us happy holidays. Terry and family live in Ontario; Canada where Terry heads up the creative work of Innertainment. This first video is Terry's family "Christmas Card" and the second one...well, I couldn't resist posting it! Enjoy...

Mystery, Wonder and Extravagant Love - Jimmy Sustar

When I was a kid it seemed to snow a lot more than it does now. I remember an average of three to five feet of snow throughout the Winter season and it hung around until late March. I remember thinking it absurd that anyone would find themselves dreaming of a white Christmas. It was just a given.

We were quite poor economically, but I never knew it. We ate venison that my dad hunted, and vegetables that my mom froze. We worked hard together to live simply. We heated our house with wood, and every Saturday morning in the fall, my little brother and I joined our Dad in his old Ford pick-up truck. We drove to a patch of woods and spent the entire morning cutting wood and loading it into the truck. The drive back home was always reflective and sleepy with a little bit of goofing off and being told to calm down. The rest of the day was spent stacking wood tightly around the back of the house where it would wait for the harsh winter to fall on us.

It was my job to keep the fire burning while Dad was at work. It was a sweet pleasure to be given this task. The average winter temperature was only fifteen degrees Fahrenheit so this job taught me a lot about dependability. Whenever I stepped outside to play, or gather more firewood, my heart felt full and glad to catch the smell of burning oak rising from the chimney. I couldn’t stop the smile, this smelled like home to me.

There were also some really hard times. There were moments of unexplainable uncertainty that felt heavy, like a mantle of doubt. There were family troubles that I didn’t understand because I was too innocent and young. There were times my parents struggled to believe that we were going to make it through. There were days that seemed to never bend toward the light...

But I never knew we were poor. We had it all. My sister and two brothers, my Mom and my Dad. We knew what love was and we loved each other very much.

At night, I often would steal away to our back yard. I would walk until I escaped the light of the house and find myself hidden in the darkness and quiet, in the hush of newly fallen snow, the moonlight and the sound of wind blowing through pines. The smell of our home being made warm by the hard work of our hands. The safety of peace. The mystery of Almighty God coming to us in innocence, and vulnerability. The wonder of being loved so extravagantly. I just loved to stand there alone in the dark and soak it in.

It was, and is still more than I can stand.

There’s a song by a band called, ‘Mineral’ that beautifully describes moments like this. Deep, simple love. I love the unassuming tone in this...

‘And the snow falls melts before it even hits the ground
And I’m standing here listening
To the sound of your hand Washing back and forth
Across my filthy heart
And I don’t know if I should say “I’m sorry” or “Thank you”
I try to speak but the tears choke the words...
And I think I finally know what they mean When they talk about joy.’

May you find this place of peace, hope, and joy as you bend to hear Him whisper love in your ear.

-Merry Christmas-

Monday, December 19, 2011

Saa Gaar Vi Rundt Om En Enebaerbusk - Justin Fox and Martinus Hus

Justin Fox is a singer/song-writer and city reach pastor from southern California.  His music, like the man himself, is hopeful, infectious, fun and points to all good things.  You can find out more about Justin, his family, their mission and his music at
My father-in-law, Martinus Hus, was from Holland.  He lived through the war, survived intense poverty, suffered abuse, and experienced extreme hardship.  He was a gentle husband, a loving father to his three kids, a wicked skier, and a collector of old, scratchy sweaters.  He was always quick with a big smile and a welcoming, Dutch hello.  He was European, so of course, he loved Christmas.  He had little charming songs and tasty recipes that gave the season a special spark and a richness that isn't felt too much these days.

Before he passed away, I was able to capture him singing one of his favorite Christmas songs.  He and the family would hold hands around the tree and sing this little tune.  I added a tiny Glockenspiel to the recording, and if you can pronounce that then you might consider tackling the title; Saa Gaar Vi Rundt Om En Enebaerbusk.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Mystery Christmas - The Rap Starz

It's a new season and so the conversation around the Fire Bowl will turn to meet it. And to kick off our next series of posts we have somthing really special. As so many around the world have come to expect, Christmastime means a new offering from everybody's favorite seasonal rap group, the Rap Starz!  They have generously agreed to let us post the newest piece here.  You can download this song and the other Rap Starz holiday raps for free in a brand new Christmas 3-pac!  Just GLONK HERE!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Find Me Here - Stephanie Mullen

This is Steph's 2nd post in the Fire Bowl (you can see the first one HERE). This will conclude our posts on how God can turn bad things for our good. Thanks Steph for the beautiful song. You can download this song, see the archive and subscribe for future podcast posts and the podcast site HERE