Super Heroic Christmas Tales

Our daughter is in that phase during which she fixates on something that she recognizes, and proceeds to identify it everywhere. Since we bought her first baby doll for her birthday gift a few months ago, she has began to point out “baby!” everywhere…and I mean everywhere…that she sees a baby. Be it real life, in photos, or as a doll, we now know the location of every image of a baby within the immediate vicinity. She was playing with a family member’s childrens’ nativity set last week, and, of course, zeroed in on the Christ child as “baby!” I then got to assist her in beginning to make the connection that Christ, too, was a “baby!” when He entered our history.

This event sort of collides with my obsession over superheroes and their mythology. And, before you unplug over the seeming disconnection between the two, I’ll say, partly to assist and partly in my defense, that, just as our daughter sees babies everywhere, I see connections to superhero stories everywhere. Christmas, viewed in the context of the Christian faith at least, is a superhero narrative in itself.

My interest in what it means to be a hero has driven a large part of my thought over the past year or so. It’s what I want to think about, and write about, and explore. In true Burkian fashion, it has become another lens through which I see life and faith and culture. When I started writing a novel to¬†explore these themes, it became a bit of an obsession (of the good variety).

The reason that I see a superhero narrative in the Christmas story is because Christ is the prototype of a superhero, the perfect example of what our hero stories tell. A story of a great evil that we cannot hope to overcome on our own, that is certain to overwhelm us. A story of a situation that would otherwise be hopeless. A story of a Hero, who is bigger and more powerful than we are, and more powerful than the evil that threatens us, who swoops in and fights the fight that we cannot, winning a victory that we could not achieve on our own. A Hero that demonstrates the use of power for good, that exemplifies self-sacrifice, that gives us an example to look up to, something to which we can aspire.

That’s so important when we find that our own cultural identity is a villain, a monster of consumerism that rewards individual pleasure-seeking over the welfare of others. As much as we need rescued from the grip of such a creature, we need the direction of where to go after the rescue. We need to know someone is standing watch over us when the villains rear their heads again, because they will.

Christmas is part of the ultimate story of a superhero, who crashed to earth as a “baby!” and grew to stand for us in our darkest hour.

I hope that your Christmas is blessed this year.

Changing the Changes

There was a time in my life at which I embraced change with much enthusiasm. I ran toward it whenever I had the opportunity, because change is opportunity, I reasoned. It occurs to me now that this was likely driven in part by the fact that I was unsatisfied by where I was at the time, either geographically, professionally or personally. I think that I would have identified it as being “driven” or “motivated” to success then, but, at the end of the day, I was unsatisfied.

And, I think, change is almost always a good thing. I’m just beginning to realize that, as I get (cough) older (cough), I have a bit of a more difficult time in adapting to that change. The funny thing is that this difficulty is because of change. When I started this blog a long time ago, I was a single grad student with no clue what life would look like by the time I was out of school and in the “real world” again. I’m somewhat surprised by the fact that it looks like having a wife and a daughter and being back in school at this point in my life.

I’m not complaining about any of the above…like I said, change is still a good thing.

The motivation for the change is what I call into question these days, though. When we were first married, one of Karen’s favorite phrases about difficulty spots in life was, “It’s an adventure!” And indeed, it is. I lose sight of this, though. I lose sight of the adventure and how our family grows stronger together through the adventure because I become so easily dissatisfied when faced with a life predicament.

It turns out that I may, in fact, be a bit optimistic in considering myself optimistic. Let’s call me a realist, then, shall we?

Because I really don’t want to be a pessimist, but I drift dangerously close to crossing that line at times. All because I become dissatisfied. As we near the end of Advent and enter the Christmas season, I can think of few things more troubling than being dissatisfied, because that is a result of a consumer-driven Holiday mindset. I don’t want a Christmas driven by what goodies I receive, or even by what goodies I may be able to give. I want a Christmas driven by thankfulness for what I have, and I don’t necessarily just mean goodies. I mean people. I mean kindness shown, and grace shown. I mean opportunities, as trying as they may be.

I mean the positivity of change, as difficult as it can be for me to cope with its process these days.

That could even lead to a most wonderful time of the year…

Please Don’t Automate That…

While Karen oftentimes shakes her head at how quickly I adopt new features and new toys, in my defense, there are many from which I opt out.  I was thinking about that this morning as I pondered how to spend the rest of an iTunes gift card that’s burning a proverbial hole in my digital wallet. Those thoughts sort of collided with recent reticence about a re-design of  iTunes of which I’ve heard mixed reactions (and haven’t quite gotten around to installing myself), and I remembered that nifty little functionality built into iTunes called Genius.

I’ve never used that.

It’s not that I’m not used to recommendations generated by some sort of computer algorithm, and I suspect that neither are you, that is if you’ve ever received one of those emails from Amazon recommending stuff based upon your previous purchases. Perhaps its because these algorithms fail miserably in their attempt to mathematically predict human behavior (which I like the sound of), or perhaps its just because my tastes in reading and music are so eclectic, but these recommendations never hit the mark for me. The books and music and even the applications that I purchase are almost always the result of a recommendation from a friend, acquaintance, or, at the very least, listening to someone talk about it on a show or podcast somewhere. I don’t buy things based off of “recommended for you” sorts of automated emails because they’re almost never interesting to me.

That said, can anyone recommend some good music? Thanks.

Air Waves

Karen and I typically find ourselves travelling by air about once every year, on average. That has gotten quite interesting since our daughter joined us, but it is still my preferred way to travel. Even though our travelling is not for business, I’ve still found myself, especially during the rush of holiday travelling, trying to get out a last-minute communication or squeezing in one last phone call just as we take our seats and have to turn everything off. I’ve been quite annoyed on several flights when I have to stop the movie I’m watching 20 minutes before seemingly necessary because the flight has technically began its final descent. I don’t get the whole “no electronic devices” rule during that time period.

Apparently, there’s discrepancy about the entire concept of not using mobile communication devices on flights altogether, and, if we’re to believe this article, it’s gaining traction as officials call into question the fact that our “increasingly mobile society” can’t use our phones and tablets while in the air for data transmissions.

I’m going to be honest, though…I sort of enjoy the fact that I can’t take calls and swap emails while in the air. I like the opportunity to let calls go to voicemail and my inbox fill up a bit. While I don’t see the validity of not being able to keep reading an ebook or watching a movie just because we’re taking off or landing, I really don’t want everyone on their phones in that confined space. I’m not even thrilled about the idea of in-flight wi-fi. There are few places in which our bodies get a break from those flying radio signals, in any case.

In short, there’s something nice about quiet.

In a perfect world (well, a perfect world for me), I hope that some flexibility comes from these studies without full permissiveness of mobile phone use being adopted during flights. Having some peace and quiet is nice, and, while I may feel differently about some loss of productivity were I to travel more for business, I understand that a lot of business travelers enjoy the chance to disconnect for a change, as well.

I haven’t really had the opportunity over the past couple of years, but I used to carve out time to unplug every summer. The best times were at the beach with Karen. Even a couple of days disconnected from the Internet is quite refreshing. I’m looking forward to my next chance to do that.

Connectedness is amazing, but there can be too much of a good thing. I hope that we can keep what peace and quiet we have during air travel, because we honestly need whatever peace and quiet we can find.

You’re now free to move about the cabin.

Hopeful Minimalism

I’ve noticed a trend in my blogging over recent years: it seems that, each year, I write a post right around now about how Christmas just doesn’t feel like Christmas.

Well, far be it from me to break tradition, so here it is.

Christmas decorations are basically non-existent for us this year, because, as I am a full-time student for a few more months, most of our  Christmas stuff is in storage. I’m contenting myself with the annual re-syncing of my phone’s music library to contain my Christmas music (there’s a lot), and a single Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Granted, Charlie Brown’s Christmas seems to have an especially important, even theological, role to play in my Christmas each year, so I’m not really complaining.

Advent? That’s in progress, but I’m missing it. There’s simply no time to make time.

In fact, anything other than school, family, or the sporadic writing binge essentially isn’t happening right now. In fact, I’m doing well to manage the first two, forget the third in that list. So, there’s some disappointment in me that’s driving the beginning of (my recognition of) the Christmas season this year. Disappointment because I will have no time for my hobbies or the the things with which I unwind for the next few months. Disappointment because school is to effect a career change, and the stress that goes along with that is crushing at times. Disappointment because, while I don’t miss where we used to live, I do miss our friends. Disappointment because I had always wanted to move on in an academic career, do another degree, maybe even be a professor, but I’ve given up on that dream, because being a student again at this point in my life…even for just a few months for a quick, non-degree certification…is more than I can effectively manage with a family, so I see no way that we could make it for two years or more if I completed another degree. I mourn the loss of that dream in a very pronounced way.

Yet, Christmas isn’t about disappointment, it’s about hope. And, perhaps there’s a built-in Advent experience in the fact that the dusk I’ve described above must necessarily lead to a dawn in the near future. The season lends itself to hope, hope for positive changes that could be just around the corner, hope that  political and national differences could be set aside in the name of peace for this most holy of seasons, and that we might spend more time finding what unites us rather than what divides us.

Hope for civility.

Hope for miracles, or rather my ability to see them as they already occur.

(Perhaps I should mention hope that I learn to live with real winters, again.)

Hope that, on the other side of this Christmas season, we find ourselves not necessarily more prosperous, but more grateful, more loved, more connected with what is outside of ourselves.

May your days be merry and bright…