Wrapping It Up

I hope you enjoyed my series on The Way to Pentecost. If you want to start back at the beginning, here is the first post.

When I began this series, I already planned to take a break from writing after my final post. This is my birthday month, and we have some family activities planned as well. So, the blog is going to go quiet for the next couple of weeks while I rest and reflect about writing on this blog again.

I’ve really enjoyed learning about those forty days between resurrection and ascension and what Jesus did during that time. From the big miracles to the small intimate moments, he shared what was important to him, that we carry his name and his message into the far reaches of the world, forgiving and loving others just as we have been forgiven and loved. With everything going on in the world right now, the love that Jesus taught and exhibited, even in those last days, seems even more vital to us moving forward.

See you in a couple of weeks!

Tepper Isn’t Going Out by Calvin Trillin

This book reminded me of the play, Waiting for Godot. It seemed to be a book about nothing, really. The main character, Murphy Tepper, likes to park legally on the streets of New York after work and read his newspaper. This confounds and annoys others looking for a spot to park, but at first it is seen as nothing more than just being an inconvenience.

That is, until people start to visit with Tepper during his parking experiences. While he doesn’t say much, really listens more than speaks, people walk away encouraged and enlightened. He grows in popularity, much to the chagrin of the Mayor whose losing in popularity.

Even the reader will walk away with their own opinions of Tepper and why he chose this unconventional hobby. Regardless of what you think his true intentions actually were, the story is filled with comical scenarios and heartfelt interactions. It is a light, fast paced read that was both hilarious and sweet. I would recommend it to anyone who wants something quick and light to read, as well so those who enjoy books about community or New York City streets.


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The Way to Pentecost: The Final Words of Jesus

Most of the stories of Jesus after the resurrection come from the first day, the morning that announced Jesus had risen. But there were 40 days between that day and the day of Pentecost. In John 20:30-31, the writer says that Jesus performed many other signs that weren’t recorded, but what was written was done so for the purpose that others may believe. He reiterates this at the end of his book in John 21:25 that says, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

What is fascinating is not what is left out, but what each gospel writer chose to keep in, particularly with the final conversations of Jesus. Final words hold great importance to people, the last words before passing on, both to the speaker and to the ones being left behind. What these writers chose to include shows what message they were trying to convey.

In Matthew, the writer doesn’t share much after resurrection, except for the corruption of the religious leaders. The angels at the tomb instruct the women to tell the eleven disciples to meet Jesus on a mountain in Galilee. At this mountain, Jesus gives a great commission, telling others to make disciples of all nations, promising them that he will be with them to the very end of the age.

Matthew was written for the purpose of showing the Jewish people Jesus’ role of fulfilling scripture. These final words, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” is the main thesis of this book. The entire book is written to support that claim. And the if/then statement follows. If Jesus has all authority, then we are called to go make disciples and teach them as Jesus taught.

Mark does include a similar commission, though some early manuscripts don’t include it. While Matthew’s commission was pointing towards the authority of Jesus, Mark’s commission was more about the authority being passed on to the disciples. Also, after the final words, Jesus’ ascension is recorded as well.

Luke is much more detailed and reliant on extensive witness testimony. The writer differs with Matthew on where Jesus met with his disciples, though really since Matthew does not mention the ascension as well, these could have been two different conversations. But in the book of Luke, it just briefly mentions his ascension outside of Bethany and blessing the disciples.

It’s in Luke’s second book, Acts, that goes into more detail. Jesus is eating with the disciples when he gives them the commission to go into all the world and witness to others about Jesus after receiving the Holy Spirit. It runs the same thread as in the other books that the commission is to reach every person and tell them the gospel.

And even though John doesn’t include the commission or the ascension to the disciples, he does tell more intimate stories of Jesus and his relationships with people like Peter and Thomas. Technically, he does give a commission to Peter to feed his sheep. It’s probably my favorite perspective of the gospels, showcasing his relationship with his friends even after he rose from the dead. He still cared and still wanted them to continue the work he started.

The common thread through the final words recorded of Jesus is that Jesus calls his disciples to witness, to serve, to love, to heal, to teach others the love that Jesus showed to them. I believe he calls us to do the same. To continue the work he started. The work that the disciples continued on that day of Pentecost.

Gallant by VE Schwab

V.E. Schwab is one of my favorite authors. I have read almost everything she has written, with a few outlying short stories and graphic novels still on my TBR list. When I hear that she has a new book coming out, I preorder it as soon as I can because I want to support her writing (books do better when they are preordered) as well as I want to read whatever she writes as soon as I possibly can.

Gallant is a gothic ghost story. It follows the story of Olivia Prior, a young girl who was left as a baby on the steps of an all girls school with only her mother’s journal. Her life changes when she gets a letter from an unknown uncle asking her to come live at the family estate, Gallant. But when she arrives, she finds out that this uncle has been dead for over a year, and there was no way that this letter would have come from him.

There are a lot of themes throughout the book. Communication is an obstacle for Olivia as she is mute, but she is able to mentally connect with the ghouls she encounters which is a bit of foreshadowing to how everything is connected. In true gothic tradition, the house, itself, becomes a character that reveals her own history, and eventually reveals the family secret hidden behind a door in a wall that is falling apart.

The use of senses, what Olivia hears, smells, tastes really brings the story to life. It’s paced well and the character arcs are easy to follow. However, it’s not this author’s strongest book. It seems to fall between middle grade and ya at times. It feels more like a short story than a novel. The plot is pretty predictable, similar to ghost stories shared around the campfire. It’s eerie, for sure, and not something I would read with the lights off, but it was simpler than I expected, plot-wise.

It’s a fun read. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys this author or enjoys a good ghost story.


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The Way to Pentecost: Peter and Shame

So, now Jesus has appeared to the majority, if not all, of his disciples. Most of the recorded appearances, with the exception of Thomas, happened on that first day of the resurrection. But now, we are well into the forty days before Pentecost. After the encounter of Thomas, John writes that there were many other encounters with his disciples that aren’t recorded. However, he includes one more story before ending the book.

Peter, Thomas, James, John, a man named Nathanael, and two other disciples were together by the Sea of Galilee. Peter suggests they go fishing. Maybe it was to get a bit of money, maybe hunger, maybe nostalgia drove them to get out into the boat, but when they did, they didn’t catch anything.

And there appears Jesus on the shore. Of course, they don’t know it is him, but they engage in a conversation with him where he tells them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. And when they did, they couldn’t pull it up because it was so full of fish.

John was the one who says, “It is the Lord,” but I wonder if that moment took Peter back to very early in his relationship with Jesus. In Luke 5, Peter, along with his brother Andrew, were on the shore cleaning nets when this rabbi comes with a large group of people. It’s so large the Jesus requests to get in Peter’s boat so that he could speak to the crowd. Peter obliges. After he speaks to the crowd, Jesus tells Peter to lower his nets after another unsuccessful fishing trip. Then, too, the nets were filled to capacity. It is then that Jesus offers to make Peter a fisher of men, and Peter follows him.

Jesus Calling to St. Peter and St. Andrew by Dirk Vellert (Netherlandish, 1480/85-1547) is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

But as soon as John says, It is the Lord, Peter jumps out of the boat (which is also a habit he does around Jesus, though I think he just swam to shore this time instead of walking on water). Together on shore, Jesus eats with them, both fish and bread (another shout out to feeding the 5000?) And then he speaks to Peter, directly.

Three times, Jesus asks him if Peter loves him, and three times, Peter says yes. Later in the story, Peter turns and sees John following them, so this may have been a very private conversation between Peter and Jesus. By the third time, Peter is hurt that Jesus is asking, but I think it was important for Peter to make this statement three times after the three denials he made before Jesus’ crucifixion.

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Imagine the guilt and shame Peter was holding onto then. The man who he swore to protect, to fight for, even cutting off the ear of a servant, ready for war, he denied even knowing. And when he realized what he had done, he wept bitterly. When Jesus rose, it wasn’t Peter who first saw him. I wonder if he thought he had irrevocably damaged his relationship with Jesus. Perhaps Peter entered that tomb on resurrection morning with the hope of reconnecting with the man he denied.

But in this quiet moment in the early morning on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus was reinstating Peter as his beloved follower and apostle. He forgave Peter and reminded him of the bigger picture, to feed his lambs and take of his sheep, to be the servant to the lost and marginalized and forgotten that he knew Peter could be. A bigger picture he would share with the rest of the disciples before saying his final goodbye.


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All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir

This book is heavy and complicated and stunning. There are some trigger warnings, which the author includes at the beginning of the book. Some of them are abuse, sexual assault, and prejudice. It doesn’t get detailed or graphic, but you know what is happening, and you go through the journey with the characters as they come to terms with them.

The two main characters, Sal and Noor, are seniors in high school. Sal is an amazing writer who lives with his parents at the motel that they run. His mother is sick and his father is an alcoholic and their motel is not doing well. Noor lives with her uncle after her entire family dies in an earthquake in Pakistan. While she wants to study to be a doctor, her uncle would rather she stay at home and work in his liquor store.

The book switches between each of their points of view and also Sal’s mother, Misbah, who has a few chapters dedicated to her history and perspective. It deals with so many different kinds of loss and the way people deal with it. The writing is fluid between the different points of view, which keeps the pacing steady as you move from one twist to another. Even when things are revealed, they are not tied up neatly.

It’s really easy to get invested in the characters, even to the point of frustration in their choices. While the ending does bring closure, it is messy and complicated which makes it more real. Noor’s character arc is difficult and my favorite as she deals with abuses in her life, including prejudice at school being an immigrant. The way she comes to terms with different aspects in her life in her own time is really beautiful.

I also liked how faith played a part in all of their lives. They spoke about prayer and faith and how it played a part in their culture and family. It was fascinating to learn about the Muslim faith and how imperfect and yet steady it could be in their lives. This coming of age story is definitely a great recommendation for teen and young adult audiences with the trigger warnings that were mentioned.


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The Way to Pentecost: Doubt

So, Jesus has now revealed himself to his disciples in many ways – in gardens, on roads, in locked rooms. It’s interesting that he didn’t reveal himself first to his apostles, but instead to women and others who were only mentioned once or twice in all of the New Testament. But even among the apostles, there is still one who hasn’t seen Jesus in person yet.

Doubting Thomas, from The Passion of Christ, plate 28 by Gru00e9goire Huret is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

Thomas, also known as Didymus, which means twin, is only briefly mentioned in lists of the apostles in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But, John mentions him a few times more, which is also where the story of his doubt is written.

His first mention in John is when they find out that Lazarus has died and Jesus wants to go to Bethany to visit Martha and Mary. Thomas says to the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him”. Right before this, Jesus had been in Jerusalem for the Festival of Dedication (or Hanukkah) where he upset the religious leaders to the point where they attempted to stone him. He had gone across the Jordan and was staying there when he received word from Mary and Martha that Lazarus was very sick.

Thomas knows if Jesus goes back to Jerusalem, that it will mean certain death, but at this point, he was ready to stay by his side. At the Last Supper, after Jesus discusses being betrayed by Judas and denied by Peter, the disciples are disheartened. This is when Jesus assures them that he is going to prepare a place for them. Thomas then asks him how they will know the way. And Jesus responds by saying he is the way.

Thomas is a questioner, but he is also faithful. He wants to go where Jesus goes. To stay by his side. His questions do not mean he doesn’t have faith. He seems more to just want to understand the plan. And I can relate. How many times have I asked God what the plan is? In the last 24 hours?

Also, he wasn’t the only one that had trouble believing. Matthew and Mark both include accounts of people who were doubting. In Matthew, Jesus is standing on a mountain in Galilee right in front of them and verse 14 said “but some doubted.” In Mark’s accounts of the women telling the disciples that Jesus had risen and his account of the companions on the road, he includes that the people they told did not believe them, either. Luke includes that the women were not believed because their words seemed like nonsense.

Jesus rebukes those who don’t believe, but with Thomas, Jesus invites him to touch his hands and his side before telling him to stop doubting and believe. And yes, Jesus follows that up with the “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” but he didn’t abandon Thomas in his doubt.

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There are a lot of people who are questioning the church right now. And while there have been a lot of support for those who are deconstructing, the louder voices in the church have been condemning those who doubt, those who question, those having crises of faith and church. But Jesus never condemned the questioning. He didn’t condemn Thomas. He answered and invited Thomas to seek out the truth.

Thomas is mentioned another time in Acts, on the day of Pentecost. Thomas is with the other apostles and disciples in an upper room. He is constantly praying, continuing his apostolic ministry, and filled with the Holy Spirit. I can imagine the impact he might have had on other doubters, on questioners. I imagine he walked with them through it all just as Jesus had walked with him. All of the apostles played different roles and reached different people. Just as different believers today can further the kingdom of God in different ways. Those who hold doubt, and even those who hold shame…

The Light of the World: a memoir by Elizabeth Alexander

This book is both a beautiful, heartbreaking journey of grief and a celebration of the love.  It’s an intimate look at the sudden loss of her husband and yet so relatable to anyone who has lost someone they love. Her ability to harness language and imagery through poetry translates throughout this book, even though this book is mostly written in prose.

The book is separated into parts, almost thought pieces, not necessarily in chronological order, but instead in the wild process of grief. We walk through that grief with her as she remembers how they met, the moments and days leading up to his death, and the aftermath of finding his body after he passed. She moves backwards and forwards in time which can be a little disorienting at times, but very accurate in the way the brain processes the pain of loss.

The imagery of smells and tastes were especially evocative because her husband was a chef but also because these senses connect with memory so strongly. She shares a couple of recipes in the book as well, ones that shared a part of who her husband was, giving the reader a chance to connect with this man that she loved. She also talks about his paintings, but the book doesn’t include any of them, which I wish it had, especially the one she references towards the end, Visitation, which you can google.

There are also books he read, music he listened, especially all the last things he did, frozen in this time capsule that honors him. It is a work of grief, and an accurate portrayal of it in different mediums and timelines, moving back and forth between talking to the reader to talking to her husband. It is intimate and raw and beautiful. An excellent book for anyone who has loved and lost, or who knows someone who has loved and lost recently.


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The Way to Pentecost: Appearing to the Eleven

So much happened that first day, the day of resurrection. Mary Magdalene sees Jesus and tells the disciples that he has risen. Cleopas and his friend meet Jesus on the way to dinner outside of Jerusalem. It says in Luke that as soon as they realized that it was Jesus, they got up immediately and headed back to Jerusalem.

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Luke says it was specifically the Eleven apostles, while John just mentions disciples. But John includes that the room they where they gathered had been locked because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. That morning, at least some if not all had been present when the women claimed an empty tomb. And they were there when Peter and John returned to confirm it true. And now, two people are claiming to have actually eaten with Jesus outside of Jerusalem.

As all of this is happening, we know that the Jewish leaders are already scheming with the guards to spread the narrative that the Jesus’ followers had stolen the body. They didn’t have the body, but that couldn’t actually disprove the rumor.

And in the middle of all this fear, confusion, and grief, Jesus shows up. Even through locked doors, Jesus appears. He shows his hands and feet and invites them to touch him. He asks for something to eat, to prove his humanity, that he wasn’t just an apparition.

The grief and sorrow that had turned into fear and uncertainty finally ended that evening in joy and amazement. In Luke, he tells them to stay in the city until they were clothed with power on high, while John says that he breathed the Holy Spirit into them right then. And what ability did this Holy Spirit give them?

‘and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’

Luke 24:47

“If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

John 20:23

Out of everything Jesus did, everything his disciples witnessed, Jesus wanted them to teach forgiveness. Forgiveness was their new super power.

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It reminds me of the story of the lame man in Luke 5:17-26. His friends lowered him through the roof to get to Jesus, and when Jesus saw this man, his first words were, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” The religious leaders and teachers took offense, but Jesus proved that not only could he forgive, but he also healed the man right there.

At times, we get really bogged down with doing it right, saying the right things, following scripture the right way. But here, both in Luke and John, the first responsibility the disciples were given was to forgive sins. It’s creating space for growth in both ourselves and others.

Forgiveness is hard to practice. Tyler Perry is quoted, “It’s not an easy journey, to get to a place where you forgive people. But it is such a powerful place, because it frees you.” You have to let go of the right to be hurt, and give God the seat of justice.

I know that people have used the term forgiveness to withhold justice as well. To allow abusers to continue their abuse without consequence, to hide behind titles and wealth that allow them to do whatever they desire. When we don’t see the justice we desperately desire, it’s hard to continue trusting in God.

I don’t have an easy answer for why God allows bad things to happen and seemingly doesn’t dole out the justice that is deserved. But for me, forgiveness has been a way for me to let go of how trauma defined who I was and embrace the new creation God has in me. To know that God is still moving and working within all of us, for both healing and justice.

Forgiveness is a super power. And while some may try to abuse this power, I know that it is meant to be used for good. To create space for growth and healing, so that we can all experience the goodness of God and the power of Christ. Even those who may doubt.

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

Caste is a fascinating comparison between the Indian religious caste system and the American social caste system with some references to the caste created by the Third Reich during World War II. Isabel Wilkerson makes a thorough argument that we live in a caste system based on race which she supports with the history of our country. She then uses more recent examples of different political and social situations to show the influence this system still has today. And she ends the book with steps we can take to end this system no matter where we may fall on the spectrum.

Even if you have read How to Be An Anti-racist by Ibram X Kendi or the Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby, this book comes from a slightly different perspective. It looks at the situations in America from a more global standpoint. Yes, it includes the atrocities of slavery and the Jim Crow era, along with redlining and other policies that left people of color out of the benefits. But it focused on motive, and it even showed how caste has even negatively affected white people in lower economic statuses. As long as there was a group below them, it was easier to keep them satiated in their role in the machine. And the machine’s ultimate purpose was to keep those at the top in power and wealth.

While it uses the function of the Indian caste system as a guide to show the same system in America, it doesn’t go into incredible detail about the Indian caste system. It does mention a few differences and includes anecdotes from people she knows during her travels to India, and some history of the lowest caste trying to break away from their function in society. Most of the book focuses on America.

Also, I felt like the Third Reich references of caste were a little distracting but also interesting. She references one historian who said that as they were trying to build their caste, they used America’s model as a prototype to their own oppressive system. It serves more as a warning of what the darkest parts of a caste system can accomplish and implies that those parts of the system are present in our country as well, both in history and more recent times.

In the more recent examples Wilkerson uses, most of them were easy to follow the line of thinking from historical practices and policies now manifesting to the struggles and racism of today. Some were not so easy. My immediate reaction was to want to clarify the situation with more nuance, but ultimately, I realized that I had to sit with the discomfort and learn how to listen. While I still feel some of the events that she mentioned are more than just another example of caste oppression and racism, I can see how caste and oppressive systems can also play a part in those same situations.

My favorite part was about the need for radical empathy. Having a kindred connection that allows us all to open up to the pain of others from their perspective. Just like so many have moved away from the Indian caste systems, we too can move away from the racist systems that have been placed in our society as well. It ends on a hopeful and challenging note. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to continue their education on the Black history and experience.


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