Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Time Is Here

It's Christmas morning. Three of our four kids are up, and they've opened their stockings. This is the rule in our house: you can get up any time after 5am and open your stocking. You are then free to play with or consume anything in the stocking, but you can't open any of the proper presents until after everyone is awake and we've had breakfast. This year, though, things are further complicated by the fact that I'm playing at church; we'll have to do the presents afterward.

The service goes well. It's just me and our worship leader, Ben, on acoustic guitars. I play in DADGAD and sing harmony. Ben asks me to play piano for the prelude and for offering/communion and I whip up a medley of "Christmas Time Is Here" with a jazzy rendition of  "Angels We Have Heard on High" for the prelude. ("jazzy" meaning styling the rhythms and laying it over a I-vi-ii-V progression with lots of extensions). For communion I do a quartal harmony improvisation and for offering I treat "Go Tell It on the Mountain" to a sloppy stride. They love it.

Our pastor, Jason, preaches a sermon on the politics of the birth narrative in Luke. He does a good job of hitting the major points, allowing us a glimpse into the subversive rhetoric of the Christmas story that we too easily gloss over out of familiarity. For fun, he lets a clip of Linus from "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown" set up the reading, and I'm glad I did the Guaraldi thing for the prelude. People who notice (all three of them, I suppose) will think we planned that.

He does an okay job of connecting the dots for us in the here and now without freaking people out. This is a church that still has both the American flag and the Christian flag (ugh) on the platform -- though Jason would love to ditch them both and makes every effort to hide them. Things move slowly, and since he's very nearly been preaching anarcho-communism the past few weeks without getting lynched, he seems to be balancing things well. I'd have been more direct, but then again I don't get asked to preach. There are reasons for that.

I have coffee with Jason once a month, and mostly we discuss his sermon plans. I'm usually good with some historical and/or political context, and to point to resources. I don't consider myself his mentor in any way, just a friend and fellow thinker who's good for bouncing ideas off of. We agree about the radical political ramifications of the Gospel but we disagree as to its transcendental and eschatological backing. He asked me once if it was uncomfortable for me to have these conversations, since they mostly take place on the level of the scriptures themselves, which affirm a cosmology I don't share. I told him no -- I don't have a problem taking the texts at face value, and  I like the politics we're deriving from them.

Actually it's the music that bugs me more. It can be fun at times, and given my background it certainly seems the logical place for me to be plugged in. Moreover, it's a good place for me to fly under the radar as a skeptic. I don't have to teach or pray or put on airs; musicians are used to singing things they don't mean, or don't mean literally. But it's not all that interesting to me, from a social or political standpoint. We're not terribly discerning about the songs we pick on an intellectual or theological level though I have to admit Ben seems to avoid some of the more egregiously trite or banal offerings out there. It seems pointless to me, but it's part of who we are and people like to see (and hear) me involved. It's good discipline for me to submit, I suppose. I'm not in charge -- this is not about being in charge.

Once home, we open presents. The kids take turns, and we watch. This year is fairly modest by American standards, but of course luxurious in global context. They enjoy the gifts and we have some laughs and life is good. Kate's boyfriend Caleb and our friend John came with us after church and I deal some blackjack to John until he has to leave to meet another friend. He's got a system, and it works fairly well. He's up 315 dollars (of fake money) by the time he has to go, and I tease him that we should have gone to the casino if his luck is that good. He only has five dollars in his pocket, though, and neither of us really wanted to go out anyway.

Lunch is a ham we found in the deep freeze and spent the last three days thawing. It turned out fine. Since we had a sit-down dinner on Christmas Eve we opt for buffet style, with everyone getting their own place in the midst of whatever Christmas enjoyment they happen to be involved in. I drink coffee and lose at online poker and read a little of Todd May's book on Deleuze. I'm not allowed to study today -- no Milbank, no dissertating, it's Christmas, dammit -- but I figure May on Deleuze is like the anti-Milbank. He's helping me understand the ontological issues from the other direction. I still hate ontology, but I'm starting to get it, and why it's crucial to understanding Milbank's project.

The kids take turns watching new movies and playing new video games. I text my mom and my brother with holiday greetings (my dad had texted earlier in the morning). I surf Facebook. We make hot cocoa and I make a fake eggnog by stirring some vanilla, nutmeg and sugar into whole milk. I tried to make eggnog earlier in the week, but not being interested in eating raw eggs, I cooked it and it turned out more like a liquid custard. This was not entirely unpleasant, but not really what I had in mind. The flavored milk is tasty, and I find myself wondering what it might be like if I just put egg yolks in. An experiment for another time.

Two of our new movies won't play apparently, and/or one of our DVD players died. First world problems. But the day is winding down. Later we'll have cheesecake, maybe, and finish the current disc of The West Wing so we can return it. I'll put The Father Christmas Letters away for another year, and tomorrow it's back to work, wrestling Milbank until he blesses me or wrenches my hip out of its socket or both.