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Family’s Value (Or, Why We’re Home For Christmas)

“Hey, son, when do you get off of work?”

“Closing time on Friday.”

“Oh. So how long will you spend at your house before coming home? A couple of days?”

“Oh no! A couple of hours, if that. I want to be with y’all by Friday night. I’m gonna lock my place up, hit the road and not look back ’till New Years.”

“Ok. Glad to hear it.”

This conversation played out between my father and I recently. I know he was testing the waters, trying to see what my schedule was like for the break. Yet, his assumption that I might spend the days leading up to Christmas alone at my small house in the city seemed odd to me. Did he not know how much I longed to be home this time of year? Can he have forgotten what it’s like to sit in an empty house, knowing that your family is only an hour’s drive away? What would Advent & Christmastime be without family?

Twenty years ago, the kid who was me experienced Christmas as two holidays wrapped in one. The first was the jovial gift-giving holiday promoted by commercials but truly fueled by that playful child-like spirit of games, toys and fun. The other was an equally compelling but strictly religious celebration at church when the adults, with a totally serious (and occasionally stern) face, reminded us kids to be quiet because the God-baby was asleep in his manger. And, deep down inside, I sensed that somehow these two holidays were linked through the living reality of family. Yet, with all the happy serendipity of a child, I merely accepted the mystery at face value.

Having put aside childish things, I now know that those two holidays were, of course, the same one. Chesterton once compared falling down the chimney to what happens when a mother gives birth: a gift is dropped down a shoot into a room full of strangers. Christmas is merely the celebration of the greatest present to fall down the chimney: Christ, and his great act of giving us back to each other. Likewise, a wise priest a know has called Christmas the greatest joke ever. Humor, he argues, is the coming together of opposite ideas. What could be more opposite than the heavenly court literally engulfing the countryside at the birth of a human family on the plains of Bethlehem.

The human family was the key to all this. A man, a woman and a child, illuminated by a star, surrounded by angels, shepherds and sages: this is the strange icon the Christmas has etched in our hearts. It is as if all the powers of heaven and earth are bent in humility around this most fundamental institution: the family. The Psalmist tells us the God has made heaven his throne and earth his footstool: but we get the sense at Christmas that the family is His royal entourage! For laying at the center of the picture, to weak to even speak, is the Word of God. Perhaps that is why they call it silent night: not simply because angels, humans and animals are all adoring the Christ-child, but because God Himself was silent in the presence of the mystery of ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy.’

So, yes, I am going home for Christmas. I cannot wait to arrive, though I cannot say why. Like the rest of us, I can only look at those two parents bent over the manger and wonder what in heaven and on earth God was thinking when he gave us to each other.


Our School, Starstruck (Or, Jesus Coaching Football Outside My Classroom)

“Guys, Jim Caviezel is here filming a movie.” This was how Mr. Collins, our Academic Dean, started things off this morning in the front office. Over the weekend, Archbishop Shaw High School was transformed into De La Salle High School in Concord, California. Arriving to work this morning and seeing De La Salle signage all over campus did have me a bit puzzled. It was announced at the last faculty meeting that a small movie would be filming on campus during finals week, but for some reason I was under the impression it was a indie documentary. They said it was about Catholic schools’ athletic programs, or some such, so I assumed that it would consist of a couple of artsy-types walking around with a hand-held camera shooting interviews between classes. Instead, I find myself sharing a parking lot with Jim Caviezel and Laura Dern’s make-up trailers. Shaw’s maintenance guys are running all over campus installing professional lighting. The football field and gym are crawling with grips, props, set designers, extras, cameramen and actors. As I look out on the back field right now, Jesus and Dr. Sadler are watching “The Thing” from The Fantistic Four run line drills with a team of teenage actors. Seriously, it is one of the most impressive-looking football teams I have ever seen: delicately groomed hair, immaculate uniforms, and picture-perfect drill lines. Nonetheless, I’m sure that the state-champ Shaw Rugby team could give them a run for their money.

Anyway, I’ve been excited all morning. I’ve never been one to be starstruck, but Jurrasic Park & Passion of the Christ are both on my top ten list of movies. The fact that a star from each of these films is down on the field a few yards away has me quivering in my slip-on dress shoes. And, as is always the case with my overly-philosophical mind, I find myself wondering what all the fuss is about. Seeing them from 100 yards away is not much better than seeing them on a 100-foot movie screen. It’s a scorching summer day on the Westbank. Mr. Caviezel looks like any other man would on such a morning: hot, lethargic  wishing that he didn’t have to get up so early to stand under the sun. I don’t know, though. It feels kinda cool to be making the same commute. It feels kinda cool to know that both Jim Caviezel and I are a little reluctant to be up so early and sitting the parking lot of Archbishop Shaw High School. It feels kinda cool to be “going to work” at the same place, even if we’re there for totally different reasons.

It feels kinda cool. Still, that’s not quite why I am excited. I am excited for my students, who keep looking out the windows trying to catch a glimpse of the stars. I am excited for them as the shout, “Yeah! Jesus is playing football on our field! He’s using our locker room! He’s running our drills!” There is something Incarnational about that. I like the idea of them realizing that the actor who played Jesus is really here doing all the stuff that they normally do. Maybe it will help them realize that Jesus Himself is really here, and really did all the normal human stuff too. Maybe.

Anyway, I that’s kinda what told Mr. Caviezel when I briefly introduced myself between takes. He simply smiled, chuckling.

Top Ten Books Read in 2011, #4

Number 4 is …

unPlanned – Abby Johnson

This is the only book on the list that was actually published this year. It is very rare that I’m actually up to date on stuff like that, but this book travelled with me on the way to and from the March for Life. It provided great reflection on many things.

The pro-life issue needs to be humanized. Abby communicates to the reader two things in this regard: babies in the womb are humans and those who abort them are humans, neither should be dehumanized. Both are required respect, love, charity, and action for their freedom.

Abby showed that freedom from ‘the other side’ is possible. She is a witness to the providence of God. Her life shows that God desires for all to see the truth. We must pray that each man and woman involved in the ‘industry’ of abortion can be open in a small way to God breaking through in their lives.