I've moved!

Thanks to everyone who faithfully read my ramblings and musings here at Soapbox Suds for a number of years. I have moved my blog to Medium, a highly popular and fast-growing site for writers. I'm now writing there with the new blog title, "Incarnate Faith." Please join me there. I am, for now, leaving this blog up as an archive.



What Pentatonix is teaching us about Christmas and the "war" on it

It's an annual tradition in the U.S. now. Every December, we hear the displeasure (and sometimes violent indignation) of Christians who feel that they're losing their holiday.

Of course, not all the observations of the disgruntled are untrue. It is in fact true that more public schools are expanding to include more holidays or not doing religiously-themed activities at all. It is true that businesses, public events, etc. are giving more and more recognition to other holidays celebrated at this time of year (or opting for a broad, secular "holidays" reference). Explicit references to Jesus on the television airwaves are fewer these days.

Such observations are not wholly untrue; our culture is diversifying. This reality is the cause consternation among some Christians who, as best I can tell, wish they didn't have to share space with others who don't believe and celebrate as they do. Apparently, a homogeneous society where everyone unquestioningly celebrates Christmas would be better.

In the midst of this environment where, according to Donald Trump, you can't even say "Merry Christmas" without fear, Christmas and Jesus burst onto the scene on prime time television this year, and I wonder how many people noticed.

Pentatonix is the 5-member a cappella group from Texas with super-human sounds that have captivated their audiences. They burst onto the music scene in 2011 when they won the third season of NBC's "The Sing-Off." Since then, they've released five full studio albums, won 2 Grammy's, and have been nominated for dozens of other awards.

Three of their five albums are Christmas albums. Among those three Christmas albums, 11 of the songs on them are explicitly Christian and/or directly reference Christ and his birth.

On December 14th, on NBC (one of TV's most popular networks) at 8:00 p.m. (one of the most popular TV viewing hours), Pentatonix had a full-hour Christmas special that included big name special guests like Reba McEntire and Dolly Parton. In this prime time slot, when some would have you believe you can't say the name of Jesus, in front of 7.5 million viewers, they belted out lyrics such as:

God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day

In Bethlehem, in Israel this blessed Babe was born
And laid within a manger upon this blessed morn
That which His Mother Mary did nothing take in scorn

Come and behold him
Born the king of angels
Oh come let us adore him...Christ the Lord

How did this happen? Why didn't the anti-Christmas gods strike them down?

Granted, I'm possibly over-exaggerating the uniqueness of these mentions of Christ. After all, Lauren Daigle recently performed what is essentially a worship song on Good Morning America. But explicit references to Christ in prime time, especially in reverent fashion, are still uncommon enough to merit notice.

Granted, part of the reason these artists are getting a special place is because of their special talent. When you're captivating audiences and can bring in ratings, producers largely don't care what you're saying.

But I don't think their talent accounts for all of it. The members of Pentatonix, both collectively and as individuals, demonstrate a grace and humility that stands in stark contrast to the combative and pretentious posture of Christians who think there's an organized attack on their holiday.

Pentatonix is a religiously-diverse group that includes one Jewish member (Avi, the bass). Only one member openly talks about being a Christian (Kevin, the beatboxer). Based on things I've read from and about the group, it's safe to assume that at least one other member considers him/herself non-religious. These members don't protest, pout, or disengage at the thought of singing about beliefs and celebrations that are not their own. Quite to the contrary, they put in countless hours of practice and travel time away from home to be able to do so. In all their interviews, they are incredibly humble and seem to genuinely consider it a privilege and blessing that people are listening to their music. During one interview, the female member, Kirstin, began to cry as she talked about how much she owes to her mother for always supporting her and believing in her. They're talented people, but they're also gracious and humble people who have earned their following.

As it turns out, a group that is largely non-committal religiously is given more generous time and space to speak the name of Christ than other Christian groups who demand that their holiday be given exclusive recognition.

Let this be a lesson to us. Perhaps there is truth to the old teaching that you have to earn the right to be heard. A gracious and humble approach to our neighbors, one that values others above ourselves (Philippians 2:3), is how fretting Christians may find more opportunities to share the Savior that we so anxiously want recognized at this time of year.

People actually connect with you and open up to you when you act like Christ. Imagine that.


Finding the Tucked-Away Message

I’ve noticed that some of the best and most powerful messages that are to be found in books, music, and even the Bible can sometimes be tucked away and often missed.

Some of the best lyrics in classic Christmas songs come in later verses. “O Holy Night” was originally written in 19th century France by Placide Cappeau, and translated into English by John S. Dwight. The third verse is incredibly rich but doesn’t even appear in some hymnals.

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease

I would also venture a guess that very few people know the eighth verse of the old English carol “Here We Come A-Wassailing,” but it’s the best verse of the song:

Good master and good mistress,
While you're sitting by the fire,
Pray think of us poor children
A-wandering in the mire.

© 2013 cathy andersenFlickr | CC-BY-ND via Wylio
If you’re connected with me on social media, you may have seen that I’ve been posting daily quotes from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I didn't read the book until after many years of watching the movie but, as these things often go, some of the best quotes are only to be found in the book. In the scene where Scrooge and his nephew Fred are arguing about whether Christmas is beneficial, I have not yet seen a movie that uses Fred’s observation that the season helps people to “think of those below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave.” What a powerful statement, easily missed when reading, that represents an approach to others that would drastically change everything from our individual behavior to our public policy. (If you’re curious to read more about why I like this story so much, click here).

It’s even true of our Holy Book. One of the most powerful statements in the Bible about worship is found tucked away in a story in 2 Samuel 24 that very few have read. It’s here that David says: “I will not sacrifice to the Lord an offering that costs me nothing.” Worship and service to God is meant to cost us something, not simply to be a method by which we get something or self-vindicate.

So it is of that ancient story of the first Christmas. The people to whom the birth was announced were not anything close to prominent religious leaders, household names, etc. but instead shepherds "tucked away" at the outskirts of the towns and magi hailing from some unknown place in "the East." The "prophecies" to which we would later look as foreshadowing the birth of Christ were not the standard Messianic texts to which those Jewish readers looked but were tucked away in pronouncements that originally addressed a different context.

And Jesus himself, not in a palace or even a guest room, but in some dirty place (probably a cave) where animals were likely kept, tucked away.

In my life so far, I have rarely found God in the places I expected to find Him or hear from Him. God's presence may be in the shadows. God's voice may be in the whisper. God's might and power may be found in a baby. It's worth noting that "Mary's song," recorded in Luke after she and Elizabeth meet, says some very interesting things about what she saw God doing through this birth. She says,

He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.

In this announcement, Mary saw a God who was about to turn things upside down. This baby would grow up to be the one who said, "The first shall be last, and the last shall be first."

God stands ready to help us see a different world through His eyes - a world in which, among other things, the most important things are to be found "tucked away" - once forgotten, but no more.