Easter 2020 Thoughts

If you’re reading this and haven’t read my Good Friday post, go back and do that first. You can’t have one without the other.


A darkening sky. A final cry.

The ripping of fabric. 

And then silence.

And then..


When Jesus comes back to like on Sunday, it’s not bombastic and celebratory like we do it today. It was, by all accounts, pretty anti-climatic and quiet. He doesn’t go storming into the Temple much to the astonishment of the Temple Leaders. He doesn’t shove his nail-pierced hands in their faces and go, “Ha, ha, you killed me and now I’m back. Suck it, losers!” He doesn’t go to Pontius Pilate and shove the Roman’s face into the very bowl he washed his hands in.

He just appears in front of the disciples, hangs with them a bit, then disappears into the clouds.

That’s it. That’s all.

Except…

Except

Several days later, the apostles suddenly start acting weird. Before, they had cowered and hid; suddenly they were proclaiming God’s goodness and love. In different languages. In front of everyone.

People start listening. People started believing. People start giving away their belongings and caring for the sick and vulnerable.

The religious establishment didn’t like that, so they start putting these so-called Jesus followers into prison. Telling them to stop talking about Jesus. It doesn’t get squelched. More people become Jesus followers.

A well-known leader gets involved. He orders the executions of these followers. Then, suddenly, he disappears. The next time he’s seen, he’s said he had a vision of God and is now actually preaching this new Jesus thing. He becomes the hugest follower of this movement, to the point of changing his name.

The religious establishment sees it as a threat. They throw this new convert into prison. An earthquake shakes loose their chairs and opens all the cells. But the convert and the prisoners do not run away. Instead, they tell the jailer and his entire household that it was God who did this. The jailer believes. His whole family believes.

This movement grows and grows. The Roman Empire falls, and it continues to grow.


Miracles are easy. Mountains can crumble. Rivers can be rerouted. Storms can be calmed. Bodies can be healed.

But what type of power does it take to change a human heart?


Maybe we all had it wrong.

Maybe the point was not for God to show his power by force after all.

Maybe all our songs miss the mark.

Maybe God’s greatest power is shown when someone realizes that their actions are evil, change their ways, and start doing good.

Maybe this was why Jesus said the greatest commandment was “Love the Lord your God with all your strength and heart. ” And then he gives the second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

It is a stupid, crazy, messed-up thing, because we want domination. We want a smackdown. We want judgment. But that’s not how God works.

God’s power has never been about domination. It has always been about love. It’s about caring for his people. It’s why, instead of going to the Religious Leaders and the Powers in government, he showed himself to the people who needed his presence the most.


So then, how do we respond to injustice?

Over the weekend, I read through theologian Howard Thurmond’s Jesus and the Disinherited. He asked the same question back in 1949, as the civil rights movement was being formed. He writes:

One of the major defense mechanisms of the disinherited is taken away from them. What does Jesus give them in its place? What does he substitute for hypocrisy? Sincerity. But is sincerity a mechanism of defense against the strong? The answer is No. Something more significant takes place. In the presence of an overwhelming sincerity on the part of the disinherited, the dominant themselves are caught with no defense, with the edge taken away from the sense of prerogative and from the status upon which the impregnability of their position rests.

Over the past few years, I’ve been wondering if God is really real. And yet, I have seen His provision during the times when my husband and I ran out of money, and yet something happened that enabled us to pay our bills. I have heard stories and seen people being healed. Not of everything, but something that was deemed impossible. I do believe miracles still happen.

But I also believe that Jesus walks with us in our despair. One of my stories of Jesus is when he goes to resurrect Lazarus after being dead for four days. Mary comes right out, weeping and angry and upset. She outright accuses him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died!”

Now, Jesus had started off by giving the rote answers to Martha earlier “I am the resurrection and the life.” It’s the right response, and it is true. But when confronted with Mary’s sorrow, words fail him. And then he looks up and sees the people who had been with Mary also weeping, Jesus weeps with them. Because even though He had all the answers, He understood He needed to be present with them in their pain.

I serve a God who loves.

And if He loves the world as we proclaim He does in John 3:16 then that means he cares for the black people in Milwaukee struggling to breathe on a ventilator. He cares for the Asian person being harassed for hearing masks. But that also means he cares for that person doing the yelling And yes, He cares for the Supreme Cart makes the decision to keep the election on.

We hate it. It sucks, because we want our side to win. But God isn’t interested in saving sides. He is interested in saving hearts. And he does that through us.

A friend of mine risked her health by suiting up and becoming a pollworker. Another friend put together a FB group to contact politicians. My sister serves as a nurse at a place that was converted to a Covid-19 facility. My mother has been sewing masks. People will remember this.

I am reminded of 1 John 4:16-12: “Dear friend, since God so loved us, we ought to love one another No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

Let us not lose hope. Let us grieve, let us mourn, let us pray, and then, let us love. Write your representatives. Give to those charities and ministries. This has been a quiet Easter. An unimpressive Easter. An Easter without streamers or shouts or huge gatherings. And yet, this is the closest we’ve ever been to Easter yet.

He is risen.

He is risen indeed.

Good Friday Thoughts

It’s not often that I do a blog post unrelated to writing. But the past few weeks have been so jacked up, particularly with Tuesday’s forced election in Wisconsin, that I need a way to process feelings.

So I’m going to do something I haven’t done in years. I’m going to write a personal blog post about faith.

Forgive me. This will get rambly in spots. It’s also being taken directly from my journal, so grammar is going out the window.


The biggest irony for me is that all of this is happening during Holy week, a sacred week for both Christians and Jews alike. Palm Sunday was this past Sunday, when we celebrate Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. The people sang out “Hosanna, Hosanna”, which can be translated to “Save us! Save us!” We know this story because our pastors love to point it out in their Palm Sunday sermons. They will then say, the Jews were looking for someone to get them out of their predicament. But Jesus wasn’t going to save them the way they wanted. He had his own agenda that would be “radical, amazing, and revolutionary”.

And then we as Christians throw ourselves into Good Fridays and ignore Saturday to cap it off with the huge celebrations of Easter, because that’s the true Victory. The real victory. God triumphing over death and establishing His Lordship over all the earth. He has won! Yayyy!

Except…

Except…

The Jews are still living under the Roman Empire.


Imagine living all your life as an oppressed minority. You’re always considered inferior. Told to abandon your culture and assimilate into the majority culture so you can fit in. Your people are profiled, thrown in prison for the slightest of offenses. Your young men are beaten, your young women harassed. They always live in poor communities; the only stories you hear of them is when they commit crimes. And there is nothing you can do to change this. How can you change your own skin and blood?

So you pray for a savior to come and burn down the establishment and set your people free. You want a savior like Moses, challenging the Pharoah, shouting “Let my people go!”; producing signs and plagues, and then when the Pharoah doesn’t listen, you want that savior to hurt the stubborn, foolish leader whereas it hurts. You want vengeance, you want justice, you want authoritative power.

Then you hear about this prophet who is going around healing people and casting out demons. There are even rumors that he could be the son of God. Who else can be powerful enough to throw down the establishment and free your people?

So you congregate whenever He appears. You laud him, sing praises to him. And when He comes to Jerusalem, you think, yes! This is it! This Jesus is going to change everything. Look out, you evil Romans, Jesus is coming for you! We’re going to be vindicated. Our children will be able to sleep safe. We’ll get the resources we need. We’ll get the respect we deserve. At last, we will be free!

Then he gets arrested. He goes before the temple leaders. He goes before Pilate. And he…does…nothing.

He just stands there. Silent.

No godlike power. No striking down of the authorities. No “let my people go.” Nothing. He gets sentenced to execution, and he does nothing to stop it.

When, at that is the point, when you feel your hope die?

Probably when Jesus dies on the cross.

No wonder the people turned from joy on Palm Sunday to rage on Good Friday. Without hope, all that’s left is despair.


Over the past couple of weeks, I watched the Governor of Wisconsin wrestle with the Wisconsin Supreme Court over the Wisconsin Primary. And like a lot of people, I was horrified when the court overturned the governor’s ruling to postpone the election, They wouldn’t extend the absentee ballots received deadline. And worse of all, they forced people who didn’t get their absentee ballots mailed early to vote in-person. In a pandemic. In Milwaukee and Green Bay, there were only a few polling sites open, forcing voters to stand in lines that lasted hours.

In Milwaukee alone, 66% of the Covid-19 deaths have been black.

I never felt so full of rage and helplessness. 


Where are you, I cry out to God. Don’t you see this? Can’t you feel our fear? Do something! You are supposed to be all powerful. We sing songs about how powerful for you are: how you can move mountains and calm storms and raise the dead. Why aren’t you doing that now? Are you even seeing this?

What’s the point of having all that power if you don’t even use it?

Are you even there?


If Jesus doesn’t really have the power to save, then he is useless. Is Jesus isn’t the son of God, then he is a fraud.

So why do I continue to believe in Him?

Because….

He knew this.

He knew this would happen.


Every Good Friday, I’ve made it a point to listen to a talk that John Ortberg gave to my dayjob’s Staff Conference back in 2014. This week, I’ve listened to it twice.

Give a listen. Then come back on Sunday. I’ll finish this post then.

It happens in the Christian world, too.

http://www.mlive.com/business/west-michigan/index.ssf/2009/12/zondervan_makes_critics_book_r.html

The above article gives an interesting coda to what’s been happening for the past month in the Christian publishing world. It shows that, yes, even in the Christian world, RaceFail lives. It also shows that while we still have far to go, changes can be made, both graciously and lovingly. Here’s another perspective. The writer, Al Hsu, was one of the main people who put together the Multiethnic publishing seminar at InterVarsity Press this past March.

At that seminar, I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Soong-Chan Rah. Great guy, reminded me a whole lot of the Angry Black Woman in that he is passionate about bringing racial injustices on Asians to light.  Of course, it’s interesting to read the comments on Rah’s letter to Zondervan asking them to remove the Ninja Viper materials. Lots of different perspectives, mostly support for Rah, but also those who felt that Rah was reading to much into it and to lighten up, in fact–an Asian could have written a same thing. My favorite rebuttal to that came from Irene Cho:

"The statement was meant to imply that most Asians who are familiar with their Asian culture/heritage/language, would not have mixed up the cultures like the authors did. In fact, it’s one of the grievances that’s high on the list. It’s insulting when you’re constantly asked, “Oh you’re Asian. So you’re Chinese? Ah so you know Karate?” Many of us have spent much of our lives answering these questions: Yes, I’m Asian. No I’m not Chinese. And no I don’t know Karate and Karate is Japanese by the way. So what I meant was that in my opinion, most Asians wouldn’t publish a book that treats Karate, Kung Fu, and Tae Kwon Do as if there’s no difference. A book would not have been published that doesn’t specify the difference between Chinese, Korean and Japanese writings. And most of all, most Asians wouldn’t have written that someone’s name sounds like a disease. AND even if they did, it’s one thing to make fun of yourself, it’s quite another to have someone else of a different ethnicity say that my language sounds funky or like a disease and mix everything up and treat all the cultures as if they were the same."

You tell it, sister.

So how do I feel about all this? I feel good that the creators of Ninja Viper and Zondervan did offer an apology and pulled back the books. I feel sad though for all of those who said that it was a shame because it was a legitimate leadership source. And that is true, it is. I just wished the creators researched it better. I do feel that we need more multiethnic people involved in publishing, which is why I support Verb Noire and black writers like Nisi Shawl and Nnedi Okorafor. And goodness knows I’m trying my hardest to add myself to the list. But I also feel what we do is a mere drop in the bucket—that nothing will change, and that those in the media will continue to put up what they like because, hey, they’re the majority and there’s more of them in the media industry than there are of us…

And then I read blog posts like this one which talks about getting minority teens to think about entering the publishing industry, and then I get the December issue of Parents Magazine, which has an article that strives to teach an even younger audience about race relations, and well, we’re trying. Most of us are working on it. It’s just a matter of time.

Book Review: The Shack by William P. Young

So how am I supposed to review "The Shack"? As a Christian? As a black woman? As a writer? All three? I know reviews for the book are wide and varied, like "This is the best book ever! It goes right up there with Pilgrim Progess!" and "This is the worst book ever! It clearly screws with real theology!" It took me a long time to get around to reading it, and it took me even longer for me to think it through before I could sit down and write this review.

I first heard about the Shack from a couple of co-workers. Soon, it seemed our entire office was reading it. I held off reading it though, for a lot of people told me that despite its popularlity, the man who wrote it is not that skilled of a writer–and suddenly I got shades of "Angels and Demons" (I really like that one Simpsons episode where Bart wanders into a literary gathering and yells, "Hey! Dan Brown is still on the NY Times Best Seller List!" at which point all the literary folk fall to the ground, holding their heads in pain. Ah, good episode).

But then it got nominated for reading in my book club, so I buckled down to read a copy. And yeah, everyone is right. The book does get you to thinking. And it truly was written horribly. I have the feeling that I would’ve liked the book more, bad writing and all, if it hadn’t been for a video game.

On the JayIsGames website, there’s a short point-and-click game that used to have an offensive stereotype as one of the characters. The creator of the game, being an international person, caught wind of this and wisely got his artist to redraw the character. But that didn’t stop the comments to veer into some discussion about race and stereotypes in media. Some just didn’t see what the big deal was, so someone put a link to The Jim Crow Museum to help explain the offensive character. Seeing that I had just heard about RaceFail, I decided to check it out, and whoa. I highly suggest going to the site yourself and doing some reading. It opened my eyes to a lot of things I took for granted.

If I had read The Shack before I had gone to that site, I would have thought, Whoa, God’s a black woman. Awesome! But after reading the museum’s info on mammies, when I reached the part where we meet Elousia for the first time, I went: Ouch… And how Mack kept describing her "large" and "black" and "beaming" had me going: Ouch, ouch, ouch…And when Elouisa described herself as ‘housekeeper and cook’: Owowowowowowow!!!!

Which sucks, because I couldn’t really enjoy the book like I wanted to. It’s like Young was so eager to go for a different view of God, but he wasn’t really experienced enough in the creative department to think of a different face for God, so he fell back on well-worn stereotypes of different ethnicities: the mammified black woman, the mysterious asian woman, the Middle Eastern man with the big nose, and Guest Starring Wisdom as the exotic looking Hispanic woman. Ouch.

Granted, I actually liked the idea of the Holy Sprit being an ethereal woman. It was a beautiful portrayal. And I really liked how he brought Wisdom into the picture. But still, it was disappointing to see the Godhead in such tired stereotypes. Personally, it would’ve rocked if he made God the Father the Hispanic woman, the Holy Spirit a (thin) black woman and Jesus as South Asian. Wouldn’t that have made for an interesting read. But oh well.

There are the other things that made this a badly written book–a whole lot of broad grinning going on, awkward sentences, things the characters did that made no sense, an occasional ‘light’ swear word thrown in to show that ooooo, Mack’s mad, he has a bone to pick with God, ooooo…And the real story didn’t start until what, Chapter 5?

But once you get past all that, well, the book gets somewhat interesting. In parts.

I found all the philosophy discussions fascinating. Whether or not it was correct theology didn’t bug me. I knew this was a fiction book when I picked it up, and I knew that the theology reflected the sentiment of the author. There were some nice views in there that I agreed with, and there were some where I, with no seminary background to my name, questioned. For instance, when Mack and the Holy Spirit talk about the Tree of Good and Evil, Mack never asks the obvious question: "If the tree was off-limits, then why was it placed smack dab in the middle of Eden, unprotected, in the first place?" I would think that with all the questions he was asking God, that would have been the question to ask. But it never came up. Or if it did, I must’ve missed it somehow. I skipped a lot through the book.

That’s when I realized that Young was attempting to manipulate the reader to where he wanted them to look. "Manipulate" is such a strong word, but it’s actually what a lot of us writers do. We want to manipulate the reader into going along with the main character’s troubles, to feel what he feel, to agonize and rejoice with him. But this was the first time that I was aware that my feelings was being manipulated, and I wasn’t so sure that I liked it.

Think of it: a man who lost his daughter in the most violent way possible is called back to the place where they found evidence of her death. That’s bound to bring on strong emotion, no matter who you are. The story had its best moments when it focused on Mack wrestling with his pain of his daughter’s death. Who wouldn’t be affected by that? And when Mack sees his daughter for the last time, or when he forgives his father, or when Papa leads Mack to his daughter’s resting place, you can’t help but be drawn in, because all the philosophical discussions, ethnic stereotypes, and horrible writing aside—buried within all that is a somewhat decent story. Heck, I cried when Mack finally was able to find his little girl.

Of course, Young manages to wreck the bittersweetness of the whole thing by carrying the book too far when it should have stopped at Mack leaving the shack. He commits the worse sin a writer can do at the end of the book–an stupid, stupid occurence that comes so out of left field, I was jolted. Then I started cracking up, because, man….what a stupid, stupid, stupid ending.

So, how do I rate the book? I can’t give it five stars–it’s a pretty crappy book. But I can’t give it one star either–there were some things in the book that genuinely made me think. I guess I’ll just settle for two broad grins out of five. I like to see how many times a normal person "broadly grins" in a given day. Certianly not as much as these people in this bizarro land. I think I’m going to clear my head by reading InterVarsity Press’s response to the Shack.

Was this something that deserved to be on the Best Seller’s list? Well, here’s my opinion. This whole thing started with a guy who felt God’s mercy so much, he wrote a book about it to give to his friends. And their friends gave it to their friends. And on and on and on. This book was never meant to be place on the mass market. When it did as well as it did, the author got surprised. So he supplied the demand for more. If Young had been a pro writer, with a strong editor and a better handle on the characters and story, this could have been an awesome book–one that truly would be worthy to be the next Pilgrim’s Progress. Personally, I’m much more interested in Young himself. It seems he has lived through the "Great Sadness" of his own, and I think his biography would be much more interesting than hiding behind this mediocre ‘fiction’ book.

And this brings up another question: if God can use medicre works to proclaim his glory, and there’s no doubt that many who read this book has had their walk with God affected so that they worship him easier, when will a really great artist get inspired to write something. Does God even use real artists anymore to inspire, or are there great works out there–they just haven’t clicked with the general mass audience who prefer more simplistic works like this?

Think about it.