Burden (Matthew 12)

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been looking at the words of Jesus within the context of whatever was happening around those words, whether it was the death of a family member or faith in a storm.  Some biblical experts have said that it might be highly likely that these events may not have exactly followed one another, however, the author of each gospel put these stories in this order for a reason.  I was reading another section of Matthew when I found something pretty fascinating.

At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.  Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent?  I tell you that something greater than the temple is here.  If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.  For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Matthew 12: 1-8

The Pharisees valued following the rules, so much so that they added extra rules to clarify how to follow the original rule.  Their faith was very outward and works-centric.  I can relate to a certain extent.  I’m a rule follower.  And I know that I can easily fall into the idol of rules.  Of being right.  The Pharisees made rules so they could be right, and anyone who did not meet these expectations was sinning.

In this back and forth, Jesus references Hosea 6 which has some interesting foreshadowing.  In verse 2 it says:

After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.

Hosea 6:2

Three days?  That verse must have been on Jesus’s heart a lot, though in this conversation, he uses verse 6:

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Hosea 6:6

The Pharisees were missing the point.  Love creates relationships, not rules.  Grace extended strengthens bonds.  Jesus was telling that God longs to know them and he longs for them to know him, to tear down the walls of outward perfection and embrace the perfect love in humility that is offered to them.

And Matthew prefaces this whole interaction with these verses at the end of chapter 11:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11: 28-30

People were obsessing about the wrong things, following rules to earn God’s love and favor.  Even I still do this.  I get worried about doing things the right way instead of slowing down, listening, and loving my neighbor.  I’m learning how to let go of being right and allow Jesus to show me true righteousness relationship through faith, grace, and love. 

We Hunt the Flame: A Review

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an engaging and incredible fantasy novel set in a mythological world based on Middle Eastern traditions.  The plot was well paced, the characters were intriguing and developed well over the course of the story.  There were twists and turns that I did not expect.

The world is set in the kingdom of Arawiya.  Many years ago, there was magic in the land.  There were the Six Sisters who wielded this magic.  Then, they all went away, taking the magic with them and leaving the land cursed.  Nafira lives in the snow-cursed land of Demenhur, where the people are starving.  She manages to keep them fed by hunting in the cursed forest of the Arz.  However, she does it secretly as The Hunter because if the ruler of her state knew she was a woman, she would be forced to stop.  Women were thought to be cursed and only good for marriage.

Nasir is the crown prince, but his cruel father, the Sultan, uses him as an assassin, killing innocents along with the guilty.  He and with the general Altair are sent through the cursed forest Arz to follow The Hunter to the island of Sharr, the last known place the Six Sisters went.  The Hunter (or Nafira) has been tasked by the Silver Witch to hunt for a book called the Jawarat that is supposed to restore the land of its magic, removing the curses that plague each state.

There is technically profanity in the book, but not the words we normally use in English.  The author provides a glossary of words online when you read the book (which is incredibly helpful), and some of the words mean words in our language that are profanity.  So, take that as you will.  There is a little bit of sexual content.  There is a kissing scene and a make out scene which is pretty heavy, as well as some talk about other characters and how beautiful or attractive they are, fantasies they have, etc.  But it’s kept pretty PG.  The violent content in the book includes torture – including starvation, whipping, removal of a tongue, hot pokers, etc.  Also, one of the main characters is an assassin, so there is a fair amount of murder, talking about killing, and things like that.

The reveals, whether plot twists or new characters, keep the story going.  I love a story based on other cultures or mythologies, and this was quite a ride.  I have already added the next book to my TBR list.  I’m hoping to read it before the end of the year!

An Uncomfortable Truth: A Review

An Uncomfortable Truth directed by Loki Mulholland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an excellent and fascinating documentary that I watch on Amazon Prime.  It follows the history of the director of the film, Loki Mulholland as he navigates the history of his family.  It also includes interviews with Luvaughn Brown, a black civil rights activist, who gives his perspective on American history as well as the civil rights movement, even Mulholland’s family.  I felt like the two narratives intertwined to produce a balanced story.

Mulholland’s mom is a civil rights activist who used her white privileges to combat systemic racism in the 60s and 70s era.  But as he goes back into his family history, it is revealed this he is the direct descendent of slave owners.  Of course, the story that is told to him by his family is that they were the benevolent slave owners.  When they told the slaves that they could leave or stay after the Emancipation Proclamation, only one of their 100 slaves left because they were so beloved.

The reality was that they probably only owned about 6 slaves, and only one actually stayed.  He continued to explain how his family, and ultimately how he, benefited from being white.  The opportunities they were given.  And even though his grandmother was a poor sharecropper who worked hard within the real estate business to provide for her family.  Even though she did fight the discrimination of being a woman, she never had to worry about her skin being a factor that would keep her from her accomplishments.

He also revealed a lot of things that happened around his family in Georgia.  Like the lynching of Leo Frank in Marietta, Georgia.  And how the KKK was reborn at Stone Mountain, burning crosses at the top.  I actually had family in Marietta, Georgia, and I had been to Stone Mountain quite a bit as a kid.  I learned a lot about the history around my own family, which has prompted my own search through family history.

Just a few warnings.  There is profanity, the use of the n-word as well as other words.  Sexual content mainly consists of mentions of rapes.  Violent content includes accounts of lynchings and the pictures from the lynching postcards, as well as details of how these people died slowly, even being burned.  It gets pretty detailed.

Despite those warnings, this was engaging and fascinating and prompted my own dive into family and American history, which I think is what a good documentary does – prompts further action and/or investigation.  Definite recommend!

Scatter the Seed (Mark 4)

I was familiar with pretty much every one of these parables in Mark 4.  The chapter opens with the story of the Parable of the Sower.  The seed scatters to various places – the path, rocks, thorns, and good soil which affect their ability in growing into a harvest.  Jesus then explains that these seeds represent the ways people will receive the word.  Other more familiar parables in this chapter include the one about hiding the light of a lamp (or maybe we know it better by the song “This Little Light of Mine”) and the “faith like a mustard seed” verses.

But between the lamp and the mustard seed, he also said,

“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” 

– Mark 4:26-29

The Kingdom of God is like a man who has no control or understanding over the seeds he puts in the ground.  Whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed still grows.  All the man had to do was scatter the seed.

Growing up in the church, it was impressed on me that the number one job I had to do was convert people.  And that foundation has affected the rest of my faith.  I’m supposed to tell people about God, share my testimony, even love other people in such a way that at the end of the day, they became followers of God, too. But I am so preoccupied with the converting part that I forgot my job was just to scatter the seed.

If lead with love first, instead of conversion, my trust is placed not in my own abilities or knowledge, but in the very hands of God.  I don’t need to worry about who gets to be loved or not.  Because the seed was still scattered to the path, the rocks, and the thorns.  The reality is that God knows how it all works.  I do not.  There is not a perfect process, memory verse, a complete understanding of the Bible or of people that will convert a single soul.  Only God knows that.  Only God can do that. 

This frees me up to just do what God has set out for me to do.  Just do the next best thing, the next step.  Love that person.  Just love them.  Help that person.  Just help them.  Remove the agendas, the need to do it correctly, because God’s plan is already in motion.  Living this way still requires me to stay connected to God, to lean in on His love so that I can love others freely and faithfully.

Ending it with the stormy seas being calmed by Jesus was perfect.  The people in that boat and the others with them knew how to sail.  They knew how to navigate the storms, but this storm was overpowering.  They could not rely on their knowledge or skill to see them through.  It brings me to this truth.  We do not control the storms or the seeds, but we can trust that God is behind all of it, making everything work to his command.  All that is required of me is to scatter the love of God and let God handle the rest.

Blonde Roots: A Review

Blonde Roots by Bernadine Evaristo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book as part of Life’s Library book club.  The basic premise of the book is an answer to the question, “What if it was white people who were enslaved by black people?”.  It was incredibly provocative and fascinating.  I had heard a lot of what was referenced in the book, but to see it from this perspective was both eye-opening and heart-breaking.

The story opens on a slave, Doris, who is escaping from her master.  During her escape, she has flashbacks to her original home, her kidnapping, and the journey so far.  It wasn’t just her freedom taken from her, but her very humanity and worth.  Towards the beginning of the book, she talks about how she has to look in the mirror, list her physical attributes (all things that are beautiful in our world), and convince herself that she is beautiful.

The book is divided into three “books” or parts.  The second book is written from the slave owner’s perspective in a series of letters to the reader, as well as small narratives in between to give context.  A lot of the techniques used in the book to justify slavery and the removal of the slaves humanity were familiar references to how slavery in America was justified and how slaves were scientifically removed of their humanity.

There was profanity throughout the book.  Sexual content included talks of rape, the parts of the body that were beautiful, and talking about slaves like animals, thus treated that way.  There is also violent content that included murders, beatings, and lynchings which were pretty detailed. What is really fascinating in this book is how all the characters find connection to each other in the end.  The book leaves you with a sense of hope, but not a perfect world envisioned at the beginning of the book.  Ultimately, no one really wins, which is truly heartbreaking.  But you feel for the characters, as flawed but incredibly resilient human beings just trying to make their lives better.  Definitely a good read, with the caveat of the heavy subject matter.

John Waller: Striving for Equality: A Review

John Waller: Striving for Equality directed by David M Talley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Last week, I shared a list of movies and documentaries that I’ve been watching over the month June.  Most of which I really enjoyed, and all of which I learned a lot.  I want to continue this education into a history of my own country that I didn’t learn in school by watching more available documentaries on Amazon Prime, specifically, but hopefully including other platforms as well.

So, the latest documentary I watched was John Waller: Striving for Equality on Amazon Prime.  This is a PBS documentary from 2010.  I’ve been trying to find family-friendly documentaries.  All of the ones I mentioned last week include nudity and photographs and accounts of lynchings as well as profanity.  This particular film was a lot more family friendly.  There were some drawings of lynchings that were going on, but it was not nearly as explicit as other documentaries.

However, this film is quite dry.  It recounts the life of John Waller with a mix of interviews with various history college professors.  I felt the dryness of this film took away from the absolutely fascinating life of John Waller.

He was born to house slaves in Missouri who escaped just a few months before the Emancipation Proclamation.  His father purchased some land to farm in Iowa and John learned how to read and write from a neighboring white farmer who tutored him.  He valued education and played many roles throughout his life, including journalist, lawyer, diplomat, and soldier.

He also had his setbacks.  He wasn’t able to go to college because his family needed him on the farm.  He faced racism and discrimination throughout his life but continued to fight for equality and justice.  He tried to create a place in Madagascar that would give Black people opportunities to grow financially, but was imprisoned by the French, only later to be released on the request of the American president, though he did lose the land in Madagascar in the process. He is an excellent role model of perseverance, and I hope that there will be more films in the future about his fascinating life.  It is still an excellent story of a man who faced adversity and yet seemed to do the next right thing in his life.  Good information, dry presentation.

Context: A Brief Observation of Matthew 14

I grew up in the church.  I have heard the stories of Jesus feeding the 5000 and of Jesus walking on the water, but I only recently realized the context of these stories.  What was actually happening in the life of Jesus during these miraculous events.

Because Matthew 14 opens up with the death of John the Baptist.  I don’t know how close Jesus and John were growing up.  I know that when everything was happening to Mary, the angel told her about everything happening to Elizabeth, and Mary traveled to help.  I know that in the womb, John recognized the divine nature of Jesus, just as he does at Jesus’s baptism.  But I don’t know how much they spent time together between these two events.

But here, we come to the end of John’s life.  Herod had imprisoned him for speaking out against his relationship with his brother’s wife, Herodias.  And during a party, John’s head is presented to Herodias’s daughter on a platter.  John is dead.  His body, what is left, is buried by his disciples. And word is sent to Jesus.

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.

Matthew 14:13

He set out on a boat to a place where he thought he would be alone.  But when he arrived, the people were there, waiting for him.  And he had compassion.  I just can’t imagine, in those moments of grief, his compassion compelled him to teach, encourage, and heal those around him.

This chosen remote place wasn’t ideal for dinner preparations, which prompts the miraculous feeding of the 5000.  Once everyone is fed and there are enough leftovers to sustain his followers.  He sends them away on the boat he arrived in.  He dismisses the crowd.  And he goes to the mountainside to pray.

Because this entire time, he has yet to have a moment to grieve.  A moment to spend with his Father, perhaps talking to him about his loss.  If ever he needed a recharge, this would be one of those moments.  At then, at dawn, he walks on the water.

Yes.  Feeding over 5000 people with five loaves and two fish is amazing.  Walking on crashing waves through howling winds is amazing.  But doing it all in the midst of grief.  In the loss of family, both physically and spiritually, he kept going.  I just want to sit today in the awe of Jesus’s compassion.  He came on this earth to love and to show us how to love.  He grieved and then he showed the power of God over this broken earth.  In his lowest moments, he relied on the miraculous divine strength of God to do amazing things.  It gives me hope that even in the lowest grief, God is still working, preparing to do things beautiful and miraculous.

This Tender Land: A Review

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book as part of the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club.  I really appreciate this book club because they introduce books that I would have never sought out on my own.  This book was no different.  They say if you enjoyed Where The Crawdads Sing then you would enjoy this book, but I haven’t read that book either.  Regardless, I give this book 4 stars.

Odie and Albert’s parents were dead, and since the orphanage was too full, they found themselves at a school in Minnesota whose primary purpose was to provide education to Native American children.  It takes place in the 1930s during the Great Depression.  Odie has struggled at this school and had been on the receiving end of a lot of abuse.

One night, there is a murder at the school, which forces Odie, Albert, their friend Mose, and a little girl named Emmy to escape from the school in a kayak down the river, headed towards the Mississippi River and St. Louis to hopefully find an aunt that might take them in.  Along the way, they meet several different characters that represented the reality for people in that era.  It is almost set up like the Odyssey with a little bit of Huck Finn thrown in. 

It took me a bit to really get into it.  But once I was invested in the characters, I was hooked.  It explored the questions of faith and trust, both in yourself and in others.  Also, there is a bit of magic in the series that could be explained or not, but considering the narrator is actually a storyteller, known for his ability to tell a good story, there are things that may be exaggerated.  However, if you read this book like a float down the river, it is worth it just for the ride.

There is profanity.  The sexual content was implied (there is a brothel in the story, but since this is told from a young boy’s perspective and he is not allowed to be a part of that world, there is little described).  There is also violent content, all still told from Odie’s perspective, so some of it isn’t quite as reliable.  He tends to blame himself for things that he was responsible for, so it can be a little unsure.

The book is excellent, especially if you enjoy a good epic adventure.  There were plot twists I didn’t expect because the misdirection is really well done.  I wasn’t even thinking about the possibilities of those twists and turns until they were already there.  Really good read!

June: What I Watched

Because of everything that has been going on lately, I wanted to seek out my own education of history in this country that I might not have learned in school.  So, in addition to posts and articles, I watched a series of documentaries and movies that I want to share with you today. I will include whether the film had profanity, sexual content, and violent content for trigger warning purposes, as well as for parents who are trying to find content for their kids.

Just Mercy – This movie has been made available for free through the month of June (so if you plan to watch this, you only have a short amount of time left, or you can rent it later if you want).  It was a spectacular film.  Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx are phenomenal actors, first of all.  But the story itself was filled with heartbreak and hope.  It follows the true story of Harvard attorney Bryan Stevenson who starts an organization in Alabama to help people on death row and Johnny D, a wrongly accused black man waiting for his execution date.

Even though I knew the ending of the story, the twists and uncomfortable turns really exemplified their bravery and the failings of the justice system.  There is profanity in the film.  The sexual content consisted primarily of a strip search which included vulgar comments.  The violent content included a bomb threat and a scene with a gun held to someone’s head, also the execution of one inmate.

13th – This was the first documentary I watched this month.  It follows the connection between slavery, a loophole in the 13th amendment, and the state of our prison system today.  More black men go to jail or prison (1 in 3) than white men (1 in 17) even though black people are the minority.  The War on Crime and the War on Drugs heavily targeted people of color and poor communities.  And when prisons became privately run, there was even more of a push for things like mandatory minimums since these organizations were only paid when the beds were filled.  It doesn’t lean more left or right but follows each president as they made choices to keep people in prisons and add more to the prison population.

There is profanity, nudity, and violent beatings and lynchings included in the historical content included in the film, but it was incredibly informative.  It is, however, geared more toward adults.

I Am Not Your Negro – The second documentary I watched based on the notes of American Novelist James Baldwin which were supposed to be for a new book that he didn’t complete before he died.  It includes conversations he had during his life on talk shows and speaking engagements, as well as letters he had written.  There were so many good takeaways from this film.  The conversation he has with a Yale philosophy professor was incredible.  He outlines in that conversation just how much systemic racism as affected his view of the average white man and why he doesn’t trust the average white man.

There is profanity, nudity, and pictures of lynchings included in the film as it pertains to that era of American media.

Selma – This followed Martin Luther King on the events leading up to the famous Selma march.  It was fascinating to see how everything connected, and how all of the people in the movement did not agree all the time.  Also, all of the intentional planning on King’s part, especially how he understood it would take national attention to change the treatment of black people, much like it is today.

There is profanity in this movie as well.  There isn’t much sexual content, though you hear at one point the sounds of sex, but nothing is explicit.  There is also the violence of what happened, and a lot of that violence is slowed down in the film adding an extra layer of heartbreak.  The violence includes a church bombing, the beatings on the bridge, and a shooting in a diner.

Birth of A Movement – This PBS documentary was under an hour, but it was about history I had never heard about before.  I mean, I had heard about the innovative film The Birth of a Nation, though I had never seen it.  But a lot of the hype around the movie was based on lies and was used to spread lies.  DW Griffith said that the movie was based on a book that reminded him of his childhood, but it was far from the Post-Reconstruction poverty that he knew.  President Woodrow Wilson, who initiated the Jim Crow Laws with the segregation of federal places was also a child of the Post-Reconstruction era which played a part in his racist actions. So, the fact that this was the first movie played in the White House had more to do with connections than the actual quality of the film.  William Monroe Trotter was a Harvard graduate journalist who also protested the film.  There is just such a different perspective shown in this film that I found invaluable.  Also, there are some good interviews with Spike Lee who had to watch this movie in film school to appreciate the techniques without any discussion about the context of the film.

There isn’t any profanity, but there is a mention of the rape scene in the Birth of a Nation movie, and there are pictures of lynchings that occurred in this era.

I really enjoyed using films as a new medium to expand my education this month. In the future, I may share lighter films or documentaries with different subject matters, but this month was filled with unforgettable, though-provoking film and I am here for it. If you have any suggestions for the future, let me know!

Burnout

In a recent therapy session, we talked about everything going on in the world.  From pandemics and protests to family and the daily stresses in life.  It can be so overwhelming, and my therapist replied, “That’s why self-care is important.  It means taking care of yourself so you can be 100% when opportunities that really matter come along, instead of only having 50% to give.”

This reminded me of a story that Jesus told his disciples.  The story begins in Matthew 25:

“At that time, the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish and five were wise.  The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them.  The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight, the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you; I don’t know you.’

“Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

Matthew 25:1-14

It sounds like Jesus favors the prepared, but what does it mean to be prepared for the kingdom of God?  I don’t think it means keeping a lamp burning and a pantry full of oil jars.  Look at the previous verses:

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.  Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.  But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Matthew 24:45-51

We aren’t just sitting and waiting, but we are called to take care of the things God has put in our charge.  Friends, family, community.  And sometimes these things can come in the form of unexpected opportunities.  Like a bridegroom at midnight.

I think that the burning lamps are like our influence, our responsibilities to love others in various ways. 

And what is the oil that keeps that flame going?  My ability alone to l love isn’t sustainable, but God’s love is.  And the only way I can utilize the love of God to love others is to stay connected to Him.  I need my jar of oil to keep that lamp of love burning.  Whether it is spending time in prayer, in study, in meditation, in nature, in Holy conversation, in Spirit-led sacrifice, I must continue to remain connected to God.  Maybe that means slowing down, getting less busy, making more room, but whatever it takes, I need to stay connected.

It is vital to my survival.  Because when hard things happen, when needs arise in my community, in the places that God has entrusted to me, even in small ways, I want to give my all.  I want to lean on the strength of the Spirit to accomplish the things He has planned for me.  And I can only do that if I bring that jar, if I devote that time to keeping that light burning.

Maybe you are feeling spent, exhausted, depleted.  There is a God who is present and waiting to fill your jar with oil, to keep that light from going out.  Because the suffering and injustice will not go on forever, it is nearing midnight and bridegroom is on his way.