Happiness? Or Joy?

This week, I interviewed a pastor for our local paper. We talked about the Christmas season and about how some people struggle emotionally this time of year. He made a statement that was certainly not original to him (I’ve even said it myself before, just not about Christmas), but it resonated with me. He said, “Christmas isn’t always a time of happiness for everyone, but it should be a time of joy.”

Throughout my life, I’ve become keenly aware of the difference between happiness and joy. It’s so easy for us to get caught up in our emotions, and in doing so, rely on happiness to sustain us instead of joy. But there are clear differences between the two, and we have to know them.

  • Happiness is based on current circumstances. Joy is based on long-term, even eternal fulfillment.
  • Happiness is transient. Joy is permanent.
  • Happiness is fragile. Joy is solid.
  • Happiness must be fed and is never truly satisfied. Joy sustains itself.
  • Happiness can deceive you. Joy is always true.
  • Happiness is a feeling. Joy is a state of mind.

Do you find yourself chasing after happiness? Or do you look for (or already have) joy? There’s a difference. And once you know that difference and build your life around joy, you’ll see things in a whole new way.

 

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The Bizarre (But True) Story Of A Beloved Christmas Song

My favorite secular Christmas song is “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” I love the poignancy of the song. In the midst of these hopeful lyrics celebrating the season, there’s a melody that’s wistful and almost nostalgic. It’s a beautiful song.

I have a dozen different versions of the song on my iPod, from artists like Amy Grant, The Pretenders, David Gray, Lady Antebellum, John Denver & The Muppets, and The Carpenters. My favorite version has to be the one from a CD called That Christmas Swing that I picked up at a five-and-dime sort of store back when I was in college, sung by a session singer from Nashville named Gail Farrell. That particular version is a beautifully sung Big Band version that’s not flashy at all. Like I always say, a good song is a good song no matter who performs it.

“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” has a fascinating, practically bizarre history. In 2006, Chris Willman wrote an article in Entertainment Weekly that told the story:

There are two Christmas anthems locked in a struggle for the nation’s soul. One, the perennial leader, is the Nat King Cole-popularized ”The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire),” a glowing portrait of America in heavenly, secular peace. And then we have the challenger: ”Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which this year leaped to No. 2 on ASCAP’s annual list of the most performed holiday songs. ”Chestnuts” has plenty going for it: embers, tots, reindeer, an assurance of everything in its right place, and that 1-to-92 target demographic. But it can’t hold a candle to the depth and richness of ”Merry Little Christmas,” which wins our hearts by celebrating a quality that’s even more intrinsic to the season: emotional ambivalence.

”’Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ manages to be happy and sad at the same time, hopeful but full of melancholy, as all the best Christmas songs are,” says Bette Midler, who sings it on her new CD, Cool Yule. And the song’s fascinatingly tangled history has left it with several very different sets of lyrics, from the near-suicidal to the downright ebullient. There’s even a recent ”sacred” rewrite, ”Have Yourself a Blessed Little Christmas.” Which one you prefer may be the truest Rorschach test of your yuletide temperament.

Hugh Martin, the song’s 92-year-old writer, is calling from a California studio where he’s working on demos for a new musical. He’s curious to know who’s done ”Merry Little Christmas” well this year. Though the latest interpreters include Sarah McLachlan, James Taylor, and Aimee Mann, he’s most excited to learn that his song has finally merited a hair-metal cover. ”Twisted Sisters, is that the group’s name? Ha ha ha. That’s a hoot!”

Read the rest at Entertainment Weekly

I Love My Ministry Team…

I wasn’t planning on writing tonight, but after tonight’s Christmas Eve services at Eastridge, I couldn’t help but do so. I’m constantly mindful of our incredible Worship Arts volunteers at ECC, and I’m always impressed at how our volunteers work hard and have fun at the same time. Tonight was no exception; in fact, I had as much fun tonight preparing for and putting on two services as I’ve ever had, if not more.

Between pizza…toffee…white chocolate dipped pretzels…discussions about 8-tracks and video discs…”she’s not on Twitter”…”two half pizzas”…races to post on Twitter and Facebook…and everything else in between, I had a blast. So to tonight’s team(Trey Bailey, Scott Martin, Nikki Adams, Tiffani Hodges, Jeremy Blackmon, Brian Jones, Jay Smith, Cheryl Turner, Paul Turner, Kris Hodges, Julia DeFoor, Jennifer Hilland, and Scott Moore), thanks.

To all our Eastridge Community Church Worship Arts volunteers, thanks for serving, using your talents, and for all the joy that we bring to each other. I love working with such a hard-working and FUN bunch of folks.

Merry Christmas!

Traditions

Today I took part in a family tradition in somewhat of a weird way…by myself. Every year, a few days before Christmas, various members of my family go to Patrick’s, a local feed store that transforms into candy central during the Holiday season. We stock up on old-fashioned candy: fruit slices, chocolate covered everything, coconut dyed different colors. Apparently, other members of my family went earlier in the week without me, so I went today at lunch.

Candy from Patrick’s is one of many Christmas traditions that have been part of my family and church experience for years, traditions like:

…and many other special things that we’ve done (and still do) to celebrate the season. Some traditions have come and gone, and others have had more staying power.

Traditions are comforting, particularly at Christmastime, but we have to be careful not to let the tradition become what we celebrate. They can easily become the institutions, the non-negotiables or our Christmas season. Our traditions are accessories to the real celebration of the birth of Jesus.

May we never forget why we’re celebrating and Who we’re celebrating. As you enjoy your Christmas traditions, take time to ponder that He is the Giver of all good gifts.

Steel Pigs Over Atlanta: A Christmas Memory

Riding the Pink Pig at Rich’s Downtown was a holiday tradition in my family for many years. Every year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we’d drive all the way into downtown Atlanta to visit the amazing Rich’s Downtown store. I remember being so excited!

For those who don’t know, the Pink Pig was a monorail of sorts that was erected at Christmas time at the Rich’s Department Store in downtown Atlanta from 1948 to 1991. It started out in the toy department and rode out on the roof of the store through a Christmas village and alongside the Rich’s Great Tree, with a view of the buildings of Atlanta all around it. (Yes, the Pink Pig exists today…sort of…at Lenox Square, but I’ll get to that in a minute…)

There aren’t too many specific memories of our trips; I think all these remembrances blend together into one tableau of images: driving into Atlanta; marvelling at the beautiful Rich’s Great Tree atop the Crystal Bridge; the huge department store unlike anything I’d seen anywhere else; the elevator with the color-code for each floor; the bustling cafeteria; the thumbprint cookies with sweet, creamy icing; the reindeer in the petting zoo; Santa’s Secret Shop (where parents weren’t allowed!); the Pink Pig itself, with its awe-inspiring view of the Great Tree and the “big city” around it; the sticker, which was the coveted free souvenir, with its red ink on a pink fabric circle, that read I Rode The Pink Pig At Rich’s. (The funny thing is that I never remember going to see Santa there; I may have, but I just don’t have any recollection…)

The Pink Pig returned in a much lesser form in 2004 at Lenox Square Mall, inside a tent, as a small train ride with cheesy narration done in a fake Southern accent. (There was no audio at the real Pink Pig, except for children’s chatter…) I’ve been to it two or three times, most recently last week with Ashley, Kenzie, and Hadley. It really hit me this last time riding it how it’s nowhere near the amazing experience we had as children. First of all, it’s at a mere mall…in Buckhead. Secondly, the tree was scrawny and sad looking…no majesty here. Last of all, there was nothing to inspire the imagination…no ride over downtown, no view of a growing, bustling city. It made me wish I had a time machine to take the girls back to the days of a truly magical Christmas experience.

Thanks for allowing me to share a Christmas memory, albeit in a cranky, “things ain’t what they used to be” kind of way… May your Christmas this year be full of memories that you’ll want to share.

Five Examples Of Bad Christmas Music

I’ve noticed that the Christmas commercialization is in full swing: decorations are up, music is starting to play in the stores…if only in short increments, and TV ads with Christmas themes are already on the air (I even saw a commercial that never mentioned Christmas; it was simply set in a neighborhood covered in snow and decorated for Christmas!).

Don’t get me wrong; I love Christmas, and even though I think the first week of November is a bit too early to start, I’ll probably be ready for it in a couple of weeks. Until then, here’s my first foray into the holidays; I’d love to share five examples of bad Christmas music, songs and artists that exemplify everything that’s wrong with the music of the season. Some people may call me a Scrooge for my choices, but in a few weeks I’ll share my favorite Christmas music. Here goes…

5. Harry Simeone Chorale, “The Little Drummer Boy” In the interest of full disclosure, I have a history with this song. The first song I ever performed on stage at age seven was, you guessed it, “The Little Drummer Boy.” In the past few years, I’ve finally been able to get away from hearing, “I remember when you were this tall (place hand about waist-high) singing ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ at Covington Christian,” and it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve been able to listen to the song without cringing. Except this version. The shrill melody and harmony and the male vocals endlessly droning “rum, rum, rum, rum” make this, the original version of the song make, a joy killer for me.

4. Anything by Mannheim Steamroller I’m sure I’ve ticked somebody off with this choice, but I just can’t stand this electro-cheese from the 80’s. Nothing these guys do works for me; it’s all hideous. The YouTube clip I linked to here (the video may be worse than the song, but not by much) had a comment on it to the effect of “this music sounds like it was made by a bunch of computer nerds.” My sentiments exactly.

3. Porky Pig, “Blue Christmas” Elvis’ hit “Blue Christmas” was a classic slice of early rock & roll Christmas music, and then some fool decided to do a parody. The Porky Pig version, which was unofficial by the way, is a joke that works for about ten seconds…or less…but it drags on for two minutes. Dreadful.

2. John Denver, “Please Daddy(Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas)” John Denver’s Rocky Mountain Christmas is a beautiful album, with a mix of traditional Christmas songs and lovely and reverent originals. And then there’s this. I can’t decide if it’s so funny it’s sad or if it’s so sad it’s funny. Either way, it’s terrible. My parents used to have a record of this album, and my mom refused to listen this song. It was after I got the CD a few years ago that I was able to appreciate the cheesiness.

1. Dr. Elmo, “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” The worst Christmas song, hands down. Words can’t describe how lame this piece of garbage is…well, polite words can’t. Poorly sung, poorly produced, and sorely overused, this song and it’s accompanying video became an MTV staple in December back when MTV showed videos; need I say more? In researching for this blog entry, I found out that Dr. Elmo and his wife were actually the targets of protest at their shows by the Gray Panthers for their “ageist” music. No kidding…you can’t make stuff like this up.

If I sound cynical on this post, it’s because this hideous music makes one that way. Don’t worry; I’ll post happy stuff soon. Seriously.