Joseph’s choice*

Joseph was given a dream.

That’s all. Just a dream.

Mary had a bloomin’ angel bust into her house to give her the news. But all Joseph received, was what could have easily been attributed to one too many glasses of smashed up fermented grapes before beddie-bye.

Joseph had to live his whole life wondering if that dream was a truth or not. If his “Son” was the result of the Lord’s plan, or just one ill-advised and possibly regretted interlude.

Mary has been honored ever since.

Given top billing right next to her Boy, in fact. Prayed to no less, by many who seem to think that J.C. made this an option, somewhere along the line within his three years of tutorials. It seems odd, given what little faith was needed on her part, especially considering the fact that she knew she hadn’t done anything, and again, there was that bloomin’ angel, standing smack-dab in the middle of her living room.

And Joseph?

Well, poor old Joe wasn’t even remembered by the Gospel writers. Nope, right after his part was played, he was unceremoniously escorted off the stage, never to be heard from again. We can assume he died – most do seem to go that way. But if he did while Jesus still breathed, we never even get to hear about his “Son’s” reaction. And if Jesus was the first to go, then Joseph’s tears and anguish were never written down for posterity.

Again, Mary rocks it within the gospels, right through to the bitter end. But Joseph is left forgotten. Ignored. And maybe even with his final breath, still wondering if the angel’s message was really just after all, only a stupid dream.

Georges_de_La_Tour._St._Joseph,_the_Carpenter

I’ve always had an affinity for Joseph.

Not only because we share the joy of fatherhood, but because I too have quite often felt – incorrectly or not – ignored in the whole scheme of things. Forgotten. Yes, even by J.C. As a result, for many years I’ve waved the Joseph flag to anyone who asked, simply because I felt that he needed to be defended.

I was wrong in thinking that of course. Joseph needs no more defending than his “Son” does. Joseph needs no adulation, similar to that being provided Mary by her cult, either. No, I believe that Joseph is just all right with the way things went.

Joseph – whether he truly believed the dream or not – chose to tell the angel that appeared in it that he would. Joseph – even if he was in the final analysis, history’s most gullible man – voluntarily put his life at risk then, and several times afterwards. All while defending a wife and a “Son” who weren’t truly his, just for his chosen belief, which truly was.

Again, we’ve no idea what sort of lessons Joseph imparted upon Jesus, nor how much of the Son of Man’s personality was weaned from the man who chose to believe in the Son enough, as to sacrifice his life for Mary and He. But when my children offer me the mantle of “Best Dad In The World,” I’m quick to remind them that – while I am honored – I feel that it’s actually Joseph who deserves that title. The man who gave all for his charges, and was then all but forgotten by the very ones who benefitted most from his sacrifice of ensuring that the “Son” (possibly of just a man), could live long enough to become the Son of Man.

Joseph was given a dream.

And he chose to believe that dream – to believe in those who were part of it. That’s a sort of faith that is stronger than reason, and that’s the sort of man I currently struggle to be. For my sons, my daughter, my friends, and for me.

Merry Christmas.

* My gratitude and appreciation to Rev. Ellen Brauza, who’s insight and wisdom served as the inspiration that finally allowed me to put down into somewhat coherent sentences the above trail of thought.

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Briefly…

In keeping with the season, here’s my rather mopey entry for this week’s 100 Word Song.

I really do wish that you would play along.

See what I did there? How I made a sort of Christmas-like rhyme just now? That’s pretty cool, right?

Oh, and here’s the BEST version of this song EVER…

Friday, Black, no sugar

With it being the day that it is, I couldn’t think of a single song better to be chosen as the “Very First Song of Christmas” posted here for this year…

Enjoy!

12/23 To Life!

*Ahem*

Happy birthday to You,

Happy birthday to You,

Happy birthday,

Baby Jesus,

Happy birthday to you.

For some, Christmas lights will be twinkling and a new born savior babe will appear beneath the brightest star.

For others, eight magical candle-lit nights will be followed by eight magical smile-filled days, and a temple will be reborn.

A few more will be sharing the Yule Feast with family and friends, in celebration of the solstice of winter.

And for others still, an extra long weekend will simply be enjoyed and celebrated – all because there’s a whole bunch of people out there who just happen to believe in things like savior babes and magical lights.

Regardless of what persuasion you happen to be this year, i hope you enjoy your holiday season to it’s fullest. i hope you enjoy all the food you eat too much – or not too much – of. i hope you enjoy your wine. Unless you don’t drink of course. i hope that your celebrations are merry, boisterous and bright. Unless you prefer to stay home, quietly snuggled up in front of the fire, real or imagined. Most importantly though, i hope – i pray – that you take the time to enjoy the people in your life, and reflect upon how important they are. How important we all are. Together we are a living web, each of us merely a strand, and none of us truly able to survive without the others. Whether created or coincidental, we’re all we’ve got, and that’s exactly good enough.

Thank you for being a part of my web this year, and i sincerely hope that the Naughty List finds not your name upon it.

Peace!

t

12/19 drummer boys, wise men & kings

To look at my dad, you might think he was much more of a “We Three Kings Of Orient Are” kind of guy, when in fact “The Little Drummer Boy” is actually his wassail of choice. This is so much the case, that i find myself asking him almost annually to clarify which of the two it is that is actually his favorite.  i seem to recall being told while growing up that his reasoning behind picking the latter over the former was due to the drumming involved. But as anyone who’s heard the song knows, there’s damned little use of actual drums throughout the arrangement, especially when in consideration of its subject matter. Now as dad is nearing his end, he’s becoming much more expressive, and is sharing a lot more of whom he really is with me. That, or i’m just finally paying attention. Either way, i can now see that what i’ve long suspected to be true really is. Dad is a bigger fan of the drummer boy, at least in part, because he feels much more kinship with that one unsure boy than he does with any and all of the three wise men.

The difference between the two is pretty stark. Whereas the kings are driven with purpose and sure in their knowledge, the little drummer boy is a straggler, who simply happens upon his miracle in lieu of actively searching it out. The kings come ready, bearing gifts that admittedly – if delivered to a child of this day in age, would most likely be exchanged before the day’s end – but are still respectful enough. The drummer boy however, comes with even less, having only a song in his heart. A little ditty that he doesn’t even recognize as having any kind of worth. And therein lies the shame, and the message, of the song. The drummer boy is valued not because the song he plays is wonderful, practiced or Billboard chart-worthy, but rather because it is of himself. Simply and solely unique to him, and possible only through him. Given freely and with more than a bit of embarrassment, of all the “gifts” given, his is the one that the babe smiles upon. His is the one that the Christ child cherishes more than even he himself does.

Like so many of us struggling through life – or more to the point, accepting ourselves during this struggle of life – the little drummer boy seeing no apparent worth to his song is an extension of how he feels about his self. And i think my dad feels that very acutely in his own life at times as well. Much more so than he’s ever previously let on to at least, both to those around him, and to himself. Knowing my own self (but not trying to project “me” onto him), i feel that dad may also have spent a good deal of his life feeling unworthy. Feeling “wrong”. Feeling like his song was without value. Seeing him as i do now, i get the feeling that dad too has struggled with the idea that Christ could love him for no apparent reason. Even though he does. And he does, not because dad played for him a Top Of The Pops hit, but simply because dad “played his best for him.” Because for Jesus, your best is exactly good enough. For many of the rest of us though – dad and myself included – it’s not even close enough to obtain a passing grade. Seeing as Jesus sits at the right hand, i suppose his opinion trumps ours, but you try and tell my dad that. My dad, who might have acted as if he were a king, but only ever felt himself to be a drummer boy. My dad, who may not realize that the kings were majestic, yet humbled by the babe. The drummer boy however, a person of seemingly little importance, was made great by this same child. All with one little smile of acceptance. The drummer boy left the scene redeemed. My dad needs to follow suit. i hope he does. He deserves to.

i’m proud of my drummer boy dad, and i fear that these days, there are far too few drummer boys left. Or put another way ’round, i fear there are far too many who would consider themselves “kings” hanging about. The problem being that these new royals are not necessarily of the wise, or even moderately shrewd, variety. While they may have crowns upon their heads, these were purchased instead of earned, bought instead of granted. Many of the crowns worn today only go to show that you can trample on the needs of the many in order to meet with your own personal desires, and simply covering yourself in gold doesn’t make you more valuable. Spewing forth catch-phrases eschewing positive thoughts doesn’t make you an actual force for change either. And beating others over the head with how “awesome” you are doesn’t necessarily make it so. If you want to be more valuable, give instead of taking, even when no one’s looking. Especially when no one’s looking. Should you desire to be a force for change, then change your own life instead of others, conducting yourself in an ethical fashion. Even the times when it doesn’t work to your advantage to do so. If you want to be awesome, start doing awesome things within your scope of talent for those who could use your help, and place others first. Not just your “others”, but others “others” as well. Do the little drummer boys of this world need to suck it up and learn some self-love? By all means. But the new “kings” would also do well to turn it down a notch, and start spreading love around instead. Not just in word, but deed as well.

It’s the final week before Christmas, and this is my third-to last post about the holiday season. Well, for this year at any rate. i apologize for my brief soap-boxian moment just now, but it is only because my hope – albeit wholly naive to the point of being absolutely moronic to even voice in public – is that all the wise men, the kings and the drummer boys of this world can use this week ahead to ready ourselves. Not so much for the birth of the newborn king – as that will come whether we’re ready or not, and regardless of our acceptance of it – but rather, to actually put into action all the peace, love and goodwill spoken of so freely during this time of year as a result of his coming. We don’t need to be perfect at it, we just need to agree to it, to keep at it daily and to do our best always. And in turn, our best will be exactly good enough.

Heck, stranger things have happened…

12/14 That One Time…

He laid in a crib made from scrap plywood, 1X2’s and a smattering of nails. The crib is long gone, but i’m pretty sure that the beige (yes, beige) paint that was used to cover any imperfections lives on somewhere. It was simply far too ugly a color as to not have some sort of half-life associated with it. In fact, thinking back, this crib was one of the rare items my dad created without the aid of shellac. Possibly because it was before he had yet discovered the stuff, but i tend to think it was really just all in a effort to enforce our memories of the crib – and the tradition associated with it – all the more.

Baby Jesus wasn’t in the crib when it first took it’s honored position in the corner of the kitchen, atop a T.V. tray that was made of fake dark wood top and completed by fake golden trim and leg. The kind of legs designed to snap easily into little plastic junctures located beneath the surface, that simply screamed anytime you placed anything greater than a pound or two upon the tray’s top. Beside the crib was a bag of hay, freshly purchased but never blessed. i have never once taken the time to ask my folks where, exactly, they found a source for little plastic bags of hay, but trust me, that’s all it was. And usually the bag was just big enough as to fill the crib to overflowing should all of it’s contents be dumped within. But all of it’s contents never were. No, as noted last time, how much of the stuff went into the crib was dependent upon us. Well, our good (or bad) deeds at any rate. Fortunately for both us and the babe, our activity was only monitored in this fashion from the time Advent began until Christmas morn. For every good deed, a handful of hay went into the crib, and for every bad deed, a handful came out.

i seem to recall hazily at one point that we were able to convince dad that he created an offense so great as to warrant his removing a handful of hay, but other than this one partially-remembered instance, the task of filling or emptying the crib lay solely on us three children. The parents apparently thinking they were above judgement and/or contribution. As to what my dad’s offense was, i can’t remember. But both the fact that we had mom on our side AND he actually conceded in pulling his fair share from the trough ensured that whatever it was, it must have been a doozie, even more grievous than our child-like minds understood it to be. Dad was never one to admit wrong-doing or error of any sort, and i have a inkling that once he does get up to heaven, he’ll spend a good amount of time telling God just exactly how He should have done it all.

Regardless, from the day the crib was laid down upon the table to the morn of Christ’s birth, we worked feverishly to perform some sort of good deed on an almost daily basis. The bad deeds seem to come a lot easier, and sadly, it took the three of us much too long to recognize the fact that tattling on each other when these deeds occurred served absolutely no one’s best interest. Bad deeds by the way, also included (but never were counted) items such as making up tales of fictional good deeds as well as randomly sneaking partial handfuls into the crib, both done to bolster the hay count before the blessed day of birth. Never was a full handful attempted on the sly, for surely mom would know. And she would have. All said, i’m none too sure if the crib-stuffing practice helped us to be good boys, or simply aided us in our training of the art of deceit. Possibly a bit of both. None of it mattered however, as long as the crib was at the level of “comfy” for Baby Jesus to snuggle down in by Christmas day (i seem to remember that one year it was not, but the memories of that event are far too sketchy as to recall them here).

Then, bright and early on Christmas morning (and in my house, it was much more early than bright, in that the sun hardly ever rose to meet with us at four AM when we were jumping from our sacks), we would get up and huddle close together under the tree in nervous anticipation of mom and dad also getting out of bed. Once they did, we would move the TV tray to the living room beside the tree. After placing Jesus – resplendent in a blue wrap and bow long since lost – into his crib and lighting the candle that was jammed happily into his birthday cupcake, we would rush through a half-hearted version of “Happy Birthday”. The faster we three sang, all the slower our parents did in response. It took several years to figure all this out and determine that the quickest way to get it over with was to simply sing it correctly first time around. We sang in haste, because it was only after we completed the song, blew out the candle and… well, i have no earthly idea or recollection as to what we did with the cupcake. Who the flip cared? The song was over! And while the cupcake was apparently having something done to it seeing as we never saw it again, the three of us were ravaging through the brightly packaged boxes under the tree, all in the hopes that the store Santa we saw was the real deal. Or at least had taken careful mental note of our desires (seeing as he was never with pen or paper), reporting them back correctly to the big man.

We followed this tradition each and every year for i don’t know how many years. Each and every year except one. As is the case so often, i firmly place all the blame on what we have dubbed “That One Time” (as in, “do you remember that one time…”) upon my older brother. He had to be the one who told us that morning, as we sat glassy-eyed under the tree in wonderment, that he had checked with mom and she had said it was OK to unwrap the gifts before we sang. If it wasn’t him who said it, it would have been my little brother. And that couldn’t have been the case, because we never listened to him anyway. By the time mom and dad became aware of our transgressions, almost every box was unwrapped, every Christmas dream revealed, and while i don’t remember specifics, i do recall that it was a year with a  particularly good haul. Mom was devastated that we had done such a thing, and dad – who had yet had the heart attack that would mellow him – went utterly and simply. Ape. Shit. Do you know how in cartoons, a character is occasionally shown with their head expanding to the point of explosion? i could swear that on that morn, my dad’s head actually did exactly that. Fortunately a new one grew back relatively quickly, but unfortunately as soon as it had, he made us re-wrap all the presents and place them under the tree again. OK, that last part might be a bit of an exaggeration – i can’t recall if we actually had to rewrap the gifts (but it sure felt as if we did), but we did have to re-tree each and every one and march off promptly back to bed, empty-handed.

We all three laid there, wondering if we were ever going to celebrate Christmas again. The pain was made all the worse by the fact that we already knew what awaited us, present-wise. After what felt like 80 years or so, my folks finally told us we could get up, and when we sheepishly returned to the living room, we saw Baby Jesus there by the tree, the cupcake in place and the candle lit. We were actually being allowed a “do-over” from my dad! Christmas miracles abounded! The thrill we felt at being saved further punishment far outweighed even the desire to get back to the presents, and i’m pretty sure that year was the very prettiest we ever did sing “Happy Birthday” to Baby Jesus.

To this day, mom always puts in my kids cards “remember to sing to Baby Jesus”, but we never do. i may be a bad parent, but i just don’t want my children to be bullied into their faith. It took me too many years to actually come back around and actively “choose” mine. Now, while we don’t sing as a family, i will let you in a little secret – i don’t sing it alone either. But every year, i do catch myself at one point or another very quietly closing my eyes for a brief moment and saying “Happy birthday Jesus.”

12/2 Christmas jammies

i’ll admit it. i own Rob Halford’s Christmas album. And when i say “own”, i don’t mean i borrowed it from the library and downloaded a copy – i mean i went out and used hard-earned cash to purchase it. Complete with booklet and jewel case even. All for the pleasure of hearing the mighty Halford, of Judas Priest fame, belting out “We Three Kings” while one of his band mates simply melts a guitar behind him. i mean, really, you just can’t get more Christmassy than that.

Metal Santa

Unless you happen to have Reverend Horton Heat’s version of the same song, that is. In his version, the intro is traditional enough, until you hear those quiet, yet ever-so urgent “1,2,3,4!” – being yelped out with rock-a-billy proficiency – in an effort to get the tune into proper gear. Sadly, with the exception of this little audio gem, the remainder of Heat’s version sounds very much (too much to be considered “genius”, in fact) like the composition that Jimmy Smith laid down years before for his trio, and his swingin’ Hammond B3. Overall, all three artists put out Christmas platters that are different enough from your “average” holiday showcase as to make for a very interesting season – musically at any rate.

Cookin!

Now, wait a minute, t!  What does this have to do with your dad’s impending doom, scheduled for some time mid 2012???” Absolutely nothing. That was Wednesday’s post dude – sheesh, stop living in the past, already. No, much like when i was child, the bloat of Thanksgiving hasn’t even delivered it’s final belch before my mind gets all wrapped up in snow and cocoa, in toys and treats (the kind that come in “candy cane” plastic tubes that look like m&m’s but aren’t), and – yes – music. Always me with the damned music.

i’m pretty sure i’ve noted before how music was my first best friend growing up, and as you can imagine, Christmas music in particular got my trigger fully tripped. With it, there wasn’t only sound – but sight, smell and season as well. Every year we had the privilege of dragging the painted-over aluminum step ladder from the basement, clunking merrily along as it hit each and every step, and then carefully climbing it to get into the place where Christmas lived all spring, summer and fall long – the attic. There was a vigorous kind of cold to the space that gave you an excuse to shake off your excitement about *you know who* coming – even years after you weren’t sure if *you know who* actually existed or not. The most sure-footed of us only experienced this chill halfway down, as they stood atop the ladder and held the flashlight, which had been momentarily relieved of it’s concert light show duties. The other two straddled carefully across the wooden braces of the ceiling behind our dad, to remove the dusty, musty boxes that contained all the decorations of the season – tree, ornaments and glassware included. For 18 years we never once slipped and put a hole through the ceiling, but for 18 years it never stopped mom from swearing we would.

Throughout the entire process – from basement, to attic, to decorating – she would have Christmas music blaring throughout the house via our little faux-wood Magnavox stereo counsel (the kind with the sliding top doors – which created it’s own holiday magic as a result of the musty smell that escaped when you first slid back the door to remove the LP from its sleeve). As a result, the tunes became intertwined with the smells and the sights of the day – or maybe it was the other way ’round. Regardless, i still expect to smell mildew, taste chocolate that just isn’t quite like what you thought it was going to taste like, and see little plastic elves and Santa’s all brightly painted and lit from within – each and every time i put a Christmas disc in and hit “play”.

The memories were so palpable, i spent several years hunting down my three all-time favorites from days gone by, as follows:

Chet Atkins  – Christmas With…

Bert Kaempfert – Christmas Wonderland

and of course, Al Hirt’s “Have Yourself A Merry Little Hirt” (he could never get away with that kind of album title today! i couldn’t find an image of the original sleeve to share with you here…)

As you can imagine, it was a tough-go at times, and wasn’t until i was finally able to find all three on CD that i received my USB turntable. You know, the thing that i could’ve used to simply transfer the original vinyl over to mp3 format and make discs of my own. i’m not complaining though, because along the way, i was able to stumble upon little gems such as the three discs i started this post with, as well as a whole bevy of beautifully mixed compilations (might i recommend the Ultra-Lounge Christmas series? A delight for both the young and the old – well, until the young are just old enough to worry about “getting old”, at which point they disengage from the series altogether, and call you all sorts of bad “old person” names in the process.) Oh lookie, we’ve digressed again! Anywho. Although three little albums is all i really needed, i have (over the course of years, mind you) ended up with a 4″ binder stuffed with an excess of over one hundred discs. And that’s just Christmas music we’re talking about. Yeah, always me with the damned music.

As a result, if you ever come by my house – anytime from the day after Thanksgiving until New Years Eve – you’ll most likely hear folks like Halford and Heat, singing side-by-side with Crosby, Martin and Sinatra. You’ll hear both the Carol, and the Techno, of The Bells. You be able to go to “Christmas Island” to enjoy a “Reggae Christmas” or travel to the city to experience either “Christmas in Hollis” or a “Fairy Tale of New York” (regardless of which place you aim, just make sure you use RuPaul’s “Christmas Train”). You might be driven to drink by the dour Christmas of Johnny Cash, or you may be brought to your feet in praise, when the likes of Mahalia Jackson and Bobby Darin hit the stage. You could spend New Years Eve with Wayne Newton, or you may decide to spend all 12 days of Christmas with the MacKenzie Brothers instead. Hell, it’s the one time of the year i even allow McCartney into the house for a song, and yes, Burl Ives stops in occasionally as well – the whole house falling to an expectant holiday hush with his arrival. In short, i suppose you could say that around this time of year, my house is just one big hot musical holiday mess.

i’m not sure how the family feels about it (even though i really am sure…), but for me, it’s almost the best part of Christmas.

Now, play me outta here Al…