Culture

DEAR CHRISTIAN WRITER, ARTIST, MUSICIAN, MOVIE MAKER, ETC,

On the account of being a writer, I have zero credibility or authority. But here are a few thoughts to Christian writers, from a Christian reader, to take or leave:

1. Write things no one else is willing to write. Don’t write safe stuff. The Christian market is littered w/safe stuff. Write without a safety net. (Or write as though God’s grace is your only safety net.)

boldness-Philippe-Petit

2. Write something that you would read yourself. If it doesn’t hold your attention when you go back and read, it’s not going to hold ours either. If it didn’t make you laugh, cry, hug somebody, throw up, or think when you wrote it…revise it. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “Edit yourself mercilessly!”

3. Write like you talk. I was studying creative writing in college and struggling to find a “voice.” A pretty girl (who eventually became my pretty wife) told me, “I like hearing you tell stories. Why don’t you just write stories exactly like you would say them out loud?”

4. Resist the temptation to make all your characters Christians, or make all your characters become Christians by the end of the story. Real life isn’t so nice and neat. “Machine Gun Preacher” was probably a lot closer to a Biblical redemption story than most Christian films. I’m not saying you have to go out and write the Christian version of 50 Shades or anything. It’s just that Scripture is full of ordinary people doing all sorts of shady things, but God’s grace remains the common denominator. (And let’s be honest. A Christianized version of 50 Shades would probably sell loads of copies. Somebody get on that. Zondervan, you’re welcome.)

5. Don’t be the hero. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re all probably closer to villains anyway. Trust me, telling people how awesome you are (no matter how good the illustration) is always cringe-worthy. In one of his recent posts, Seth Godin encouraged people to communicate “Not (with) the arrogance of, ‘I am right and you are not,’ but from the confidence/certainty of, ‘I need to say it or draw it or present it just this way and I want you to hear it.’” Be passionate, honest, and transparent about your shortcomings, and the “converts” will take care of themselves.

6. Write from the gut. Go with your instincts. Lean into the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and don’t be scared to show us your dark parts that needed God’s forgiveness.

CS Lewis-17. Don’t believe the myth that nonChristian people don’t read Christian stuff because it involves Jesus. Too many authors and artists (Anne Lamott, CS Lewis, U2) have proven this isn’t true. In general, non-Christian people don’t get into Christian art/music/books because it’s not interesting. (When was the last time your non-Christian friend cranked up some K-LOVE jams?)

8. Don’t feel like you have to solve all our problems. I understand this temptation. Guys especially like launching into super fix-it mode and have answers for everything and everyone. Sometimes we just need to ask good questions, tell a good story, and start the conversation. Lectures have a tendency to end the conversation. Instead, consider giving us something to talk about for awhile.

These are just a few suggestions. What should be added to this list? What would you want to see more of from Christian writers, speakers, artists, etc?

ANTI ROCK STAR INTERVIEW #1: JAMIE BARNES of SOJOURN MUSIC

Last week I wrote a few thoughts about what it looks like to be an “anti rock star worship leader.” This week I’m excited to introduce you to Jamie Barnes from Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY. Jamie is the worship pastor for one of Sojourn’s four campuses, and writes extensively for Sojourn’s worship albums. Many of Sojourn’s artists and musicians are leading voices within the Louisville scene, including Jamie. Sojourn focuses on creativity and collaboration, blending the gospel with a relentless pursuit of innovative art and music.

jamie staring

I first met Jamie at a songwriting workshop given by the always-wise Bob Kauflin. We had a brief chat and Jamie humbly offered, “If there’s anything we can do to serve or help your church in Columbus, let me know.” In my interactions with Jamie, he’s been a great encouragement in creating quality music and leading the church in worshiping God.

I asked Jamie a few questions about what it looks like to be an anti rock star worship leader. Jamie shared a bit about his beginnings as a worship leader, discipling musicians, and how the gospel informs our worship. Here’s the whole interview:

Nick: You recorded & toured as a singer/songwriter way before you ever thought about leading worship. You’ve said that you were somewhat reluctant to start leading worship when worship pastor Mike Cosper first approached you. What was that transition like, and how is leading worship different from performing and touring? Practically, was there ever a tension for you between worshiping and performing?

Jamie: I was reluctant because of the background I came from, which was the brand of Church of Christ that worship with no instrumentation. I had only played music in clubs, theaters and various other venues – but never in church and I had no formed philosophy or theology on what it meant to lead a body of believers in corporate worship. The difference is very vast – because my goal isn’t too wow people with my art, it’s to clearly portray the truth of the gospel and help people participate. In clubs, I’m trying to bowl them over …envelop them. In the gatherings of the church, I want to invite them.

Fast forward 6 years later and I’ll still feel the weight of the tension of leading versus performing. I keep a constant reminder before me on what my overall goal is when I lead on Sundays, but there is still the civil war of the soul raging on within me of selfish ambitions. Thankfully, grace covers my sinful pride and our worship isn’t accepted by God based on our purity of intentions, but by the mediating blood of Jesus. Remembering the truth of the gospel always helps to get my heart aligned.

sojourn jammin

Jamie with the Sojourn band at the 930 Art Center

Nick: Sojourn has a pretty liturgical way of conducting church, and yet you guys are about as hip as churches come. The last time my wife and I attended a service at your Midtown campus (when it was still at the 930 Art Center), it was like a Holy Spirit rock & roll revival. How does the balance of liturgy and rock & roll inform the way Sojourn conducts worship services?

Jamie: Ha. The idea of hip is becoming increasingly strange to me as I get older! We like a sense of being rooted in church history, a traditional liturgy where the Gospel is central and formative, but we also want to remain true to who we are here in the present, while looking forward with hope to the future of who God has called us to be and is shaping us into.

The rock ‘n’ roll side of it is just us being true to who we are. This church was founded by a lot of artists and musicians who found a lot of our identity (for better or for worse) in the music we played and listened to. It’s just the voice of our context, not an attempt to be hip or be someone else. I’m sure our gatherings would look and sound different had Sojourn been planted in a different part of the commonwealth rather than in the artsy-fartsy part of Louisville.

Nick: You guys have a pretty intense focus on mentoring and discipleship at Sojourn. How does that affect the way the musicians look at themselves and other musicians?

Jamie: We try to do this, though sometimes we aren’t great at it. I think it helps artists/musicians see more of a role they can play than perhaps the church has historically allowed them to. Since the age of the Puritans, the Church at wide has had a love/hate affair with artist types and I know for my generation, it’s often hard for certain guys who think/dress/emote a certain way to think they may ever have anything to give to the local church other than filling in on guitar on the weekends.

We have a huge desire to raise up pastors…arming folks with guitars in one hand and shepherd staffs in the other. I don’t think we are being innovative with this, but rather just Biblical. We see a pattern in scripture of living life together, pouring into one another and helping each other grow in Christ.

Musicians aren’t exempt from that type of discipleship, in fact, I’ve seen them thrive. Instead of looking at our gifts in an individualistic way, this helps us think about the community at large and leveraging our gifts together as a family for the sake of those inside and outside the church. The musician is tempted to see his identity solely through the music he or she plays. We want to see our music servants embrace who they really are, adopted sons and daughters of the living God. This truth will influence their art, rather than the other way around.

Jamie leading worship at Sojourn Community Church

Jamie leading worship at Sojourn Community Church

Nick: How can congregations help to combat the “worship leader rock star” mentality?

Jamie: Prayer and keeping the Gospel central. Fight for God being the biggest personality of your gatherings. Sundays are not the time for musicians to shine – it’s a time to serve. We use the language of “servant” a lot when we talk about our gifts and the music team at our church. It’s a constant reminder that we are there for the sake of building the body of Christ, and not to sell records or build our band’s following.

I believe it was Michael Card who used the imagery in one of his books that musicians help “wash the feet” of the church with their gifts. This symbolism established by the service of our Savior is a great way to talk and think about our own ministry.

 

THE ANTI ROCK STAR WORSHIP LEADER

Cleaning_toileteditedA few years ago, I met my buddy Steve at church early on a Sunday morning. We were going to scrub toilets. We were leading the worship music that day, and he’d asked me to meet him there about a half an hour before practice. Steve proposed this idea of scrubbing toilets, thinking it might help us approach our role as worship leaders from a perspective of servanthood.

Out loud I said, “That’s a great idea.”

In my head I said, “This is a terrible idea.”

But Steve was right. The church has developed an unhealthy trend in turning our worship leaders into rock stars. And we musicians usually make matters worse. One look at my Twitter feed tells me that young, well-intentioned worship leaders often talk more about their own careers than they do about Jesus. As a fledgling musician myself, I can relate. Seeking the warmth of the spotlight is a real temptation, and a real danger.

Think about it. Do we look at ushers, parking attendants, and elders like celebrities? They’re the real rock stars of the church, if anyone. But I probably couldn’t even list the elders at my church. I’m convinced we’ve given way too much ground to the unhealthy cultural phenomenon of worshiping celebrities, even within the church. It’s the most ironic form of idol-worship.

photo(11)Don’t get me wrong, I love rock stars. I love going to shows and being entertained. I used to want to be a rock star (Exhibit A: picture to the left), and my little brother sort of is one. I say this because if worship leaders treat their jobs like entertainers, we’re going to seriously miss the point of worship for ourselves and for our congregations.

The social dynamics of leading worship can be tricky. How does a person, on stage in front of a few hundred (or a few thousand) people divert the spotlight off themselves, and onto Jesus? Leading people to follow someone else seems like a bit of an oxymoron. So what makes the difference between truly leading people to worship God versus leading a self-centered-group-sing-along-rock-show with some Jesus sprinkled in?

It’s really tempting to blame the setting. The stage, the lights, the sound, the drum riser. I used to get really wrapped up in these externals. I used to think that churches who used big lights and sound were pretentious and really into being rock stars. You know, the whole “Jesus didn’t use big lights and a fog machine, so we shouldn’t either” sort of thing. But then, I saw some guys lead from the “big stage” with deep humility. And I also saw some guys who led in a small room with no sound system who were trying to be rock stars. When it comes to worship, the setting is mostly irrelevant.

Leading with humility starts with the worship musicians themselves.Every step, breathe, and note on and off the stage sets the tone of worship for the congregation. Effective worship leading begins and ends with the quality of our spiritual lives. And we can’t have quality spiritual lives without deep humility. Worship leaders must become the anti rock stars.

The trick, it seems, is to somehow inspire people but remain “transparent.” To lead without being distracting. To get the ball rolling, get out of the way, and allow people to worship their Creator. C.S. Lewis famously said that “The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of. Our attention would have been on God.” I’d say the same goes for the “perfect” worship leader.

At this point, I have more questions than I do answers. So over the next few weeks, I’m going to be interviewing some worship leaders who lead from a “large” stage & platform, digging in to the details of what it looks like to be an “anti-rock star worship leader.” But for now I wanted to start a conversation about this cultural phenomenon, and how it affects the church.

How do we fight the rock star mentality within the church? It’s one thing to point it out, but what practical steps can we take toward humility?

What results come from treating worship leaders like rock stars? How can we reverse this trend?

TAG TEAM, BACK AGAIN

tag team My family was one of those families who only listened to Christian music when I was a kid. My folks didn’t listen to much music. So because they hardly knew who any artists were and wanted to make sure their young children weren’t listening to N.W.A., they decided to make a rule that we only buy our music at Christian bookstores. The first tape I ever remember asking my parents for was by this cheesy Christian rap group. They took me and my brothers to the Christian bookstore (which is where Christian music is sold, in case you’re wondering.) I marveled at the massive array of collectable figurines that looked like my mom’s Precious Moments collection. Being three, six, and eight years old, my brothers and I picked a tape by the group that looked the most like Vanilla Ice from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze.”

We took the tape home and wore it out, making up funky dances to each song and driving my parents crazy. It’s a good thing that I wasn’t allowed to watch “Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire” at the time, because then I would have realized that the group aped their sound off of its theme song. (Although I did notice a striking resemblance to the group’s music and the theme to “Hangin’ With Mista’ Coopa’.”) Somehow, I got the idea in my head that my peers at school might also enjoy this music.

In gym class, my teacher Ms. Law would play rap music while all the kids did warm up exercises. When Ms. Law hit the pause button, everyone rotated groups: sit-ups to jumping-jacks, jumping-jacks to toe touches, toe touches to push-ups, etc. Ms. Law said that anyone who wanted to bring in their own tape could and we would listen to that, rather than her worn-out copy of “Jock Jams,” for warm-up stations. So I decided to bring in my Christian rap tape one time.

Things quickly got awkward, but not for the immediately assumed reasons (ie: third graders don’t like hearing “hip-hop-hooray-hoe” replaced with “Jesus.”) The reason this instance got so incredibly awkward was that this Christian rap group had a song about sex, how they wanted to remain abstinent until marriage and whatnot. And as soon as the song hit the chorus, with all the white rappers shouting emphasis on “NO SEX!”, Ms. Law’s face turned as red as the rocket mascot on the wall. If I remember correctly, I didn’t get in any trouble for it, she just gave me a “what kind of Christian tape is this?” stare and quickly flipped the tape over while we were switching stations. Ms. Law didn’t say anything to me about it, but I certainly got the message never again to bring in a tape where white Christian dudes with lines shaved in their hair sang about “I don’t want YO’ SEX FO’ NOW!”

As if the no sex song weren’t enough for poor Ms. Law, another warm-up-stations-tape fiasco permanently sealed the deal on my never ever supplying the jams for gym class again. What happened was, I got a copy of Tag Team’s “Whoomp! There It Is” on tape. But because I was well aware that swearing rappers were strictly prohibited at our house, I made my own edited copy. The problem was, not only was I very concerned with deleting the cuss-words so my parents didn’t hear it, but I didn’t know the words very well either. So naturally, I deleted about five to ten seconds around any time I thought there might be a cuss-word. I ended up editing out like half the song. (Which was really too bad, because I’m afraid I deleted the “I produce, AKA: the undertaker. You want to come down to the underground, old school? Here’s a shovel can you dig it, fool? Can you dig it? We can dig it!” part.)

Being a little kid and not being able to put one and one together, much less two and two, I took my freshly edited copy of the Tag Team’s smash single to Ms. Law for gym stations. I figured after the no sex fo now incident, a classic Jock Jams tune would surely steal her heart. So stations began, and after a minute or so the tape stopped without Ms. Law hitting pause. Mayhem ensued. The first time it happened, she was only thoroughly confused, wondering why her tape deck was being screwy. But the second time it happened and she realized this was the “Whoomp! There It Is (Christian Kid Gym Class Edit)” version of the song, Ms. Law’s hands flew up in the air and she shot me the “what have you done?!?” look that can ruin an elementary school kid’s reputation for an entire week. Surprisingly, she didn’t pull it out and unravel all the tape. She just handed it back at the end of class, and with a quick and gracious reprimand, glared at me long enough to where I understood my gym tape days were over.

Things weren’t much better in art class. I remember bringing in the same Christian rap tape (apparently, I was a fairly persistent kid) because I knew the teacher would let us listen to the radio. When the corny song where the white rappers spell “love” with an “L-U-V” came on, my best friend started laughing and making fun of me. By this time, I was mildly confused as to why my Christian rap tape wasn’t receiving the same general acceptance as Coolio. My friend was into Smashing Pumpkins at the time. Maybe I should have listened to him.

I also remember seeing this certain book at my church once about how rock and roll is sinful. I think it was called “Hells Bells.” I remember asking someone what the book was about and being really scared of it, like I’d go straight to hell if I touched it. I think it said something like: “because the lyrics are often fast and indistinguishable, rock and roll singers usually take advantage of this fact, knowing that adults cannot ascertain the lyrics, and sing about raping angels.” Or something like that.

There was also this series of video tapes that the church had for the youth pastor, one tape for each sinful topic: “Sex”, “Drugs”, and “Rock ‘n’ Roll” (because at that time. people still spelled rock and roll with an ‘n.’). You can’t make this stuff up. A couple of years ago, a buddy of mine who interned at the church found that “Rock ‘n’ Roll” tape and, figuring it might very well be the funniest thing he’d seen since “Caddyshack”, watched it. (He was right). Apparently, whoever made this tape series seemed to believe that The Cure, The Smiths, and Depeche Mode were all part of some conspiracy to promote promiscuous activity and get kids to kill themselves. Which is odd, because I thought all three bands were part of a conspiracy to make teenagers write terrible emo songs fifteen years later.

Amusing as all these stories are, none can top what might be my very first memory of music:

Once when I was really little, before I even liked music or wanted to buy any, my dad brought home a Color Me Badd tape and it’s lyrics. For some very bizarre reason, he thought it might teach us a lesson to know what songs like “I Want to Sex You Up” were about, so he read us the lyrics. I remember feeling more awkward in that moment than ever before. At the age of three or four, I had ever even heard of Color Me Badd, much less wanted to sex anyone up. Every time my dad got to the chorus (and I think he read the entire song, repeat choruses included) I wanted to cry, as if I were being accused of molesting the puppy or something. The only swerve I was getting on was in the cul-de-sac on my tricycle.

The funniest thing about that story is that, to this day, my dad has no idea why he did it. My parents definitely had their set of preferences, but they were far from legalists. Sure, they took our Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles away after they realized that the Cowabunga dudes were vaguely associated with Vanilla Ice and rock music. But they, like any other good set of parents, were just trying to do what they thought was right. There wasn’t a guidebook for things like this, so they had to make up their own. Neither of them was very big into music, and our family CD collection consisted of Kenny G’s Breathless and a few Steven Curtis Chapman albums.

One Christmas, my dad bought my mom The Eagles’ reunion CD, Hell Freezes Over. They had been my mom’s favorite band during her teenage years, and he thought it might be a nostalgic gift she’d enjoy. Needless to say, we were all a little shocked when my mom opened it, turned the volume up as a joke, and we heard Don Henley defiantly sing “I’d like to find my inner child and kick his little ASS!” Not that we hadn’t heard the word before (we took the bus to school, after all.) Just not from the speakers of our own stereo, and especially not at full volume. It didn’t help that he’s says “bitchin'” in the next chorus. My mom pretended to be shocked. But what do you expect from a band who wrote songs like “Life In the Fast Lane”?

Right, wrong, or indifferent, that moment was somewhat of a breakthrough for me. I think that may have been the moment I realized I wouldn’t go to hell for liking “the chick-a-cherry-cola song” and that song where the fat guy plays harmonica and raps at the end. The floodgates of “secular music” had been opened, and I had a get-out-of-jail-free card to to fill my brain with all the pop radio I wanted. Non-Christian music was on the loose at our house, and from that point on there was no stopping it. For me, that moment marked the beginning of the tension between Jesus and music that I actually liked. And that tension continues to this day.

(To be continued…)

Do you have any funny stories about Christian music from childhood? Please share in the comments section! 

“LOOPER” & THE TRUTH ABOUT VIOLENCE

looper

My wife and I watched the film “Looper” the other night. Most folks have seen the trailer or know the premise: It’s the year 2042, where time travel has been invented. Joe is a “looper,” a hit man who kills mob victims from the future. One day Joe’s future self shows up as his victim. Joe hesitates. Joe’s future self runs. Whoops. Joe is faced with the dilemma of killing his future self in order to save his present self.

That’s the back-of-the-box explanation anyway. I admit it sounds dorky in a sci-fi, “Back to the Future” meets “Terminator” sort of way. But I promise its cool. And beneath the guise of science fiction lies a beautiful story about ending cycles of violence.

The beginning of the film shows a montage of Joe’s daily routine: blowing victims’ brains out with 2042’s version of a sawed-off shotgun and disposing of the bodies. Joe is a self-centered murderer with seemingly little conscience. Killing-for-hire by day, abusing futuristic drugs and banging showgirls by night.

But when Joe’s time-warped future self shows up as his victim, Joe is posed with a series of moral dilemmas. Future Joe aims to find and kill his murderer 30 years in the past, he can live a life of peace in the future. (Think Marty McFly with a tommy gun.) The problem is that Joe’s murderer, in 2042, is a four year-old kid. Young and old Joe alike are faced with the dilemma of killing children as desperate attempt at self-preservation. The movie unfolds as an interesting commentary on preemptive and redemptive violence.

It’s alarming how easily violence is justified in most Hollywood films. Redemptive violence in particular usually carries a certain nobility. We cheer whenever the underdog comes back and starts taking names. Thankfully, “Looper” takes a different approach. It underscores one of my favorite quotations of Christ: “Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” The movie makes fewer judgments about whether violence is right or wrong, as much as it points out the truth about violence: violence is cyclical. Those who actively engage in violence tend to meet a violent demise.

I also appreciate that “Looper” doesn’t stop there. We’ve seen the horrific effects of violence played out in movies like “American History X” and “Harsh Times.” “Looper,” on the other hand, gives us the redemptive alternative to cycles of violence: sacrifice. The film’s anti-hero, young Joe, morphs from a man who sells out a friend for money to a man who sacrifices himself in order to save lives. Whether or not director Rian Johnson was leaning on Christian philosophies for this screenplay, I don’t know. But the film’s ending certainly winks at history’s conquests over violence (Ghandi, MLKJ, etc.)

Joe’s closing lines in the film probably sum it up best: “Then I saw it, I saw a mom who would die for her son, a man who would kill for his wife, a boy, angry & alone, laid out in front of him the bad path. I saw it & the path was a circle, round & round. So I changed it.” I hate to break it to the superheroes of the world, but the way to wipe out violence is not more violence. Like a bad feedback loop, violence just creates more violence. “Looper” somehow keys in on a truth that even the best governments in history have failed to grasp, and offers a hint at the solution.

I love a good film discussion. Feel free to post thoughts about the film’s themes in the comments.

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION: TO WIN THE LOTTERY

lotteryNew Year’s Resolutions are sort of like returning a Red Box rental. Everyone has good intentions, but few follow through. Even when I set goals & write them down like you’re supposed to, I don’t achieve them half the time. Here’s why…

There are three kinds of goal setters:

1) PEOPLE WHO WIN THE LOTTERY. These are the folks who catch a lucky break. I don’t mean they win the actual lottery. I’m talking about people who acquire a family business or an inheritance. I’m talking about bands that get signed to major labels for their first album, or authors who write a best-seller on their first try. I think it’s elusive how rare these situations actually are. We hear about people like this in the media with stars in our eyes. But how many people do you know who have actually caught this sort of break?

2) PEOPLE WHO ARE WAITING TO WIN THE LOTTERY. Even though these folks are “waiting,” they are actually quite busy. It goes like this: They get really pumped about an idea. Maybe it’s a new diet, or a new project, or a new way to make loads of money. And they spend maybe a week, or a month, or even six months totally psyched about that new idea. And after some short period of time, the newness wears off, and the idea doesn’t work as quickly as it should, and the winning lottery ticket never comes. After a short period of disillusionment, the cycle repeats. More lottery tickets.

3) PEOPLE WHO DON’T BUY LOTTERY TICKETS. These are people who believe that there are no get-rich, get-healthy, or get-famous schemes that are worth it in the long run. These people look at life as a marathon, not a sprint. They take tiny little steps all the way to the point of achieving their huge goals, and then they keep going. The goal was never the point, after all. The goal was only made, and the hard work applied, because they are passionate about something. They build endurance and discipline not because they want to, but because they know the only other option is sitting around and waiting to win the lottery.

Here’s another point worth noting: People tend to look at hard workers like they won the lottery. We look at a doctor and think he has a charmed life, but really it took him 8+ years of school to get where he is. We look at married couples with beautiful children and think they’ve struck the American Dream, without recognizing the tough work and sleepless nights that go into a healthy family. We look at a band like the Avett Brothers playing on the Grammys with Bob Dylan and think, “those guys hit the jackpot!” But few people realize that the Avett’s toured in crappy vans for about 10 years while they slowly built a huge fan base.

The lottery is only worth millions because so many people are buying tickets, waiting to win. Setting goals only works if you’re willing to be disciplined. And discipline sucks. But the way I see it, there’s no way around it, unless you’re willing to cheat, steal, or lie. Before 2013 hits and we all start on our resolutions, we probably ought to decide which camp we want to be in. Are we going to work hard?

Or are we just waiting to win the lottery?

Which category do you fall into? Feel free to share goals, successes, and failures in the comments.

GOOD NEWS: SANTA IS REAL, & HE IS A CHRISTIAN!

 A couple years ago a friend sent me a text. He’d just seen a Christmas display with a Santa Claus bowing down to baby Jesus. He isn’t a Christian, but he was offended. He texted a slew of profanities about how sacrilegious the scene was, and we had a good laugh. Santa bowing to Jesus?! How far are people going to take it? What’s next, Ralphie bringing baby Jesus a BB gun? Mariah Carey as the Virgin Mary? Tim Allen, Chevy Chase, and Will Ferrell as the three wise men?

Well, it turns out the scene isn’t so sacrilegious after all. It turns out Santa was actually a Christian. Not just a Christian, but he was like a super star Christian. He fasted two times a week, according to church history. Many say that miraculous things happened in response to Santa’s prayers. He was also well-known as a “secret gift-giver,” which is where his legend began.

Santa even served on the Council of Nicaea, where the orthodox doctrines of the Christian church were founded. Allegedly Santa got really mad at another bishop for proposing that Jesus wasn’t God. So mad that he smacked him across the face!

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t “Santa” pimp-slapping bishops, but you get where I’m going with this. Last year I asked my Facebook friends if it was ethical to tell your kids Santa is real. If you ever want to start up a really controversial Facebook post, don’t talk about politics or religion. Go straight for the throat and talk about Santa. You will not believe how fired up people get about Santa being real, and how important it is for kids to believe it.

Well, yes and no. Santa was real. Saint Nicholas of Myra is a revered saint of the Christian tradition. He lived a highly respectable life and died on December 6th, 343 A.D. He did give gifts a lot, and he was incredibly noble, and he did bow to Jesus. I have no idea where the elves and reindeer came from. Maybe someone was telling their kids the story of Saint Nicholas and started geeking out on Lord of the Rings?

The tradition of Saint Nicholas bears repeating through our stories and through our gift-giving. The modern day version of Santa gets a little distorted compared to the real man, but I hope my kids will come to know and imitate the real Santa. Mark Driscoll recently wrote a great article about what he tells his kids about Santa. He encourages Christian parents to “redeem Santa” and not to freak out too much if culture distorts the story a bit (or a lot.)

Keep the “Christ” in Christmas? Definitely. While we’re at it, let’s keep Saint Nick in there too.

Thoughts?

 

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