Confessions Of A Depressed Christian: DEPRESSION, CHRISTMAS, & STAR WARS

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charlie brown christmas depressedI will confess that, like many other children, I used to love the Christmas season. There was always something magical about the time, something in the air. The world just seemed to be brighter, shinier and lit up, somehow. I was probably what you would call a Spirit of Christmas Junkie, come to think of it. The build-up to the big day, Christmas Day, then the inevitable After Christmas Depression that would come over, a malaise that hits and stays with until after the first of January and everything gets back to the standard day-to-day mundane existence of it all.

I haven’t been excited about Christmas for years, now. I do recall the exact last time I was actually jazzed about celebrating the season: 2013, and that was because my betrothed at the time had an enthusiasm that was downright infectious. No need to retell the tale of how that ended up. Needless to say, it’s almost like the depression I suffer from has intensified since then, over five years ago as I write this.

Now, the act of gathering with what’s left of the family seems merely perfunctory, going-through-the-motions kind of celebrations. I still have times, often out of nowhere, where a wave of grief and sadness and shock will hit me. It’s the nature of the condition. And starting right after Halloween, the closer we get to Christmas, the more and more I can feel this dark time close in on me.

I’m not writing this to elicit sympathy. I simply want to share what I go through each Christmas, and despite the loneliness, the despair and darkness of the time, why I still celebrate Christmas. What Christmas really means to me.

First, it means that my pain and suffering are not unknown to God. Instead, they are shared by God. He is not the absent God of the deists, or the remote God of Aristotle. Nor is He only the moral/creator God of the Old Testament. He is a God who has chosen to walk among us, to get down into the messy, dirty and broken world of our humanity.

At the tomb of his friend, Jesus wept. Not perfunctory tears, but tears of great grief. Even though he knew before he got there that Lazarus was dead, he wept. Even though He knew he would in a few minutes raise Lazarus from the dead, he wept. Even though he knew that Mary and Martha’s tears of grief would soon turn to tears of joy and shouts of thanks, he wept. Even though he knew all would eventually be made right, Jesus wept.

The incarnation means to me, in a deeper way than I had experienced before, that God’s heart beats with love and sympathy for the losses of my life. But even more than this, Christmas is also precious to me because it tells me that the worst thing is not the last thing. Jesus came, not only to share our sorrows, but to redeem them. And to give the hope of the resurrection. The hope that pain and suffering and loss are not random, not pointless, not the hand of impersonal fate. And definitely not the end of the story.

Let’s pretend that there exists someone who only has seen one Star Wars movie: The Empire Strikes Back. For whatever reason, this is the only one they’ve seen, and are unaware that this is merely the second part of a continuous story that began with A New Hope and concluded with Return Of The Jedi*. This person would probably conclude that the story, although powerful and profound, is pessimistic and somewhat sad; so much is still wrong, so many sacrifices wasted on nothing, so much evil still holding sway.

This is where we are at right now. At this point, we are still living in the middle of a bigger story arc. But Jesus has come, and told us that the future volumes are already written, that evil and death and suffering are not the final word, that sacrifice is not in vain, that pain has a purpose. That death is not eternal. For the Author has stepped into the story, to make all things right, in their time.

This is what I believe. This is why I still hold Christmas as a time for hope and joy, despite of what my chemical imbalance and circumstances tell me. The hands of the King are hands of healing and redemption. Suffering and separation are not forever; pain is not the final word. Death itself will die, and resurrection will rule.

The worst thing is not the last thing. This is what Christmas means to me.

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[*=I‘m only going with the Original Saga here, as an example; let’s not get pedantic with the comments, here]

T’was the Day After Xmas…

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boxing day
Gift Return Day. Known in the UK as Boxing Day. Time to take the things that we got and exchange them for the things we wanted, regardless of the thought that counts.

What follows is a post that a friend on Facebook made this mourning, and I felt it was good enough to steal for the blog:

Christmas is over. What difference did it make? Were you happy with what you got? Were the recipients of your gifts pleased? What difference does it make?

Is your life full today, as it felt yesterday? If not…then it made no difference.

If you are suffering from Post-Christmas Depression, maybe you forgot, didn’t know, or don’t believe in the reason for much of how the American Christmas tradition looks and feels. It means you haven’t gotten the greatest Christmas gift of all. The gift of God’s presence in your inmost being.

Christmas can truly be every day of the year, if you understand and accept the Gospel of Jesus, that he is God in the flesh, come to earth, died on a cross as atonement for your sin (for my sin as well), thta you might be forgiven, and know God intimately. That you might become a son or daughter of the King of all eternity.

Without Jesus, Christmas is, was, and will be little more than self-gratifying emptiness that leaves you void the next day.
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Was the Virgin Mary a Virgin?

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virgin birth
Merry Xmas, everyone. I thought that, given what day it is (regardless of whether or not Jesus was actually born on December 25–let’s not be that person, shall we?), I would share something concerning the virgin birth itself.

This was cribbed from the Wartburg Watch blog that I read regularly, itself presenting a bit from the full article, “Was the Virgin Mary a Virgin? Does It Matter?” by New York Times columnist Nicolas Kristof. Here, he interviews Philip Yancey, one of the handful of Christian writers that have had a tremendous impact on my own theological growth as a Christian:

Was the Virgin Mary a Virgin? Does It Matter? Philip Yancey, an evangelical Christian writer, responds to my questions, and my doubts, by Nicolas Kristof.

Welcome to the latest in my occasional series of conversations about Christianity. Here’s my interview, edited for space, with Philip Yancey, an evangelical Christian writer who has more than 15 million books in print in more than 50 languages.

KRISTOF Merry Christmas! And let me start by asking about that first Christmas. Do you believe in the Virgin Birth? Doesn’t that seem like one of those tall tales that people tell to exaggerate an event’s significance?

YANCEY I’m smiling at the question. A hundred years ago, the Virgin Birth was considered so important that it made the list of five “fundamentals of the Christian faith.” Nowadays, with in vitro fertilization, virgin births are old news. For me, the issue centers not on the mechanics of reproduction but rather the nature of Jesus. In the Incarnation, God’s own self came to earth as a human. I wouldn’t pretend to guess how divinity interacted with human DNA, but that’s the mystery the Virgin Birth hints at.

So it’s no longer such a big deal? I can say that I doubt the Virgin Birth without whispering?

It’s only a big deal if you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, as most Christians do. Otherwise you have a different mystery: How did the child of two simple villagers end up changing history more than anyone before or since?

Kristof Isn’t it possible to admire Jesus’ message in the Sermon on the Mount without buying into the miracles? Why can’t we subscribe to Jesus’ message of love while dropping the walking on water, the multiplying of loaves and fishes, the raising Lazarus from the dead?

Yancey Certainly you can admire the message alone, and many people do. I don’t know of anyone who tried more conscientiously to follow the Sermon on the Mount than Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu. But do we lose something by ignoring or rejecting the miracles? I think we do. John’s Gospel calls them “signs.” They signify something about a God who wants creation renewed so that the blind see, the lame walk, the hungry are fed and the dead resurrected.

Kristof But if we give credit to Jesus for raising Lazarus from the dead, what about all the children who died whom he did not raise? And why allow them to die in the first place?

Yancey I have no solutions, merely a few observations. 1) You’re in good company. The Bible is full of honest lament about suffering, beginning with the Book of Job and including Jesus’ cry of abandonment on the cross. 2) God is on the side of the sufferer. Jesus demonstrated that by always responding with comfort and healing, and by refuting those who saw suffering as punishment. 3) As Dostoyevsky set forth so eloquently in “The Brothers Karamazov,” Jesus turned down shortcut solutions — “miracle, mystery and authority” — during his temptation in the desert. Somehow the ultimate healing required God’s own self-sacrifice on the cross.

Because of the books I’ve written on suffering, I’ve been invited to speak at Virginia Tech, Columbine and Newtown. Believe me, the hope of resurrection means something when you’ve just lost your child to a school shooter.

Read more here.

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Movie Review: A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY

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a christmas horror story
Image Entertainment
2015
NR

No Elves were harmed in the making of this film.

  • It’s the season of joy, peace, and goodwill…unless you live in Bailey Downs. Last Christmas Eve, two teens came to a grisly end in a school basement. Now, one year later, a new set of horrors has come to town. As three friends explore the site of the massacre, a malevolent spirit is determined to keep them there forever. One of the first cops to the scene of the bloody murders has new complications as his seven-year-old son exhibits terrifying and violent behavior. And when a local family seeks reconciliation with an estranged aunt for the wrong reasons, they suddenly find themselves running in terror from Krampus, the demonic anti-Santa Claus. Not even St. Nick is immune to the terror as he fights back against a horde of zombie elves. This is destined to be a holiday no one will ever forget…

If you’re like me, and prefer something a bit more dark and sinister mixed in with your Christmas cheer, then you probably gravitate more towards the Christmas movies that fall under the “horror” section of the movie streaming service that you prefer. I used to say, “Video Store”, but who even remembers those nowadays? Besides us old people. Get off my lawn.

Anyway, there’s been some pretty good Christmas horror movies that have come out this past decade–Rare Exports, Sint, Krampus, Anna And The Apocalypse. One movie that somehow escaped my notice when it first came out in 2015 was A Christmas Horror Story. It came out before the movie Krampus the same year; I recall watching Krampus in the theater, whereas A Christmas Horror Story received a very limited theatrical run, before being released to VOD and DVD shortly thereafter. I had to check it out on VOD, and I’m rather glad I did so.

A Christmas Horror Story is an anthology film that features four short horror stories, all tied together with a wrap-around that features William Shatner as an alcoholic radio DJ pulling a late shift on Christmas telling the tales. I could just stop the review right here, and leave it at “You had me at William Shatner”. But, I’d be remiss if I didn’t go through with the review, here.

So, there are four stories: the first one deals with a bunch of stupid teenagers breaking into their school after hours to check out the place where two fellow students were found murdered a year prior, then they’re terrorized by a bloody ghost (no, I wasn’t going for British slang, the ghost is rather bloody); the second story finds one of the police officers that was involved in the investigation of the murdered students the prior year on administrative leave, deciding to take his wife and son out to chop down a live Christmas tree, only to come home to discover the son was replaced by a changeling; the third story finds a family visiting their elderly–and very rich–aunt for all the wrong reasons, finding themselves terrorized by Krampus; the fourth and final story finds Santa himself discovering that his elves and Mrs. Claus have turned into zombies, and having to take them all down, leading to a final showdown with Krampus…and then a big twist that I won’t go into here, as I want to have you watch this yourself to find out.

Overall: A Christmas Horror Story was a rather enjoyable watch. It his all the cravings I had for the Christmas spirit as well as my love of the horror genre, with the segments done very well, and the wrap-around story and eventual conclusion that tied everything together working very well. William Shatner as a drunken and sullen radio DJ is worth the price of admission alone. But, we also get the original voice of Beast on the 1990s X-Men cartoon playing Santa Claus, which was a good casting choice. Equal parts entertaining and chilling, grab some eggnog, hot chocolate, and Holiday kettle corn, turn down the lights and enjoy some Christmas horror goodness.

Another look at the Manger…

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manger
What is of importance is the description which follows: “She swaddled him in strips of cloth and laid him down in a manger, since there was no place for them in the lodgings.” Luke will keep coming back to this description, for the angels will tell the shepherds: “This will be your sign: You will find a baby swaddled in strips of cloth and lying in a manger” (2:12). The shepherds will know that they have come to their goal when they have found “Mary and Joseph, with the baby lying in the manger” (2:16). Speculations as to why there was no room in the lodgings erroneously distract from Luke’s purpose, as do homilies about the supposed heartlessness of the unmentioned innkeeper or the hardship for the impoverished parents—equally unmentioned. Luke is interested in the symbolism of the manger, and the lack of room in the lodgings may be no more than a vague surmise in order to explain the mention of a manger. This manger is not a sign of poverty but is probably meant to evoke God’s complaint against Israel in Isaiah 1:3: “The ox knows its owner and the donkey knows the manger of its lord; but Israel has not known me, and my people have not understood me.” Luke is proclaiming that the Isaian dictum has been repealed. Now, when the good news of the birth of their Lord is proclaimed to the shepherds, they go to find the baby in the manger and begin to praise God. In other words, God’s people have begun to know the manger of their Lord.
– Raymond E. Brown, Christ in the Gospels of the Liturgical Year (pp. 116-117)

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Movie Review: ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE

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anna and the apocalypse
Vertigo Releasing
2017
R

“Christmas is fast becoming my least favorite ‘C’ word.”

  • When the zombie apocalypse hits the sleepy town of Little Haven – at Christmas – teenager Anna and her high school friends have to fight, sing and dance to survive, with the undead horde all around them. Teaming up with her best friend John, Anna has to fight her way through zombified snowmen, Santas, elves and Christmas shoppers to get across town to the high school, where they’ll be safe. But they soon discover that being a teenager is just as difficult as staying alive, even at the end of the world.

For whoever it was out there that was watching Shaun Of The Dead and thought to themselves, “What this movie needs is High School Musical-style musical numbers,” well, your prayers have been answered. You sick, sick freak.

So, as per my Holiday Clusterbomb tradition, I was going through the list of Best Christmas Movies To Stream on Den Of Geek one day, and came across Anna And The Apocalypse. It was described as a kind of Shaun Of The Dead-style zombie apocalypse dark comedy that was also a musical. It was British, so I wonder if they happen to refer to dark comedies as just “comedies”. Also…a musical? As in, a Disney style, everyone breaks into song for no apparent reason kinda thing?

Yep. It totally is. Also, I enjoyed the ever-lovin’ hell out of Anna And The Apocalypse.

Oh, this is just wonderfully camp for all the right reasons. Anna is a teenager who has to deal with telling her widower father that she’s planning on taking a year to travel after school, instead of going to university, as well as dealing with the stress of helping plan the school’s Christmas pageant and staying out of the sights of the Vice Principal, who obviously patterned his teaching style after that school teacher in Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Then one morning, while bopping and singing along to a jaunty tune on her earbuds, she and her friends notice that a zombie apocalypse has hit the town, and now they have to band together to make it back to the high school in one piece and hope for the promised extradition by the military. Only, the Vice Principal may have gone literally mad with power, in a Colonel Kurtz sort of way. All the while breaking out in song at key points in the film. Wacky.

I didn’t know what to expect going into watching Anna And The Apocalypse, but boy howdy did I have a great time watching this. I was by myself, so I couldn’t share the wackiness with anyone else, which could have enhanced the experience. As a Christmas movie, yeah, it’s set during Christmas, but that seems to be more an incidental thing. As is the zombie apocalypse, but any good zombie flick worth its brains isn’t really about the zombies, but the character development that happens during the conflict. And here it definitely does a great job making you care about the characters. And not everyone gets out unscathed, which made it hit all the harder. Or, maybe I’m getting all kinds of sentimental in my middle age, I don’t know. My favorite character, by far, was Vice Principal Arthur Savage, whose “I’ve just gone full nutter” song had shades of Rocky Horror Picture Show going.

Overall: Yeah, I’d say go and watch this, especially during the Christmas season of the holidays. The songs were pretty good, but really, it’s the character interaction and watching a teenage girl impale zombies with a giant fake candy cane that makes this my new family Christmas tradition.

Xmas Nostalgia: FUNKY FUNKY CHRISTMAS

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So, back in Christmas of 1989, there was this boy band that was at the height of world domination called the New Kids On The Block. Think of them as the One Direction of the 1980s. They had the obligatory Christmas release around that time, and since I was a freshly-minted 16-year-old and thus able to stay up later than my sister, she asked me to video tape the episode of the Arsenio Hall show that featured the band as the musical guests, performing their new yuletide classic, “Funky Funky Christmas”. So I did. This isn’t that particular video that I taped off, but here you go. You’re welcome.


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