Please rest, ye merry gentlemen

Christmas has arrived again, as it is wont to do, and just like that, everybody loses their mind.

In its purist form Christmas is a religious holiday during which followers of Christ celebrate his incarnation, the entering of God into human history - the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. In latter days, however, it's come to mean something entirely different, as if, somewhere along the way, the original celebration crawled into a chrysalis and emerged a completely different animal.

These days, Christmas is chiefly a festival of consumerism. A celebration hosted, promoted, and managed by Capitalism to prop-up the economy. Indeed, Christmas is now synonymous with consumption. If you could take everything said and done in it's name, sort it into piles: Social, Theological, Material, etc. etc., and put each on the scales, the vast, hulking, majority would concern the exchange of currency for goods.

Goods. As if that's an apt descriptor for the junk we gift to one another. Honestly, how many times in your entire life have you opened a present and said "this is just what I need" without lying through your teeth. Never. Nobody ever gets just what they need. They mostly get junk that was bought by someone compelled to buy something, anything, under a throbbing sense of obligation. 

"Steve and Jenny gave us a gift? Dammit. What are we going to get them now? Are they even present-worthy friends? Have we got something re-gift-able? What time is Woolies open till? Dammit!"

Why do I care about all this? Not particularly because I want to preserve the purity of the religious holiday - I'm not sure it was ever so pure to begin with. No, I'd like us to redirect our energies from shopping to something far more momentous: merrymaking.

Merrymaking. The act of gathering family and friends and co-workers and neighbours, setting time aside, putting our collective feet up, opening a bottle of something good, and training our minds chiefly on the task of recreation, restoration, relaxation, and refreshment.

In a day when more bottles are being emptied for the purpose of self-medication than merriment, we'd do well to apply ourselves to this higher calling. The Psalmist had it right when he praised the Lord thus:

You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
    and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
    and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
    and bread to strengthen man's heart.

So by this point in the piece, you're saying to yourself, By jove! He's right you know. Christmas really should be all about making merry and whatnot!

Sorry, but here's why our plan won't work under the current Christmas regime: making merry, like making anything of worth, requires energy, resources, attention, time; all of which we have little to none of by the time Christmas finally rolls around. We're too exhausted from struggling through shops swollen with fellow inmates and the stress of trying to remember who we're to buy for and what and why. In short, genuine merrymaking first requires that we rest.

So, if you're still committed, and we're going to make merry (and I highly recommend that we do it, and do it well), then we'll need to forsake the now entrenched habit of meaningless gift procurement and presentation. And why not? What do we have to lose? When you think about the merry we could make with the resources we'd save, it makes good Christmas sense.

Hate the sin, love the Santa

We have this precarious arrangement with our kids that we will never lie to them when they ask us a question. And by 'lie' I mean all of them, the white ones, the grey ones, all of the hues that are available to us in these opaque times.

The upside is that they are learning to trust us when we tell them, well, anything really. They've got no reason to look at us out of the corner of their eye, "right, Daddy, whatever you saaay...".

The downside is... obvious. 

Lying is helpful, right? It's convenient, functional, user-friendly. It gets us out of sticky situations, rescues us from unfavourable commitments, it's a handy face-saver and foot-in-mouth remover all-in-one.

It's also a preservative. It enables us parents to maintain some pretty swell traditions. Traditions like the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and those bone-jarring New Year's Day hangovers.

So for Family Smith, all of that is off the table. But let me tell you something, our kids l-o-v-e love Santa Claus. And we love that they love him, mainly because we love the way they love him.

When my soon-to-be-five-year-old comes across Santa in the shopping centre, she gets a kick out of him. To begin with, he's funny looking. All dressed up in red (her second favourite colour), 'ho-ho-ho-ing' (which nobody she knows ever says), and willing to give lollies if she sits on his lap (actually, neither of us think that's a great idea).

But she enjoys the experience because, well, why wouldn't she? She knows he's a big old guy dressed up in a costume. She LOVES costumes, and wears them herself whenever her Mummy will let her. It's a great big game of pretend that only comes around once a year. That's actually pretty cool for a kid to be a part of.

"But!" Some will say. "What about the children?" "Will nobody think of the children! (Specifically) my children, who's precious belief in the real Santa Claus will be destroyed by your kids anti-Santa ideology!"

Nope.

Why? Because, along with the whole bugbear about lying, we also have this big rule about not being a brat and ruining other people's fun. 

Are your kids dressing up as Queen Elsa and Captain Jack Sparrow for this Saturday's long-awaited birthday party? Fear not! My kids aren't going to start crowing about the fact that there is no real Elsa or Jack, because, well, that'd be a really crappy thing to do.

It's great. For five years my daughter has been privy to one of the biggest conspiracies involving almost all of her fellow small-humans and she's never said a word - even when nobody's watching. I should know. I asked her the other day. And we've got this thing about lying.

Resist the danish and he will flee from you

It's 2015 and I'm the oldest and fattest I've ever been.

Oldest, for all the usual reasons. Fattest, because when I turned 34 my body switched to one of those new low-flow metabolisms.

Which is completely unfair because I was never trained in the art of food avoidance for the sake of figure retention. Up to this point, I thought that people for whom "a moment on the lips, forever on the hips" was more than an idle threat just had something broken. 

When my friend, Guy, suggested I try a low-carb diet I took to it with the gusto of a self-flagellating penitent. Out went the cereals, the breads, and, Lor' have mercy! every divine incarnation of the potato. I took up my cross, and determined to put to death every trans fat transgression.

When I was younger I used to smoke. Then I chose not to smoke any more. This feels like that. 

I had no idea how tight a grip fast food had on my brain. As I write this my head is swimming in a reservoir of deep-fried images, drenched in canola-soaked memories, befuddled by the yearning that wracks the mind, body and soul of a rehabilitating junkie.

And yet.

Over the past 3 weeks i've not only seen the needle on the bathroom scale fall to the tune of 10 metric kilograms, i've also noticed an increase - an increase in my capacity to resist all manner of temptations. First it was the neon lights of the kebab shop that slowly began to lose their lustrous lure, but it's gone beyond that - it feels like I'm growing in my capacity to resist other temptations as well.

Is this a thing? Can resisting hot chips help a man resist hot chicks? (Apologies.)

I feel like i've heard something like this before, so I search around and find the Apostle Paul and his stirring words to the Corinthian church:

Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
— 1 Corinthians 9

It seems that when it comes to temptations, resistance begets resistance. Besting the carnal call of base desires seems to enable us to overcome greater adversaries. I'm not sure I can keep up this low-carb-lark forever, but I've learned a valuable lesson in my quest for a lifetime of obedience.

Between the pigsty and the party

In 1981 I was born into a loving Christian family. It took me years to emancipate myself from all the nurture and nourishment I received as a child, but after 19 of them, I finally broke free. Over to the US of A I went to be rid of my Past and to find my Self.

What I found, however, was that I didn't really like my Self at all.

It's a long story that involves much pain and circumstance, but halfway through the journey I found myself standing with the younger son in Jesus' famous parable, feeding the proverbial pigs and lamenting my pathetic place in the universe.

It was then that I determined to start on what I assumed would be a long and bumpy road back to God, bearing a large sackful of recriminations, trudging along lengthy stretches of self-flagellation and steep hill-climbs of penitence.

But, remarkably, I endured none of this. 

What I found instead was a prodigiously gracious Father who treated me just as Jesus said He would...

...while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’
— Luke 15

I'm the Prodigal Jon.

My Father has welcomed me with scandalous grace, I love Him because He loved me first... but most of the time I find myself wandering between the pigsty and the party.