o holy night

One hundred and ten years ago, on this day, the first experimental public radio broadcast rang out through a young America. Reginald Fessenden’s voice rang through the radio on Christmas Eve 1906, reading the story of the birth of Christ from Luke 2. After reading, he played the classic carol “O Holy Night.”

You know the words, right? A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices? It’s a beautiful picture. That big star in the sky in Bethlehem, pointing us in present-day Chicago and Nashville and all the other towns and cities to an eternal hope. I can picture the entire tired world, eyes lifted, let out a collective sigh–“we can’t do it alone,” they all think.

I’d like to think that Fessenden had high hopes for the message of his radio broadcast all those years ago, that it would sit in the still, small part of hearts and then grow, grow, grow, like a soul only can when it knows the love of Christ.

What I do know, though, is that 1906 was not the freest of all the years in American history. Blacks and whites were racially segregated under Jim Crow and separate-but-equal under Plessy v. Ferguson. On September 22, 1906, riots broke out in Atlanta after a play promoting Klansmen premiered and headlines were published falsely claiming a black man had sexually assaulted white women. For three days, the riots raged. People died. On October 11 in San Francisco, the Board of Education ordered Japanese immigrants to attend racially segregated schools–with internment to come decades later under Franklin D. Roosevelt.

So where’s the happy medium between being grateful for a message of peace in a hurried, tired world and understanding that almost no one can just drop all the baggage and be free? What’s the difference between being free in Christ and living in a world where who you are doesn’t measure up?

On this Christmas Eve, I am grateful for the promise of hope in Christ and uncomfortable with the severe gashes left torn open in our world. If you have the time, I often think back to this post from Erin Taylor Green’s blog that talks about how Scripture has been used to justify hate all throughout American history.

My favorite excerpt is this:

“…while Christ walked the earth, we took words of scripture and skewed them to persecute him. For centuries we have perverted His words and turned them into our own.  We have taken His words and picked and chosen the ones that fit our current agendas, the ones that help to prove our points.”

Not long ago, people used Scripture to justify the Trail of Tears and the African slave trade, and I’m sure they could have used it for our Japanese internment camps as well. These days, Scripture is often used to justify a stance against gay marriage, or immigration status, or generally anything that would be a perceived loss of power in our evangelical Christian stronghold on the country.

The last verse of “O Holy Night” is as follows:

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,
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful Chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise His Holy name!

Those third and fourth lines–those are music to my ears. I feel like everyone’s just clenching their hands, hoping for a not-tone-deaf Christmas message, and those lines remind me that both our Lord and people who love him know that there are people who aren’t free, who aren’t okay, who can’t just will themselves “free” as defined by a conservative Christian. It validates the yearning in my heart for us to realize the hurt we as the church have done, consistently, to other groups of people and to recognize the ugly power we have in controlling the freedom of others.

On that first radio broadcast in 1906, Reginald Fessenden relayed his message of Christ’s hope into a hurting world. This year, the message still falls on ears that are preoccupied, burdened, hurting.

The world is a big place, and there are a lot of reasons to be outraged. But it’s also a small town, and your act of grace in a hurting world does more than you might think. Our country is still young–we shape history each day. May I ask one wish of you this Christmas? This year, let’s not be people who use the Lord’s name to justify hatred when we know his law is love and his gospel peace. The gashes in all of us are wide and deep, and so often created by others. He can heal them, and I want to be a part of that.

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penultimate

When I came to college, each day I teetered precipitously between being wildly insecure and a raging people pleaser. There were to be no bad days in college, because just one would send me into a self-loathing tailspin–and then everyone would know. They’d know I didn’t have everything figured out, that I second-guessed myself and daily thought I was a burden to any friend I had. What I like most about myself now is that I like myself.

In high school I often felt left out for two reasons: first, because I had no siblings, my family had little lasting relevance to the rest of my community, and second, because we didn’t (and don’t) have the same amount of wealth that so often surrounded me in the halls. I worked on making myself relevant in high school, crafting a person I decided other people would want to be friends with: a girl who always wore a smile, willing to help, and hid her long, mouthful-of-marbles last name from others under nicknames and grand gestures of kindness and “please just like me please don’t make fun of me.”

We didn’t belong to a country club, we didn’t have a pretty hearth to take our Christmas card photo in front of, we had a black and white printer, we still used the air conditioners that went in the window during the summer. This is all normal for lots of families around America, I now understand. What we did have was love, and humor, and goofiness. That is what I now treasure about my family and our little home, but is harder for a status-conscious 17-year-old. For the community I grew up in, I was sure that the other kids tiptoed around me: my lack, my plainness evident.

Sometimes I felt whole, though. The problem was always gathering all the different parts of my life together. After my sophomore year of college, I realized fake Kendall was showing again. In a lot of ways, Vanderbilt is similar to my high school–keep up appearances, show your wealth in a socially sanctioned way, be the benefactor, not the recipient. But there was one place I could always go: the people I’ve come to call my cargo pants squad.

The cargo pants squad used to be more youthful and more childless than we (they) are now. It started with my mom and dad, Kate and Jeff, and two other couples: Rick and Julie, and Mary Beth and Andy. All newlyweds back in the early 90s, they have stayed friends through job changes and cross-country moves and the births of five children, collectively. Two summers ago, we rented a cottage on a lake in Ohio, the halfway point between two of our families in Illinois and Wisconsin and the third, the rogue ones in New York. We slept a bit haphazardly all over the house, sat around eating hot dogs off of paper plates, without worrying about what we looked like. The moms wore their cargo pants (of course).

Do you have any family friends that are more like family than friends? That’s your cargo pants squad. Maybe yours wears Barbour instead–that’s cool, some squads are way more stylish than others and we could probably learn from yours. Wherever you feel like yourself instead of a campus persona of yourself–that’s your place, and I want you to continue creating and fighting for that space.

The cargo pants squad is where I feel completely myself, with people who had known my little infant self all the way to me now, at 21. They’re a place where I didn’t have to be a skinny and tiny and smart and funny Vanderbilt girl, but since my experiences with them weren’t looped in to my daily life on campus, or heavily documented on Instagram just like most things are at school, I kept telling myself over and over: “That’s not what’s real, Vanderbilt is what’s real.”

The funny part is, they’re both real. In deciding that my no-frills family clique was the most real part of my life, I suffocated any real connection to other people here. Even while being a student here, Vanderbilt to me was the Vanderbilt I saw in all the girls with expensive branded clothes and going to tailgates at the frats–I didn’t know how to replace my surface level analysis of my school with a more nuanced understanding.

Today I turned in my last final paper and finished my second-to-last semester of college. If I had to tell anything to the Kendall starting her first semester of college in August 2013, I’d ask her to not fight the bad days. A couple of weeks ago, I was in a room with about a hundred other people, and looked around to find the faces of all the people I’ve known throughout these past three years. If I think about it long enough, I can think of both good and memories with each of these people, joyful ones that felt like parts of movies you want to rewind again and again and terrible ones that I felt like we couldn’t endure. But our lives are sweeter for knowing each other and for not forcing bad days into good ones, for just letting them be and learning from them.

So back to what I said–what I like most about myself now is that I like myself, most days, after so many years of not. I hope you’re getting there too, or are working on getting there somehow.