Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas Letter 2010

The family in River Park, October 2010
Hello, readers!
    As I (James) type this, I’m sitting comfortably on the couch on my weekly day off. The girls are napping and Christina is running a few errands. With some light rain and temps in the mid-40’s, it was very mild for a Wisconsin late-November, but the first snowfall made up for lost time, giving us 12 inches in three days, along with a big temperature drop and 50mph wind gusts.
    Time has seemingly flown a bit since our last letter, even though it was an atypical 18 months ago. I know I say this in each letter, but this year was even more adventurous, with more unexpected surprises. The good news is that we also have made successful strides toward a settled, normal life for our family. Hopefully, our next Christmas letter will be a lot more boring.
    When we last wrote you (June 2009), James had just graduated from seminary and was moving the family (Abby and pregnant Christina) to live with Christina’s parents in northern Delaware. Christina served as a substitute teacher while James transferred to a nearby Starbucks and continued his search for a church position. This search, while proactive, only resulted in second-round phone interviews and two visits (Virginia Beach and Denver).
    However, in November, Bill Heider, Christina’s former youth pastor and now senior pastor of local Crossroads Church, took interest in James’s qualifications and hired him as an intern. We were able to raise support (thank you to all who gave!) and even rent Mr. Heider’s mother’s nearby house (as she was on an extended vacation in Arizona). It was wonderful that we were able to house our growing family! We lived and hosted Thanksgiving, Christmas (’09) and church parties there while James worked three part-time jobs (Crossroads, Starbucks and TwoFish) and Christina regularly babysat. Though we were busy, we were able to have lots of fun family time and take advantage of our time on the East Coast (e.g. touring Boston and
Delaware beaches).
    On January 6, Kaylee Joy Gilliland was born in the same hospital as her mother, St. Francis in Wilmington, DE. After another overnight trip the hospital, Kaylee was born just 13 months after her older sister. She kept us up many nights, but her playful smile and energy is a blessing to our household.
    In March (’10), after James had updated his public resume and done some more networking, he was contacted by the Evangelical Free Church in Sheboygan, WI. After several phone interviews, James, Christina and 4-month-old Kaylee (who was cared for by visiting Grandma Gilliland) were flown from Philadelphia to Milwaukee as James was a candidate for the church’s new Pastor of Worship Arts. The Elders unanimously
voted to hire him the day we landed back in Philadelphia.  For the past six months, we’ve lived in a quiet and peaceful historical-downtown outside the city known as Sheboygan Falls.
    James has been busy at work, overseeing the production of three different types of services each Sunday (traditional, contemporary and evening) as well as special events (concerts, fundraisers and dramas). He’s attended conferences in central Wisconsin and in Denver, and has done everything in church this year from hospital visits to dancing a polka as Martin Luther. James has also made some more initiative with going on creative dates with Christina or outings with Abby and Kaylee. He also is trying to make more time for video games. Don’t talk to him about any of his favorite teams of any sport, though. He’s a bit crabby about them this year.
    Christina did very well to tackle head-on the daunting double-duty of pastor’s wife and mother-of-two. Both in Delaware and in Wisconsin, she’s connected with other other mothers, and here in Sheboygan, she’s initiated a weekly “play-date” with other young moms that’s familiarized some with our church community. Christina, in addition to being a good homemaker, also has started her own piano/voice studio (visit the site at www.mrsgstudio.com)! On the side, she’s joined the prestigious Lakeshore Chorale and has already gotten two solos. She also likes to read, and has enjoyed a variety of literature this year, from devotionals on the Sabbath to Ted Dekker.
    Abby just turned two years old, and stands at the 91st percentile height and weight. She is very energetic and independent. She loves fruits and vegetables, still likes to read, quote the TV shows she watches to herself (mostly VeggieTales and Winnie the Pooh) and is starting to form her own sentences when she talks. Abby also seems to have a strong liking of music (we did not prompt her in any way, we promise you!) and will sing, dance, and/or react positively to most any type of music she hears. This next month, she’s signed up for her very first music class at the local recreation department.
    Kaylee is about to turn one year old. She is very playful and extroverted. She’s on the threshold of walking, having taken almost five consecutive steps frequently. Her desire for something has seemingly pushed her into learning a consonant (e.g. she taught her self “pah” for puffs and “ba-ba” for bottle). She has almost four teeth, but can serve herself those fruit/vegetable/grain puffs with the best of them. Kaylee is still a crawler, but she curiously climbs everywhere, including the stairwell. She’s not trying to sing yet, but she does wiggle in a rhythmic fashion when music starts playing.

    Other adventures of our family this year include a ferry trip across Lake Michigan,  James playing a Christmas Eve service at a homeless shelter, our purchasing a minivan, Christina’s college house reunion in Malibu, lobster on Thanksgiving and a blizzard canceling church and almost stranding us our own house!
    We feel we’re finally on a road to getting settled and less adventurous. We do feel very much at home in Wisconsin, and back in the Midwest, only two hours from Wheaton, our alma mater. We do wish we could travel more, though, and see all of you! We’d love to hear from you. Hope you have had a blessed year from the Lord. Thanks for reading and a merry Christmas and a happy new year to you!

Grace and Peace,

James, Christina, Abby and Kaylee Gilliland

www.mommadaybyday.blogspot.com (Christina’s blog
has been reposted by EFCA Communications online!)


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gilly’s Christmas Playlist ’10 -- Track 3: “SMS (Shine)” - David Crowder*Band

A Christ-less Christmas?

    I’m not, normally, someone to openly complain about how commercialism and the general goal of “non-religiosity” in the public square tend to downplay or even omit the true history of holidays. (Technically, even the word “holiday” should be in the crosshairs of, for example, the ACLU because it’s actually a compound word of “holy day,” which smacks of the pulpit). I’m in favor of “keeping Christ in Christmas,” not because of an argument about the Christian heritage of this nation, but because it seems, in my opinion, that the meaning behind holidays (even beyond “Christian ones”), that may have been influential and memorable, are now fading out of sight amid the blinding glow of commercialism’s politically-correct billboard.
    I think it’s because I’ve tried to imagine, this year, in my own mind, a Christmas without Christ.
    American Christmas traditions and commerce have done well, sadly, to achieve that. None of the “top 25” Christmas songs on the radio or billboards really mention Christ, and even in carols, some beautifully-written and densely-packed with crucial theology and “controversial” Truth, singers and listeners alike just let words like “Christmas” (literally, “Christ’s coming”) roll off their tongue without any thought, as they probably have been doing for years. To a strong degree, organizations that want non-religiosity in the public square can take a break. Christ’s name is in Christmas, but His presence isn’t in many hearts and minds.
    Still, myself, I find much difficulty getting into the “Christmas cheer” with a mindset where Christ is replaced by Santa, holly and sales. It’s hard to listen to the words of songs. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Why? Cold weather can be miserable. Family reunions, if they’re pleasant, happen several times a year. I get more gifts on my birthday and can buy peppermint and eggnog year-round. Say ‘hello‘ to friends you know and everyone you meet. And ignore them until the next year?        
    The American traditions of Christmas are getting more and more substantive, but it still seems like a shell of significance as compared to the event upon which it’s based.     The main way we can keep Christ in Christmas in our hearts is to understand what is biblical and what is tradition, because we all have such traditions. In and of themselves, they are not wrongful, but should they be placed above or against what is biblical, a red flag should be raised.
    I’ll go first.
    When I sing carols, what fills my mind? Is it the poetic wording of God’s gift of His Son to a hurting world, and my longing to be nearer to and imitating of such a wonderful God? Or am I thinking about how this song brings me back to my youth group’s caroling days, and how I got a Super Nintendo that year? Good times. Or am I thinking about how this particular arrangement and delivery could really use some more lower treble, and if they’ll go for the cool high note at the end? When I sit down to eat my Christmas dinner, will I approach the table as an opportunity to celebrate the family and blessings God has given me as He gave Christ, and how I can give as He gave? Or will I be secretly missing the taste of my grandmother’s delicious Swedish ham and meatballs? 
    Even harmless traditions and distractions, when over-prized, can make a Christmas Christ-less in our hearts. Let’s try to avoid that this year.

“SMS (Shine)” by David Crowder*Band

    I’ve recently come to enjoy the work of David Crowder*Band. It’s rare for me to have any type of favorite, and I’ve just written about Hillsong United achieving that. DC*B (for short), this out-of-the-box electric rock band, is a comfortable number 2. They actually, in my opinion, outdo Hillsong United in general creativity, both in their musical style and lyric-writing, but the cost of this creativity is that their songs are less “sing-able” by congregations. Instrumentally, their songs are hard to execute for many worship teams. They also don’t quite have the stage presence of worship leadership as much as Hillsong United, and this leaves them on the fine line between functioning as a band that writes songs that congregations sing, or a band that writes songs that congregations listen to. In any case, they’re talented, and their work is irreplaceable. 
    I was surprised to find out that, despite all their years in the field, their Christmas output was just one song, a rendition of “Feliz Navidad.” Until now. This song is not technically designated as a Christmas song, and the music video takes on a different theme, but the lyrics speak otherwise. The song “SMS (Shine)” features a “just-right” electric and balladic groove, with not quite enough tenderness to be a slow-dance song, but not quite enough oomph to be a nightclub beat. In the lyrics, David Crowder writes of his heart feeling overcome, and how he longs for “a sign, a hint” from God. Verse 2 and the bridge read:

“You sent a sign/the hint, oh whisper/human, divine/everyone is listening/death laid low/quiet in the night is stirring/all around the rush of angels/oh, the wonder of the greatest love has come”

    And the last chorus reads:

“Love has come, what joy to hear it/He has overcome, He has overcome”

Monday, December 6, 2010

Some fun observations from the Women’s Brunch:

1) Humor columnist Dave Barry once recalled a family Thanksgiving dinner, where the kitchen was filled with the family’s women. All kitchen duties to prepare the big meal were delegated, and the cooks were diligently and intensely working in a eerily choreographed fashion. Dave Barry said he’d feel more comfortable walking into the control room of a nuclear submarine. After stopping by the kitchen to drop off my lunch while the Women’s Brunch meal was being so prepared, I know what he meant.

2) While working on Friday, the office bathroom was occupied, so I ventured over to the men’s room by the gym. It had been declared a second ladies’ room, but I was still allowed by one of the nearby ladies to go inside. This former men’s room was decorated a bit more and very fragrant, but the urinals were untouched. Later, I talked with some of the event coordinators, asking where I could go, should nature call while I’m providing jazzy ambience on the piano during the brunch. The women directed me to some abandoned bathrooms on the other end of the facility on the lower floor.

3) Did the women not know that the candy on some of the tables was not just for decoration? I knew, and maybe some of the bussers did, too. Delicious selection.

P.S. I spent some time conceiving (and I guess I’m not the first) a Men’s Brunch. Probably wouldn’t start until at least noon or 1pm. No servers necessary, as it’d be a generous buffet, filled with scrambled eggs with cheese, omelettes with peppers and onions (probably the entirety of the vegetable portion right there), brat sausages, chocolate covered waffles and strawberry cheesecake (for fruit nutrition). There would be no need for people to wait for equal shares before anyone got seconds. Tables would be decorated last minute with car parts and empty soda cans, and guests would be surrounded by flatscreen TV’s airing sports. Dressing up would be NOT encouraged. Speaker would be Kurt Warner, discussing how the new Batman Begins movie series addresses spiritual warfare. I guess I’ll have to pass this along Larry and Rob . . .

Friday, December 3, 2010

Gilly’s Christmas Playlist ’10 -- Track 2: “And On That Day” - Phil Keaggy

Loving and Lightbulbs

I was doing some work from home this morning while my daughters watched VeggieTales: The Star of Christmas. I’m a huge supporter of the creative and ministerial duo that is Phil Vischer and Nawrocki, but this wasn’t my favorite of their Christmas repertoire. However, this time, I overheard a line from the dialogue that really stuck with me.

In the basic premise of the story, Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber play Cavis Appythart and Millward Phelps, two musical playwrights in late nineteenth century London. It’s Christmas season, and they’re struggling to produce a blockbuster. Meanwhile, a nearby church is producing a Christmas pageant, featuring a special relic known as the Star of Christmas. The church is unknowingly making itself a competitor and finding itself in the crosshairs of the two aspiring playwrights, who successfully steal the Star of Christmas. (More spoilers ahead). It was the day before opening night, and it seemed the playwrights’ desperate actions were fruitful. But then a technical mishap started a fire which burned the theatre to the ground, and the two were arrested for their theft.

Though the now-imprisoned Appythart’s ethics and intentions were questionable at best, he still was making a soliloquy in his cell about how he had only hoped to “teach London to love.” The playwrights‘ cellmate, a longtime prisoner, inquired of them. When they told him of their production goals, he laughed uproariously and said, “You’re teaching London to love, with lightbulbs?”

It was a hard thing for me to realize in my studies to be a pastor in music. All the music, art, technology and general pizazz of a church have their limits. The resourceful Willow Creek Community Church well-developed the method of such an “attraction-al” church to grow its attendants and increase its ministry, but (as they probably will agree) it seems that approach has passed its prime. Ironically, as I’m serving in ministry now, I feel like I’m having to help people unlearn the consumer-like tendencies which the “attraction-al” church era had fueled so well.

All I want to do is teach London to love. And lightbulbs are useless.

But I learned a while ago to see beyond the lightbulbs of Christmas and into its true meaning. Christmas (literally meaning “Christ’s mass” or “Christ’s coming”) is God’s gift of love, and Christ commanded us to love definitively for Him (John 13:34-35). In essence, we are to “teach London to love.” Maybe not London, per se, but our neighbor (Mark 12:29-31). But lightbulbs won’t do that. We need to live and love by example.

Lightbulbs are pretty. Music can sound angelic, but if we don’t have love, it all turns into resounding gongs and clanging cymbals (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Maybe that’s one way we can model the original Christmas, by teaching love.

And On That Day - Phil Keaggy

I remember one day my Christian elementary school was having a little book sale, and I spotted a Christmas collection two-disc set and snuck it into my mother’s shopping bag. It’s since become the prominent Christmas musical listening tradition in our family. This song is track 2.

While endorsements from Jimi Hendrix may be an old wives’ tale, Phil Keaggy is widely praised for his guitar skills. However, his technical skill doesn’t show so much in this track as does his devotion and gentle passion as a singer and songwriter. His voice is gentle, and his words avoid much “Christian-ese.” My favorite line from the song is:

“And on that day was put in motion/the means of our redemption”