One of the animating values of City Church is a commitment to the arts, and among the unique capabilities of art is the joining-together of themes and abstract concepts with raw emotion. Christmas brings with it a lot of art that illuminates concepts such as peace, charity, family, the thoughtful close of a year and the anticipation of a prosperous new one. In most cases, these themes are tonally married to a thin slice of the emotional spectrum: joy and happiness.
While this is no doubt the main emotional expression of the Christmas season for many, I’ve often wondered if that's the whole story. I also question if our barometer on each others' hearts during the holidays isn’t skewed by the constant barrage of cheery, brightly colored advertising. Do we assume that everyone around us is at the apex of happiness from Thanksgiving to New Years because that’s the image we’re accustomed to? The ‘spirit’ of driving in holiday traffic alone should give us pause in this regard.
This year, in this city, I feel that the illusion is less powerful. For many Houstonians, and Texans for that matter, Hurricane Harvey is in the middle of its fourth month. While it revealed a strength and generosity here that was observed and remarked upon by voices spanning the globe, there is no doubt that we were all deeply affected, if not changed by it. From those who still aren’t able to go ‘home for the holidays’ while they wait for contractors to reconstitute their walls, to the children that anxiously move all their toys to the highest shelf as soon as they hear rain, this Christmas will be different for many.
In a post last month that accompanied the release of the Civic Club “Psalms EP,” I wrote about the importance of drawing expressions of worship from the full spectrum of human feeling; joy and pain. This advent, I felt challenged to practice that assertion. Along with the immensely talented collective of artists affiliated with City Church, I’m proud of what constitutes our first all original music video.
“Two Weights," featuring the breathtaking choreography of my friend and “So You Think You Can Dance” finalist, Stepheon Stewart, is a meditation on the less-heralded difficulties many experience during December, such as burn-out or the reemergence of grief for the loss of loved ones, as well as the specific challenges of celebrating Christmas under the slow-departing shadow of a natural disaster. Zach Kennedy sings “So I’ve been feeling a little heavy as the days go…” with a digital effect that makes it sound likes he’s being swallowed by the music. I don’t want to speak for him as to any intended meaning, but for me, the lyric of the verses unpacks the two ‘weights’ that comprise the balance of faith, (joy and sorrow, love and hate, belief and doubt, etc.) with a final line reconciling these differences with a simple prayer to “…tune me to high praise.”
I feel led to state that the song and video might not connect with everybody. These experiences aren't necessarily ubiquitous, but are present for many. My hope is that it will resonate deeply with certain hearts.
The stars in the night sky are beautiful because of the darkness that surrounds them. I wonder if the Magi would have even been able to see the star of Bethlehem amidst the ambient light of a modern city. My prayer is that we would ignore the pressure to pretend to be Santa’s happy little shoppers. Let’s be honest about our emotions and empathetic in a new and meaningful way this Christmas. If we acknowledge the darkness, we can truly see the light of Bethlehem; then sing an even more triumphant “Joy to the world!… The Lord is come!”