Broken-down Poetry: December 2008


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Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Word

At my resident hall's Christmas banquet, I received a "paper plate award" from my RA--something everyone in our dorm was granted as something both goofy and sentimental. The title and picture of the award, scrawled with crayons on a paper plate, reminded us that we are unique women with different gifts and talents. (Or that someone has a very obvious obsession worth taunting.)

But my award summed up my entire three-and-a-half month college experience; I received the "I'm in Love with the Old Testament" award.

Now, I didn't know I was in love with the Old Testament until I took the history course as a gen. ed. It turns out I am pretty intrigued by this whole "first covenant" business. I even love it enough to have written songs about the kings of Israel and Judah ... to the tune of Disney favorites.

I have a pretty good memory too. So if someone mentions King Jehoram in casual conversation, I can rattle off a few facts about him, like that he died from a fatal bowel disease and that no one mourned his death. You know, stuff like that.

But since the class ended, I knew that I had to move on. I can't live in BC times forever. So instead of delightfully reading the minor prophets before bed, I have made myself move on to the New Testament. (Granted, the first book back-to-the-NT was the book of Hebrews, but it was a step in the right direction, no?)

But then, alas, I finished that book as well. And though I was tempted to read Romans, which is also filled with a lot of Jewish history, I chose the book of John. Yip-ee.

The book starts so familiar, bringing me back to the Hebrew Scriptures: In the beginning ...

But it's a little different: In the beginning was the Word.

The Word.

I've heard so many sermons on this chapter that I was tempted to move on to the good stuff--when John starts quoting Isaiah and the prophets. But I kept reading.

The Word became flesh and made its dwelling among us.

A few Sundays ago my pastor Steve talked about this passage. He said that the Word was so powerful that it brought things to life. With one breath the LORD spoke the earth into existence. Without the Word, there's death because all life comes from the Word. He went on to say that God does not talk, he speaks. Every word has purpose; every word holds meaning.

But that was nothing.

Wait until the Word put on flesh.

Words aren't enough. Pastor Steve compared it with email: it's easy to sound eloquent and sophisticated in email--or blogs--by using labyrinthine rhetoric. (ha.) But it's hard to show emotion. It's difficult to be yourself when you can sound like anyone you want in text.

But in person ... that's a whole other story. By showing up, people can sense emotions and can feel love not restricted to just verbal communication. A hug, a kiss, an eye roll, a wink, a smirk, a hair-toss: they cannot be expressed through words on a computer screen. A loved one's smile is much more meaningful than this :-).

When the Word becomes flesh, it's powerful.

Things start to make sense.

If God only spoke on the mountain like he had to Moses or in a bedroom to Samuel, man's concept of the divine would remain restricted. God had to send someone--flesh and blood--to give it meaning.

To take the Word and turn it into a picture. Into a lifestyle.

For some reason, the Law wasn't cutting it. "God needs a body."

He needed someone to show what God's looking for, someone to exemplify his command to act JUSTLY, to love MERCY and to walk HUMBLY with him (Micah 6:8).

And God knew that the Word wouldn't be enough soon after he made creation. For two chapters of Genesis the Word brings life, and by chapter three he promises Flesh: "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel" (Genesis 3:15).

That Seed being God-in-flesh.

And what intrigues me even more is that the promise holds more weight than some later prophecy. The Hebrew word for seed is zera', a masculine noun translated as "offspring," "children" or even as "sperm." God will put an enmity between you [man] and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed [sperm]."

Funny, I didn't know women had that stuff.

We jump to the book of Isaiah with his prediction of the virgin (alma) birth. And then to Luke chapter one with Mary and her husband-to-be, a son of David.

The Word became flesh and made its dwelling among us. Not as the prophets had, not as the priests had, not as kings had or the Levites or Nazirites. But in his own unique way: from a virgin's seed.

In the "hustle and bustle" of the holiday season, it's so easy to view Christmas as just Jesus' birthday, like yours or mine. But this is something much bigger. This is "Let There Be Light" healing the sick and walking on water; this is "I Am" overcoming death.

This is the Word that spoke the earth and sun into existence wrapped in rags and placed in a feeding trough.

And this is what Christmas is about:

the Word putting on skin, coming down to earth to "pitch tent" in order to visibly show God's love.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I love/hate Christmas

"I hate Christmas."

After my mom confessed that truth, I marveled--slack-jawed--at the bitterness of her comment. How can anyone hate Christmas? Who hates candy canes, egg nog, corporate Christmas parties, jingle bells, stocking stuffers, Hallmark original movies, wearing red all the time, tinsel, 24/7 holiday music on the radio, shopping and snow storms? I mean, those are pretty much the ingredients to happiness or something.

But then I started thinking ... maybe I hate Christmas too.

Trying to find people the right gift is harder than you would think. Especially with the standards of previous Christmases and birthdays. My best friend Ashley gave me an hour phone call with my favorite author for my seventeenth birthday, how am I supposed to match that? Give her an hour with the pope?

And the Christmas specials on TV? Please. All of them have the same theme: some old scrooge learns the true meaning of Christmas or some self-pitying 30-something finds true love. They're all the same.

And those family Christmas parties? Thanksgiving was a month ago. Really, how much has happened in that short period of time? I suppose any family gathering is fine if no one brings up politics. Again. (Knock on wood.)

See. I really hate Christmas. It's awful. It's so fake. And consumer-based. And dumb. And. And.

So I lied. I love Christmas. I mean, we have our problems, but I really love her deep down inside. I just don't think I love Christmas the way I loved her when I was a kid. I couldn't sleep a week before Christmas because I kept thinking about the my-size-barbie or giga pet I asked for.

And I just don't think I love Christmas the way I know I'm supposed to love her, for the ultimate gift: the Messiah. I'm trying to revel in the miracles, in the prophecy and everything else surrounding the birth in Bethlehem. But I can't. I just don't seem to get it yet.

The Israelites were doing okay without a Messiah. I mean, sure they turned from God every other king or so, but they got right back to it. They just needed a good leader. A David or a Josiah or a Nehemiah or something. God still took them back. He forgave them.


Last Christmas I decided to not be so materialistic. I had just finished reading Blue Like Jazz by the one-and-only Don Miller, and I was convicted. I tried not to want so much, but at the same time I wanted to be grateful for what I received. Even that was hard. It was hard to believe I had enough. No more, no less.

Maybe you can label my relationship with Christmas as love-hate. I want to love her for the right reasons, but I love her for the wrong. I want to hate her for the right reasons, but I hate her for the wrong.

New plan: I am going to make the most out of this Christmas. I am going to learn how to love her for the Messiah and I am going to learn to hate her for her materialism. I am. Or at least, I'll start to.

My mom just apologized to me for her holiday blues. She said she had a little breakdown. She doesn't hate Christmas, just all the pressure of social gatherings and pleasing others. I understand. I feel the same way.

With love,


Sunday, December 14, 2008


A few months ago I thought it'd be really cool to be disillusioned with the world. I wanted to be like a post-WWI expatriate or like Franny Glass from Salinger's novel. I pictured myself in a bar drinking a Shirley Temple slurring my life story to the bartender, telling him over and over again how much I liked eating the cherries at the bottom. (I'd be faking the banter, of course, because I'm drinking a non-alcoholic beverage. The bartender is too distracted to notice.)

I decided a few months ago that I no longer cared about being prude or blameless, I wanted to dress like a whore and cuss the crudest words. I typed out a few cuss words that night. I felt a little better, but not a lot.

Then I decided I was going to marry someone at least ten years older than me ... someone who was just as disillusioned as me so we could complain together about this godforsaken world we live in! and about how no one understands us! Or something like that. I don't really know what disillusioned people complain about, to be honest.

And then I realized that I am not disillusioned. I am actually quite optimistic and forward-looking and hopeful. I just wasn't happy with where I was and who I was among at the time.

A few months ago I was just starting college. I chose an extremely conservative Christian university to attend, not thinking much about all the rules that entailed. But I have always been a rule follower. I have always been the "good girl," the teacher's pet, the leader at youth group, the favorite daughter. (Don't tell my sister.) I figured I could handle whatever this university threw at me.

Except ... I couldn't. That's where all this disillusion came from. I thought this school would be my "comfort zone": Christians around other Christians talking about Christian-y things. But I really don't like that. I especially don't like the pressure.

It turns out there's no such thing as a cookie-cutter Christian. One week of college told me that. There are cliques here at Christian schools, you know, but all of them have the word "Christian" before them. The "Christian" preps, the Christian jocks, the Christian hipsters, the Christian nerds, etc.

I found it much like high school, except there's that pressure of being "on fire for God." Not only do you need that place to fit in ... you need to prove your worth as a Christian: "Hi, my name is Lauren and I read my Bible every night."

So into the first month of school I had pressure from all sides: to find friend and to be "on fire for God." Neither were really working. I had friends, sure, but none like the ones at home. I loved God, sure, but I wasn't healing people in Jaheezus name!

I began to realize that I did not like this. I did not like feeling of being judged by these Christians, whether they really were judging me or not, and I hated that it was hard to find friends at a Christian school. So I decided to become a Christian expatriate. I wrote down those cusswords. I started writing a novel about that bartender.

I figured that the reason I felt so disconnected with those people was because I just didn't fit into their club. There are Christians and then there are Christians. I must have been part of the latter, those who look, smell and act Christian but aren't really. I don't follow their code of ethics or something.

I really wanted to break my school's rules because I thought that would prove that I was not like the other Christians in my school, not just "kinda not" like them. Once I decided that, I found myself really bitter toward my roommates' opinions. I made sure that I found a flaw in whatever the speaker said at chapel. I really had become disillusioned with the world.

And it was ugly.

I know the first few months of college are supposed to be hard. I know there's a lot of homesickness and stress and fear ... but I didn't have any of that. The only thing I was really afraid of was myself. (As cliche as that sounds.) I didn't like how I "measured up" against the Christians around me.

I would have killed to be the Christian hipster or the Christian prep. But I knew I wasn't. I was the "Christian outcast." I cared too much about where I didn't fit in instead of seeing where I did. I got too caught up in, what the apostle Paul calls, "civilian affairs." I was losing sight of my true identity and instead looked for it in others.

And so here I am. The semester just ended, and I can only hope that I am closer to the person I am supposed to be. A friend told me once that we can never really know our true identity, but I don't know if I believe him. I mean, maybe not to the extent God views us, but I know that I can be closer than I am.

I know most people don't follow their New Years Resolutions but I am going to make one anyway. This year I want to see myself the way God sees me: as a woman of God, passionate in what she does, a creator, thinker.

"This is my voice, all shadows stayed. This is my heart upon the altar laid. Please take all else away. Hear my cry, I beg I plead, I pray. I'll walk into the flames, a calculated risk to further bless your name. So strike me deep and true, and in your strength I will live and die both unto you." ("Identity Crisis," Thrice)

with love,