Lent Day 35 | John 19

Today’s reading: John 19

OpeningGod, open our souls and our bodies to a new understanding of this old story. Amen.

ReflectionI have this memory from my third grade Sunday school class. We were given a big, thick metal nail, and the story of Jesus’ crucifixion was recited, but this time with all its gory details–the blood, the nakedness, the suffocation, all of it. I guess my church had decided that third grade was the big moment to tell the children the real story of Jesus’ death.

I was shocked.

I held that nail in my young, smooth hand and imagined someone hammering it into my flesh. And I was appropriately upset.

Because I was privileged enough to live for most of my young life without witnessing physical cruelty, I held the death of Jesus up as a singular event of humanity’s great sin against God. The metaphor of my own little transgressions–my anger, my occasional meanness toward a friend–likened to the nails that pierce the flesh of my Lord and Savior was about the only meaning I was given for the story, so I tried to believe in that metaphor and to feel as much guilt as I could muster for what was, honestly, not all that evil.

Today, I have grown up in many ways–including in my faith–and my understanding of the crucifixion of Jesus is very different. Today, I understand that what is sacred and significant about Jesus’ death is not that it is a unique and singular event, but that it is, tragically, an extremely common event. In his own time, crucifixion, torture, and violent militant intimidation were common ways of terrorizing the colonized public into both complicity and rebellion.

And, now that I am an adult paying attention to my world, I see cruelty, suffering, and crucifixion everywhere. From the domestic abuse of my own loved ones to the separation of undocumented immigrants from their loved ones. From news stories of Freddie Gray’s lynching in the back of a police van to family stories of the torture and disappearance of Chinese and Taiwanese people on various sides of the conflicts of the last century. As a pastor in the community and within my own family, I have come to know more stories of cruel abuse than I could have ever imagined in that third grade Sunday School class.

The taking of a life full of God’s divine purpose was not a singular event that occured in first century Jerusalem.

Crucifixion occurs everyday. It is, truly, our great sin against God, and it is these violent systems of oppression (that benefit many of us) that are the nails that pierce the flesh of our Lord and Savior everyday.

Truly, the significance of Jesus’ death is that it illuminates and dramatizes the horror of our world’s cruelty against so many of God’s children. And the significance of Jesus’ resurrection is that it illuminates and dramatizes the magnitude of God’s victory and redemption on behalf of those most harmed by our world.

ClosingWhere have you known Christ’s crucifixion in your life, in the lives of your ancestors, or in the world around?

Created by: Rev. Vicki Flippin
About the author: Rev. Vicki Flippin is the Associate Pastor of New Communities at St. Paul & St. Andrew United Methodist Church in New York City​, where she is creating new LGBTQ-affirming Christian communities that center people of color. She is also the Co-Pastor of LaMP, a progressive Protestant campus ministry near Columbia University.​ ​Passionate about racial and LGBTQ justice​, Vicki serves as Co-President of the Board of Directors of the Methodist Federation for Social Action and blogs periodically for Huffington Post​.

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Image by: Steven Lee
About the artist: Steven Lee is an 18 year old Taiwanese American. He has been doing fine art all his life, exploring digital art at Chapman University, and he also enjoys singing in choir and a cappella groups, playing violin and composing/arranging songs. Music, art, the love of Jesus, and sociology are the main focuses of his life, and he is dedicated to connecting the four of them in unifying and healing this world’s injustices along with others like-minded.

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Lent Day 34 | Selah!

Today’s reading: Isaiah 41:18-20

ReflectionPlease meditate on the above song and dance as we synthesize our journey this past week and our theme, Isaiah 41:18-20.

Created by: Hesed Kim

“Up to the Mountain” by Patty Griffin

Covered by: Ophelia Hu Kinney
About the author: Ophelia Hu Kinney is a second-generation Chinese American living in Maine with her wife. She is the daughter of circumstantial pragmatists and the sister of a hopeful romantic. Her work has appeared in The Common and HESA Inprint, and under a pseudonym, she blogs with her wife about LGBTQ Christian life and identity. Contact her at opheliahukinney(at)gmail.com if you’d like to read their blog.”

Lent Day 33 | John 18:28-40

My Kingdom is Not of this World

Today’s reading: John 18:28-40

OpeningGod, I praise you for the story You tell, the ultimate wonder tale You invited us to become part of. I praise You for a Kingdom with doors wide open. Show us that wonder is not far.

ReflectionSomething I immediately find interesting in this passage is the fact that the Jewish leaders are meticulous about being ceremonially clean. But they miss the heart of such cleanliness with their handling of Jesus. They find loopholes anyway!

They complain to Pilate that they have no right to kill anyone. While asking him to help kill Jesus. As if calling on another to do your dirty work leaves you with no blood on your hands.

Loopholes, you know?

Is that how we believe God works? When we participate in or perpetuate a system that allows for torture and brutality, let me tell you right now, just like that we are guilty. When we aren’t the ones that assault, but are still the voices who allow for assault, we are guilty.

Now Pilate, who doesn’t want to get involved, gets hung up on whether or not Jesus is King of the Jews, trying to define this person before him.

But Jesus shifts the focus from men’s entitlement to His life’s purpose:

“You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”

Jesus doesn’t care for this world’s label of “king” and concept of greatness. He emphasizes something else entirely.

“My kingdom is not of this world.”

Well, what is of this world? Measures of greatness in desperation, and violent battles for a name. Oppression of one people group over another, human beings tearing at one another then shrugging off the blood, going, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Many of us long for something not of this world. There’s a reason why the Cinderella tale is found in thousands of traditions–we are still shaken in wonder that an ashen and abused slave, mistreated and misnamed, can be first chosen into a kingdom with doors wide open. We’re in love with the idea that someone will find us even if we’re shut away from the palace that sent invitations to all.

Let’s get wild for a moment, even giddy and childlike. When I say a magical kingdom, what comes to mind? An isle of dragons and people soaring on their backs? A Disney castle with the clearest streams of water gleaming in the moonlight? A grassy expanse of the savannah with a tree of life under the stars, where lion and antelope lie in peace?

Now what about the people? How diverse is your image of heavenly people? Can you look at people different from you and see them as rightful citizens of heaven? No one is an illegal immigrant to heaven as far as Jesus is concerned.

Jesus also says He was born for this reason: to testify to the truth.

Now, usually when I hear Christian insistence on telling truth, it’s this rush to say, “Jesus died for you. Accept it!” and check off the back of a pamphlet and say, “Welcome, you’re in!” And ingrained with an almost shallow idea that those still on a spiritual high are more securely in than those left to so much thinking, feeling, and questioning.

But Jesus is talking about “the truth” before He dies. Surely, He wasn’t born to go around telling every town and country, “Hey, I’m gonna die, accept it, and welcome, you’re in. Oh, don’t even think about it. Really. (Or else.)”

Sorry to echo Pilate, but, what is the truth He meant? What else could He have testified to?

Perhaps something less literal and with less loopholes in it. Not just the message that He is going to die. But the truth that these people, I love them. They are now reconciled with you; you can be brothers and sisters again.

He didn’t come for conquest, as kings of this world come and go for, as Christians still make clubs about crusading in His name. He didn’t come to make us all the same image, as we’re already all equally the image of God.

He came to find us in our time, live alongside us in our cultures, and never deny us in our ashes and dirt. To prove to us, cut off and far apart, that we are still invited, never forgotten, and so loved.

Truth is, These people belong, even if you find us crazy. This is what the Kingdom looks like.

ClosingWhat truth would you testify to? What would Jesus not just die for, but live for?

What shall we do to love a kingdom not of this world?

Created by: Ellen Huang
About the author: Ellen Huang is here for the changelings, the dragons, and the unicorns of this world. She takes joy in writing twisted fairy tales, directing original skits, and venturing out to the ocean. She also loves cake, dark humor, and the occasional Thai iced tea.

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Image by: Varshesh Joshi

Lent Day 32 | John 18:1-27

Truth-telling is

Today’s reading: John 18:1-27

Something is very, very wrong in your church right now. Your church is being hijacked. I’m made to feel alone and in the wrong. But I believe you’d also want this wrong in your church to stop. I’m feeling small and scared.

Please curb sexual predators in the church. Please also rewire the worn route of a wrong and harmful church leadership response: a cover up and silencing.

I’m disheartened and I need you to encourage me with the Holy Spirit that you’ve got me. It will be a long road to convince the church of women’s value, so please reassure me right now as your daughter of the kingdom that I matter too. I need your validation to avoid leaving the faith. Jesus, remind me that you have the last word and that I belong.

ReflectionWomen were leaving the church. They were threatened into silence by church leadership that if they were sexually harassed by an elder, the girl must have provoked a verbal/physical attack by how she dressed or because she had made direct eye contact. I was freshly graduated from college when I moved back home and attended my parents’ conservative immigrant church.

He was repellant with his unwanted phone calls filled with inappropriate suggestions. He grabbed my wrist forcefully in front of the entire congregation. His wife apologized, admitting that her husband had done this before to young women.

The following Sunday, the leadership team of the church intervened against me for allegedly seducing a married man. I was asked to not repeat what was said to me by the sexual harasser, to forgive without expecting an admission of guilt and apology. I was also pressured to submit to correction and discipline by the church for provoking this. Instead I told the leadership that I strongly believed that something is amiss and that women were not safe if the approach was to ignore chronic sexual harassment by this same man. Since it was an unsafe space, I told them I would cease attendance and certainly no longer recommend my young women friends to visit that church because there was an unchecked sexual predator there that took away the peace of worship and robbed women of the comfort of a safe church family for fellowship.

A few points to learn about truth-telling from Jesus’ arrest:

  • Be comforted knowing that the corrupt church tried to punish Jesus for telling the truth too. Retaliation by the corrupt church doesn’t mean Jesus is not pleased with you.
  • Jesus is not taken by surprise. Judas’ betrayal didn’t shake him. Simon Peter’s rashness didn’t distract him. Peter’s abandonment did not detract from Jesus’ mission.
  • Yes, it is valuable to view this passage contemplating the times we like Judas, Simon Peter and Peter have failed Jesus.
  • However, it’s also valuable to revisit this passage during times we as Progressive Asian American Christians find ourselves at odds with the church and remind ourselves that Jesus went to the cross while being insulted by the religious leaders of his day.
  • Corrupt man is not stronger than God. Jesus went to the cross because that was the plan. Even when the church Jesus died on the cross for were jackasses, he still triumphed.

Truth-telling is the remedy and antithesis of denying Jesus:

It was tempting to leave the faith out of disgust towards how churches reacted to reporting sexual harassment by an elder. I was made to feel unclean and victim-blamed. But you can clear your head and console your soul that truth-telling brings justice. Evil should be called out even if justice may not be immediate.

Peter warmed his hands by a fire as he denied association with Jesus (John 18: 18, 25). He crept further and further into the shadows, distancing himself away from the hardships that came with being a follower of Jesus. The point of Jesus’ work was to expose sinfulness and save everyone from themselves. Peter’s desertion was that he was majoring in the minors and missing the main point.

ClosingWhen I was victim-blamed by the church, it felt like a gaslighting effort to convince me that church existed for appearances and the comfort of leadership in prestigious roles rather than true community where leaders were interested in serving Jesus so everyone could be safe. Peter, in his denial of Jesus, distanced himself from the hard work of the collective followers of Jesus: maintenance against evil even when painfully inconvenient. Just as the church that victim-blamed me suggested I no longer belonged and aligned themselves with the predator, Peter by his desertion of Jesus said he didn’t belong with Jesus.

If truth-telling is not tolerated at churches and considered a threat, then they have lost their way and are not following Jesus anymore. Truth-telling can be us, speaking out against corruption in the church and exposing sexual harassment by its leaders harming the flock with racism, sexism, and anti-immigrant perspectives and other forms of excluding people from the kingdom. Silencing truth-tellings is corruption by the church.

Created by: Renee Marchol
About the author: Renee Marchol is a teaching artist and filmmaker. She also eats waffles while writing.

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Image by: Symphony Chau
About the artist: Symphony (she/her) is an avid reader, part-time artist, and self-proclaimed plant parent. A 2nd generation Chinese-American, she grew up between Northern Jersey and NYC’s Chinatown, where she developed her passion for youth empowerment and anti-displacement movements. Symphony loves all the shows your teenage sibling does, and chances are if she’s not journaling with a coffee in hand, she is forwarding articles to CAAC’s about what’s wrong with the evangelical church. Symphony lives in Brooklyn where she works in communications and public health, forever adding new plant babies to her apartment.

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Lent Day 31 | John 17

Today’s reading: John 17

OpeningProtect us, O Lord, from those who would do us harm. Help us live out of the deep reality of who we truly are, and to whom we belong, that we may work to make this world a place in which everyone belongs.

ReflectionIn late January, while down-to-the-wire in budget negotiations, Democrats decided to remove DACA from the negotiations table in exchange for spending on domestic programs. A Republican senator commented, “We are six inches away from a spending deal. It’s just simply the DACA issue and the immigration question.” It’s now late March, and Congress is once again two weeks from a funding deadline, and DACA, it seems, appears to be a topic of much conversation, but no willpower. “Immigration has not elevated itself to that rarefied top tier where Democrats across the board are willing to go to the mat,” said one Democratic aide.

So it is that we find ourselves in this elevator called America. “Come one, come all,” they beckoned us from faraway lands: Enter the ride, get to the top, but be sure to stand pressed against the doors. Because if things get too crammed, you will have to be the first to step out.

We, immigrants, are the first on the chopping block, the easiest give-away, the carrot dangled before our enemies. It is our lives that are being sacrificed so that “domestic spending” can be increased for the rest of Americans. It seems that all it takes for this polarized country to achieve union and agreement is for both political parties to collectively turn their backs on us.

In the last hour with his disciples, Jesus is trying to impart words of farewell, comfort, and wisdom. Perhaps he intuits the trials, tribulations, and persecutions that his band of followers will encounter for the next couple hundred years. Indeed, the Gospel of John is the latest dated gospel (90 to 110 C.E.), a time in which Jesus’ followers must have been in the thick of things.

Halfway through his last hour of prayer, Jesus prays about his disciples, “The world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.” So it is for us: We are in this country, but we are not of America, because we do not belong to it. We live in a world of white supremacy, capitalism, nationalism, and patriarchy, but we are not of it, because we do not belong to it. We do not fit. We have contorted our bodies in order to fit, and now we are in pain.

For who has tried harder to belong than us? Some of us have erased our accents; some of us have picked up new sports; some of us have forgotten our mother tongues; some of us have learned how to put on bravado. Some of us hold down multiple, minimum-wage jobs; some of us burn midnight oil in the air-conditioned towers of Wall Street; some of us have gifted this country with our grandmother’s recipes; others of us have rallied at protests as Americans to make this country better. All of us have paid our taxes.

For the disciples who did not belong in this world, Jesus prays a prayer of protection: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

ClosingThen he prays: “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us… I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Jesus’ prayer is a prayer for one-ness. Because only then can we can live out of the true reality of who we are: A people who belong to God. A people who are one with God. This is the real world we belong to – it’s a truth that may be difficult to internalize, but it is the truth by which we must be sanctified. And from this deep, deep well, we can find the strength and imagination to manifest this spiritual reality in our current material world.

Created by: Sarah Ngu

Sarah Ngu (@sarahngu) is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, NY. She’s the host for the Religious Socialism podcast, co-leader of her church’s LGBTQ ministry, and occasionally reports.

Image by: Michael Wei
About the artist: Painting is a process that resonates within me. My work ranges from: portraits & figures of people who may have little voices but loud messages; still life experiments of those ordinary unrevealed treasures; and more confrontational narrative pieces. Recent socio-political events have drawn me back to my dormant easel.