Life After Resurrection
We had a wonderful time last Sunday celebrating Easter. Today is the first Sunday after Easter, and I would like to reflect on life after resurrection.
We see a very interesting contrast in the disciples before the resurrection and after it. Before the resurrection, the disciples were self-centred, self-focused and fearful. Even when Jesus was concerned about the suffering and death that lay ahead, the disciples were only concerned about who was the greatest among them, or who would sit at Jesus’ right hand. At Jesus’ time of greatest need, the disciples ran away and deserted Jesus, fearful in the face of worldly power. Peter denied Jesus. Judas betrayed him. The disciples were weak, cowardly and small people.
We see a very different picture after the resurrection. Instead of self-focus and self-concern, in today’s passage we see a concern for the community, for others. Instead of fear, we see power and boldness.
“With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” (Acts 4:33)
After the resurrection, their hearts expanded. Their courage expanded. Grace expanded. That grace flowed from them into the community. No one was in need, and everyone’s needs were met. People gave everything for the well-being of the community.
And not only that, their identity and calling also expanded.
This was their question to Jesus before his ascension:
“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)
At first, the disciples still believed that Jesus came as the Messiah to restore the kingdom of Israel to its former glory. They were looking at their own nation. But after the resurrection, their calling expanded beyond their own nation.
We are introduced today to Barnabas. He was a Levite, meaning of the priestly tribe. He was brought up knowing all of the Jewish rituals and customs. He was a true Jew. But he also lived in Gentile territory, in Cyprus. He was immersed in the life and ways of Gentiles. In Barnabas, we see the beginnings of an expanded identity and calling for the Jewish people. Barnabas would pave the way for the mission to Gentiles. He was the one who vouched for Paul. Paul was a persecutor of Jesus’ followers, and they were very suspicious of him after he met Jesus. But Barnabas had street cred with the disciples, and his vouching paved the way for Paul to be accepted. Barnabas and Paul were partners in mission, setting up churches and reaching out to the Gentiles. They eventually had a falling out, and Paul became the famous and prominent apostle to the Gentiles, but Barnabas played his role in expanding the identity and calling of Jewish followers of Jesus.
Acts shows the Spirit expanding their identity to include Gentiles. In Jesus, they were not losing or abandoning their Jewish identity, but expanding it.
Resurrection life is an expanded life.
There are so many things that shrink our life. Fear, shame and guilt shrank the disciples’ life at first, and they shrink ours too. This pandemic has made it easier for us to shrink our lives. We’ve shrunk into our own spaces while dealing with the daily pressures, challenges and stresses of life in the pandemic. It’s also revealed many forces in our world that would shrink life.
During the past year, there’s been a great reckoning on race. We’ve seen the killing of George Floyd and others and the Black Lives Matter movement. More recently, previously silenced voices have emerged regarding anti-Asian racism. In the past few weeks alone, it has been like a floodgate has opened, and so many voices have been pouring out.
There have been so many stories of how racism has shrunk the lives of many Asians and other racial minorities. Of having to be silent in the face of discrimination. Of letting things slide. Of not creating a fuss.
The ‘Good Old Days’
As I treaded my way through the world, the voices I heard were: that racism doesn’t really exist, and so whatever you perceive is all in your head. Or that it’s not as bad as it used to be and it’s getting better, so just take things in stride. Or that you don’t have it as bad as other groups, so be thankful and don’t complain. And so I doubted myself. I wondered if I was just messed up in the head and delusionally paranoid. I wasn’t sure. But the question that kept looming deep in my mind as I grew up was: do I really belong here?
Many people want to go back to the “good old days” of an earlier time. But for us racialized folks, do we really want to go back to that? Those good ol’ days were when racism was overt, in our faces, and daily reminders for us that we did not belong here. For many of us, the good ol’ days are better forgotten. Don Cherry’s rants before he got kicked off of TV reminded me of my childhood growing up with hockey.
I loved hockey growing up. I would shoot the ball in the kitchen until the cupboards fell off. Every Saturday night I looked forward to that anthem of Hockey Night in Canada to watch the Leafs lose yet another game. I enrolled in a ball hockey league at the recreation centre when I was 7, and I took the bus all by myself to get there so that I could play. In the winter, I took my skates and gloves and walked to the local rink and learned how to play shinny. One day, this guy said: “hey kid, you should join a league.” I told my dad, and he took me to Ted Reeve Arena to sign me up. We didn’t know anything about equipment: all I had was my skates, a helmet and gloves. So the guy from the league took me to a storage room where there was old used equipment. That was how I started my hockey career. I loved the game, but I didn’t love the culture of hockey as I grew up. If I was better than average on my team and useful, I would get my due and playing time. If I was just average, I would see my time on the ice reduced. My dad would say that in order to be treated fairly, I had to be even better than others. He was incensed by perceived unfair treatment and he pulled me off of my teams a number of times. In the dressing room, Asian jokes were commonplace. On the ice, racial slurs were said to incite me to take a penalty, or I would feel targeted for body checks.
Needless to say, my feelings toward hockey are very ambivalent. People say it’s Canada’s game, but is it my game too? Do I belong to it? Do I really care for it?
Racism in the Present
Canada has changed. Hockey’s actually not that cool anymore, and overt discrimination is no longer acceptable. Many people can now grow up their whole childhood without experiencing overt discrimination due to race.
But overt discrimination is not acceptable, there is a lot of covert, subconscious or unintentional prejudice that still exists. Society has allowed spaces for Asians and other racial minorities to occupy – like good professions and good neighbourhoods. But here’s how I see it: we’re allowed to be an occupant of that space, but not an owner of it. Keep your head down, get along. Toe the party line and be grateful for your place, and maybe you’ll even be rewarded with promotions within that space. But don’t critique that space or to try to lead it, because you’re lucky just to be where you are.
What I’ve seen is that a racialized person who dares to venture out beyond their given spaces has met great racial backlash, particularly in leadership or spaces where Asian or racialized faces are not commonplace. Naheed Nenshi, the mayor of Calgary for the last 10 years, decided not to run again. He just grew tired of all the trolls on Twitter being outright racist and bigoted about his religion. When Olivia Chow ran for mayor of Toronto in 2014, she came third after being the frontrunner. The media cited a number of factors for this poor showing. But I personally believe that racism and sexism, and the combination of these two as an Asian female, were primary reasons, whether people were conscious of it or not. Paul Kang shared with me an essay written by Chloe Kim, the snowboarding champion and gold medalist. She recently wrote an essay about how she had been silent about all the racism that was directed her way, and how deeply it had hurt. There are so many more stories emerging now. Whenever Asians enter spaces they’re not traditionally a part of, there is great backlash.
Unable to Prove Racial Bias
Most of the time, though, we can’t really prove racial bias. In my second year of university, I applied for a summer job at a large accounting firm. There were 4 interviewees from my cohort. There was a white guy and a white girl, a Chinese girl, and me. We were all similar on paper, which is how we got an interview. They were hiring 2 students. Guess who got them? Yup, the 2 white students. Were they objectively better than us? Surely the fact that the interviewers were white had nothing to do with the selection? But of course I can’t prove anything.
This has been my experience throughout my life. Noticing and observing things. Believing things, but not being able to prove anything. Questioning myself, wondering whether I’m just being paranoid, whether I’m too hyper sensitive and vigilant. I know that this isn’t the case with many people, but for me, I’ve been pretty messed up with regards to race.
Confined in Society
Many Asians have found their safe spaces in this society. With their jobs, their families and safe neighbourhoods to live in. Many Asians believed that we’ve overcome past racial hostility and animus. But a lot of that has been punctured by what we’ve seen during the pandemic.
When we’re confined to a given space, our life shrinks. I mean, life is hard as it is, so even within our own spaces, there are many problems and things to contend with. We find our joys and contentment within that space. But when we are confined to our own space, we become closed off and separated from those in other spaces. We are removed from the struggles of others.
When we don’t feel like we fully belong, we become mere occupants of space. Our focus is on extracting whatever we can from this space to take care of myself and my family. What happens beyond this space is not really my concern. We start living a shrunken existence.
How many of us have consciously or unconsciously shrunken our vision for what’s possible in life, for ourselves and for our children?
The resurrection is not a mere continuation of the past. It is something entirely new. But it is also not separate from the past. The resurrection is a mystery. Jesus was not merely a resuscitated corpse. The disciples and women did not recognize Jesus at first. But they recognized him when he showed the wounds and scars he got from the cross.
The resurrected Jesus was different from the earthly Jesus, but the wounds from his past remained as part of his resurrected form. I realized this truth about resurrection: we are transformed into something new, but are connected with our past by the wounds we carry.
The disciples would never erase their past. Their past self-centredness, their cowardice are forever recorded in the gospels. The shame of their weakness and failure was their wounds. They would never escape these wounds of their past. But in their shame and fear they met the resurrected Jesus. That shame became the place where they experienced the forgiveness and grace of God. From that shame they were transformed into powerful witnesses. We become new people only when we carry the marks of our past pains and wounds. That is the only true and authentic path to resurrection!
A Place of Pain
I used to wonder why I had to go through all of what I did, and why I was so messed up in my mind. But I realize that I am who I am today because of all I’ve been through. The pain I experienced is part of who I am. And that place of pain is where God’s grace is most real for me. I mean, I’m still dysfunctional, messed up and maladjusted in so many ways. Put me in a room full of white people and I still get stiff and awkward. I’m still alert and on edge. I’m messed up! And it still hurts. But you know what? Through all of that, God has been transforming me into who God wants me to be. I am dysfunctional in so many ways, but it is God who helps me function. I am maladjusted to this world, but God adjusts my direction and calling. I am so messed up, but God stitches something new and beautiful out of that messiness. By God’s grace I am who I am, and who I am becoming. Last week we sang “Now that you’re near”. The line from the chorus is “Now that you’re near, everything is different, everything’s so different, Lord. I know I’m not the same, my life you’ve changed. I wanna be with you, I wanna be with you.” That, in a nutshell, is my testimony. This is our testimony. The pain, dysfunction, and messed up-ness is still part of me, on me, but still I am being transformed into something new.
The Good News of the Resurrection
My friends, this is the good news of the resurrection.
What does a resurrected life look like for Koreans and Asians? First, let us hear the voices of the many stories that are emerging, and let us join in sharing our own stories too. Don’t bury the pains of your past, or forget about them. Second, we need to stop seeing ourselves as occupants or guests. The prophet Jeremiah said this to the exiles who were lost and displaced in Babylon:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7)
God has sent us here where we live. We have a calling to seek the welfare of this city, this country, and whatever space you occupy. Whether your workplace, social circles, this church community: don’t just try to extract what you can for your own survival and benefit. Seek the welfare of that space. Seek to bring blessing to that space. Just like the disciples in today’s passage: do you see anyone in need at your workplace? Help them out. Give all that you have for the needs of others in your space. This is the way you will become a leader wherever you are: by serving others in your space and attending to their needs.
Thirdly, let us expand our hearts and spaces to welcome others into them. In our own community, Brim will present today about the Rose of Sharon nursing home. Let us open our hearts to support this. I see the Korean church and community expanding our space to welcome in solidarity those from different backgrounds who seek justice and healing. We were brought here not to live enclosed in our own spaces, but to be a blessing to this city, country and world. Individually, each of us are small, broken and feeble people. But the Spirit of the resurrected Christ takes us in our brokenness, and gives us the power to expand who we are and be a blessing wherever we go.
How is God wanting to use you as a blessing for this world in the spaces you’re in?