Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A YouTube Advent Calendar: November 30

Jesus began to tell the people this parable: ‘A man planted a vineyard, and leased it to tenants, and went to another country for a long time. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants in order that they might give him his share of the produce of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Next he sent another slave; that one also they beat and insulted and sent away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third; this one also they wounded and threw out.

Then the owner of the vineyard said, “What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.” But when the tenants saw him, they discussed it among themselves and said, “This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance may be ours.” So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.’

When they heard this, they said, ‘Heaven forbid!’

But he looked at them and said, ‘What then does this text mean:
“The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone”?
Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’

- Luke 20:9-18

In 1990, we saw one of the most startling turnarounds in popular music. After becoming a superstar with his album Faith, featuring songs like “I Want Your Sex,” “Father Figure,” and the title song, George Michael released a new album called Listen without Prejudice Vol. 1. The first single was a bleak but amazing song about God’s judgment, featuring a video of nothing but lyrics. The song shot straight to #1 on the strength of George Michael’s popularity, though many people have forgotten the song now. Here’s “Praying for Time.”

I love the bumper sticker that says, “Jesus is coming! Look busy.” When we imagine Christ coming not the first time, but a second time, it’s hard not to freak out. We look around us and see the mess we have made of our worldwide play room. After all this, will God still consider us His children? And yet we hear from Jesus that, in George Michael’s words, “God’s stopped keeping score.” Even so, many Christians are obsessed with the idea of Jesus showing up unannounced and finally getting around to cracking heads—other people’s heads. Certainly we’ll be OK, right? Right? If we weren’t going to be OK … if we were the guilty ones … would we want Jesus to show up at all?

But … does God crack heads? There’s a lot of that mentioned in the Bible, but is it for real? Can we expect violent retribution from the God who submitted to crucifixion and then used it to defeat death? Is death really defeated? Then why does it still seem to reign supreme? What if the entire world is going through some sort of mass crucifixion?

What if the judgment we so dread only feels like violent retribution to those of us who struggle so hard to hang onto something of our own, something we can’t take with us when we go anyway? Do we need to be terrified? After all, we’ve seen where crucifixion led Jesus. If we allow ourselves to be shattered on the rejected cornerstone, who knows what new and joyful thing may come of it?

Maybe we can take some comfort in the words of the Prophet Micah: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to have kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” When it seems "there is no hope to speak of," when all is confusion, do two things. Pray. And go out of your way to do good things for others. What else is there to do?

Monday, November 29, 2010

A YouTube Advent Calendar: November 29

Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom!
Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.

When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand?
Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation -
I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them.
When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers, I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes;
cease to do evil, learn to do good;
seek justice, rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

- Isaiah 1

Continuing with the theme of judgment ... I once heard a great preacher refer to this reading and say, "See? God gets bored in church, too!" Enough posturing and posing and hypocrisy, says God. Quit sacrificing animals to me and sacrifice for others instead. If you feel the need to burn something, burn up your hearts. Quit trying to shore up your own security and comfort and give NOW to those who have much less than you do. You can't keep what you have anyway. Eventually, it will all be gone ... burned up in the flames of time that devour everything. So take care of others now, and worry less about your own selfish desires.

This is an Advent discipline: to give to the poor and the oppressed. Consider making a Christmas gift in someone's name through Episcopal Relief and Development ... rather than giving more unnecessary stuff.

Song of the day: from 1968, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, with "Fire."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A YouTube Advent Calendar: November 28

Song of the day: "It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)" by R.E.M.

Your country lies desolate,
your cities are burned with fire;
in your very presence
aliens devour your land;
it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.
And daughter Zion is left
like a booth in a vineyard,
like a shelter in a cucumber field,
like a besieged city.
If the LORD of hosts
had not left us a few survivors,
we would have been like Sodom,
and become like Gomorrah.

-      Isaiah 1

Advent begins with judgment. It begins with a realistic assessment of the state of our house—the House of Israel, the house of our souls. We sort through the junk, trying to cut back, trying to simplify, trying to make room for Christmas. Deep within us is a profound loneliness. We know we have failed at so many things.

But those failures have prepared us for something new. Our failures prove to us that we cannot, in the end, be self-reliant creatures.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Emerging: Suites for Advent

The Christian year begins with the First Sunday in Advent, which often falls on Thanksgiving weekend. Advent continues for four Sundays, the amount of time we need to get ready to come close to the mystery of Christmas.

Here's some music for Advent. No, it's not Christmas music ... at least, not until right at the very end! These suites are built around the seven ancient "O" Antiphons, as sung by the choirs of St. Mark's Cathedral in Seattle. Pop and choral music alternate and, hopefully, leave you with a feeling of anticipation and expectation.

Yes, these recordings are under copyright, but the way I have mixed them into suites is original to me. If you hear something you like, please go buy it. I also welcome feedback on Advent music I might use to expand these suites next year!

(Right-click each header to download the suite.)

Advent Suite 1: Eschaton

R.E.M. - It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)
Crazy World of Arthur Brown - Fire
George Michael - Praying for Time
Mary Poppins - Stay Awake/ Sufjan Stevens - Year of the Sheep
Peter Hallock - Let My Prayer Come Up as the Incense

Advent Suite 2: Wisdom

Godspell - Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord
Sufjan Stevens - O Come, O Come Emmanuel (1)
Peter Hallock - O Sapientia
Sixpence None the Richer - Sister, Mother
Martina McBride - Love's the Only House
Sting - Love Is the Seventh Wave

Advent Suite 3: I Am That I Am

Peter Hallock - O Adonai
Sixpence None the Richer - Anything/The Waiting Room
Hooters - All You Zombies
Sufjan Stevens - O Come, O Come Emmanuel (2)

Advent Suite 4: Come and Save Us

Peter Hallock - O Radix Jesse
Toad the Wet Sprocket - Pray Your Gods
Aimee Mann - Save Me
U2 - I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
Herbert Howells - A Spotless Rose
Seal - Love's Divine

Advent Suite 5: You Open and No One Shuts

Peter Hallock - O Clavis David
Mr. Mister - Kyrie
Sufjan Stevens - Chicago
Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah

Advent Suite 6: Rising Dawn

Peter Hallock - O Oriens
The Beatles - Here Comes the Sun
Sixpence None the Richer - Waiting on the Sun
The Polyphonic Spree - Light and Day
Sufjan Stevens - O Come, O Come Emmanuel (3)

Advent Suite 7: Prince of Peace

Peter Hallock - O Rex Gentium
J.L. Hosler - You Heavens Above
Simon & Garfunkel - Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream
John Mayer - Waiting on the World to Change
John Denver & Robin - When the River Meets the Sea
Goo Goo Dolls - Better Days

Advent Suite 8: But What If ... ?

Peter Hallock - O Emmanuel
Joan Osborne - One of Us
Isaac Everett - Expectation

Advent Suite 9: Amen

Sting - Gabriel's Message
Conductus - Ave Virgo Virginum
Franz Biebl - Ave Maria
J.S. Bach - Magnificat in D, BWV 243, I: Magnificat
St. Mark's Cathedral Choir - O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Isaac Everett - Incarnation