Kassie Neumann

About Kassie Neumann

Midwest native and Adolescent English Education Major at Nyack College. I thrive on poetry, mentoring, deep conversations, and really loud laughter. I believe that Christ, community, and cups of tea can restore the world. Wonder and mystery are two of my favorite words.

Why I Love Teaching English

One of the cool things about being an Education Major at Nyack is that the School of Education, and Nyack in general, cares about developing you as a person throughout your college career. That was one of the joys of my college experience, and one of the ways God worked through my time at Nyack. One of the ways the School of Education does this is by helping you figure out your calling. The faculty at Nyack care about why you’re in your major.

They want you to untangle for yourself why you’re sitting in their classes.

It makes you own what you’re doing. It makes you confident that God is going to see you through your calling.

That’s huge on late nights when you’re studying for finals, and suddenly college is hard, hard work. It gives you perseverance.

Admittedly, I came to Nyack as an English Ed. Major because of a simple passion for literature and writing, and a love for working with middle school kids. That was about as deep as my reasoning went, but during my time at school that reasoning took root and began to change, grow.

Student teaching really helped with that.

During student teaching, I realized that teaching English gave me two distinct opportunities as a caring citizen and as a Christian. Suddenly I had a fire for what I was doing.

I realized that being an English teacher meant that I had the opportunity to teach kids critical thinking skills. Thinking about Shakespeare’s word choices, untangling Robert Frost’s poems, and understanding why Hope fights so persistently in Hope Was Here are ways that I watched students grapple to critically think about our texts. If you understand how to critically think about your world, there is less chance that it will overcome you, and there is more chance that you will learn how to change it. Critical thinking draws us away from the ills of groupthink, of blindly following the majority. Citizens who critically think change society.

I also realized that being an English teacher gave me an amazing opportunity as a Christian. This might sound crazy, because in the public school system you cannot talk about matters of faith. However, when we teach truth we are teaching the words of God, whether or not we are teaching Jeremiah or Shakespeare.

That’s not a trendy idea, that an ancient, Augustinian idea.

I watched this happen while teaching Othello during student teaching. We unraveled human nature throughout our study of the play. We talked about how envy and jealousy corrupts the individual and then the community. This was the discussion for weeks and weeks, and the discussion became personalized by the end of my time there. How does envy and jealousy begin in us? How does it wreck our communities? You’re saying nothing about Christ, not a word, and yet you have explained the hardest part of the Gospel–that we are fallen humanity filled with sin and grief. You’ve introduced a need for redemption. You leave students with questions, and you trust the Holy Spirit to perhaps one day move the rest.

These two reasons are why I don’t mind the idea of getting up early 180 days a year, or eking out my years standing at a copier. To me these reasons are fuel and fire for God’s calling in my life. What are your reasons?  

How A Professor’s Comment Led to a New Year’s “Resolution”

We counted down in unison until the world flashed with an explosion of confetti, embraces, and Instagram photos. 2017 has begun. Fare thee well, 2016, in all your joys and sorrows. I’m sure we’ve all experienced a measure of each last year. We’re all human and to share in this humanity seems to carry a measure of each. Tuck away the lessons you learned from 2016, the ones that have sifted and shaped you.

Now we open our hands to 2017, closing our eyes, murmur in surrender to the God who holds each of these days. A lot of people are trying to make 2017 better than 2016. We’re making resolutions for the New Year, but what if we rattled tradition a little?

What if instead of a list of resolutions, what if instead we changed the questions we’re asking? What if we simply shifted our perspective, and altered our responses to situations?

What if…

A question I’m going to ask is one I picked up in one of Dr. Pinkham’s English classes. In the last lecture of the semester, Dr. Pinkham challenged us with the idea that one of our most valuable jobs as Christians is to ask how can I help bring healing to this situation? That stuck with me. What if we walked through each day asking how we could bring healing?

Another question to ask this year is do I act on what I believe? Friends, this can be tricky at a Christian college. It can be tempting to immerse ourselves in all these classes where we discuss theology, philosophy, religion, politics, ethics, and all the important thoughts that drive our lives, but become nothing more than arm-chair theologians, philosophers, and politicians. Conviction requires action, and that is not simply liking a cause on Facebook.

The third question is, where are the gifts in each day? You may have slept through your alarm. You may be late to that quiz, but how did you get to class? You walked on healthy legs. You wore shoes, and maybe, just maybe a fellow student smiled in greeting as you passed the Bubble. All of those are gifts.

The final question is this: how can I contribute to my community? How can I give myself to others at school? We’re being poured into so much at Nyack College, and it’s beyond amazing. How can we take what we’ve been given, and begin pouring into our community? May we ask God to heal us, to stir us to see and feel need, and to act to meet the needs of our brothers and sisters.
Happy New Year

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Practical Gift Ideas for Education Majors

Most people seem to put Christmas on repeat during the month of December. My family has approximately four Christmas’ with different sides of the family to attend this year. Bring on the holiday cheer. When I told my boyfriend how many Christmas’s I’d be attending this year his reply was, “Whoa. That’s intense.” To me it’s just normal. We exchange gifts during each of those Christmas events, and it’s a great way to spend valuable time with family.

That being said…multiplying Christmas four or more times can be problematic with gift giving and receiving. My family has learned a few tricks about gift giving, but the receiving part can be tricky. How do you tell your grandmother that you are not going to wear that pink sweater with the glittery pom-poms?

You don’t.

Instead, before you find yourself beside a crackling fire wearing such a spectacle why not offer well-meaning relatives more…practical ideas?

Christmas does not hinge on the gifts, but my thought is that if relatives are going to buy gifts, then perhaps giving them gift ideas that you will actually use, would be a better scenario for everyone. No more glittery pom-poms.

Here are a few practical ideas for gifts for Education Majors:

A Sturdy Bookbag: You will need this, as you’re getting through your program. Education Majors seem to always be going places, whether it’s to class or field experience. Carrying books with you to study or prep for classes you’re teaching becomes essential. Jansport, SwissGear, and Timbuk2 are brands that will last several years.

A Planner: You need a planner to organize yourself and your time. If I could tell a freshman Ed. Major to buy anything it would be this. You can organize major class deadlines (papers, projects, and exams), times you have field experience, and everything else that’s important in your life.

Desk Supplies: Pens and pencils, and a pencil sharpener are essential for Education Majors, especially when you student teach.

Sticky Notes: These are a great way to give feedback to kids when you student teach, especially if you’re grading tons of English essays.

Sweaters and Cardigans: You’ll be needing some business clothes, as you’re studying to go into a professional field. We’re in New York State, which can be quite a chilly place, and schools have a reputation for being cold and drafty. Layering with sweaters and cardigans can make your teaching days much more pleasant.

A T-30ii Calculator: This is a fairly inexpensive, but impressive calculator, and you’ll discover that you’ll need a nice calculator to compute grades during your student teaching.
Here are some ideas! Hope they help you and your family celebrate Christmas…without the glittery pom-pom sweaters.

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68.9 Miles to Bethlehem

Every year we pour over the ancient words in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. If you’ve been in church for any number of years, you know the Christmas story. You’ve seen the kids in the Nativity play scamper down the church aisle likely a motley herd of sheep. You’ve probably chuckled quietly as the lead shepherd forgot his lines. Sometimes though, we forget that this ancient story is a part of real flesh and blood history. It is not a myth.

We forget that Mary was a young woman being scorned by her society, because she was perceived to be pregnant out of wedlock.

We forget Joseph who had the grace to let Mary go quietly and not press for his rights in a broken covenant, until God sent a dream and told Joseph to marry this girl.

We forget that a Roman decree sent both Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem from Nazareth.

That wasn’t a cute trip.

I looked it up online and the distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem is exactly 68.9 miles. Imagine journeying that distance and being ready to bring a child into the world any day. That wouldn’t be a cute trip if you had a bus, and they had no such transportation. Each time I read the Christmas Story I’m not struck by cuteness, I’m struck by the grace filled reactions of Mary and Joseph, despite the hardship of their situation. I’m struck by the beautiful history and tradition of our faith, but our faith is still living and active.

The word of God is still living and active.

We remember the history, the real people who lived this story, and yet when we finish reading we must head out into the frenzy of our own lives that are separated a couple thousand years from that first Christmas–

and yet the word of God is living and active.

How can a story thousands of years old speak to us who are rushing around finishing finals, wrapping Christmas presents, and journeying home for various family functions?

I believe that Scripture speaks loudly into every point in history. I believe that the Christmas Story speaks to us today.

That journey, the journey of Mary and Joseph, has been speaking to me this December. It was filled with 68.9 miles of uncertainty and possibly tragedy. Would they make it to Bethlehem? Why did the worry and uncertainty not overcome their journey? What if…What if…What if…

I suspect that the reason Mary and Joseph were not overcome, was that Mary carried the Author of Peace within her for every one of those 68.9 miles. This had never occurred to me before this December. Mary and Joseph’s beautiful reactions to the hardships of that journey must have come from a knowledge of that Peace.

We’re all headed in various directions, braving the public transit system, waiting in crowded airports…finally arriving home. We all have a task of a journey.  

Friends, may you be reminded that no matter where you are headed this Christmas, whether that place is filled with peace or strife, may you understand that knowing Christ means that you carry the Peace of the Holy Spirit for that journey. May you be overcome by that Peace this Christmas Season.

Merry, Merry Christmas.

13 Things You Learn From Teaching Othello

My second placement for student teaching has been a two month crash course on teaching Othello to high school students. It has been a wild, wild, crazy experience, but I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. To all you Adolescent English Majors: continue in your programs. Do not be intimidated! It is completely possible to learn how to teach high school Shakespeare, and be an engaging educator! Fear thee not. This being said, when you’re handed a wild, crazy experience you are guaranteed to learn a couple things…

Here’s what you learn from teaching Othello:

  1. You learn that 40% of your class has no idea what’s going on in the play, 55% have skipped ahead to the fight scenes, and the other 5% are working on their Shakespeare dissertations.                                                       
  2. You never take it personally, when a student declares that, “Ms. Neumann! I hate this Shakespeare stuff!”      
  3. You learn to read, read, and reread the text before you teach it. You read it in the original text. You reread it in a modern version. You don’t use Sparknotes and Cliffnotes as an excuse for laziness. You actually use them the way they were intended– a lifeline! (and a way to study the text).                                                              
  4. You learn to ALWAYS preview the movie before showing clips in class. (Use your imagination on that one. Also, check the ratings on any DVD.)                                                                                                                                   
  5. You learn that enthusiasm is as contagious as the bubonic plague, and if you can get a bunch of fifteen year old’s excited about something like Desdemona’s handkerchief? You can learn to teach anything.                       
  6. You learn that kids hate/love acting out the scenes. You learn to make them do it anyway, and eventually everyone is clapping in applause.                                                                                                                                         
  7. You learn that there’s something about plastic swords that brings out the actor in all of us.                                  
  8. You learn Shakespearean insults. “A pox on you for late homework!”                                                                         
  9. You learn to laugh at yourself when you spell Desdemona’s name wrong on the board–in front of the entire class.                                                                                                                                                                                            
  10. You learn to capitalize on the bizarre, gross, gory, and strange details of the play. Iago said what!                      
  11. You learn that ultimately teaching Shakespeare is a study in human nature, both from the characters in the text and from the reactions of your students…at being assigned homework over it.                                                 
  12. You learn that having the best supervising teacher ever makes the experience. You know who you are!  
  13. You learn that only an English teacher shouldst heed the pangs of love and agony which doth spring from the instructing of pupils on bookish fancies of a man heretofore accorded witness as Shakespeare. You learn that you are an English teacher.

Interview With a Senior at Nyack: Meet Grace Anger

On the list of people worth knowing, Grace Anger is pretty high on the list. I’ve known Grace prior to day one of college. We saw each other on a college group on Facebook and were convinced that we would never, never be friends. We’ve been roommates and the best of friends for 2.5 years. Life is hilarious. Meet the lovely Miss Anger:

Can you tell me a little about your major?

I’m majoring in Childhood Education with a concentration in Teaching English as a Second Language. Right now, I’m also transitioning into the Master’s Program at Nyack in Special Education.

Is there anything special about your program?

The program gives you the option to seamlessly integrate your undergraduate and graduate studies, and you’re done in a total of five years with both degrees.

Why did you choose Nyack College?

I felt God leading me here. That decision has been reinforced over and over again, and my experience at Nyack has greatly exceeded my expectations for what college would be like.

Were there any challenges you experienced as a Freshman?

Yes, submitting my first paper was a bit of a challenge. I was required to hand this thing in and be vulnerable with my work. That was really hard at first.

Also, during my first semester, I got an 81% on an assignment, because I didn’t follow the directions. The directions were to cite information in APA Format, and I went off on rabbit trails about homeless people. I remember standing in my professor’s office asking her what went wrong with that assignment. Through that conversation, she ended up becoming my mentor through my entire time in college. Without that vulnerable experience with that grade, I would have missed out on an opportunity for that professor to pour into my life.

You’re a senior now, what advice would you give students about making the most of their time in college?

First of all, the point of college is not just getting a grade, a degree, and a job. College broadens your horizons: reveals your dreams and passions, allows you to meet life-long friends and mentors, and offers you books to read that will shape your character and your ideas. College is an opportunity to pilot many of the habits you will carry into adulthood.

What are some of your favorite memories of your time at Nyack?

Running with my roommate through the sprinkler system on Mosely Field. Embrace the quirky people around you.

Also, attending a crazy diverse small group on campus was one of my favorite memories. At the end of the night I would look around at all these different people. There were so many ways in which we had nothing in common, and yet we were all united by the Holy Spirit.

What’s been your favorite class at Nyack so far?

College Writing II with Dr. Gates. That class kind-of shaped me and how I would learn in my classes after that. Dr. Gates defined learning as being transformed as a person. I’ll never forgot that.

Have you been involved in any extracurricular activities while at Nyack?

Yes, for about three years I’ve been involved in the college’s chorale. During some semesters, my involvement has been limited, but as my schedule allows it has been such a privilege to make music with other people in a community setting. I’ve loved working with Dr. Jameson. He has high standards and a lot of patience. What I love the most though, is that he truly wants the lyrics we’re singing, whether they’re Christmas Carols or ancient German melodies to move our hearts.

Life Lessons I Learned From My Professors

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Friends,

There are only weeks left in the semester. For some of you, the stress is overwhelming every minute of these last weeks. You’re panicking. You might even be starting to doubt yourself and ask, “why did I decide to go to college?”

Remember your dream.

Remember your vision.

Above all keep moving.  Above all keep praying, my friends. You will make it through. You know how I know this?

I know this, because right now I’m a senior staring down the last three weeks of an undergraduate career in the face. I’ve been where you’re at, many, many, many times. You’re going to make it. Keep moving and keep praying.

I want to mention, though, that college is not all stress. Right now, perhaps that’s all you can see, but I’d like to remind you of one of the beautiful, amazing gifts of college. That gift, especially at a college like Nyack where classes are tightly-knit, is the ability to learn from your professors about more than just textbook information. I’ve had the privilege of sitting in class, and learning so many lessons about life from my professors. The professors at Nyack have made my entire experience. Here’s a few life lessons I’ve learned from them:

Dr. Buel: There is power in the word “yet”. Don’t say, “I can’t do this”. Instead, you need to say, “I can’t do this–yet”. That class changed my life.

Dr. Gates: Work faithfully and holistically. Every part of your life matters and is integrated together. (Also, a little known fact is that Dr. Gates slips fantastic relationship advice into his lectures).  

Dr. Beach: Christianity is full of wonder and mystery, and a fair-amount of good humor. Take Oxford Christian Writers with him. Do it!

Dr. Pinkham: Everything in life doesn’t need to fit into a nice labeled box. You’re going to face things in life that can’t be either/or, but will be both/and. Embrace that. If you take Short Story class with him, it will change your life.

Dr. Davis Abdullah: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Use your voice. What you’re saying matters, and do not be afraid to say it well. Do your research.

Dr. Nichols: When you’re a teacher care about your students. You can have all your material memorized, but don’t forget about the heart of teaching. Care about your students.

Professor Locke: Servant leadership works both in theory and in practice, and if we lead through servant leadership we are reflecting Christ.

Dr. Dueck: Wrestle with your faith, for that is the only way to have true faith. Read a lot of Kierkegaard.

Dr. Looney: Believing in people is just as powerful as what you do for them. Pray always.

Professor Linda Poston: Faithful hospitality will change the world, or at least the heart of a homesick college student. Cover your life in Scripture.

How to Defy Disappointment With Beauty

I’m writing this blog post right now, and this week I really don’t know where I’m going with this post. Usually when I write, I have some sort of idea. Usually I have a title at least etched out, and I work from there. This week I have nothing. These passed few weeks have been wild, terrible, blessed, wretched.

I believe in honesty. I believe in realness.

The last few weeks I have experienced wild, wild, bizarre, crazy hopes. The last few weeks I have experienced disappointments crush those hopes and others in a steady rhythm. Two weeks ago I had one of the hardest weeks of my college experience. Everything important fell apart at the same time. I was dealing with conflict that felt far, far out of my league, and being handed problems and disappointments I never thought I’d have to deal with while still in college. I felt all over the placed, scattered like sunflower seeds being tossed to a rootless wind.

I like to tell myself that I’m pretty good at keeping it together…

That week I became a little unmoored, and suddenly I lacked direction. Last week, I bought sunflowers and arranged them in a vase. I did this as a defiance against the chaos, against the disappointment, against the rage and the fighting surrounding me, against feeling unmoored, against feeling rootless. Beauty is defiance.

It’s a cry against a utilitarian world which seeks to use and consume everything in its path.

Beauty defies disappointment. Beauty teaches you to look beyond yourself–beyond the cracks and tears in your own world. I think part of the reason that happens, is because there’s really no point in beauty, right? At least no practical point. Placing flowers in a vase doesn’t offer a solution to your problems, actually displaying some sunflowers will change nothing about your circumstances, but such an act can and will defy the idea that your circumstances will engulf you, overcome you into silence. Beauty reaches into your life and mentions offhandedly, that life will one day be different. I think also, for me at least, placing flowers in a vase is a declaration that I will not be ruled by my circumstances. Nothing changed with those sunflowers, nothing at all, but perhaps the core of who I am is not tied to my circumstances. Perhaps we can lift our eyes to the simple wonder of golden petals framed by a fierce red sun streaming through a window, and see joy. Dearest of friends, joy is not found in circumstances.

Then today. Fast forward to today where I received wild, amazing news, news I had resigned to the “this is never going to happen” section of life. I’m still trying to process everything as I type this post. My life is still wrecked from that week, about half of it is still ripped, torn apart, a mangled mess. A great deal of what happened that week is still out of my control. There is nothing I can do, no strategy I can offer to fix everything. Suddenly all my distracted self can do is to have my knees hit the floor each morning in quiet, steady need. I’m not saying that to sound spiritual. I’m admitting this, because in my frailty and need there is nothing else to do. Receiving wild, amazing news changes none of that need. I’m praying out of that need, and now I’m asking for strength to meet this crazy news, and I’m praying that through You that whatever may come that we may defy the world with the beauty of sunflowers.

Student Teaching: Placement Switch

It is exactly the middle of November. As most of you know, I’m in the middle of student teaching. The way student teaching works is that your semester is split into two placements. My certification will be to teach 7th-12th Grade English , and as a result my first placement was at a middle school. Those eighth grade students completely and wholly stole my heart. The last day I was there my cooperating teacher passed around a card for them to sign. Each period thought that they’d expertly hidden this card, as they tried to pass it around.

They forgot that teachers have eyes in the back of their heads.

They were going to hand the card to me at the end of the day, but some student accidentally packed it away with their books and made off with it in their backpack. They sheepishly handed me this light purple envelope–all that remained of their thank-you. I laughed, laughed, and laughed again. You just have to love the eighth grade.

Now, life has swung in an entirely different direction. I’m at my second placement working with tenth graders. Art explodes from every corner of this school. They understand that art is as necessary to life as lunch period. The students are filled with thoughts. Creativity is a valued strength at this school. This school welcomed me about six seconds after I walked through the building.

Now, life is rather different. Teaching high school English means that you have to prep multiple materials for multiple classes. I’d never really thought through that one. I entered my student teaching experience, embarrassingly without even a folder. Now, I carry binders, folders, and have developed a system necessary for survival. Forced improvement can be a beautiful work of art.

Now, I am learning how to grapple with texts I was afraid to teach. The class I’m teaching is going through Othello at the moment. All things Shakespeare happen to be a deep passion of mine, but for some odd reason I had never read Othello in any of my classes or personal reading. My cooperating teacher had kindly emailed in advance to tell me that we’d be covering Othello during my time at the school. Panic ripped through my chest. You don’t just wing teaching Shakespeare, and Shakespeare requires heavy interpretation. English teachers can be a rather opinionated bunch when it comes to textual interpretation. I feared getting it all wrong.

But…I decided to shove down my panic, and move forward. That’s a lesson I’ve been learning in more areas than just student teaching–shove down the fear, move forward. I began studying Othello, grappling with the text, characters, and themes.

Now, we just finished a lesson segment where the students acted out a scene from the play. Helping students untangle the rich language of Shakespeare, laughing as they add “wandering torchbearers” to their performances, and applauding as they leap out of their comfort zones to perform in front of their peers is amazing.

Now, now is the time to learn, now is the time to face silly fears such as teaching Shakespeare, now is the time to build relationships with students, and now is the time to revel in distinct joy.

The Distinct Joy of Exercising in College

There’s the shift of your feet across pavement, it’s the air entering your lungs and exiting in sharp, cold breaths–oxygen flowing into your bloodstream. Your feet toss leaves aside. You toss everything aside: exams, the homework you’ve been struggling through, the family drama going down at home, the endless text messages wearing you down, the fact that your brain hurts from thinking about it all. You toss aside everything as you run through the fallen leaves on this gorgeous campus that God has given you. You run and are finally at peace, as you separate yourself from everything. It’s just you, the Lord, and the pavement. This is why running is a distinct joy for me.

This is why I’m an advocate of exercising in college.

I wasn’t always this way. In high school, I was on a swim team, but in college exercise wasn’t exactly my thing. My parents forced me to hike and exercise with them. I despised hiking. I liked poptarts.

A couple of years ago, two events changed my perspective. (Okay, don’t judge the honesty here.)

  1. I got stuck working inside a stuffy pizza shop all summer. I smelled like cheese and grease from May-August. Suddenly, I craved being outside, and would find every excuse to drag the trash out to the dumpster just to feel the sun on my skin, just to feel human again. Suddenly exercising outdoors sounded like a wonderful idea.
  2. I had a crush on a runner. He was running solo, and of course he needed someone to run with him… (F.Y.I: That relationship did not work out, but I discovered a love for running through that experience.)

Yes, honesty. Anyway, once I started exercising I realized how much of a positive change it was in my life:

  1. It became a way to release stress, and use up energy that before I started running, I had been pouring into worry and anxiety-filled thoughts.
  2. Running made me focus and concentrate more in school. It just did.
  3. I started realizing how healthy running was for my body.
  4. It forced me to manage my time better. Running required me to plan out when I was going to run each week, and that planning made me balance my life in more healthy ways.
  5. Exercise can be an opportunity to pray. Sometimes it can be a bit hard to pray during an intense workout, but all workouts are not intense. Sometimes it’s wonderful to run at a slower pace, just enjoy nature, and enjoy the peace of Christ.

So. What I offer to you is this: find your groove. Figure out the types of exercise you enjoy. Maybe you’re into running, lacrosse, soccer, lifting weights, ping-pong, or dancing? Figure it out, and start exercising regularly. It doesn’t have to be anything insane, but set a goal and stick with it. Set small, attainable goals for yourself. Running three blocks farther than the last time you ran is an example of this. Running a marathon the first day you buy running shoes is not.

Also, don’t get hung up on everyone showing off on Instagram. They’re probably spending more time taking the picture than exercising anyway. Exercise for yourself–not other people. Enjoy yourself, as you start exercising in college. Enjoy the distinct joy.

Christmas Hope Starts in November

Color fades from the leaves. High School students are beginning to eye the piles of leaves in their neighbors’ yards, and translate them into quick cash. Fall holidays are over, and the world waits as the days of pumpkins and apple cider fade into icy temperatures and sweaters. It’s November. Right now, I’m listening to Christmas music. I know, I know…all you haters out there…

There tend to be two types of people.

There are the people who passionately love Christmas music. You can catch this kind of person slipping Bing Crosby records into Harvest Party playlists. This kind of person can bring ebullient joy, but can also disgust everyone around them with this excess of holiday cheer.

The second type of person loathes Christmas music, is upset that radio stations begin mentioning the topic after Thanksgiving, and this person goes into hiding two weeks before Christmas when that’s all that’s being played on the airwaves.

Admittedly, I’m the first type of person. I passionately love Christmas music. Actually, I passionately love Christmas in general. If you don’t, that’s alright, but let me explain why I’m preparing for Christmas in November.

Christ found me in a frozen December. That’s quite a story, but nevertheless December is when I became a Christian. The entire season of Christmas means a great deal to me because of this, and as a result I associate Christmas with hope, with a Savior.

The older I get, the more grateful I am to be given a season in which hope is celebrated. The world can be a dreadful, dark, and despairing place. Our world can be so cold and so cruel. Sometimes I find my soul growing cold with the weather. I get more impatient with people. My thoughts become more cynical and self-protective. It’s ugly. The hope of redemption, of Christ coming as child and as our Redeemer, draws me out of that. That’s why a few years ago I started a ritual of reading The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens every Christmas. I know, I know. All you English majors out there are going to roll your eyes and say, “Oh, that’s just a morality tale written for Post-Industrial England”. I don’t particular care. I read Dicken’s novel every year, because Scrooge’s redemptive experience reminds me that redemption is a possibility despite our wretched darkness. It reminds me that Hope is living, and we were not born for despair.

The idea that redemption and hope exist is the reason I find myself turning on Christmas music in November, and the reason I have Christmas rituals. This time is the advent of Hope. Friends, no matter what your feelings are about Christmas, consider what living in expectation of Christ’s birth can do in your own life? Living in expectation of Christ’s birth can make us more hopeful human beings, more grateful that Christ would redeem us, and more apt to spread our gratitude among our brothers and sisters.

Brothers and Sisters,

Despair not.

For years ago, Hope was born among us.

We can be redeemed.

Merry Christmas

What Are We Saying? Creating Substance in Communication

Ink stained fingers, feeling paper between your thumb and index finger, the sound a pencil makes as it etches words across a page, these are all experiences associated with the practice of writing a letter.

I’ve been thinking a great deal lately–”laughing” a dangerous pastime, I know.

I’ve been thinking about the millstone-carrying weight of our words, and how modern formats seem to shape their substance, or lack of substance. Let me explain:

You shoot a text message.

You type. You press send. Immediately.

How much thought goes into those words?

I’m not speaking about avoiding spelling and grammatical mistakes–I’m speaking about understanding the ideas we craft with words and the strength they carry.

“Press send now” is our culture. Don’t get me wrong, I text and have a thriving Instagram account, but a couple weeks ago I was presenting a lesson to my class where they had to write a letter of their own. We read an article that discussed the idea of how modern culture can rob our words of weight, of thought. The article listed reasons why people in 2016 should still practice the art of letter writing. One of those reasons was that writing letters slows us. It causes us to value words, to tally up the cost to ourselves and the other person before we seal those words into an envelope, and ferry them away with a stamp.

Talking with eighth graders about this idea of ways to create more quality communication was an absolute privilege, as is blogging about this idea.

Friends,

I challenge you.

I implore you. Write a letter. Slow yourself. Write a letter to someone you deeply care for and give them your time. Evaluate the weight of your words. We write and speak so much fluff, meaningless drivel. My theory for why this happens is two-pronged. First of all, we’re terrified to reveal anything of substance about ourselves, as we’re haunted by a fear of rejection. Secondly, substance takes time and thought–investment. Substance takes time to craft which few of us seem to have. Fluff is easier.

What is the burden of our words?

This is a challenge for men and women as well. Sometimes there’s this weird idea that letter writing is for women who write on fluffy, pink, perfumed stationery? I hate fluffy, pink, perfumed stationery. I’m not sure when that idea became popular? (It wasn’t always a popular idea. Check out Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln’s manly letters.)

Also, I’m not writing that we ought to destroy our phones and computers. This is our age and we burn with its pros and its cons. Technology is ours and is a wonderful tool. However, it is the cry of my soul that our words would carry substance, depth–meaning. Creating substance in modern formats of texting and social media is more difficult but not impossible. That’s one of the reasons why I advocate so strongly for taking a trip back to the dark ages and writing a letter, it means for a moment we are able to slow ourselves, and grapple with what our words mean for us and for others. Then we just might be able to look back on our text messages, tweets, and Instaposts, and wonder what we’ve been saying all along.

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