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“Everything I Was Supposed To”: A Sermon on Isaiah 5:1-7 and 11:1-5

November 23, 2015
Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

“We did everything we were supposed to. Why didn’t it work?” So said the young couple carving their first Thanksgiving turkey together, the first turkey either of them had ever cooked, the one their guests were waiting for. But even though it looked golden brown and delicious outside, inside it was so raw they couldn’t be quite certain it was actually dead. Now they didn’t know what to do; are there even any pizza places open at noon on Thanksgiving Day?
“I did everything I was supposed to. Why didn’t it work?” So said the young father just past midnight on Christmas Eve as he struggled to assemble his child’s most wanted Christmas present, now nearly all put together except for a small collection of unused parts. He’d love to know where they go but the instructions appear to have been translated through three or four languages before they made it to English. Now it’s late and he’s sleepy, but somebody really wants this, so out of love he keeps going.

“I did everything I was supposed to. Why didn’t it work?” So said the college senior just after opening a thin envelope from the admissions office at yet another medical school, the last one she hadn’t heard from yet, and the news wasn’t good. “Thank you for applying. We’re sorry, but we cannot offer you a place in our class at this time …” Now what? There is no plan B. Does her dream of being a doctor die just like this? Where does she go from here?

“We did everything we were supposed to. Why didn’t it work?” So said the middle-aged couple not long after arriving in a far-off city to visit their daughter, not yet a year out of college. They were impressed by her ability to find a job and a place and a roommate and her way and everything just seemed to be coming together so nicely for her … but it seemed like she and her (female) roommate weren’t just roommates. And this was a possibility they’d never considered. Didn’t their church teach those kids anything?

“I did everything I was supposed to. Why didn’t it work?” So said the young health-and-fitness enthusiast, the one who avoids processed foods, saturated fats, salt and sugar, the one who’s out there running, lifting weights, swimming, sticking a 50.1 decal on the back window of his vehicle, just about the 26.2 and the 13.1. But the doctor just called and the biopsy was positive. He thought all this attention to his health was supposed to keep him healthy.

“I did everything I was supposed to. Why didn’t it work?” So said the single mom in the inner city when she came to realize that, while she could have her 13-year-old stay home from school to take care of her sick 6-year-old, it couldn’t work in the other direction, so she was going to have to call in to work again. And her boss was already growing impatient. So she was probably going to lose this job too. There’s no one to ask. No one in this building dares talk to their neighbors, and who can blame them? And she was never going to stay off welfare. And they were never going to get out of the projects. And why does she even keep trying? She might as well resign herself to her fate. She’s poor, she’s a single mom, she’s supposed to be on welfare. And it’s so tiring, the feeling of unworthiness, but she just can’t make it on her own; doesn’t anybody understand that? Nope. All she ever hears about is choices, like she can unmake hers now.

“I did everything I was supposed to. Why didn’t it work?” So said that single mom’s 13-year-old son as he watched his mama trying not to cry and almost succeeding. It wasn’t his fault he started throwing up — it wasn’t anybody’s fault. But Mama was going to get treated exactly like she’d done it on purpose. “Act respectable and you’ll be respected.” That’s what she always told him. But there was no one more respectable than Mama. And she gets no respect. Her boss doesn’t respect her. He just uses her. He agrees she needs a break and he thinks someone else should really give her one. His father doesn’t respect her. He tries to respect her but he’s 13 and trying to find his own way and she’s all there is to rebel against. Plus he’s started to notice things. He gets followed around in stores. The police slow down when he and his friends are out walking on the street. And he wonders what the point of being good is when he gets treated exactly like he isn’t. Nobody sees him as a person. Just a skin color and a gender. And that’s never going to change. No matter what choices he makes. You can’t break the cycle when the cycle is trying to break you.

“I did everything I was supposed to. Why didn’t it work?” So said the man in his late fifties as he packed up his belongings in his workplace — now his former workplace, as of a few minutes ago — with a security guard looking over his shoulder, telling him to hurry up. He walks out into the sunlight, knowing that he’ll out of work for a few months, then he’ll be working retail for $9 an hour, since no one is going to hire a man his age for anything else. He tells himself he just lost his good job — 35 years of his life, flushed down the drain — because the government told his company they had to give his job to a woman, or a minority, or preferably a woman who is also a minority. It’s easier than facing the truth that he’s just too expensive and difficult to control for a company trying to compete.

“I did everything I was supposed to. Why didn’t it work?” So said the father of the refugee family as they struggle, fruitlessly, for a new place to call home, just for a little while, but it won’t come because everyone is afraid they’re just trying to perpetrate the same sort of brutal, stupid violence they’re trying to get away from. Meanwhile “they” are after him saying “See? They’ll never accept you. They don’t want you. They don’t want people like us. We tried to tell you. Come and join the fight. We can win it! The Prophet says so.” He doesn’t want to but the choice is joining them and all the horror it means, or watching his kids sleep on the street forever?

“I did everything I was supposed to. Why didn’t it work?” We all have to answer that question eventually, and how we answer that question says a lot about our character.

“I did everything I was supposed to. Why didn’t it work?” So said God, through the prophet Isaiah, pondering how the people of Israel could turn so quickly after being delivered from captivity in Egypt, given a promised land, and seeing it almost magically cleared out right before their eyes. But did they have a thought for the One who did all this for them? Not at all, or at the very least, they only paid lip service. There was no relationship, just a sick, depressing sense of duty that accompanied all their trips to the temple. Well, that was enough. Time to tear their playhouse down and show them who’s boss.

“I did everything I was supposed to,” said Jesus, and he died.

It was recorded in one Gospel as “It is finished” and in another as simply “a loud sigh” but what it meant was “I did everything I was supposed to.” And this time it worked. He wasn’t delivering the people a trouble-free life but he was solving the biggest problem they’d ever have. Never more could they or would they wonder if God really cared about them. Never more would they have the luxury of going through life thinking they were doomed no matter what. Never more could anyone lord their religiosity over them, treating them as undeserving, because who could deserve this kind of sacrifice? If the people refused to treat one another as equals, well, let them figure out how they deserve this but their neighbor certainly doesn’t.

“I did everything I was supposed to, Jesus. Why didn’t it work?”

And the answer comes: “Because you did it. Let me take it from here.”

He takes our failures, our disasters, the smoldering wreckage of our attempts to be good, decent, respectable people, and he makes something beautiful out of them. But he can’t do it until we let go. Until we accept how the cards fell in our life, turn that jumbled mess of aces and eights over to him, and watch as he reassembles it into a winning hand.


My Top 10 Ballot, November 8, 2015

November 8, 2015

1. Clemson. I have no idea if they’re truly the best team in the country. Neither do you. And neither do you know they’re not. And neither do I. They’ve just been getting it done, that’s all.
2. Alabama. Yes, they lost to Ole Diddly-Dang-Dum-Doodley Miss Y’all, and that loss looks worse now that the Rebs have lost to Arkansas (which isn’t even supposed to be any good) and Memphis (which previously beat Ole Miss) lost to Navy. I still wouldn’t want to play the Crimson Tide right now. Would you? At some point you have to look a little less at resume and a little more at trajectory. Bama’s trajectory? Straight freakin’ up.
3. Ohio State. I have seen a team go from having an embarrassment of riches at quarterback one season to struggling without its starter the next. I’ve never seen that happen when the three QBs who were on the roster last year are still on this year’s roster. If not for a ferocious defense, tOSU would have lost a game by now. (Just don’t ask me which.)
4. Oklahoma State. See ‘trajectory’ under No. 2, above.
5. Baylor. Struggled against K-State in Manhattan on the same weekend TCU lost and Okie State shone. That lets me pretend that I moved them down for a reason other than that I don’t like Art Briles very much. Yes, Baylor was using its second-string quarterback. K-State was using its third. Thanks for playing.
6. Iowa. The Hawkeyes beat Indiana by one more point than Ohio State did. I don’t want to be skeptical about this team but no matter how much my heart says “they really are pretty good” my brain reminds me they haven’t killed a giant yet, and every great team has to.
7. Notre Dame. Pitt’s very good, so we have to give proper credit to Brian Kelly’s team for a quality win.
8. Stanford. Recovering nicely from the Northwestern loss, which is good, since Northwestern is starting to play like that victory wasn’t actually a fluke for them.
9. Florida. I’m kind of guessing at this point. I think Florida is to the 2015 SEC what Purdue was to the 2003 Big Ten: the team that wins a couple it shouldn’t have but can’t quite break the rock.
10. LSU. I still can’t make up my mind whether Les Miles is a good coach or not. But if he had it in him to coach a truly elite offense, he’d have done it by now.

Disappointing Halloween Candy Power Rankings, 2015 Edition

October 31, 2015

peanut butter kisses

As we all wait for our children to return with a bag full of goodies this afternoon/evening, here’s a quick round up of the stuff that’s more trick than treat.

  1. Milk Duds. There has never been a more aptly named candy.
  2. Smarties. Beloved by one of my three kids and tolerated by the other two, these pills of pastel-colored drywall are good for one thing only: Close your eyes, have someone put one in your mouth, and see if you can guess what color it is. (Spoiler alert: You can’t.)
  3. Peanut Butter Kisses. These haven’t actually been manufactured since 1973. We’ve almost burned through all the old stock, after which these will disappear forever.
  4. Chocolate eyeballs. But big ups to whoever finally figured out something to do with crayon stubs: Melt them down, shape them in to balls, wrap them in eyeball-print foil, and pass them off as chocolate!
  5. Tootsie Rolls. It’s not that they’re so bad, though you never hear anyone say “I could really go for a Tootsie Roll.” It’s that they just seem to appear out of nowhere, like they hide in the bushes by people’s front doors and leap into treat bags when your kids are distracted. Your kids won’t remember being given Tootsie Rolls, but they’ll bring home at least three dozen.
  6. Three Musketeers. I like these fine, but these have always been the most disappointing candy bar to get on Halloween. All the more so now because somebody once decided these were “healthy” since they have slightly less fat than the average candy bar.
  7. Krabby Patties. Young kids will be thrilled to get these since they’re from SpongeBob. Then they take one bite, spit the rest into the trash, and go find something else to do.
  8. Raisinettes. Another candy I like just fine that nobody really wants to find in a treat bag. Like Three Musketeers, they suffer now from a “healthy” image, since technically raisins are fruit.
  9. Unidentifiable Petrified Gummi Masses. You know what I’m talking about, and you don’t know what they are either. Nor do you know when they were manufactured. Or if they were manufactured. Do clods of gummi just drop from the sky? Spring up from the ground after rainstorms? The world may never know.
  10. Chick-O-Sticks. These are actually delicious, but they don’t look like they’re going to be. Also, your kid will think they’re actually chicken and thus won’t touch them. Not only that but they’re peanut butter and somewhat loosely wrapped so they have the potential to ruin a whole bag of treats for the allergic. If this is your thing, give out Zagnuts instead.

My Top 10 Ballot, October 25, 2015

October 26, 2015
  1. Ohio State. It’s like this: Unless a defending national champion loses a metric boatload of key contributors (which tOSU didn’t) then I think they get the benefit of the doubt until they lose a game. The Buckeyes have not dazzled at any point this season but in my frame of reference they don’t have to. But good luck convincing me Urban Meyer didn’t make some sort of a deal with Cardale Jones to keep Jones in Columbus. J.T. Barrett is so obviously better for this team.
  2. Clemson. Because they can score points and play defense too. Granted, Miami’s not wonderful, but still, 58-0!
  3. Baylor. Because sooner or later they’re going to go up against a team they can’t just outscore. It won’t happen until the playoffs, though. And I am curious what effect losing Seth Russell will have. Also, even in the rain, great teams don’t give up 27 points to Iowa State.
  4. LSU. I can never decide if Les Miles is a genius or not. I’m still leaning towards “not,” though I admit he could just be the brilliant weirdo college football always needs. They get a bye week to prepare for Alabama, who also gets a bye week to prepare for them.
  5. TCU. They’re essentially Baylor, but a Baylor that scores ten fewer points per game. It’s a long time until Black Friday when the Bears and Horned Frogs meet. One of those teams will not be undefeated when they meet. Hey, they might both lose one. But I’d take Baylor as slightly more likely to win out until then.
  6. Alabama. This is not Nick Saban’s best Bama team and it shows but the Tide are clearly the best one-loss team in the country. People unimpressed by Saturday’s narrow victory over Tennessee should bear in mind that this is the best Tennessee team in years–even though it still isn’t very good.
  7. Michigan State. Sparty should have lost to Michigan. There, I said it. If they had, they wouldn’t be on this list. As it stands, the Spartans are apple crisp: nobody’s first choice of a great team, but not a choice you’d ever regret either.
  8. Notre Dame. I’m surprised to see them here too. But their only loss is to Clemson, a team that I think is powerfully good. The Irish lack a dazzling win but with three currently-ranked teams left on the schedule, they’ll have a chance to move up. After all, most of the teams above them play at least one other team in my top seven.
  9. Stanford. At some point you have to recognize the Northwestern loss as the opening weekend snakebite it was. The Cats are not great but the Cardinal were just flat and unprepared in that game. Hold it against Stanford if you must, but as the season goes on, that becomes more like using a friend’s unflattering high school nickname when you’re both pushing 40 and gainfully employed.
  10. Iowa. So there are three teams on this list with a common opponent. All three teams are undefeated. Versus this common opponent, two teams scored ten points or more below their season average; the third scored pretty much on its season average. That third team also allowed fewer points than the other two and is indeed the only team to hold that common opponent under 21 points all year. The common opponent is Iowa State. The first two teams are Baylor and TCU. The third team is Iowa. In case you were wondering if the Hawkeyes actually belong on this list, they do.

(This is my ballot for this week’s Campus Pressbox Mock College Football Playoff poll.)

The Exploding Plastic Inevitable

June 26, 2015

When I was an intern pastor a mere [REDACTED] years ago, I had to deal with a situation that changed the way I would forever look at everything. But enough about ice dams. I also had to deal with a situation that forced me to think about the relationship between church and state and the fundamental nature of marriage.

There was a couple in our little town who wanted to marry but had a big problem. He was chronically ill, on disability, unable to work and only able to stay alive because he thus qualified for Medicaid. That’s enough of a problem. But his wife-to-be had an even bigger problem, one you might even call a pre-existing condition.

She had a job.

Yes, and since she was employed, she made money. How much, I know not; it wasn’t any of my business and it still isn’t. I only know it was enough that, if these two made a family, he’d lose his health care, go broke trying to keep himself alive, and eventually die.

For some reason, they saw this as an undesirable outcome.

They had a second, mutual problem: they were both Christians and believed they ought not live together as husband and wife without actually saying vows in front of God. Their proposed solution was to have a marriage ceremony without ever bothering to get a marriage license. They’d be married in God’s eyes, but not the state’s. Their consciences would be eased, and in a way that would not lead to imminent death, bankruptcy, or (most likely) both.

As an intern pastor I had the option of participating in this service or not. I chose not to. I chose poorly.

Bear in mind, all I knew of this couple was their situation and their plan. I didn’t know them at all. I didn’t even know their names. I still don’t. But for some reason the notion of participating in a marriage ceremony which was unsanctioned by the state unnerved me. So I didn’t.

The more I thought about it, and the more I’ve thought about it since, the more wrong I realize I was. What business is it of the state who does or does not take part in a religious ceremony? Or what that ceremony means to the people involved? Does the state have the right to exact huge financial penalties against people who are acting on their consciences? Conversely, should people be able to escape adverse effects by choosing to forgo the benefits of a legally recognized marriage?

There aren’t easy answers to some of these questions, but some of them do, in fact, have easy answers. It’s not the state’s business who takes part in a religious ceremony, at least not to the extent that they should be required to purchase a license before they can. And if people are willing to deny themselves the benefits of legal protection for their marriage, they absolutely should be able to avoid the consequences that would stem from choosing those benefits. “For better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness or in health” notwithstanding.

Only when I began to see things through the lens of this test case did I understand something very important: the traditional legal and religious definitions of marriage have nothing in common but a name. Neither one is a necessary component of the other; each can exist independent of the other. In other words, they’re separated, almost as if by a wall. Would I choose differently if this situation came before me again? I absolutely would.

And it flows in both directions: The fact that I am a Christian gives me no veto power over what happens at the county clerk’s office. What happens there neither affirms nor denies what happens (or does not happen) at the altar, and vice versa.

Look, it’s painfully obvious to anyone who has even given serious thought to the 14th Amendment and all its implications that today’s Supreme Court ruling was coming. If we Christians are going to be up in arms about it (a) we’re terrible Constitutional scholars and (b) we’re many, many decades too late.

For my whole life the predominant narrative about marriage in American culture has been that it’s awful. We’re all aware of the rise in the divorce rate since the 1960s, but even before then marriage was presented not as a man and a woman working together but as a man versus a woman. Husbands couldn’t defer to their wives’ wishes without hearing the cracking of a whip in the background. Wives apparently couldn’t defer to their husbands’ wishes without losing serious “girl points” unless they got some expensive material thing in exchange. Both sides saw marriage as “the old ball and chain.” And don’t get me started about mother-in-law jokes. Even back in the days when Elvis was driving a truck, this is how people in this country saw marriage: a vital institution that no one enjoyed. EVER.

And it hasn’t gotten better. When’s the last time you saw a positive media depiction of a marriage that was more than a few weeks old? When you look at TV, movies, novels, or other forms of entertainment, whose marriage would you want? And how do all these depictions shape our expectations of marriage?

The point is, it’s too late now to assert that marriage is so sacred to us that society must not be allowed to deviate from our understanding of it. It’s long been legal to run off to Vegas and pledge a lifetime of fidelity to somebody you just met, at 2 am, while you were both drunk, in a 24-hour wedding chapel. We’ve been indulging in episodes of Divorce Court on TV for fifty-eight years now, pretending that we were just examining the depravity of the world rather than being entertained by it. We’ve stood by while the fundie-versus-hippie freak show known as Wife Swap went on — heck, we watched it. If somebody in 2015 aired a TV show that depicted a nuclear, heterosexual, median-sized family without major issues, where everyone was of average health, well-adjusted, tolerant of others’ faults, comfortably middle-class, and uninvolved in the personal lives of their neighbors, we’d ignore that show so hard it would be canceled in two weeks or less. (Even though a significant number of our own marriages would fit that mold perfectly.)

We didn’t stand up for marriage and family life when it was under attack by the ghouls of the American entertainment industry. Now that “someone else” has seen through the bogusness of the cultural narrative and decided to embrace marriage (with all its flaws, and I do acknowledge they exist), we’re rushing to defend what is theoretically our trademark. But it’s been abandoned. By us.

So pardon me if now I refuse to see a culture at a crossroads. This was already a culture that embraced a vision of marriage that wasn’t “Godly.” And we helped it, simply by not telling the truth about how good marriage could be. Maybe now that marriage is open to all couples, we will finally stop thinking of it as “man versus woman” and start thinking of it as a vital institution again.


Customer Service

February 11, 2013


“Thank you for calling PrestWood Industries’ Automated Parts Replacement Hotline. If you require a replacement part whose part number is lower than 830296a, please say ‘Lower’. If you require a replacement part whose number is higher than 830296a, please say ‘Higher’. If you don’t know the number of the replacement part you require, or if you are unsure if part number 830296aa is lower or higher than 830296a, please say ‘Derp!’ now.”


“Okay. If you are calling about a product manufactured at our Martinsville, Virginia fabrication facility, please say ‘Virginia’. If you are calling about a product manufactured at our Martinsville, West Virginia fabrication facility, please say ‘West Virginia’. If you would like me to explain the difference between Virginia and West Virginia, please say ‘Worn-out stereotypes’.”

Uhhm … Texas?

“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that. Could you please repeat your request?”

I’d like to speak to a person, please.

“It sounds like you said you’d like to sleep in a Turkish breeze. If you’d like to sleep in a Mediterranean breeze, please say ‘Izmir’. If you’d like to sleep in a Black Sea breeze, please say ‘Trabzon’. If you’d like to sleep in an inland breeze, please say ‘Kahramanmaras’.”

I’d like to speak to a person, please.

“It sounds like you said you’d like to speak to a Pekingese. If you meant that you’d like to speak to a person from Peking, China, please say ‘I didn’t know it was actually called Beijing’. If you meant that you’d like to speak to a small dog, please say ‘Arf’. If you meant that you’d like to speak to someone from Pekin, Illinois, please hold the line and we will connect you to a random telephone number in that exchange.”


“It sounds like you said you’d like your dog to learn German. Please hold while I connect you with our Canine Language Institute.”


“Danke für Ihren Anruf Sprache für Hunde. Wenn Ihr Hund spricht gut Deutsch, bitte sagen, ‘Landschaftsarchitekt’. Wenn Ihr Hund kämpft mit dem Geschlecht der Substantive, bitte sagen, ‘Krätze-Epidemie’. Wenn Sie Hilfe benötigen Konjugation des Verbs hocken, bitte sagen, ‘Vollkorn-Müsli’.”

(long pause)

Gunter … glieben … glauchen globen?

“Wenn Sie einen Leoparden, der nicht hören kann, bitte sagen Sie nichts, da Sie offensichtlich lügen würde. Wenn Sie tatsächlich ein Hund, bitte sagen ‘Arf’.”


“If you are an English speaker who wound up trapped in our German subsidiary’s automated voice response system because you quoted an old Def Leppard song and barked like a dog, please say you’re sorry.”

You’re sorry.

“No, you say that you, personally, are sorry.”

I’m sorry.

“Thank you. I will now connect you to an English-speaking customer service representative.”


“Szenk yiaoue verkallen PraistVoood, meinaame i Jason, hyow mayi kjelp yiaoue?”

Um … an English speaker, please?

“Eijam spaykeen Unglosh. Hyow mayi kjelp yiaoue?”

I need a replacement part for my new entertainment center, I was short one cam follower.

“Khwot paart nummer diyaoue nid?”

What part number do I need?

“Tsjes, paart nummer.”

I don’t know the part number.

“Da yiaoue throo awaie thee dirrashoens?”

Huh? No, no I didn’t throw away the directions.

“Kjif yiaoue luctin thee dirrashoen, yiaoue wulzi dapaart nummber fordi khaw flowerer.”

My directions don’t have part numbers, for some reason.

“Mokay. Khwot maadel izyur antitunement sunder?”

It’s the DigiTech Complete Home Theater Support Rack.

“Mokay. Iv yiaoue gummi yiaoure abress, eiwull sen yiaoue szumnu dirraeshoens. Don, yiaoue conkle baak wivdi gurrect paart nummer.”

Wait … you’re going to send me new directions so I can call you back with the correct part number?


Can I speak to your supervisor?

“Szerdenli. Plaize huld.”


“Hello, this is Jane, how may I help you?”

Oh, thank goodness. If that last guy’s name was really Jason, my name is really Sergeant Bjorn Abdul Sakamoto.

“What can I do for you today, Sergeant Sakamoto?”

*stunned silence*

I need a cam follower so I can finish putting together my new entertainment center. I don’t know what part number I need because for some reason the directions that came with my entertainment center don’t have any part numbers. I thought maybe he could look it up on his computer, but he told me he’d have to send me new directions and then I could call in with the correct part number.

“Yes, that is correct. Where would you like us to send the new directions?”

Well … can’t you look it up?

“I’m sorry, sir, I can’t do that.”

Why not?

“I’m not authorized to look up part numbers.”

Well, could you connect me to someone who is authorized?

“I’m sorry, I can’t do that, either.”

Why not?

“I’m the owner of the company. There is no one above me.”

So … you haven’t authorized yourself to look up part numbers at a company you own?

“No, sir, PrestWood hasn’t authorized me to look up parts numbers.”

But, don’t you own PrestWood?

“No, I own Toyuq Yanıb Yüngül Xalq Kollektiv in Izalgonbad, Wedundistan. We do parts fulfillment for PrestWood.”

I never would have guessed. Your English is flawless.

“Well, I’m really an actor, but I’m just owning and operating a small parts warehouse in a central Asian backwater until I get some callbacks.”

Oh. Well, anyway, why can’t you just look up the part number I need?

“Because we don’t have any assembly directions on site.”

Why not?

“We sent our only copy to another customer four months ago, and he hasn’t returned them yet.”

You only have one copy?

“For now. We have two more on order from Güləşçi Xalq Kitab Anbarı Qısa across town. Should be here in six to eight weeks.”

Six to eight weeks? From across town?

“The owner’s in Los Angeles right now auditioning for a part in an industrial safety film, the lucky fig.”

Oh. Well, I think I have a couple cam followers left over from the microwave cart I bought a couple years ago. Maybe I’ll see if one of those will work.

“Is it a PrestWood?”

Yes. Yes, it is.

“No problem. All PrestWood cam followers are 100% interchangeable.”

*more stunned silence*

“Anything else I can do for you, Sergeant Sakamoto?”


“Sergeant Sakamoto?”

Bad Christmas Song Power Rankings, 2012 Edition

December 17, 2012

1. Jingle Bells (last: unranked). It’s almost every kid’s favorite song, and at some time I’m sure it was mine but honestly, what does this song have to do with Christmas? Its sole redeeming grace was keeping the memory of Batman and Robin alive during the dark years of the late 1970s and early 1980s when all we had was SuperFriends and reruns of the 1960s TV show to keep the Dynamic Duo in our minds. One day kids will sing the alternate lyrics and they’ll make about as much sense as a song about Flash Gordon would make to kids now.

2. The Little Drummer Boy (last: 1). My rationale hasn’t changed. Drums and newborns don’t mix, particularly in the minds of those who were once 12-year-old male percussionists.

3. Do You Hear What I Hear? (last: unranked). This song is somewhat redeemed by the freaky alternate explanation (released at the height of the Cold War, the star “shining in the night” could also be a nuclear explosion) but it’s still kind of pompous and boring, an idea that goes absolutely nowhere musically.

4. Last Christmas by Wham! (last: 2). Did you ever notice how poorly George Michael sings this song? “Lass Chrissmuss ah gev you mah art …” Amazing. He’s actually a good singer, but this song has always seemed like a contractual obligation/quick seasonal cash-in. I’m softening towards it a little in my middle age. Still, I’ll stick by what I said the last time I did this: This is a Christmas song in the same sense that Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Change “Christmas” to “Thursday” and the song still makes sense.

5. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (last: 10). Remember: if the war is not over, it’s your fault, because you really didn’t want it, you hideous monster.

6. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (last: 5). This is still the creepiest Christmas song of all time, even if you consider “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” a Christmas song. I don’t know who wrote this, but I’m sure he or she wrote it after extracting a four-year-old from the top of the refrigerator for the fourth time in an hour.

7.  Carol of the Bells (last: 3). Don’t get me wrong: I don’t like this song any more than I used to. I realize I’m badly outvoted because of how prevalent this song happens to be. It’s still half an idea stretched beyond the breaking point and it’s a worse earworm than “Gangnam Style.”

8. Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer (last: 4). If you make a parody, and you do a really good job of it, there’s a real danger  that people will think you were being serious. Elmo Shropshire didn’t know this in 1979 when he skewered Christmas songs and family dynamics, but he knows it now. He doesn’t care, because he’s made millions of dollars off of it, but he’s learned it. Multiple demerits for the keyboard line that suggests “Jingle Bells,” thereby making you think of one annoying song while listening to another.

9.  O Christmas Tree (last: unranked). It’s not that this song is so terrible, it’s just that … well …

… I mean, come on.

10. I Yust Go Nuts At Christmas (last: unranked). At one time, you could make fun of people with Scandinavian accents and people would think it was hilarious because, well, they actually heard those accents sometimes. I bet this wouldn’t even fly in North Dakota any more. Still, I offer this up to my Southern friends as proof that the Southern accent is not the only one  Northern Americans have picked on with impunity.

Dropped out: No. 6 Jolly Old Saint Nicholas (5th grade bands have to play something at the Christmas Holiday Winter Concert), No. 7 Happy Holiday (wrongly blamed for being the start of The War On Christmas, mostly by people who haven’t seen the Bing Crosby movie it’s from), No. 8 Good King Wenceslaus (but only the Omaha-funky Mannheim Steamroller version), No. 9 The Holly and the Ivy (which I don’t have anything left to say about).