When I moved out of Virginia in 2007, two monumental things happened for me. For one, I went to Wal-Mart for the last time. There’s something about the power of the big, corporate superstore especially when it’s within walking distance that makes it hard to resist even when you can almost see the crying eyes and gnarled fingers of little overworked Asian children. But I’ve found now that I’m not so close to Civil War battlefields, I’m also not so close to the siren call of Wal-Mart.
The other thing that happened was that I went to church for the last time. Weddings and funerals don’t count; unless it’s your own, you don’t really get to pick the venue. It wasn’t a conscious decision to stop going altogether. I just moved away and found a new community that accepted me more fully and was more fun. (I also got NFL Sunday Ticket).
And yet here it is Christmas morning and I am listening to gospel music, feeling at peace. My Christmas doesn’t feel complete without Kirk Franklin‘s “Christmas” or Fred Hammond‘s song “A Strange Way to Save the World.” In years past I’ve snuck away in my car just to play the songs by myself and have my own little moment.
Well this year I am spending Christmas by myself (in part, it’s not that sad) so I can blast Kirk as loudly as I want without any strange looks. I didn’t get a tree. I haven’t finished (started) shopping yet. There have been Christmas lights up in the back since we moved in, but I never turned them on. I missed the Rudolph special. The only real tradition I’m keeping are my gospel jams this year.
And as I rock out for Baby Jesus I’m struck by two lessons. First, it really is a strange way to save the world. I mean imagine the audacity of an almighty God coming down in human form — and not just any human form, but the poorest, most humble imaginable — to save humanity. On the one hand it seems like a lot to go through. On the other, it’s a really amazing story about the power of empathy, about God wanting to know our pain so much that he took it. I haven’t quite figured out where the discrimination, sectarianism, greed, and elitism fit into it; but what do I know?
Secondly, I’m reminded how much who we are is because of who we were. I think this music has a hold on me because of how much time I spent in and around choirs. Some of my earliest memories growing up are from “directing” the choir with my godmother when my mom sang. It has a hook in me. When I listen I get to transport myself to a different time that I loved. It’s not so much the message of the music, but the music itself for me.
No snow. No tree. No problem. I’ve got Kirk Franklin to make me feel like Christmas. Happy birthday Jesus. Like a really good distant uncle, I’ll check in with you next year.