Second Christmas

I’ve been listening a lot this Christmas season to The Oh Hellos’ 2013 Christmas EP, which—despite my earlier protestations—I love even though it is full of unabashedly rambunctious and joyful moments. The EP has four movements, which take the listener through the story of Christmas, from the longing for Emmanuel to the joy of Christmas morning. Each movement brings together familiar carols and tunes in new ways. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” becomes a medley with “The Coventry Carol”; “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” combines with “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” And, in the final movement, two songs come together that thumped two ideas up against each other in my mind and made me quick-gasp and shiver with a bit of excitement when I heard it in the car the other week.

“Mvmt IV, ‘Every Bell On Earth Will Ring’” begins with “Joy to the World” and then, to the tune of “We Saw Three Ships,” come the words, “Every bell on earth shall ring/ On Christmas Day in the morning! Every soul on earth will sing/ On Christmas Day in the morning!”

DSCN8205I’ve often heard it said that “Joy to the World” isn’t a Christmas carol. That makes sense to me, and I’d agree—not that we should stop singing it, but that “He rules the world with truth and grace” and “Fields and floods,  rocks, hills, and plains/ Repeat the sounding joy” don’t really seem to match the world we live in. Jesus came, yes, but His coming did not restore the world to Eden. He was not the conquering King Israel was looking for in a Messiah. Instead, He came to suffer and to die—to pay the price for sin and bring salvation. “Joy to the World” is about another advent: when Jesus will come again and rule the world with truth and grace.

What struck me, listening to The Oh Hellos’ rendition, was the idea that in the New Heavens and New Earth, we’ll have TWO Christmases. We’ll have the first one—because without the first Advent, salvation would not have come into the world and allowed us to be renewed, but we’ll also have the second one—the day when Jesus came again. Second Christmas.

I mentioned this thought to my boss, Tim, and he said, “But will we still celebrate it, when Jesus is there with us?” Of course, I said. We still celebrate birthdays don’t we? Especially when the person is with us. And besides, I’m pretty sure we’re going to be ready to party at any excuse in those days.

So, I’ve decided to start calling this holiday we’re currently celebrating “First Christmas”—if only from time to time—and if somebody asks I’ll tell them about Second Christmas, the one with no stress, no family drama, no darkness. On Second Christmas morning, every soul on earth shall sing.

Stopping by the Woods: A Review of A Year in Weetamoo Woods

I’ve never written a poetry review before, so perhaps I’m doing this all wrong. Perhaps I should talk of meter and rhyme, cadence and word choice. But I’m not going to do that. I shall leave such things to those better versed in the criticism of poetry.

Instead, I shall approach these verses as a reader. For, though I’ve studied its creation and taught its analysis, I am simply a reader when it comes to poetry. From time to time my thoughts present themselves in poetic structure, but such is a rare occurrence. More often I find myself going to poetry as a devotional experience—my favorite poems being those which consider the things of this earth, the things of heaven, and the age-old wrestling match between them.

I shall have to add some pieces from Christopher Yokel’s new book of poetry, A Year in Weetamoo Woods, to my collection of wrestling poems. As the title implies, it is a book of nature poetry, primarily. For a year, Yokel walked in the woods and wrote his poems and then collected them by season in a book. And honestly, if you had woods nearby named “Weetamoo,” wouldn’t you be moved to use their name in a title?

I like the pictures Yokel presents of his creation process throughout these poems. In “Arden” he writes, “Here I come/ where Adam’s curse is felt/ less cruelly, . . . / Here there is space to think/ to be,/ to draw out poetry from trees.”  In “The Price of Art” he writes, “I have flung myself over/ tree and trail,/ rock and stone,/ in payment for what I have come to take.”

Overall, what stood out to me about Weetamoo Woods were the pictures. Yokel is gifted in painting with simple words images of what he sees (or smells, or hears, or feels)—both in physical reality and in his imagination—and making them clear to his reader.  Leaves, branches, paths, stones, water, earth, wind. All are seen, felt, smelled, heard, touched: the rush of a breeze in “Stirring,” when he says, “All the trees stir together,/ as God passes/ through the midst of the garden”; the fluttering summer leaves  in “Flags,” when he writes, “The sun glinted and glimmered through/ a hundred spear shafts standing to the sky/ their bright green banners snapping in the breeze”; the frozen fields in “Tinidril,” when he says, “The fields are laid to rest/ stiff with winter’s embalming.”

Perhaps it is because I read these poems in the short, dark days at the turn of the year that those in the section titled Winter stood out to me most vividly. “The Barren King” was a favorite poem of the collection; its images of a frozen stream and the snow-covered forest bring to mind memories of hushed walks through winter woods in northern climes. Yokel captures precisely what I’ve always thought of those days in his final stanza:

Snow glorifies the branches of winter,
covers over their naked shame,
and makes them kingly for a day,
with memories of greening leaves.
The monarch in winter is a monarch still.

The images of “Ghosts of the Old Year,” also stood out from the rest—“dead leaves creak/ like ribs rubbing together,/ quiver and vibrate/ like frozen cicadas.” I love the idea of the old leaves as ghosts of the old year—what is gone is not forgotten in its lifelessness. There is a solidity to that season that looks like death, though we know it will give way to resurrection in the spring—as Yokel writes in “Awake O Sleeper” looking at the “corpses of trees” he hears “the sound of the/ robin, singing the first/ notes of resurrection.”

In this, you see, there is that wrestling of heaven and earth—and of the New Heaven and Earth with this one that will pass away. Yes, I shall have to add some of these poems to my collection.

And perhaps, after mulling them for a while I will find myself where Yokel does at the end of his year—looking back to where he set off, “another person ago.” I will be changed, like a tree in a wood from season to season changes, and I may not know myself at the far end. But perhaps, to paraphrase Eliot, that is where I will know myself for the first time.

The End

When you come to the end,
to the place where the light is
you will look back and see
the weight of your soul,
how the journey has given you
more than you carried
when you set off another person ago,
how you traded your cheap wares
for precious possessions,
ingots of memories,
experience in folds,
to arrive like a beggar in guise
but your treasure
all carried inside you
where it cannot grow old.

A Year in Weetamoo Woods was released on January 6, 2014. More from Chris Yokel can be found at his website: chrisyokel.com. Yokel’s book of poetry is available for purchase from Lulu, Amazon, and B&N.

A Year in Weetamoo Woods Book Trailer

Bent Branches, Straight Baselines

It’s been just over a month now since spring began – slowly this year in Philly – coming at us in fits and starts. I think it has actually arrived now, though there are still one or two trees that are only just leafing out. But the azaleas and the dogwoods have bloomed, so I think it’s really spring.
This slow spring has drawn my attention more than once – trees that often bear the bright of yellow-green in March still showed their naked limbs well into April. It was as if they wanted to say, “See, here’s my structure. These are my bones. You may not have noticed them this winter when your eyes were cast to the ground watching for ice patches. Look up now; see my angled boughs.”
At the beginning of April, my friend David posted a short piece on his blog titled simply, “On Baseball.” In it he quickly and poetically examined the architecture of a golf and baseball, finishing with these words:
Baseball unites heaven and earth: it inscribes a pattern of clean lines, orbs, and diamonds upon the dust from which we were formed and in which we toil, and the lush green in which we find rest. Upon that heaven-and-earth field, prodigal sons set out on barren base paths; and we watch and wait to see if they will make it back home.
The words arrested me. I love clean lines. I love the straight, the symmetrical. There is beauty in a ballpark. But as the trees bared themselves, I had the realization that straight lines are a rare thing in nature. The Creator’s beauty meanders more than man’s.
And when we humans create without the assistance of our man-made tools, our creations are meandering things too, the image of God creating in the pattern of God. As I began to think it through, I realized that the straight lines and measured curves of architecture echo the straight lines and measured curves of the heavenly throne room – and our ideals of beauty find their fulfillment in the descriptions of that place.
Somehow, we find ourselves caught in the middle, loving both the bent branches and the straight baselines. Caught between heaven and earth. Redeemed yet human. Prodigal sons looking for home.
My first inspirations on this topic formed themselves into an essay for The Curator, the web publication of the International ArtsMovement for which I am now serving as an Assistant Editor. 

David’s continued thoughts on the topic have been manifested in a second blog post where he says kind things about my Curator essay and much better things of his own. 

“There Will be Butterflies.”

I came across the line on the airplane. I had decided only days before the conference to read the book, and here I was, on my way, with half of it left to go. Ah, well, I’d thought. If I don’t finish, I don’t finish. No one will be upset with me.

But then I started reading, and words and phrases jumped off the page at me, rattling my notions of how the world works and reminding me that the God I serve is just as micro as He is macro. That the world of molecules and the world of galaxies are magical places, painted by a Great Artist. That the Great Artist loves and cares for and comforts His people.

And I sat on the airplane, devouring the book, almost grateful for the flight delay as it would give me more time on the tilt-a-whirl.

Then I came to the line. I’m not a margin writer. I don’t generally underline. I avoid dog-earing page corners. I like clean pages and post-it notes. But I have journals full of lines from books, the ones that strike me just right that I can’t set aside, that I must keep and find again. So when I came to the line my first instinct was to dig in my backpack for my journal. And then I reached for a pen…and came up empty-handed.

I had grabbed the essentials – wallet, chapstick, Asian coffee-flavored hard candies – from my purse when I put it into the bag being gate-checked. Somehow I had missed a pen.

I was frozen for a moment, torn over the need to mark the passage and my distaste for marring pages. I glanced out of the corner of my eye at the man next to me. His burly arms were painted with colorful tattoos, his goatee long and frizzled. He read a graphic novel. It was the graphic novel that made me hope. Tattoos and a grizzly goatee might be on a biker guy, and I’d be less likely to expect him to carry a pen. But the graphic novel made me feel a little kinship with the man – though I can’t say I’ve ever read one. I know people who read graphic novels, and I know that they have creative minds and hearts. He might have a pen.

“Excuse me,” I asked, still slightly intimidated by the gauges in the ears and the hipster glasses on his round face. “Do you have a pen I could borrow?”

The pen was a sea-green Bic with sparkles in the plastic. He was not a cap-chewer. He went back to his graphic novel and I dove back in, to the line, and began writing on the first page of my new journal.

“To His eyes, you never leave the stage. You don’t cease to exist. It is a chapter ending, an act, not the play itself. Look to Him. Walk toward Him. The cocoon is a death, but not a final death. The coffin can be a tragedy, but not for long.

“There will be butterflies.”i


In an instant I was back in a hospital intensive care unit on December second, knowing that the man in the bed would not recover, would never play piano for me again. I was sitting in my sister’s bedroom on April ninth hearing on the phone that a woman I loved and worked with daily had died the evening before, three weeks after the cancer diagnosis. I was at the memorial service on May fifth, thinking of the man who had been my teacher, and watching his wife and children and grandchildren mourn him.

And I thought of what Lisa said when she woke up on that Easter morning that she died. Her sister came into the room and greeted her with, “He is risen.”

Lisa sat up in the bed and said, “He is risen indeed.” Then she gathered her energy enough to speak again. “It’s Resurrection Day, and my boots are in the closet.”

“There will be butterflies.”

And I thought of losing Keren, and losing Aimee, and all the other coffins that have been tragedies. But not for long.

“There will be butterflies.”

If nothing else this weekend at Hutchmoot reminded me of that hope. I serve the Creator God who chose to enter the anthill, the Second Adam who chose to lay down his life fighting the dragon in order to save His bride.ii Whose people create works that point to Him in various ways, like setting a story in a house called Maison Dieu, which is haunted by a Spirit, which welcomes all travelers to the central Chapel where they are reborn.iiiWhose greatest stories plant a signpost at the end that says, “The story goes on that way.”iv

“Death feels so wrong to us because death ends a story that was meant to go on.”v

But this life and these deaths are the foundation for a new work, a new creation, built on the old…

“Our hope is not for a happy ending, but for a happy beginning—a new story.”vi

“There will be butterflies.”


i Wilson, N.D., Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl.Thomas Nelson. p. 113

iiWilson, N.D., Ideas presented in session on Adventurous Storytelling and in Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl.

iiiGoudge, Elizabeth, Pilgrim’s Inn.From Sarah Clarkson’s session on Spiritual Subtext.

ivPeterson, A.S., Idea presented in session on Tales of the New Creation.
vPeterson, A.S., Tales of the New Creation.
viTrafton, Jennifer. Tales of the New Creation.

"Every Creation Myth Needs a Devil."

I finally saw The Social Network yesterday. Yes, I know I’m well behind the times. But, you know, these things happen. There were many fascinating aspects to the film. I see why they have continually pointed out that this is an unauthorized version of events, and that these are characters based upon the real people, not representations of the people themselves. I see exactly why it has been winning awards left and right. There are great things I could mention about the writing, the directing, and the acting – but those are all well-discussed elsewhere. I don’t need to.

Instead, I’ve been dwelling on one line that caught in my memory, which in the context of the story being told is directed at the main character, Mark Zuckerberg: “Every creation myth needs a devil.” The phrase is stated to Zuckerberg at the end of the film, following the depositions which have been used as the framework device to communicate the tale of the origin of Facebook. The character speaking is saying that Zuckerberg himself will play the role of the devil in that particular creation story – that is, the version that arose from the depositions. But what fascinates me is the layering of this creation story throughout the film.
Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter, and David Fincher, the director, have managed, in a single film, to tell at least two creation myths for the phenomenon which is Facebook. Atop the myth that reveals itself through the depositions in the film, casting Zuckerberg as the devil, is the myth revealed by the film overall, in which identifying the devil is more complicated.
In the film’s version of the creation story, Zuckerberg certainly is one candidate for the role of devil. He begins the film by eviscerating an ex-girlfriend in a blog; he promises three other students that he will build a website for them, and instead builds Facebook for himself; he begins the company with his best friend, and then dissolves his friend’s ownership share in it down to nearly nothing, while keeping his own share absolutely intact. There’s plenty of evidence for the deposition version of the creation myth.
But there are enough nuances throughout the film which raise doubt about Zuckerberg’s role. When he meets the girl he wrote about in the blog later in the film, he goes to speak to her. He does not apologize, per se, but the audience is not quite sure whether he would have had he been able to. His attitude is such that we think he might truly regret his actions. When he reneges on his promise to build the website, there’s a certain amount of understanding we have for him. He was 19 years old. He talked with some guys who had a great idea for a website. He said he’d help them out. Then he started thinking more about it, and came up with a better idea – yes, inspired by the first, but bigger and broader – and got excited about it. Perhaps the fact that he didn’t follow through on his promise was not, after all, deliberate perfidy, but rather the immaturity of a teenager who has a brilliant idea. The betrayal of his best friend is, perhaps, the hardest element of Zuckerberg’s devil-role to poke holes through, but the film brings in other characters whose influence over him could be the reason for it.
It is one of these characters, Sean Parker, the founder of Napster, who is, in the end, the other best contender for the devil role in the film’s version of the creation myth. I was reminded every time Parker came on screen with Zuckerberg of a snake fascinating its prey before it strikes, weaving to and fro before it, beautiful and dangerous. The character Zuckerberg is on the one hand, lured into a world he doesn’t really care about.
But here’s the thing about humankind: even when they are archetypes in a creation myth, they don’t stop being human. Zuckerberg is not innocent. While the character is portrayed as not caring about the money his new company will bring him, he is consumed with a desire for prestige on his own terms. We see that he was not deeply involved in the dissolution of his friend’s shares in the company, but we also see that he allowed them to be dissolved. While Parker fascinates him, he buys into the fascination, because he sees in Parker something of what he wants to be.
In the end, the film leaves us with a creation myth that needs a devil, and Zuckerberg is probably the best option for the role. But it also leaves us with questions about the nature of mankind, about brilliance without guidance, and about the idea of influence and power.
And, finally, we’re left with a character who could be any one of us: a young man who had a great idea and was capable of accomplishing it. And we’re left asking what the cost was for him to do so.

The 25 Days of December

The first 25 days of the month are over now, and the challenge to post a photo per day completed. I had a photo for each day, and only one was posted late.

So now it is done, and it accomplished my unspoken task. I caught the blogging itch again. I may not have a photo for each post, and I certainly won’t get them up daily, but I will be more regular with them, working to share my thoughts in this space, out there for all the world to see.
Please continue to read and continue to comment. Your words back to me confirm that my words were not just spoken into the void. As God-like as that would be, I’m fairly sure that this creation wouldn’t get the same result. No earth and sky, land and sea, plants and animals. So I look for your words, to know that I have created something.