RUOK – but not really?

At a meeting I recently attended, my friend Rachel astutely observed that we are often more likely to be open about what our thoughts, struggles and challenges are with those who have short term impacts on our lives. There is something to be said about the safety of being able to close off ourselves after a period of time.

But as I reflect on this, I’m confronted with the sadness that we feel compelled to shield our lives from those around us. We’re concerned that our vulnerability might cause people to think less of us. We’re concerned that others might judge us. We’ve learnt that being vulnerable gets us burnt, and so we choose to lock our feelings, thoughts and emotions away.

Days like today (it is RUOK day if you missed it) try to challenge this, by encouraging us to take the first step to really enquire as to the wellbeing of another. To genuinely care.

But as many of my friends have observed the challenge with this is that those who are genuinely struggling don’t just need those “moments” of connection; they need long term, ongoing support, encouragement and care. They need friendship from people who will not just suspend judgement of their feelings, but who will genuinely decide that the person who is experiencing the downs of life is more important than the feelings and emotion that surrounds it. They need people who will support them regardless of the situation and concern.

If you are going to ask RUOK today (and I would encourage you to do so), also take the time to assess your own reactions, thoughts and emotional responses to those you are trying to support. Try to recognise where your responses are judgemental rather than caring and compassionate. Challenge yourself to “check” those responses, and consider how you can build relationships where the person you are relating to is more important than the weight of experience they are going through. Consider how today can just be one step in a longer journey of care and support.

While it might be easier to share how you are feeling with someone who is only there for a moment, it would be so much better to share with someone who is going to be beside you for the long haul.

Supporting someone who is dealing with the dark side of life can be hard – but remember, your actions in supporting them are probably no where near what the person is going through.

Walk this road together. There is light in the darkness, even if we sometimes can’t see it.

(Photo by Morteza Yousefi on Unsplash)

Also posted to Facebook and Linkedin

A letter regarding the P&C Federation position on the place of simultaneous education alongside SRE & SEE Timeslots

Dear P&C Members,

I have recently been made aware of a 2018 Press Release by the NSW Parents and Citizens Federation regarding Special Religious Education and Special Ethics Education. The media release supports the view, on behalf of the Federation, that students who do not attend SRE or SEE should continue with normal school work while SRE and SEE classes are run.

As the parent of three children, many of you are aware that I am active within the school community. I am also an active supporter of the public education system, our local school teachers and the school environment.

I constantly praise the school for their work providing not just the academic education of my children, but also the emotional, social and physical education of my children. These aspects of their education also transcend the classroom into our homes, and then extend into our everyday lives, shaping and sculpting my children as they grow and develop.

It is in this spirit that I also support the teaching provided by SRE and SEE. The values taught through these curriculums shape and provide an appropriate lens for my children to understand the world in which they live in a manner that is congruent with the values we also hold at home.

I acknowledge that parents will hold a range of diverse views on how these are taught, and so believe it is appropriate for this education to be delivered through a framework that is compatible with the beliefs and teachings chosen by the parents. The approach of SRE and SEE within the NSW Education System provide this avenue.

However, I am concerned that if normal academic classes continue at the same time as SRE & SEE, my children will be disadvantaged as they will not be able to participate in aspects of their schooling. I am also concerned that parents, including myself, will feel compelled to make a choice between two vital areas of education – even if they strongly believe they should not be in opposition to one another.

Having said this, I acknowledge that some parents within my school community may hold a different view to me. I respect their right to a diversity of opinion regarding the value of SRE and SEE, and support their right to hold these opinions and continue the public discourse regarding this.

I am concerned that the P&C Federation view, as contained within the media release, cannot represent the diversity of opinion that I know exists within our school community.

As such, I am writing to you to ask:

  • That the P&C Association acknowledges that parents may hold a diversity of opinions regarding SRE & SEE, their place within the school system, and how they should be delivered
  • That the P&C Association acknowledges that it is not appropriate for it to form a view on behalf of the parent community unless it can demonstrate that the view is held by the parent community as a whole
  • That, in this vein, the P&C Association writes to the NSW Federation to indicate that:
    • Our parent community holds a wide variety of views regarding SRE & SEE
    • The association feels that it is not appropriate for the Federation to make a public statement regarding the view of their membership and affiliated bodies when a significant number of them are actually not in support of the position statement
    • the Federation to publicly acknowledge that they are not in a position to make a statement regarding this matter due to a range of diverse opinions regarding SRE and SEE throughout their schools and members
    • the Federation refrain from making public policy comment regarding SRE & SEE unless it can demonstrate that the member parent body is broadly in support of its position

Warmest regards,

Andrew Yager

A letter to our school principal in support of the resumption of SRE & SEE

Dear Principal,

I am writing to you to express my support and sincerest thanks for the resumption of SRE & SEE within our school.

While I acknowledge that you are acting in line with departmental guidelines, I appreciate that a decision to resume any school activity in the current climate is difficult.

My children have been very excited by the return to SRE and have spoken very positively of their experience since the resumption of the program.

It is no secret that I believe SRE & SEE are vital compliments to the education that is delivered within our school. It is also no secret that I am strongly in support of the continued presence of the delivery of strong values based teaching that SRE & SEE provides, especially as it complements the regular teaching program.

I remain genuinely thankful for your continued support of the SRE & SEE programs within our school.

Warmest regards,

Andrew Yager

We are not ok… and that’s ok

This week has reminded me that many of us are not OK.

Even if we ourselves aren’t affected, many of us are grieving for those around us; what we have lost, and what we expect to lose. We’re hurting for those around us who have lost their jobs, their livelihoods, and their futures. We’re tired, and worn, and run down.

We’re grieving for the plans we made that now are forfeit. We’re grieving the moments lost. The small snippets of our days that we can no longer enjoy. The basic freedoms we took for granted that we never thought we’d lose.

Some of us are afraid for us, our families and our friends; and recognise both the rationality and irrationality of it. We’re angry, we’re sad, we’re hurting and we’re worn.

We’re thankful for where we are, but not sure how we will find the energy for where we have to go. Whether that be go tomorrow, next week, or next month or longer.

I’ve found myself saying the words “it’s just for a time” more often than not over the last few days. I’ve found myself pointing that there will be an end; and at the same time doubting that it will come; or that it will come soon enough. The grief of this uncertainty, even in my optimism, is hard.

In my conversation with another parent from school tonight, reflecting on the impact of COVID, we mused together that our shared hope is not for the things of this life; and that this year, or next, is just a drop in eternity. And then my sister reminds me tonight, once again, that even in the pain, even in the hurt, even when things are looking sad and hard, are blessings as we learn to persevere, and trust.

And yet, even despite this hope, and how much it moves me to tears tonight; I still grieve over what we have lost and what we are losing. I grieve over the impact that this is having day to day on my friends and my family. I grieve over the uncertainty of the future.

And for now, that is ok. And it’s ok for you to grieve too. It’s ok for you to feel like the world is an uncertain mess. It’s not wrong to feel these things. And it’s OK to share our fear.

And yes, some people may stamp on your concerns. They may belittle your fears, even accidentally. They may shut you down, and leave you with nothing but a sense of guilt for even attempting to be open.

But there are others of us that are grieving with you; and we will share your tears, even as we shed our own.

Church in a different context

Christian friends in production or ministry, I’m considering putting together a webcast to cover some of the do’s & don’ts of streaming for churches; picking up some of the practical and pastoral tips I (and others I’ve worked with) have learnt.

Would you be interested in contributing or watching once done?

Current ideas for content to be covered:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/15Qg1TyZTvFEIZPSl6njmmhzNV7fuJSiwCpwnFbSAJzQ/edit

Feel free to message me with comments/thoughts.

ReFS – data recovery in Windows 2019

ReFS is Microsoft’s new file system that will one day replace NTFS. It offers many awesome new features, particularly if you are using Storage Spaces and lots of disks. It scales beautifully, and has no fixed capacity limitations that matter in this day and age.

I’m no technical expert on ReFS, but we’ve recently run into an issue with an ReFS Cluster Shared Volume in Windows 2019 that was nice and yucky. Essentially, we’d been experiencing some issues with a Windows 2019 Hyper V Cluster resulting in storage becoming unavailable. The error generated was a useless generic “An Unexpected Error Occurred.” We opened a support case with Microsoft, and after some basic testing came to the conclusion that the error might have been caused be a specific registry setting, and so brought our storage online.

Except that it didn’t come online. Instead we got hit with a classic ReFS RAW Volume; essentially a disk that Windows could see, but was unable to mount. Doing some investigation, it looked like all the data was there, but just the metadata was obstructed in some way. Windows provides “really helpful” error messages:

Screen Shot 2019-04-22 at 2.05.49 pm
Attempting to open the volume in Explorer provides this immensely helpful error message.

Screen Shot 2019-04-22 at 2.06.37 pm.png
Entirely helpful messages from the Event Log

We really wanted to get the data that was on this disk to avoid having to roll back to an earlier backup.

After much anxiety (and googling) we decided to try a few strategies to get the data back. First of all, we tried ReclaiMe. ReclaiMe is a commercial tool that allows you to do data recovery from a number of volumes. ReclaiMe started out really well. It found all the files we were expecting to find on the volume, and displayed them in the tree. We provisioned a new NTFS volume and ran the data recovery; however the majority of the data we recovered was unreadable. We could see that it should be working, but couldn’t understand why it wasn’t.

I did a lot more reading on ReFS. It turns out that MS has several versions of ReFS, and the current version is 3.4 (as of Windows 2019 and the Windows 2016 1803 update). ReclaimMe identified the disk as a ReFS 2 volume. While the differences don’t necessarily explain why it might not work, I had a hunch that maybe the reason the restore wasn’t working correctly was because we were in fact on too new a version of ReFS for the ReclaiMe software to work.

A few weeks ago, Anton Gostev from Veeam wrote about a new, otherwise undocumented tool in Windows 2019 called “refsutil”. This tool provides a mechanism to triage and recover failed ReFS volumes. The post in the Veeam digest indicated that it existed, was probably good, but no one really knows what it does. There is almost no documentation or information about this tool, but it saved the day for us – and so I thought it was worth noting down some useful things we learnt about how to use the tool. Much of our learning was greatly assisted by this article.

You can see all of the options available in ReFSutil for data salvage by running “refsutil salvage” with no options.

Knowing that our volume had data, the first thing we wanted to do was to verify if ReFSutil could see the corruption. Fascinatingly, ReFSutil thought everything was fine:

C:\salvage>refsutil salvage -D E: C:\salvage -x -v
Microsoft ReFS Salvage [Version 10.0.11070]
Copyright (c) 2015 Microsoft Corp.

Local time: 4/21/2019 2:29:57

Option(s) specified: -v -x

ReFS version: 3.4
Boot sector checked.
Superblocks checked.
Checkpoints checked.
No corruption is detected.
Command Completed.

Run time = 7 seconds.

To explain, “-D” says “diagnose” why the volume is failed. “E:” is the drive that was not mounting (our corrupted ReFS volume). “C:\salvage” was the directory where we were storing metadata about the recovery process. “-x” means “unmount the volume” before we go (if we didn’t do this we had access denied errors) and “-v” means be verbose about the output.

As described in the output above, there were no issues on the volume. Yet Windows would not mount it. This gave us a high degree of confidence we probably could recover the data. It also gives us a high degree of confusion as to what is actually wrong with the volume.

The next step was to run a Quick Scan to pull out all of the metadata we needed, and a list of files that ReFSutil was comfortable we could recover.

C:\salvage>refsutil salvage -QS E: C:\salvage\ -v -x
Microsoft ReFS Salvage [Version 10.0.11070]
Copyright (c) 2015 Microsoft Corp.

Local time: 4/21/2019 2:27:17

Option(s) specified: -v -x

ReFS version: 3.4
Boot sector checked.
Cluster Size: 65536 (0x10000).
Cluster Count: 486601728 (0x1d00f400).
Superblocks checked.
Checkpoints checked.
4363 container table entry pages processed (0 invalid page(s)).
1 container index table entry pages processed (0 invalid page(s)).
Container Table checked.

Processing 1 of 2 object table pages (50%)...

Object Table checked.

Examining identified metadata disk data for versioning and consistency.

9104 disk clusters analyzed (200%)...

Examining volume with signature a0e4914d for salvageable files.
8726 container table entry pages processed (0 invalid page(s)).
2 container index table entry pages processed (0 invalid page(s)).
Validating discovered table roots on volume with signature a0e4914d.

86 table roots validated (100%).
Enumerating files from discovered tables on volume with signature a0e4914d.

86 tables enumerated (100%).
Command Completed.

Run time = 22 seconds.

With regards to the options, “-QS” said perform a “quick scan” to look for files on the disk. There is also a Deep Scan option that will scan on a block-by-block basis for data. We didn’t believe we needed this as there was actually no evidence of actual corruption. As before, “E:” is the volume that was not mounting, “C:\salvage” is the location we were saving our working data, “-x” meant unmount the volume before we begin and “-v” meant be verbose about the output.

This ran successfully, and created a bunch of output in our working directory.

Screen Shot 2019-04-21 at 4.38.12 pm

Of these files, the most useful for us is the list of files that ReFSUtil thought it could recover. Here’s a sample of what that looks like:

Volume Signature: 0xa0e4914d

...

Identified File: \VMSMB01\VMSMB01_TimeMachine.vhdx
Size (0x428400000 Bytes) Volume Signature: 0xa0e4914d Physical LCN: 0x6186a = <0xc586a, 0x0, 0x0, 0x0> Index = 0x2
Last-Modified: 04/16/2019 04:56:56 AM TableId: 0x783'0 VirtualClock: 0x87668 TreeUpdateClock: 0x0

Identified File: \VMSWAN01\Virtual Hard Disks\VMSVWAN01_D.vhdx
Size (0xb3e400000 Bytes) Volume Signature: 0xa0e4914d Physical LCN: 0x60265 = <0xc2a65, 0x0, 0x0, 0x0> Index = 0x2
Last-Modified: 03/25/2019 05:03:18 PM TableId: 0x735'0 VirtualClock: 0x64559 TreeUpdateClock: 0x2

One of the important things to note is that you can edit this file to build a subset list of files you want to restore; which means you don’t need to do everything at once, or can prioritise key systems and data.

Here is an example of just restoring the two files in the index above:

C:\salvage>refsutil salvage -SL E: C:\salvage F:\restore C:\salvage\restorefiles3.txt -v
Microsoft ReFS Salvage [Version 10.0.11070]
Copyright (c) 2015 Microsoft Corp.

Local time: 4/21/2019 2:56:57

Option(s) specified: -v


Processing C:\salvage\restorefiles3.txt
8726 container table entry pages processed (0 invalid page(s)).
2 container index table entry pages processed (0 invalid page(s)).
Copying: \\?\F:\restore\volume_a0e4914d\VMSMB01\VMSMB01_TimeMachine.vhdx...Done
Copying: \\?\F:\restore\volume_a0e4914d\VMSWAN01\Virtual Hard Disks\VMSVWAN01_D.vhdx...Done
Command Completed.

Run time = 30125 seconds.

-SL” means copy all the files in the “Source List”. “E:” is again our corrupted volume. “C:\salvage” contains the metadata we extracted in the “QS” step. “F:\restore” is where we are putting our recovered data copies. “C:\salvage\restorefiles3.txt” is our edited data set containing the files we wish to restore, “-x” meant unmount the volume before we begin and “-v” meant be verbose about the output.

From here, we were able to reattach the disks to the virtual machines, and win!

So what did we learn?

  • It’s probably not worth paying for a commercial data recovery tool for most ReFS failure scenarios. The built in ReFSutil is powerful, current and works for even recent versions of the ReFS file system
  • Even if Microsoft Support tells you everything is OK, it’s probably worth double checking that it actually is. Sometimes they are wrong.
  • Make sure you have current/recent backups. (We did, but we wanted to get the most recent data.)
  • Think twice before you use ReFS in a cluster file system; the tools and techniques for dealing with problems relating to it are not as robust as those for other file systems – and we still have no root cause/reason for the corruption that occurred.
  • Make sure you have tested the escalation process on your MS support case before your engineer goes off-shift, in case it’s magically broken.

(Many thanks to Lachlan, Dave and Dave who were instrumental in the process of puzzling this out.)

#metoo

It’s disgusting that it took a Holywood “great” to “get caught out” (after how many years?) to make Women feel empowered to stand up against sexual abuse. Just disgusting.

But as I look at it, I’m not surprised. I’m not surprised by the number of my female friends who have come out and said #metoo. To be honest, I’m surprised there aren’t more of them coming out and saying something.

The statistic is staggering. 1 in 3 women experience sexual abuse. But I can’t help but feel that this is “extreme” sexual abuse. Not the random “butt grab” as a women walks along the street. Not the casual “unwanted touch” that gets brushed off as a random thing. Not the persistent “suitor” who wants to be “more than just friends”. Not the passing comment in the workplace or theatre.

As I think on it, I can’t help but feel that perhaps I’ve been guilty of it in unexpected ways. Our culture has long said that men can behave in a certain way, or do certain things – and that this is OK. I’ve seen more than one female friend say that they were uncomfortable, or felt hurt or scarred by the behaviour, but that they didn’t say anything.

And a surprising number who said they did say something, but then no one cared.

And then I thought about my own experience.

I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen it happen in medical institutions. I’ve seen it happen in schools. I’ve even seen it happen in churches.

I’ve seen men say that women need to accept the abuse as a compliment. I’ve remained silent as I’ve witnessed men make terrible comments. I have “minimised” the effect of what’s been said and talked it down. I have stood by and watched it happen.

I’ve been to industry events where the sexual value of female account managers has been openly discussed. In front of them. And I haven’t said anything. In recent years I’ve felt the pressure to be more “part of the boys club.” Telco and IT is still a boys club. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a conversation like what I’ve described as an active participant of such a discussion – but I’ve stopped being horrified.

This has to change.

I need to change.

#depanx *

I had the privilege of speaking to a few hundred high school kids earlier today about Depression and Anxiety at Presbyterian Youth Summer Camp. We’ve been looking at how God provides Hope in Darkness through the lens of 1 Samuel.

This is a topic quite close to my heart, and I thought it was worth brain dumping some of the things I said this morning, possibly with a bit more refinement.

To be honest, this post has been brewing for a while. There is a lot I want to say about this topic; but it’s so big and it’s hard to get the right words to say, and to know the right time to say them.

Depression is something that we’ve been aware of in my family for quite some time. I have a number of close family members who have suffered from depression and anxiety in varying forms; as well as a number of good and close friends who have and continue to struggle with it. I’ve been privileged to be part of their network of support people and to be able to care for them.

Today, it’s still something we live with every day. Some days that’s easier than others.

What is depression?

Depression takes many varied forms. Typically it’s a loss of pleasure or interest in the world. Sometimes this can be accompanied with an unbridled sadness; but not necessarily. Often it’s the feeling of not being able to find joy in anything.

There isn’t one cause for depression. Sometimes it can arise out of a situation Sometimes it can have no apparent or particular cause. For some people, depression lasts for a few weeks, months or years. For other people depression is something that stays with them for their whole lives.

In many cases of clinical depression, people who suffer from it frequently have difficulty processing serotonin. Sometimes their serotonin receptors don’t react well to the release of the serotonin within their brain which affects their ability to maintain a mood balance. Sometimes their brain can be overstimulated by serotonin. Many anti-depression medications help by adjusting the way the brain processes these chemicals, helping it be more or less receptive.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is often linked to depression, but is not the same thing as depression. Typically it’s a feeling of uncertainty or nervousness. People who suffer from anxiety may feel on edge or like they’ve done something wrong.

Like depression, there isn’t one cause for anxiety. It can be caused by life events, and may be affected by many other conditions or situations.

So how do we fix it?

Often it’s easy to think that Depression or Anxiety define a person who suffers from them. Because they affect the way you interact with the world, it can be difficult to seperate them from the rest of your personality.

It’s important to recognise that even though it can seem like it’s a core part of your personality, it’s not what defines you; and people do recover from, and learn to manage depression — just like any other chronic illness.

As a Christian, the first, and perhaps most important thing is to remember to pray about it. God can heal people who are suffering from Depression and Anxiety. We need to remember that God hears and listens to our prayers and can, and does, heal people who are sick with depression. But it’s also important to remember that sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayers in the way we expect. That doesn’t mean that we’ve done anything wrong, or that our prayers are ineffective — but rather that God’s plans are bigger than ours.

Prayer isn’t the only thing that we can do — and it’s good to know what other things might help as well. There isn’t one set of things that work for everyone; rather, each person who suffers from depression or anxiety needs to work out what combination and balance is right for them.

To do that, it’s best to get the help of a professional. Your local GP can get you started, and refer you to an expert clinician who can help with counselling or more specialised treatment programs. In many cases a large part of your initial care is also covered by Medicare in Australia.

Often it’s good to chat to friends or family as well. They can listen and walk beside you while you suffer. It’s good to remember that they can’t fix it — but they can love you in the midst of your struggle.

There are a number of good resources online that can help you with reading material. These include:

Sometimes life can be particular hard and people can struggle to see a path to keep struggling through. Services like LifeLine and the Kids Help Line are there to help in these instances — and are only a phone call away. LifeLine’s phone number is 13 11 14. The Kids Help Line is 1800 55 1800.

My friend suffers from depression or anxiety. How can I help?

Loving and supporting someone with depression and anxiety can be hard; but it’s worth it! The most important thing you can do is to simply be there for them. Remember that you can’t fix it, and your friend or family member probably isn’t looking for you to make it better. Remember that, just like a broken arm, healing takes time and people can’t and won’t just “snap out of it”.

There are some great resources around to help people who are supporting those who suffer. Websites like the ones above have great articles on what it’s like to go through Depression and Anxiety. One of the resources I’ve found most helpful personally is a beautiful set of comics called Kinds of Blue. This particular comic by Karen Beilharz was an absolute relief when I first found it because it made sense of a lot of things that had been floating around my head but I was struggling to articulate.

And keep praying for them. Pray that God will heal them; and that He will help them to learn to manage their illness. Pray that they will find comfort and compassion in him. Pray that God will give you the strength and energy you need to love them well.

What does the bible say about depression and anxiety?**

The bible tells us to pray in all situations and all circumstances, and constantly. It tells us to pray for healing. When we don’t know what to pray, Romans tells us that the spirit prays for us knowing what we need to pray for.

When Jesus preaches his famous Sermon on the Mount, he tells his disciples that they didn’t need to worry because God would supply all their needs, just like he clothes the flowers of the field or feeds the birds of the air. We also know that Jesus experienced pain and anguish — to the point that he even sweated blood. The bible tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way, and that he is able to sympathise with us whatever we are going through.

But the best hope is that of a new, redeemed creation. 1 Corinthians 15 promises us a new body — not a spiritual, ethereal body, but a physical body. We know that the old will be gone, and the new will have come. But best of all, there will be no more mourning, sickness or pain. Revelation 21 paints a beautiful picture of what it’s going to be like:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:3-4 NIV)

I long for the day when Jesus returns, and all things will be renewed.

Come, Lord Jesus.


* The title #depanx is a reference to the internal channel we’ve been using to talk about this amongst our planning team on Slack as we’ve been getting ready for PY Summer Camp. Slack is an excellent tool for collaborating with remote teams and facilitate communication between people in disjoint locations.

** This isn’t intended to be a detailed theological paper covering all the biblical references and theology associated with depression and anxiety. In fact, the bible says plenty of other really good things to people that are in the midst of depression and anxiety. It also says lots about how we can love and care for people who are sick or injured — just like people suffering from depression. If you want to read more, The Wandering Bookseller has a good collection of Christian books on depression.

Joy.

It’s no secret that Christmas is one of my favourite times of year. I love the carols. I love the cheer. I love the presents. I love the carols. I love the food. Particularly turkey (my favourite by all long shot). Did I mention that I love the carols?

This year I decided to do something a bit different. Donned in my Santa hat I stole borrowed from Alex, I have been making my way through our local shopping centres singing carols. It’s been great. Some people were indifferent. Some people were curious. Some were shocked. Actually, most were shocked. Some people looked a little annoyed. But by and large, the majority of people were delighted.

This morning, as we were making our way to get some final pieces for tomorrow’s feast, I heard that about 10% of Sydney would head to the shops today, and about 30% of those people would be substantially stressed. Those numbers really aren’t a surprise to me.

But the joy, the joy, as you see someone hear you singing. They pause what they are doing. They look around. And they smile. I witnessed face after face light up. And person after person joined in and sang along. At one stage I had around 20 people in Coles singing along to O Come All Ye Faithful. Whether they were laughing at me, or singing with me is irrelevant. I’m thrilled that I could brighten someone’s day.

So what is it about Christmas carols that fills people with joy? I’ve started to reflect a bit on what it might be.

1. A good Christmas Song doesn’t necessarily cut it…

Santa Clause is coming to town is a terrible song to sing to fill people with joy. Whether it’s the lyrics about lists, or voyeuristic watching of all you do to judge your suitability for presents; it’s not a happy Christmas song. Singing it in full voice in Myer as you walk through the electronic gifts section is definitely a lot of fun though.

2. Singing in a group is excellent…

There is something about putting your pride and memory on the line in public to sing – a vulnerability if you will – that is infectious. People respond to the openness of people singing and performing without shame.* Scientific Studies have shown the positive health benefits of singing in groups, and the joy that goes with singing together is amazing. Spontaneous Carol singing is an endorphin rush.

3. Joy.

Carols are joyous. The words speak of hope. Hope – because the great saviour of the world came to earth. It’s not an intangible hope expressed in a series of well wishes. It’s Joy to the World – because the Lord of Heaven and Earth has come to make his dwelling with man. It’s the songs of Angel’s singing because the King of the Earth has come to earth. It’s the great news that the one who will save all people from their Sin has begun his life.

And I guess that’s what grabs me anew each Christmas. That God would look into this world of Sin, and send his own Son. His own Son, who gave his life willingly for us so that we can share his heaven.

In the great words of O, Little town of Bethlehem:

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

Or my absolute favourite… O Holy Night:

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name!
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

Thank you, Jesus, for entering our world of sin. Thank you, Jesus, for giving us hope. Thank you, Jesus, for saving us. It truly is a Merry Christmas.


* I think it’s a shame we no longer sing in public. Maybe that’s because of the direction of popular music these days. The rise of electronic production enables us to produce melodies and sounds in ways we never have been able to before, but often at the expense of a strong lyrical melody. This is a generalisation to be told – artists like Jason Mraz, Regina Spektor, Florence + the machine, and even Beyoncé still produce amazing lyrical melodies. Christmas Carols are (almost) inherently singable; and the tunes are easy to learn.