The back-of-the-rag humor column for Chatter magazine.
Patron Saint of Payola, Fossil Fuel Fanatic
’Tis the holiday season once again. Soon we’ll all be busy with sash throwing training and demanding figgy pudding from bell ringers and forgetting what our wives said they really wanted for Christmas this year back in February so how could we possibly remember such a thing I mean seriously am I right? But before that madness descends upon the land like a blanket of new-fallen dread, Chatter has unwisely enlisted my services once again to interview a Major Religious Figure of suspect mortality. That’s right, as you may have guessed from the title, this year the royal we will be interviewing the man, the myth (except he’s real), the legend (again, except real), Nikolaos of Myra, Saint Nick, aka Kris Kringle, aka Santa Claus, aka Sir Fatman of Jollytime.
Chatter: Thanks for taking some time to, as we say, chat with Chatter.
St. Nikolaos: Would you like some coal?
Chatter: Was my wordplay really so bad as to land me on the naughty list?
SN: No. Well, yes. But it wasn’t that. I’m just a firm believer in coal. All things compressed dinosaur, really. I mean, it’s magic, isn’t it? Take a stegosaurus, apply time and compression, and you end up with a rock you can either use as a snowman’s eyes or light on fire!
Chatter: You know, coal isn’t a very PC power source these days.
SN: I’m an orthodox Christian saint. You want PC, go talk to St. Man-Bun of Patchouli. Besides, you know what the Willie Nelson crowd would rather I put in the naughty stockings these days?
Chatter: I’m not allowed to make a pot joke in this publication.
SN: Nor should you be, young snapper of whips!
Chatter: I’m 44.
SN: I’m 1,746. Anyway. I’m talking about biomass. Biomass! Do you know what biomass is?
SN: As long as folks forgo flushing, yes.
Chatter: Perhaps we should start over. I know this is your busiest time of year…
SN: Oh, please. I’ve been doing this gift thing in one form or another for 17 centuries. We operate like a mechanized whirligig thoroughly lubricated with hog fat! Of course, everything’s computerized now. So as long as Microsoft doesn’t release a “critical update” to Excel…
Chatter: They’re all critical.
SN: I know, right? Well, as long as they don’t do that on Christmas Eve, we’ll be fine. I do have a mid-level elf maintain a scroll-based backup of the naughty/nice spreadsheet, but dealing with Hermey has been quite unpleasant since he flunked out of dental school, so it’s best avoided.
Chatter: Interesting. Now, let’s back up a bit. You were born in the late third century in what is now modern-day Turkey to wealthy parents.
SN: Yes, that’s true. My father invented the earliest known form of Wite-Out and made a fortune. His big discovery was getting it to work on marble tablets.
Chatter: You’re joking.
SN: Of course I’m joking! He made his money the old fashioned way – playing keno. But they died in an epidemic of some sort and I was then raised by my uncle. He’s the one who got me into the priesthood.
Chatter: So just how did you go from priest to bishop to saint to a jovial fan of red velvet snow gear?
SN: As far as sainthood goes, that’s not really my doing. I helped some folks out, said some prayers, some thought the results were miraculous. I know not. But pretty soon people are seeing your silhouette in their muesli and what are you going to do? As to the red suit, what can I say? It’s comfortable. Especially the new one L.L. Bean made for me. A good set of Gore-Tex long johns beats the snot out of vestments made from 1,600-year-old goat hides any day.
Chatter: Does it bother you that when most Americans picture you they see a rotund character from an early 20th-century Coca-Cola ad that vaguely recalls Burl Ives?
SN: Are you kidding me? If I can go to Starbucks without people pestering me for free gift cards, I’ll take the slightly deceptive anonymity.
Chatter: And how do you respond to critics who claim you’ve become too popular – even more of a symbol of the season than Jesus?
SN: First, I claim such cultural befuddlement is the work of Old Scratch himself, the Great Pumpkin. Second, I advise everyone to keep things in perspective. Christ bestows upon all who would receive him the gift of eternal life. I bestow Xboxes and gray-market American Girl dolls.
Chatter: So, just how do you manage to leave toys for all the world’s good little girls and boys in one night?
SN: My headquarters is next door to the Fortress of Solitude, so I subcontract 99% of the deliveries to Superman.
Chatter: And the other 1%?
SN: I like Taos, what can I say?
Chatter: Final question, and it comes from my oldest son who is eight. Why is everything you leave under the tree made in China?
SN: Would he rather get some artisanal biomass?
Nikolaos of Myra, 270 – 343, was the only son of wealthy Christian parents who lived in Myra, Lycia in what is now the country of Turkey. His parents both died during an epidemic, leaving the young Nikolaos to be raised by his uncle, the bishop of nearby Patera. Nikolaos himself eventually rose to the rank of bishop, and was one of the signers of the Nicene Creed in 325. His reputation for anonymous gift giving became the template for Santa Claus (the name being an iffy transliteration of St. Nicholas many times over). There is probably no truth to the rumor that his love of a good bargain led to the rise of Black Friday. He does, however, prefer homemade chocolate chip cookies and almond milk on December 24.
Source: Wikipedia, give or take
This guest column originally appeared in the November/December 2016 edition of Chatter Magazine. A lovely image of it laid out from the magazine is inserted below.
If you are not seated, please sit down. If you are seated, buckle up. If you are buckled up, you may want to stop reading now if you’re prone to carsickness. Settled in? Okay, then. The haphazard collection of words currently assaulting your senses – both sight and common – is my 73rd and likely final column for Chatter. I know, I know. You’re probably in the drive-thru at Chick-fil-A just now remembering that it’s Sunday and then this happens. So you are not only left wondering where you can satisfy your Bible-blessed chicken jones, but also from whence you’ll be able to scratch your itch for elliptical sentence structures chock-a-block with obtuse wordification and the occasional, monthly reference to pastiness. You need a hug.
Sadly, the Chatter editorial board enforces a strict no-touching (even emotionally) policy on contributors of dubious complexion (there’s your final pasty reference), so we’ll have to make do with a psychic fist bump. But before I leave you with Tim Hawkins as your lone source of Christian comedy (What do you mean he already was?), I’d like to take a few hundred words and ramble semi-coherently about what the past 69 “Idle Chatter” columns and 4 “Interview with a Dead Guy” exposés have taught me. If anything. Hmmm.
First, I’ve learned that it’s much easier to keep a position when the job is essentially that of a volunteer. Assuming you don’t count the few times I had to slip an Old Navy coupon code to the editor (Julie, now of the emeritus variety) to get her to put down the metaphorical red pen. (The literal red pen is the Track Changes feature in Microsoft Word, which I despise even more so than a patchouli-soaked hippie. Also, I never could figure out which online emporium discounts would convince her to let me discuss smiting hippies, so we’ll see if the new ed. lets that previous sentence fly.) Anyway. I assume my long tenure was also aided by my ability to meet a deadline no matter how many times I moved it, and my penchant for mentioning my kids who are totes adorbs, at least in print.
I’ve learned that most fellow believers can take a joke. In nearly seven years of poking fun (And is poking ever really fun? I think not.) at some of the more absurdist aspects of evangelical life – along with giving Moses the Twitter handle @MoHeston – I never received one letter, email, Tweet, Snapchat, Vine video, Facebook rant or gospel tract-based expression of displeasure. Sure, only about three of you actually know who I am. And my family attended church in Frisco, but farther north (as in, past the Ikea) than most Irvingites dare to drive. Also, we moved to Omaha three years ago. Nonetheless, I appreciate your collective sense of humor and/or Julie’s restraint in forwarding me complaints from the deacons.
I’d like to tell you I learned many deep, life-changing Biblical truths over the last 67% of a decade, but come on. I think we can all agree that I either made up most of my doctrinal claims, or have since forgotten the ones that are true due to my advancing fortysomethingness. Which reminds me, I never did base a column on the Book of Lamentations. Woe is me.
Lastly, I’ve learned that I can spit out 900 words on just about anything without saying much of anything of value. Case in point duly noted.
And now, since I still have about 300 words to torture, I’ll take a question. Yes, you in the back with the pre-Etsy WWJD bracelet from 1997. My favorite columns? Well, I could say that’s like trying to choose your favorite child (the dog), if having 73 kids wouldn’t get me investigated by the Guinness World Records folks (bunch of narcs). Instead, I’ll go with my two poems, Ballad for a High School Youth Group Hayride (October 2014) and The Graven (October 2015); my unearthing of Noah’s Twitter feed, @GopherWoodBoy (October 2009); my ruminations on Pentecost, Economy Sizing the Holy Spirit (May 2010); and my homage to my dad on the occasion of his 65th birthday, Cool On the Inside (July 2010). There might be others I actually like more, but I don’t have the patience of a Job Billy Duggar to read them all. Also, you can find most of these at Scribd.com/IrvingBibleChurch or JasonFox.net/IdleChatter.
So. This is the end. For now, at least. Perhaps I’ll pop up or in or over from time to time to ruminate on weighty matters like why our Christmas tree topper looks like Celine Dion. But for now I think it’s time to try something a little different. After so many attempts at weaving a little truth into the funny, I believe I’ll give weaving a little funny into the truth a go. (That’s what I get for actually studying my beliefs, I guess.) I doubt I’ll become this millennium’s C. S. Lewis, but perhaps something of eternal value will emerge from it. Hopefully not damnation.
But until we meet in the sweet by-and-by on that beautiful shore (look for my totally boss conversion van customized by St. Doober), I will simply thank you for reading and leave you with one last bit of suspect theological advice: Every argument, especially those on the internet, can be won with the phrase, “Well, that’s what it says in Habakkuk.” Because it does.
This column originally appeared in the January 2016 edition of Chatter Magazine and, if Scribd.com still exists, can be found in PDF form here.
Back in olden days (before 1972 for reasons that make me middle-aged), Christmas shopping was relatively easy. The postman hauled the Sears Wish Book to your house, your kids tore out what they wanted and taped the pictures to the dog, you bought a few of said items along with socks. If you were Dad, you bought Mom some Prince Matchabelli and the expensive vacuum cleaner. If you were Mom, you got Dad bridge mix. You might buy gifts for grandparents or the odd cousin who just had a baby. At most, you’d get something for the postman out respect for his Wish Book haulin’ tenacity and herniated disk. But it was all so easy. So simple. So not challenging.
In today’s world, even a would-be rejecter of commercialized Christmas balderdash feels compelled to purchase tokens of love and potpourri for any person with whom one has had contact over the previous 365 days or 36 years if you’re Facebook “friends.” And nowhere does such a cluster of would-be recipients exist than at church. Sure, you could bake your famous peanut butter chocolate chip mint fudge cookies for everyone, but let’s be honest – if it’s the thought that counts, you didn’t put much thought into that one. (FYI, I will gladly accept any and all nut-free cookies you decide not to give to your other brothers and sisters in Christ as I believe it’s the effort that counts and not the calories.) So what to do, what to do? If only some kind of gift giving guide for church folk existed. Hey, look, here’s one now:
Lead pastor – A Ryrie Study or Schofield Reference Bible in the translation of your choice (as long as it’s KJV) pre-filled by you with inspired annotations to help your anointed shepherd overcome some of his minorish doctrinal errors.
Associate pastor – While you’re not in a position to give a promotion, you can still help your AP move from benchwarmer to pulpit master with a subscription to ChurchStaffing.com.
Head deacon – The traditional jar of nutmeg-scented toupee glue says you understand the importance of traditions and will never give in to the contemporary allure of pumpkin spice.
Regular deacons – For those driven to serve, a lovely, homemade pie. For those driven to lead, a 1950s-era fruitcake.
Elders – Pre-printed business cards that explain the differences between deacons and elders. Shop early as Mardel usually runs out on Black Friday.
Governing board – Nothing. They haven’t had a meeting since 1988 after realizing the deacons and elders pretty much had everything covered.
Youth pastor – For the 35-year-old leader of tomorrow’s, um, leaders who just can’t resist bro-speak and skinny jeans, an Oprah-style makeover featuring an adult hairstyle and grown-up shoes.
Elementary kids program director – A subscription to the Red-Bull-of-the-Month Club and pre-enrollment on the donor heart recipient list.
Your kids’ Sunday school teachers – A 500-count bottle of ibuprophen, a version of the Serenity Prayer inscribed in fine chocolate, and a promissory note guaranteeing them ownership of whatever rewards you may receive on the other side.
Small-group leader – A new fondue pot and a self-published copy of “The Prayer Warriors Thesaurus” so you’ll only have to hear the phrases “Father God,” “come alongside” and “lift up” once a quarter.
Parking lot attendants – Full-body, hunter-orange jumpsuits with LED light piping and the promise to take care of their loved ones when Deacon Turnbuckle still fails to see them.
Greeters – One case each of Clorets and Purell. All can hand out both. Some to one another.
Ushers – An augmented reality app that automatically highlights empty spots in the pews, a new iPhone to run the app on and a rent-a-nephew to explain it all.
Music director (traditional) – Original manuscript of “It is Well with My Soul” lyrics written by Horatio Spafford on stationery from the Brevoort House hotel.
Music director (contemporary) – Original lyrics to that one song K-Love keeps playing written on a mildly used Starbucks napkin.
Choir members (traditional) – Gift cards to Roy’s House of Robes Dry Cleaners & Portable Confessional Rentals.
Worship team (contemporary) – Jeggings that are two sizes too big to avoid being a stumbling block.
Organist (uber-traditional) – Convince the music director to allow an annual playing of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor that isn’t the Sunday before Halloween.
Long-haired freaky soundboard operator – The dude who knows to crank the bass to eleven on “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” deserves nothing less than an autographed cassette single of Tesla’s “Signs.”
PowerPoint graphics artist – Cookie cutters.
Prayer room staff – “The Prayerful Stranger’s Guide to Winning Spiritual Battles Fifteen Minutes at a Time” (pamphlet version), and baby monitors to remind them they could be working in the nursery.
Nursery staff – Communion juice recently discovered behind the baptistery that has probably been there since 1974. Because, you know, it’s “aged.”
Baptistery attendants – Thicker robes and quarterly visits from a hypnotist to help them forget what cannot be unseen.
Lay security force – New Ray-Ban Wayfarers and the latest in holy lightning technology, the Sword of Gideon XXL Taser. Or if that’s too spendy, cool codenames.
American Sign Language interpreter – You may have no idea if she’s repeating the pastor’s words verbatim or trying to sell Shakeology, you just know she always gives it her all. And for that she deserves a Thermawrap, wrist braces and an industrial-sized vat of Icy Hot from Costco (or Sam’s Club if you’re Presbyterian).
Sunday morning coffee ministry servers – Gold.
I realize that you, dear reader, may not wish to give a gift to every person listed here. Nor may you even be aware that some of these people even exist within your church. And maybe they don’t. I live in Nebraska. But if they do, you can now show your gratitude for the giving of their time, talent and treasure in service to you and our Lord in ways both suspect and sometimes quite expensive, but always appreciated. Maybe. Merry Christmas.
This column originally appeared in the July 2015 edition of Chatter Magazine and, if Scribd.com still exists, can be found (accidentally labeled as November 2015) in PDF form here.
Once upon a Thursday evening, with spirit spent and eyeballs bleary,
Post the bedtime stories’ reading of wimpy kids and Hobbit lore –
I plopped down on the divan, with universal remote in hand,
Turned on the TV (not the 4K version I’d been begging for)
To a program, weird and wanton, not the one I had hoped for
Something vacuous and nothing more.
Ah, distinctly I remember how glottal fry and nasal timbre
Instantaneously dismembered once-bright neurons by the score.
Yet I could not turn away to conversation or printed page –
I was drowning in shallow seas of drama I had not once asked for.
“What is this trash?” I muttered as I notched the sound up more
To better hear the blinged-out bore.
Of some outfit she was whining, it made her T-zone look too shiny
As her selfie flash was lighting Botoxed lips and chem-peeled pores.
She couldn’t get the background right. Her puckered duck face off a slight,
She fired the assistant to her third assistant whom she’d hired days before.
“This is, like, a farce or something, so get your booty, like, out the door.
But we’re still BFFs, right, forevermore?”
A commercial break thusly appeared – you thought this Tivo’d? Au contraire!
For this instant was I born prepared to break the spell at its dark core.
I seized upon my i-device to check ’twould be a stormy night,
Then I launched my Instagram to see friends’ quinoa from the eve before.
When in my feed – most unsuspecting – lurched that blinged-out demon spore
Wearing a smile and not much more.
“Away with thee!” I duly screamed; prayed for salvation in my Twitter stream
To banish the ghastly, airbrushed mien back to from whence it had leapt forth.
But there betwixt Grumpy Cat memes, a most vile, promoted tweet
Pushing bronzer on the masses whose pastiness upsets the bore
“Get the #glow you’ve craved if you can’t vacay at the shore!”
I flushed my cache – haunt me no more!
Perhaps if I went analog I could evade this plague’s onslaught –
Alas, my effort was for naught at the big box discount store.
For on the cover of In Touch, the bore protested much too much
How celebrity disturbed her chi till even shavasana became a chore.
I sensed impending regurgitation at the vapid self-report,
Paid for my Kit Kat, then out the door!
Amidst the traffic’s give and take I pondered humanity’s mistake
In lifting up this gleaming fake to a seat of honor in the world’s grand court.
Wherefore didst we ere decide to reward coquettish glance and sigh?
What harbinger of doom is this that we stuff our souls with such ordure,
And shower adoration on a yoga-panted impostor?
Pled the graven, “Watch me more!”
Back at home with children dreaming, the better half fitfully sleeping –
I chanced again my timeline’s streaming, daring fate to find true north.
But with each scrolling of the page, ten more examples of this fetid age:
The rich, the famous, the loud, the shameless clamoring for one “like” more.
Idols carved from pride’s own ore –
Quothe the graven, “Love us more!”
Now upon this midnight dreary, I sit racked with doleful queries –
Much aggrieved with modern theories for the existence of such ardor.
These mannequins of celebrity trade for tarnish an eternal gleam
Flaunt the proscription handed down to those who had, by grace, some worth
“Thou shalt not!” thus saith the LORD.
Be gone, foul graven, forevermore!
Author’s note: For those not accustomed to the rhythms of pseudo-19th century poetry, I offer this awkwardly produced recitation:
This parody of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” originally appeared in the October 2015 edition of Chatter Magazine and, if Scribd.com still exists, can be found in PDF form here.
This summer, in between battling my accursed lawn (it won), driving hither and yon with the family, and being employed, I spent time studying. With an actual book. In an attempt to gain useful knowledge that I can apply to my daily existence. In other words, wholly unlike anything that happened in college. The book in question is I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek. As you may have guessed, it is not an epic narrative poem lamenting the authors’ collective inability to believe in the overwhelming power of Nothing (inappropriate capitalization being de rigueur in advanced poetry, as are hoity-toity phrases like “de rigueur”). It is, rather, a book that falls into the genre of Christian apologetics.
As is required by the often-overlooked Canterbury Creed of the Associated Apostolic Quill Sharpeners of 1533, I must tell you that the term “apologetics” has nothing to do with apologizing. Wait. So sorry, it actually does come from the same Greek word “apologia.” But in the case of apologetics, the term means to give a formal defense of a position. Christian apologetics, therefore, is giving a reasoned defense of the faith in direct accordance with 1 Peter 3:15, and is in no way (well, maybe 10%) akin to telling your neighbor you’re sorry he’s going “down below” because he once quoted you an NPR story about carbon dioxide emissions. If you’ve ever read C.S. Lewis, you’ve read apologetic literature. And if you’ve only watched Liam Neeson portray a CGI lion in the major motion picture adaptation of Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, then you have not. Although you did at least learn that Aslan has a very particular set of skills and that one should never kidnap his fauns. Not even in the sequels.
I became interested in apologetics right around the time my “because the Bible says so, duh” defense stopped working. Although that implies it had once started working, which I don’t recall ever being the case. Nonetheless, while I have never been a certified apologetics nut, I have managed to get mildly enthused about the subject over the years. Recently, however, I decided more in-depth study was required. Not to ward off internet trolls (that’s merely a side benefit), but because I have three young inquisitors who will undoubtedly start questioning me someday – probably next Tuesday – as to why all the things their mother and I have told them are true, actually are. Because if I can’t give (or at least know how to find) answers as to why they should continue believing, there are plenty of people out there with reasons why they should stop.
Well, not on my watch, Chachi. Or Joanie. Whichever.
So, after hearing Frank Turek speak at our church one Sunday last spring, I ordered the complete IDHEFtBaA: Troll Hunter edition consisting of the book, a study guide and a non-HD DVD. I first read the book, and learned much. And then forgot most. Which is why I am now in the midst of working through the study guide. Because nothing will help me remember things better than scrawling illegible answers in smeared ballpoint (side note: all pen companies hate lefties – the handed, not the political). I wish they’d included flash cards. Or a flash drive I could plug into my noggin like in The Matrix, as long as it didn’t come with any whoa-inducing side effects.
While my transformation into an impregnable wall of faith-affirming facts and logic is not yet complete, I do feel more comfortable about thoughtfully engaging with “seekers” and “wanderers” and “lollygaggers” and “lawn loiterers” about matters of eternal consequence. I can turn self-defeating questions back upon the questioner (“There is no truth, man.” “Then how is your assertion true?”). I can whip up a delicious meme about God existing “because science!” I can illustrate to the truly open-minded that faith in Christ is anything but blind, that it does not require turning off your brain, and that extra-biblical evidence from many fields corroborates the validity of the Bible’s claims more so than any other historical book.
I cannot do any of these off the top of my head just yet. But give me time. I may never be the second coming of Ravi Zacharias – mainly because he’s still alive – but I will hopefully be able to hold my own against the followers of Nothing. Or at least those who answer “nothing” when asked what they did at school all day. God help me. Seriously.
This column originally appeared in the September 2015 edition of Chatter Magazine and, if Scribd.com still exists, can be found in PDF form here.