Baby Jesus, and Secret Hidden Messages Just For You

(in which I present my Christmas thoughts this year by discussing not so secret messages, which version of Jesus you prefer, The Mandalorian (Baby Yoda), The Book Thief, Death, Birth, and All Things New.)

 

I just finished reading “The Book Thief.” I was given the book by someone who told me that the narrator reminded them of me. It didn’t take too long into it that I realized the narrator is Death.
That’s its own thing, but given how much my head’s been swirling lately, and just how many thoughts go circling around up there, I can see the similarities.
But it’s the last line that really clinched it for me, a last note from the narrator.

I am haunted by humans.”

It’s true. Well…it’s true that that’s how the book ends. But not just that.
It’s true of me too. I am haunted by humans. One of the greatest gifts I can say I’ve gotten was stories of old, of people I never met nor knew. Letters written. Windows into just a PART of someone’s life.

But isn’t that what a story is anyway? Just a window? A person is so much more. And to know the person is SO much more than just knowing the story.

Every story ever told really happened.
Stories…are where memories go when they’re forgotten.”

I can’t speak to why memories get forgotten, but I can say with a certain conviction that stories impact us all differently, and the emotions they elicit in each of us individually can be just as varied as their impact.
But stories have themes. They may even have recurring messages. Some are poetically weaved throughout—subtle. And others are overtly stated right at the beginning.
In The Book Thief, the last line is the narrator stating, “I am haunted by humans.” But one of the first lines is this: “HERE’S A SMALL FACT You are going to die.”

Seems a bit overt, probably probing, begging you to ask yourself the question, “Am I okay with this? Am I okay with dying?” Maybe even makes you get a bit more philosophical in your self reflection and introspection, “What’s it mean to die? What’s it mean to be alive? What’s it mean to die while still living?”
But the more I read on, the more I realized that the Book Thief is less a about the character of Liesel Meminger, and more a character study of Death itself; AND as a result, a means of which causes you, the reader, to engage with the character of Death, and perhaps more subtly, your relationship to that character—to Death.

How do you relate to Death?

 

Well. Going back to Christmas. We’ve got a story of Birth, not Death (though, maybe as you’ll see soon, perhaps the story of Christmas is as much as story of Death as it is of Birth).
Put simply, I think the story of Christmas, of Bethlehem, and of the birth of a baby—the revelation that the most important thing in the universe is an infant—also serves to reveal more about you, the reader, and how you engage with each character.
It’s almost inescapable.
Unavoidable.
And ohhhh how we try so hard to do so. Let’s make it about making sure we say the right thing around the holiday, or do the right thing, or buy the right thing. Let’s keep busy. Let’s not think too hard. Let’s do just enough acknowledgment that we feel we’ve serviced the “heart” of the holiday, but not in a way where it changes us, or causes us anxiety about ourselves. Let’s not think too hard about it so as to ask the questions that REALLY SHOULD be asked, the ones that may just bring about the end of us.
It is, after all, simply the birth of the “Savior,” and we KNOW what name to write on the birthday cake.

And it’s the end of the story—the death and resurrection—that we’re left with.

But what does the beginning tell us? What does it reveal about ourselves?
Which version of Jesus do YOU pray to?

I started this post with a clip from Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. It’s probably my favorite scene from that film because it presents such a real and honest display of everything I’ve been saying up to this point.
What version of Jesus you prefer and like the best says more about you than it does about Jesus.

And what’s wrong with liking the baby version the best?
Because it’s weak? Because it’s not the savior? Because it requires care and a more delicate hand on your part?

See, the grown up, bearded man version of Jesus is the one we go to. That’s the one that “carries us” when we’re struggling (why there’s only one set of footprints). The grown up version is the one that takes care of US, dies for US, saves US.
But the baby version…well…the baby version requires YOU to care for IT. The baby version requires YOU to take care of IT.

It’s the baby version that requires YOU to die for IT.

The baby version requires more on your part. More questions. More self reflection. More introspection. More anxiety. Maybe even the end of you. It requires honesty. Vulnerability.
It requires being an adult. Being a parent. Care. Tenderness. Protection. Realness. Stress.
Humanity.
You feeling weak, frustrated, open to hurt.
It requires you being human.
Sooo…

How do YOU relate to BABY Jesus?

See, I don’t think that’s a question we want to ask ourselves. So we project. We know the end of the story, after all. And the holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus becomes more about what the end of the story means.

I am haunted by humans.”

Recently—much like most redblooded Americans—I began watching Disney+’s “The Mandalorian.” It didn’t take long to reveal the big shocker of the series: a baby Yoda.

Image result for baby yoda
Friggin adorable. You should see him eat a frog. Or play with spaceship controls. Or disobey.

Whoa! Spoilers!” You say. To which I respond with, “Welcome to the internet.”

But the series turns heel at that moment. And what you THOUGHT was a story about one character and his history, becomes about how he relates to an infant.
See he doesn’t know baby Yoda, or what a Yoda species means, it’s power, rarity, bigger narrative implications. He just sees an infant. An adorable one.
And come episode three, the titular Mandalorian abandons everything to take care of the infant.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens at the story’s end, because we the audience don’t know what this baby is, or how important it is, or what will happen to it in the overall narrative.
Like we do with the infant born in a middle eastern cave, and laid in a food troth.
We know the end there. “It is finished.” (Though I don’t think all of us understand the end…)

What if all we had was the beginning (of the story)?

Over the course of my teaching career, I’ve had countless times where students have approached me to say they’re convinced I said something in class just for them. Like I was speaking for their benefit, and speaking directly and only to them. Like I was coding secret messages in a general message JUST to reach out to them.
Funny thing about truth is that sometimes it pierces in such a personal way that it feels as if it’s talking to JUST US. And I won’t lie, sometimes I DID code secret messages in a general message JUST to reach out to specific individuals.

But sometimes a story can feel so personal simply because we think we know the ending. Or maybe that the storyteller does. We think we have it all figured out, the story. It’s like that with people too. We think we know the ending. Or that the other person does.
When in reality, it’s just the beginning. And what that means to us is that we don’t know the ending.
We only know that the story has truly just begun.
And that lack of knowing what happens next, well…if we think we have it figured out, what do we need the story for? What do we need another person for?

Personally, this year has brought about a lot of change. Like…a LOT.
This year has brought about the end of me in so many ways, it’s impossible to fully get into without long, drawn out conversations that stretch far into the night.
And anyone that knows me well enough knows how difficult and challenging this season has always been to me. Not just Christmas, but my birthday as well (which happens to be coming up soon, and falls prior to Christmas). This whole season, just difficult no matter WHAT else is going on in my life.
And I can always tell the struggle has begun because—without FAIL—my lower back begins to hurt to the point of debilitation. This year it hit two days ago. And each year I think, “Gah. What did I do? How’d I pull my back THIS bad??” And then I realize this happens EVERY YEAR.

But something clicked this year that has changed what I view this season to be. No, not that it cured my lower back pain.
The theme. What’s at the heart of the story of this season? The birth? Baby Jesus? All the questions and self reflection and introspection that relating to Baby Jesus brings?

Do not be afraid.” Zacharias. Joseph. Mary. The shephards. “Do not be afraid.”
This is one of the first lines of the narrative in both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke that provide us the Nativity Story, the birth of Jesus.
Do not be afraid.”
THIS is the theme of the story. Each of these characters may have been told the importance of Jesus, what Jesus will be, all of it. But what they were facing in the here and now was this: an infant. A baby.
“A baby changes everything…”

How much responsibility. Care.
The END of you. A NEW relationship.

And it’s scary. It’s frightening. There’s SO many what ifs. And it will more than likely be the end of you. But all of this is GOOD NEWS. The END of FEAR. Which is good news in itself.

You have everything to fear, and yet you’re told, “It’s okay. You have nothing to fear.”

This is how the story starts. Overtly.
And if anything is subtly weaved throughout the rest of the story, it’s this message.

So I may not know the future. I don’t, actually. Just like I don’t know what’s gonna happen in The Mandalorian, or if having a baby Yoda is somehow going to play into The Rise of Skywalker.
I don’t know it. And not knowing the story can be very scary. And present the end of me.

But I’m not afraid.

And no, this isn’t me making a subtle secret message. (But then again, I’m not that good of a storyteller.) I’m not being poetic, I’m not being mysterious or obscure.
I’m saying this directly and overtly.

DO NOT BE AFRAID.”
I bring you good news. And it’s this: You don’t have to be afraid.

This will change everything, sure. It’ll be the end of you, sure. But you don’t have to fear it.
You don’t have to fear anything that causes you fear.

Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays.
For this is only the beginning. And it’s not just a season. It’s a new life.
THIS is the new year. And none of us have anything to fear.

It’s true. WHEREVER you find love, it feels like Christmas.”

And Christmas means YOU HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR.
So…WHEREVER you find love…DON’T BE AFRAID.
THAT’S good news.

There is no fear in love…perfect love casts out fear.” – 1st John 4:18

 

And I believe THAT is worth giving thanks.

So.
Let’s all give thanks to tiny, 8lbs 6oz, newborn infant Jesus, who doesn’t even know his shapes and colors.

 

(UP NEXT:What is Love? Baby Don’t Hurt Me… A Reexamination of the Film, Warm Bodies”)

->and the world WILL be better for this…

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What Happens Next

This summer, I came to the realization that it wasn’t someone else, wasn’t anyone else, that I longed to have this song serenaded to me by, it was myself. Well…my future self, that is. To sing this song to my middle school self. Let him know it’ll be okay, and if he wants, I won’t tell ’em his name.

Music has always been a huge factor in my life, and I may still long to have my “song” sung back to me. But as I said in my last post, I almost made the choice to not have a life for music to play a part in.

“And scars are souvenirs you never lose
The past is never far
Did you lose yourself somewhere out there
Did you get to be a star”

I used to think I have loads of scars. But if I were honest, I don’t have scars yet. I think I still have wounds.
And that’s partially my fault for not letting them heal.

Well anyway, it’s been 5 years since I got around to not only creating new music, but updating the music section of my website…

Check out the new song, “What Happens Next,” there.
(Or click HERE for convenience)

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When Life Kills the “Impossible Dream” part 2, When the Dream Kills Life

My son recently told me that the reason he doesn’t like his dreams is because he’s alone in them.
I didn’t know what to tell him.
The world’s big enough as it is, moreso when you’re four and a half.
And then you add a burgeoning subconscious that you’re only starting to navigate, and how do you come to understand who you are and process what this thing called living is when by no choice of yours, a hungry sasquatch comes into your house looking for snacks? And while that in itself is enough to cause you to question things, on top of that, the family that tends to always be there, isn’t; it’s just you, a four and a half year old kid, left alone to deal with this unprecedented situation.
What do you do as that kid?
Go hide in your bed, and find a sword.
…At least that’s what he said he did in the dream.

But more than just that one dream, what do you do as that kid having to face a reality where things seem normal until they’re not, and when you most need reassurance, comfort even, none can be found? Because you’re dreaming. And you’re alone. And you don’t know it’s a dream.

I think if I were being honest, I didn’t know what to tell him because experience has only really served to actually drive this point home. It seems like shit advice from an emotionally uninvested parent.

Guess what kid, it’s only going to get worse in the real (waking) world. You’ll find yourself facing questionable, unprecedented situation after questionable, unprecedented situation as you get older, that’ll all seem just as jarring as a bad dream, and there will be countless of those situations where you’ll look around for comfort and reassurance, only to find yourself alone.

Harsh… But true?
Just how much of life are you not alone in? And the more you experience life, the more it could feel like that child-like oscillation between being asleep and not knowing it, and being awake.
Between being alone, and being connected.
Being apart from.
And being a part of.
When you’re awake, you know you’re awake. Everything’s normal. But that’s only because you’ve experienced waking.
When you’re dreaming, and don’t know you’re dreaming, it feels like everything’s normal. It’s only after you awake, that you realize the experience you had prior that felt so normal (no matter how strange it got), wasn’t normal, and was the dream.

And how often in life does something feel normal (no matter how strange it gets), only for you to find out it isn’t?

How often in our lives does it feel, effectively, like we wake up?

So is it so strange that some people begin to feel like my kid does right now, and begin to despise the “dream”? But it’s not dreaming, is it, it’s an aspect of reality—the world—itself.
Ever had someone in your dream tell you it’s real life, not a dream?
How is that any different than telling someone who feels alone, that they’re not alone?
And if you can’t tell you’re dreaming when you’re dreaming, so much so that you begin to hate sleep itself because of that fact, how do you begin feeling about life after those situations where you look around for that comfort and reassurance, only to find yourself aloneagain.

I think at this point, there may be a tendency to differentiate between solitude and isolation. And it’s true. They’re different things.

Growing up, there was a lot of circumstances in my life that left me to my own devices. Family of five that grew up moving around regularly; with sisters that were not only just enough older than me that there was rarely any scholastic overlap, but are also twins. This solitude was further perpetrated by having an immune deficiency disorder, one which required plenty of self reflection if only to get the help I needed, because I rarely would show signs of being sick outwardly until it was INCREDIBLY bad.
Throw in experiences and trauma in my life that further left me feeling unrelatable, and the solitude I never really minded, turned to isolation. And it never mattered how many people I connected with, or how often I was told I wasn’t alone (cue the Christians with their “but God is always with you” rhetoric), didn’t change how often I felt like a four and a half year old discovering a sasquatch in his house, hungry for snacks, and no one else at home to comfort him in this scary, unprecedented situation.

 

 

We have moments of solitude. We FEEL isolation.

And that’s the point. My kid’s not afraid of solitude. He’s afraid of being alone when he’s really scared. He’s afraid of being alone when he really shouldn’t be alone.

Being afraid of solitude is one thing. Being afraid of isolation, of being alone, that’s something else.

The Bard put it best, “If tomorrow wasn’t such a long time, then lonesome would mean nothing to me at all.”

 

Sometimes tomorrow is such a long time, and the dream when you’re alone—unknown to be a dream—seems to stretch on forever.
Sometimes you’re so alone, you can’t remember the sound of your own name.

I originally planned on titling this “One and Done.” Because maybe one isn’t the loneliest number, maybe it’s just the most solitary. Which would make it more prone to bouts of loneliness.

How often, do you think, has “One” struggled to find another “One”? How many suicide notes has “One” written in its lifetime?

How many suicides prayed to God for SOMETHING to wake them up only for their prayers to go unanswered. Or maybe thought the answer—the “wake up”—lay at the end of the rope, or down the barrel of the gun, or the razors edge, or the bottom of the pill container.

 

I can’t enter my son’s dreams and make it so he’s not alone there, but I can make damn sure I’m there for him when he needs me in waking life (yes, my daughter too…not leaving her out to dry).

I recently spent one hell of a weekend where I almost wasn’t, because I didn’t want to be. I almost wasn’t here, because I was going to choose not to be.

And…those were some of the toughest words I’ve ever written out. To admit to that truth.

 

And see, one of the worst parts of being in a dream that you can’t wake up from, and don’t know is a dream, is that you don’t wake up unless someone wakes you.


It may very well be that Alonzo Quijano is awake, and Don Quixote is the dream. And Alonzo Quijano MAY have “friends” and “family” around; but the truth is, Alonzo Quijano is alone.
His existence might as well be a dream.
Don Quixote may be the dream, but the dream isn’t alone. Even if the dream requires being awoken TO it.

Alonzo was ready to die. And die alone.
Don Quixote was ready to live. And adventure.
Even though he dies shortly after.

The thing is, Alonzo would’ve died alone. Don Quixote didn’t die alone.

It’s probably crazy. Crazy to to be alive. Crazy to hope. Crazy to dream. Crazy to keep believing in a Dulcinea that WILL return and sing your song back to you.

But I’m done with the lie that we are alone. I’m done with “life as it is…

And you know what?
I’d rather be crazy, than dead.

And I’ll joyfully die a crazy madman who dreams he’s not alone, among other crazy madmen who dream with me.

 

Time to wake up, Darling.
Time to wake up. And keep dreaming the Impossible Dream.

 

->and the world WILL be better for this…

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