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my friend erin from mission year said this: [Dec. 25th, 2004|11:50 pm]


"Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother
And in His name, all oppression shall cease."
(O Holy Night)

December 24, 2004

I sang these words in the shower today--a feeble attempt to place myself into the spiritual and reverent--to remember "what this season is all about." I sang the words above and heard them again for the first time. I don't feel joy when I sing or hear those words. I don't feel awe or wonder or quiet peace. I feel sadness and regret. I feel a burden. I feel fear that I will never sing them without those feelings; never with confidence and a good conscience. I sang as my little brothers played downstairs: Kyle banging on his drums (a Christmas gift from the year before), Joey staring at the computer with TV noise beside him. Mom and Dad are hurrying around town to get the last of their gifts.
I know what should come next. Anyone could guess. That typical spill about how commercialized Christmas has become; how no one gets what it's supposed to be about; about all of the unfortunate little orphan children and poor families who don't get a Christmas--maybe one present--and how we should be grateful for what we have and give a little to them. And God bless those with their radio station-sponsored angel--carrying the name of a child who won't get much of a Christmas this year. God bless those who serve in a soup kitchen over the holiday season. Truly...God bless them. Because even a flicker of light is beautiful in this overwhelming darkness. But shame on them.
Shame on all of us for our stupid, miniscule attempts at being what Christ came to Earth for, who He died for, who He longs, without fail or tire, for us to be. Shame on us for singing those words of "O Holy Night." Shame on us for thinking we're doing something great if we get goosebumps while humming Christmas carols and hymns; if we look at the nativity scene with peace and wonder and truly love the God-child lying there but then wake the next morning and every morning after only to forget what He went on to do every day following the day He first opened his eyes.
People talk of how material we've become; of how the true meaning is history. Christians shake their heads at the world and engage in pious rituals to gain back a piece of all that has been lost. I wonder what I should do with this. I, too, will enjoy opening my expensive gifts tomorrow morning. I will stand outside of my grandmas tonight, look up at the black sky and thank God for coming down to the dirt for me. I may even share some of these thoughts with my family tomorrow morning--as my dad continues the tradition of telling the blessed story, straight out of Luke. And I will probably be listened to with tolerance. They will all nod their heads with sympathy, one or two may roll their eyes. I am some sort of liberal, hippy crusader in this family so these rants are expected. I can't change them. (I'm having a hard enough time changing myself, or should I say-allowing myself to be changed) I can't make them take back their Christmas gifts and buy food for the poor.
I probably won't be doing that, and I"m not so sure I should.
I don't want a one-day holiday conviction. I want to be one who stands out.
"Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother." I want to sing these words standing beside my brother, broken chains at our feet. Mostly, I get scared (here in the "after Mission Year") that I'll have to stand alone. I get even more scared that that will keep me from standing at all. But I know I never want to have another Christmas with all the "Christmas Spirit" bullshit that arouses our conscience for two months or less every year. I don't want to sing those hymns and carols like they were written for only one season, one period of time. Christ came in that moment, on that "holy night" as the song says, with the same agenda-shattering, butt-kicking, painfully humbling message that He tries so desperately to get to us every day since and still. And what would Christmas look like if we all truly believed and lived this on that day and every other day of our lives?

**Friends, I hope this little piece of my mind isn't ruining your Christmas. It might not even make any sense. I wrote it with a charged, quick hand and just got around to typing it now: 12:40 AM, Christmas morning. I almost didn't send it so as not to seem a whiny politician--standing up on my soapbox and telling the world how horrible and awful they are for not giving all their Christmas gifts to the poor, or how sad it is that they bought superficial things to begin with. But I hope that you know that is not my intention. If it were, you would have to hang me for hipocrisy...I've spent more money this Christmas (and much of it on myself) than ever before. I didn't even think about picking an angel off the WHAS angel tree. And I'll be pretty disappointed if I don't get what I asked for tomorrow morning.
This little note came from a heart..weary from searching and seeking and questioning..lonely..missing the community she shared all of these struggles with. It came from a frustrated heart...about to be even more frustrated because there seemed to be no purpose. It seemed that it would all have to be bottled up inside until she thought it might help to share it with others- whether they understood or agreed- just to get it out, into somewhere else.
Please have a wonderful Christmas. Stuff your face and be in love with your family, even if they're as redneck and ignorant as they are here in Southern Indiana. Enjoy your presents. Be thankful for them. Sing hymns and Christmas carols and get goosebumps when you light a candle to pray, or watch the snow fall over a fake, plastic manger.

Simply pray that He makes us weaker, meeker, lesser, more like He was born to be--so that we might grow into the radiant Kings and Queens He died for us to be.


[User Picture]From: sarynx
2004-12-26 04:57 am (UTC)

and then i said...

erin dear your email almost made me cry. i guess you can file that under 'goosebumps'. i know what you mean. this year not only is the true meaning of christmas rather lost from me, so is the true meaning of 'the true meaning of christmas'. i'm at the computer checking my email on christmas day after all :) but i think the same things. except i didn't make a speech to my family for them to look at me toleratingly. they just raised eyebrows at me when i made light of bush by saying 'turr' and 'url' (bushish for terror and oil).

but like you said Jesus is patient. he knew we'd all take a while to get it, and some of us might never. but he came anyway. so we can flout that, or over-philosophize it, but he came to change our world anyway, to turn it back right side up. we can sing carols and not feel a thing, or sing them and get goosebumps, but fortunately they are true either way: Jesus has come to free those in bondage, to shine on those who live in darkness. to fill those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. your hunger will not go away with the season, neither mine. cider and eggnog and wassail will not assuage the thirst.

i think you and i both wish christmas in our families to be different. which as we both know is even harder than changing ourselves... keep praying. God wants this too. i don't know how the kingdom will come in the big way that makes our world cease, but when it does we will celebrate Christmas as it was meant. somehow i think we are part of that coming, but not the big one, the small one, like Christmas, the common one that you can only hear when it's quiet and you can only see when it's dark.

at best we are children of the Father who is kind to the ungrateful. at worst, God is kind to us. i believe God's grace is big enough to catch us and our families alike. so whatever it means properly, merry christmas. thank you for writing.
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From: jeffthewookiee
2004-12-26 01:19 pm (UTC)

Re: and then i said...

Thanks for posting this...

I have a question about this:
>but like you said Jesus is patient. he knew we'd all take a while to get >it, and some of us might never. but he came anyway. so we can flout >that, or over-philosophize it, but he came to change our world anyway, >to turn it back right side up.

Did Jesus really come to 'fix' the world and turn it back rightside up? I guess in my readings of the Scripture it always seemed to me like Jesus was saying "This is a sinking ship. Get off it. "
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[User Picture]From: hymnia
2004-12-26 08:31 pm (UTC)
That is a very good question--one which I have pondered lately and am stumped for an answer to. I like the ideal that C.S. Lewis has described in some of his writing--that when we aim for heaven, we get earth thrown in as well. However, I'm not sure if that's what happens in reality; sometimes it doesn't seem that way, though perhaps it's because I have the wrong idea about what "aiming for heaven" really is. I wonder if it may in fact be our task to consciously strive for both--to ultimately live with eternity in mind, but also to do the best we can to put into practice the values of the kingdom of heaven while we are still laboring here on earth. For it is here, after all, that those values can really be put to the test. And Jesus did say, "The kingdom of heaven is among you [or within you]."
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[User Picture]From: sarynx
2004-12-27 03:53 am (UTC)

Re: and then i said...

Some early disciples thought this too; after all, Jesus had said he would be back soon, right? In 2 thessalonians, some of them even quit their jobs and waited on a mountaintop for this to happen. Paul wrote to them that instead of being idle they should keep on living and working and loving people, because the day of the Lord would come like a thief in the night (i.e. they don't know when).

Jesus told his disciples to go places, heal people and tell them that "the kingdom of God has come near." The kingdom is everywhere the king has control, and the kingdom runs how the king wants. So Jesus' life was spent talking about what this kingdom is like, and bringing it to earth. Jesus' death was to let us enter it. The kingdom is "not of this earth," as Jesus said, but from then till now and until big trumpets sound and weird things happen, it is on this earth if it is anywhere.

Many Protestant theologians (not least Bonhoeffer, whom I've been reading) end up saying things like, "The Christian faith is summed up on the cross," and "Jesus came to die." They're not far off - Jesus' atoning death and victorious resurrection are indeed pivotal. But they are meaningless outside the context of Jesus' life and teaching. If we are to live like Jesus, our deaths, however pivotal to our stories, will also mean nothing apart from our lives.

I've lived many years as a Christian waiting for heaven. But that left me with no idea of what to do while waiting. I just tried to avoid doing bad things and getting in trouble. I found out that I did bad things anyway. I didn't do what God wanted, and I didn't feel like I had what I wanted either. And I felt like I was in trouble with God after all.

I went on the Orlando Urban Plunge, and as part of that we read part of Good News about Injustice by Gary Haugen (highly recommended). Haugen asks questions like, "Where is God when bad things happen to good people? How does God feel about it? Doesn't God do anything?" and provides answers like, "God is with everyone who suffers injustice, suffering with them. God is hurt, God is angry, God is motivated. God wants justice. God brings justice. And God uses God's people to do what God wants." Ergo, Christians should stop trying to just be good, and go find some injustice and eradicate it. On OUP and Mission Year, I did that in some small ways, and God was there. So was joy, in large amounts. And grace. I didn't do any less bad stuff, but I felt like I did more good stuff. There was somewhere to go instead of somewhere to avoid.

Now look at me. I've got a great job. I hang out with my neighbors all the time. I live simply and give lots of the extra money I make to the work of God's kingdom in my city and the world. I volunteer at an after-school program for at-risk kids. I visit people in the nursing home and the jail. I go to this awesome church every week, and I sing in the choir. And this summer I'm taking a couple of weeks to go to Kenya and wire up a town and teach them what they can get out of the internet and what to watch out for. There is incredible joy and life and growth everywhere in me and around me.

Oh wait, none of that stuff is true. But that's where I want to go. God's love guides me to love people, and God in grace makes me somehow useful even when I'm wrong. Maybe things will never turn out like I expect. But God's kingdom is not about being what I expect, and after things are over I can see how they turned out pretty well. (i.o.w., "looking back i see a lead of love." or, "there you go working good of all i have.")

So that's why I think Jesus came to fix this world too, not just bring on the next one. (Heck, if I wanted to get absolutely rid of this world so badly, I would do it the first time I came...)
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From: jeffthewookiee
2004-12-27 02:37 pm (UTC)

Re: and then i said...

I think I agree with you that the 'pie in the sky' gospel never got me anywhere in life. If anything, I found that it gave me a reason to die and not a reason to live. In my former depressed state of mind, that wasn't exactly what I needed.

And I think even now heaven doesn't make a lot of sense to me. A lot of the wisdom that I feel God has been teaching me these last few years is that God doesn't expect me to go live on a mountain just waiting for his 2nd coming or my own death... that he has given me passions and skills and the pleasure of working for/with him.

But I also am very mindful that even in the pursuit of serving God, there can be a great emptiness. I think that often times I've really ended up feeling like dirt cuz I didn't live up to what I thought the image of godliness for me should look like...only to discover that not only am I not all that God desires of me, but that even my conception of what that looks like is wrong.

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[User Picture]From: sarynx
2004-12-29 04:40 pm (UTC)

Re: and then i said...

when i was on mission year and i felt "like dirt cuz i didn't live up to what I thought the image of godliness for me should look like," i talked to the people i lived with and they gave me hugs and counsel to get rid of my expectations. they had my back. if i had emptiness, i at least didn't have it alone. and they urged me to stop being bewildered and hurt and just get up and go and see how far i get. and i did and it was like, 'whoa, i'm going stronger than i thought i could.'

there have been other times i've felt the emptiness of finding out i'm not who i expected myself to be and that my expectations could have been wrong too... but, lately, mostly not after fierily serving God. in fact i kinda feel like a backslider since mission year being over.

anyway... all that to say, my experience has been that when you find true community with other believers you have a bit of heaven, and it brings peace within even though the world outside keeps churning. i still haven't figured out how to get that back. like i guess you're supposed to find it at church... but i've never known people at church deeply enough or put enough trust in them to be honest enough with them for all this to happen. i keep having dreams that my whole life since has just been a long vacation from mission year. i know i have true friends who love me (not least you); i don't mean to slight any of them... but it's different living with people every day... argh hard to explain.

i know your experience hasn't quite been the same... probably won't ever be exactly the same, and that's cool i guess but when i have experiences like you do i get really lonely.
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