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Epth is a state of mind, not a place. Reading this will give you a virtual drivers license in that state, but you'll still need to be 21 to purchase alcohol. And you can't get any there anyway, so stop asking.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

From Dec. 23, 2004

Confession: I started a line-by-line parsing of Sean Paul's "Like Glue" last year, but I never finished it. I now believe that I lost it in one of my hard drive crashes. It was funny, and now it's probably gone forever. If I can find it, I'll post it here.

I guess what I'm saying is that I should probably do more of the sort of thing I do in this post. Merry Christmas in July.

Merry Christmas

Since the first time I heard it, I have always loved the song, "The Little Drummer Boy". I hated the cartoon (was it a cartoon or a puppet show or something?), but I loved the song. It was so simple, so humble. Looking at it more closely at age 32, I see it as a great Christmas song that has some Theological warts. I think it's worth a parsing, so let's go through these lyrics that have affected me so much and see what they really are saying.

Verse 1
Come, they told me pa-rum-pum-pum-pum (after this, the pa-rum-pum-pum-pums will be assumed)

Right off the bat, there is a level of mystery. Who is this mysterious "they" who are doing the "telling", or, "ordering around", of the narrator? For that matter, who is the narrator? We do not know. I always assumed since the song is about a little drummer boy that the "they" refers to the boy's parents. Now that I think of it, the "they" could really be any adult -- a guardian, the director of an orpanage, the Oprahites with their Book Clubs, or Herod's guards. Anyway, it's clear that the song is about the boy, and that where the orders come from doesn't matter.

A newborn king to see

From the story as it reads in the Bible, we have no account of just random people and their drumming sons showing up at the manger and pelting Jesus with gifts. This is an apocryphal (there is only one "h" in that word -- did you know that?) story. The author is using his dramatic license to demonstrate his own reaction (and the reaction of the ideal audience) to the story of Jesus' birth. It is apocryphal and metaphorical. The Drummer Boy is a metphor for you, me, everyone. Got it? Good.

Our finest gifts we bring
to lay before the King

Once again, this account is not "based on a true story", but regardless, what is happening here? The Ordering Agent is letting the boy know of the protocol that is used when approaching the manger, i.e., Jesus. "You're supposed to bring your best stuff." What the author is doing is setting up the back story so that we feel for the drummer boy in verse 2 when he explains that he has no "finest gifts". The nameless Ordering Agent is putting pressure on the boy, and on us (of course, it could also be a joyful, "Come on, let's worship the King" type of thing, and in fact that's probably the author's intended meaning. That I first viewed the bringing of gifts as a threat to be subverted indicates how weird (and ultimately, Lutheran) I really am).

So to honor Him
When we come.

So they are traveling as a group to the manger to give their gifts to Jesus. Imagine if you will a line containing all people who believe in Jesus or who ever believed in Jesus. Imagine them getting one thing to lay down before Jesus in the manger. Imagine most of them getting caught up in this and missing the point, which is Jesus really wants you more than your gifts -- i.e., you are there to honor Him, not impress Him. And then imagine yourself as a little boy with no posessions to give, standing in this line with only your drum and meager skill. Is that enough? Check out...

Verse 2 (The Drummer Kid Speaks)

"Baby Jesu

We've skipped ahead to the boy's time at the manger, and he is speaking to Jesus directly. For some reason, the "Jesu" part always gets me. It's probably not intended to be this way, but it seems a familiar and affectionate way to address someone that everyone is there to Honor. It's like, the boy knows that this is God with a capital G, but knows him (or of him) well enough to be talking with him like someone talks to their own father. That he's actually talking to a baby creates an interesting bunch of ideas, don't you think? In any case, the boy is humble approaching the humble manger.

I am a poor boy too

Now this part really gets me, perhaps better than any other part of any other Christmas song. The Drummer Boy sees the child and knows the honor due Him, and knows he's really in no way worthy of pleasing the child in any way. He also knows he has nothing of value to give the child (and God, btw). Can it be any clearer? Soylent Green is people, and the Drummer Boy is us, I mean, me. This is exactly how I feel when I think about the God that loved me enough to send this Baby. I have nothing of myself to give Him. I am a poor boy indeed.

I have no gift to bring
That's fit to give a King

This is the boy's unworthiness laid bare. He knows he's not worthy -- he's just there to honor the King in the manger. He throws himself at the mercy of the court, so to speak, and appeals to the fact mentioned in the previous line: that this baby Jesus was a "poor child" just like us.

Shall I play for you
On my drum?"

The Drummer Boy takes the only thing he has and asks if he can use it to honor God. That's pretty cool. But will the baby Jesus let him play, or will he make him come back with more money or an advanced degree? Maybe the boy would be turned away and use that as motivation to develop some marketable skills. The answer's in...

Verse 3
Mary nodded

Catholicism alert! Ok, was the author Catholic? I guess non-Catholic Christians can look at this and say, "Jesus was a baby at this point. so Mary had to speak for Him." But why not, "Joseph nodded", since it was undoubtedly a patriarchal situation there in that barn? Or am I being too critical?

The ox and A__ (or, later, lamb) kept time

When I was growing up, this song had a cussword in it. We would all sit and giggle like Beavis when we got to this part. I fear for our children when they are deprived the right to giggle at the changing of a word's meaning from "donkey" to "bum". It's would be like singing, "Don we now our festive apparel". It's just a silly response to something silly. Of course, that's not nearly as silly as the picture of an ox and a sheep getting down to the Drummer Boy's beat. Actually, it sounds like a Disney movie.

I played my drum for Him
I played my best for Him

This is the boy's response to Jesus' mercy -- playing his best. Not the other way around, because we don't receive mercy for doing our best. That would not be mercy at all -- it would be reward. We receive mercy because God loves us and sent that child in the manger for whom this Drummer Boy is playing his song (probably quite irrythmically, I might add -- how old is this boy, six? How many six-year-olds do you know that can drum well?). Our gifts and the use of our talents has to be a response to God's love. That's what I got from this song. That's why I cry whenever I hear it. Really, I do.

Then he smiled at me

See? The Little Drummer Boy got it right. Jesus smiles at those who use their talents to honor Him.

Me and my drum.

Study questions: What is your "drum"? Are you the Little Scientist Boy? The Little Football Girl? The Little Missionary Boy? The Little Singing Girl? The Little Parts Coordinating Boy? Oops, too personal, I'd better stop.

Merry Christmas everybody.


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