In a not too distant life I had a crumb of success blogging about fitness and portraying an image of myself as strong, optimistic, and going after inspiring goals. When I wrote about failures they were safe ones, small ones, and I put a positive spin on it. The unresolved, unredeemable stories of weakness and woe were never told. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve seen or heard an example of anyone telling those stories. That is, not until I read this book by Alia Joy, Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack.
Alia’s book is lesson after lesson in how to boast in your weaknesses, not to solicit pity or “make an exhibition” of our failures, as she puts it, but to highlight God’s grace. I was amazed when I finished the book. I’ve not read anything like this. Her poetic and even beautiful way with words balances out the severe subject matter as she invites you into uneasy vulnerability.
In no uncertain terms, Alia recounts the things that caused her pain and shame; from sexual assault to poverty, miscarriage and mental illness. She describes being someone people do not want to see; the isolation of living with the kind of struggles people do not want to hear about. I had a difficult time reading some parts; sometimes because of tears and sometimes because of feeling convicted and called out on my weaknesses and failures.
Alia shows us how God meets her, sustains her and refines her in her weakness. The circumstances may not change, the struggles may not cease, which is hard to sit with, yet God is good. Walking through this heart process with Alia over and over again encouraged me apply this to my own weakness and sorrows.
So first I had to ask myself, what ARE my biggest sorrows? When have I struggled with unanswered prayers or un-healing wounds? Was I or am I able to see God’s grace and goodness through those seasons?
Let me tell you what, I’m not saying I can or we should ever compare struggles or sufferings in life, but the first thing I thought was,
“My life has predominantly been one of human strength and successes.”
Which is to say there are much fewer times and spaces in my life where I’ve been desperate for God, learned to lean into Him no matter what, and clung to a sliver of hope that God still loved me.
My response to my reality contrasting with what I read in
Glorious Weakness was twofold; courage and conviction.
Courage in knowing that whatever weakness and sorrow is ahead of me, God does not change. The God that Alia clings too is the same God that will be with me through whatever is to come.
Conviction in realizing how much I rely on myself and how little I’ve learned about being poor in spirit. Conviction in acknowledging how many hurtful reactions I’ve had toward those who have walked a different path. I have to confess I have dismissed other’s suffering because I believed “they brought it on themselves”. I have assumed they could improve their situation if they just tried harder or believed God more. My privileged experience and perspective has not taught me a loving or learning posture.
Still, I do have places of deep shame and weakness. They are there. But, like I said in the beginning, I have minimized them. I’m in the habit of putting a positive spin on things. I’ve often protected myself from embracing my human weakness. Which means I’ve prevented myself from truly admitting my complete need and utter dependence on Christ.
“True vulnerability,” Alia writes, “is a confession of the places where we doubt, the places where we’re not sure God is going to heal or touch or show up – the places we worry will always remain a little too broken, a little too human, a little too frail for polite company and pristine Sunday mornings.”
That being said, God has begun to graciously bring me to his feet these past couple years. When the trauma of my adoption surfaced an enduring ache broke through my anesthesia of denial. When the racial fog lifted and I began to see how my faith had been used to obscure part of who God made me to be, a kind of anger and grief ignited that I still wrestle with.
These are a few of the areas where I can see God stripping away my pride and self-assurance. Where I can answer the call to let Him use my weakness for His purposes. And thanks to Alia’s example, I better understand the importance of this; the glorious way that embracing our human weakness amplifies and accentuates God’s faithfulness to us and connects us more deeply with one another.
I HIGHLY recommend you request Glorious Weakness by Alia Joy through your local book store or library. However, you can also purchase Alia’s book on these sites:
I was adopted into a wonderfully loving family. I have always felt close with my adopted mother. So it never occurred to me that I might have suffered any loss from being separated from my biological mother at birth. It never occurred to me, that is, until I was pregnant with my first child. As I learned about labor and the connection newborns have with their mothers, I cried. I became fixated on that all important moment of holding my son to my chest. Yet, as my anticipation grew, a deep sorrow set in as well. I didn’t understand it at first. Then I realized why. I was actually grieving birth. My own birth.
I’ve heard the story many times. Perhaps a few months old, I was pushing away from my adopted mother. I looked up at her with an intense defiance in my eyes. Day after day, I was resisting.
“You’re going to let me love you.” She said as she gently tucked my limbs in her arms, hugging me to her chest, rocking and singing lullabies.
I don’t know how long this went on, but the last day it happened, she prayed over me. As she prayed, the “leviathan” came into her mind, and she rebuked this spirit by name.
My infant form relaxed and I slid down into her lap and then onto the floor. I immediately fell asleep and from that moment on, I never pushed her away again.
As a child, this story confused me. I saw the loving determination in my mother’s eyes as she retold this memory. In her mind, she had overcome a great obstacle for us. The result was that her baby was able to receive her love. I believe she wanted me to hear in this story how much she loved me.
So I tried to hear that, but I also felt ashamed. I also heard that I had been a broken and possibly demon possessed baby. My own body had behaved freakishly. What did that mean? What did that say about me? I couldn’t make sense of the story, so I rejected it. I listened to it like it wasn’t really me she was talking about. Even now, writing it down here, I question myself. The details I heard are concrete in my head, but when I try to share them, to shine a spotlight on them, they ghost into an accusation of insanity.
Did she really say all those things? Am I making this up?
In sharing this openly, I am calling myself out; to stop invalidating my own experiences and emotional responses.
As a child, this story of my infant self was just further proof that I, the “oriental adoptee” in a rural white community was not normal. Loved? Yes, but not normal. A gift from God? Yes, but something was wrong with me.
I had never been interested in baby dolls. Never wanted to babysit as a teen. Even when my husband and I got married we weren’t 100% sure we wanted kids. We’d wait and see how our lives unfolded. So, when we decided we did in fact want children of our own, I had a lot of learning to do about pregnancy, birth and babies. Which I tackled in my typical, overachieving academic fashion.
I learned my little womb-dweller was already becoming familiar with me. He knew my heartbeat and the sound of my voice. It was comforting as a first-time mommy to know those same, effortless things about me would comfort my child in the first few minutes and days of life on the outside. My breast tissue would regulate his body temperature. He would learn to recognize my scent. His familiarity with me would aid his transition.
God’s design in the birth process is amazing!
These weren’t tears of joy. Pregnancy hormones? It was deeper than tearing up at a puppy adoption commercial. Prenatal depression? I didn’t feel an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. It was just thinking about this particular aspect of birth that was different. There was sorrow here. When I finally connected the dots, I was shocked.
Was I really grieving something I experienced as a newborn? Is that even possible?
The day I was born I was held by my first mother. However, that afternoon she was gone. As I thought about that, I imagined myself as a vulnerable infant suddenly losing the reassurance of that familiar heartbeat, her gait, her voice.
Just a few months ago I learned research shows infants register this separation as trauma, coded into the nervous system. At one day old, I would have sensed that disruption and loss, even though I couldn’t understand it.
I suddenly remembered that story of resisting my adopted mother. This new perspective broke my heart. A profound sadness for my infant self replaced the sense of shame I had associated with this story.
I had not been a broken or possessed baby, I was overcoming some measure of trauma in losing my familiar mother. I had to adapt to life outside her and without her. Plus, I had to adapt to a new mother I didn’t recognize. This was extra stress that an infant is not supposed to have.
Did I attach to my adopted mother? Yes. Did I adapt and adjust well? I think so. Therefore the temptation is for everyone, myself included, to dismiss and minimize the inherent trauma of adoption. As if it doesn’t matter because it all worked out in the end. The truth is, I had suffered a loss before memory that I was only now able to grieve.
I’m now weeks away from meeting my second child, face to face. Skin to skin. I’m visualizing how I will once again face the pain of labor and postpartum care. I’m fixating again on the moment I get to hold him for the first time.
And I’m grieving. I’ve only talked about this a few times since my first was born. Always with tears. I wonder if that means that I still have healing to do. Or if that means that some wounds never fully heal. Or maybe by writing this out and releasing it, I am healing right now.
Either way, giving birth is both a sorrow and a joy for me. The process involves reliving a loss somehow remembered in my being, though not in my conscious memory. I cannot face giving birth to my own child without grieving my own birth. I’m a little glad we’re not planning on having more children (she wrote with a chuckle).
However, there may be some redemption for me in this process. At least I hope there is. I am now the mother. No longer helpless. Giving my child what I didn’t have. Creating a conscious memory of bonding with my infant. Perhaps my past sorrow makes this anticipated joy that much sweeter.
This was the 2nd book I got an advanced copy of in 2018. Makes me feel like a I’m in the book world’s cool-kid group. Seriously, though, it was an honor to get to put eyes on these books before they hit the shelves and engage with the authors online. The Color of Compromise is already making an impact. I’m excited to share more about that and how I hope to see this book used in Christian community.
When I talk to (usually white) people about racism, the idea of “complicity” is often a struggle; like holding onto a slippery wet fish. Especially when we start talking about complicity among Christians and the church in general.
The failure to act in the midst of injustice is itself an act of injustice. Indifference to oppression perpetuates oppression.Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise
Jemar Tisby helps us nail down that fish. Surveying over 350 years of American styles of racism and inequality, readers can see how the church has (as he put it) “chosen comfort over constructive conflict”, often creating but always maintaining a status quo of injustice.
So how does The Color of Compromise use a historical survey to present us with this information?
As I read, I saw three interwoven timelines, spanning from the colonial era of America to the present day:
Going chronologically, this book connects the dots between the 3 timelines to reveal the patterns of the church’s response (or lack thereof) to various forms of racism, focusing on the black-white binary.
For example, Chapter 2 starts with explaining a dilemma in the Virginia colonies over baptizing African slaves who converted to Christianity. The old-world custom was that spiritual brothers in Christ could not enslave one another. Therefore, if a slave converted, there was religious pressure to set him free. Therefore, many slave owners refused to let slaves hear the gospel. However, that didn’t sit well with the church. What to do?!
Tisby explains how the economic priority of free labor influenced the Virginia General Assembly (the governing body at the time) to dictate that baptism would not change someone’s status as free or slave. The church and the slaveholders no longer needed to be at odds over the spiritual salvation of slaves. Missionaries began to focus on the spiritual, not physical, liberation of Christian slaves, and obedience to their masters as a biblical concept. In other words, the church not only went along with chattel slavery but twisted truth to support it.
This clash of economics, politics, racism and the church over the status of slaves is how chattel slavery became law on American soil; 109 years before the Declaration of Independence.
Well, it’s one thing to read that “ancient” history and say…“Yeah, they were so wrong back then.” We are far enough removed from the colonial era that the truth of complicity back then isn’t as threatening to us today. So it’s quite another thing to follow the timeline of racism to our front door and realize how little has really changed in the church.
Yet that is what this book does. It keeps connecting the dots through the Great Awakening, Antebellum, Civil War, Jim Crow, Civil Rights era, turn of the century and on to today with a look at the varied responses to Black Lives Matter and Donald Trump as President of the United States.
Here is one example of how The Color of Compromise brings historical complicity home to the present day.
The idea that the church’s realm is confined to spiritual and ecclesiastical things (like individual salvation or church organization) as opposed to physical or societal things (like slavery or social justice) might be rooted in the early church’s struggle with heretical gnosticism. At any rate, the tendency to think this way was demonstrated in the above example of the Virginia General Assembly.
So it’s no surprise, then, that leading up to the Civil War, an influential southern theologian, James Henley Thornwell, would crystalize this sentiment into a doctrine of the “Spirituality of the Church”.
Tisby explains how this doctrine allowed pro-slavery Christians to sleep at night and kept others silent on the issue. Tisby doesn’t stop there, though. He connects the dots to how this doctrine is still selectively applied today for ignoring racism (e.g. “That’s not a gospel issue”), but is conveniently forgotten for other social, ethical and political issues (e.g. legalized abortion) where the church suddenly springs to action quite visibly.
By chapter 10, the historical survey is complete. The footnotes throughout are more than sufficient for us to do our own further research. Tisby could’ve stopped there, but he doesn’t.
He dedicates the final chapter to presenting solutions and suggestions for the church to break the pattern of complicity. These selective ideas are not exhaustive, but enough to encourage readers to action; to move against the current of racism, instead of continuing to go with the flow of racism by remaining still.
That is why this book makes such a huge impact. The Color of Compromise isn’t about shaming and blaming white Christians. Jemar Tisby presents the church’s racist history and present reality from a place of deep love for the church and desire to fight for true biblical unity and racial solidarity.
If the twenty-first century is to be different from the previous four centuries, then the American church must exercise even more creativity and effort in breaking down racial barriers than it took to erect them in the first place.”Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise
I believe The Color of Compromise will help us move beyond asking “Is there a problem?” and get on with the business of “Let’s fix this problem.” Any church community, whether or not it is currently racially diverse, can benefit by learning from our collective history.
The church can learn to be a credible witness in the midst of injustice and oppression. The church can learn to lead the way in love and unity, showing the world the power of the gospel to reconcile us to one another as well as to God.
I believe The Color of Compromise is an essential resource to that end.
There can be no reconciliation without repentance. There can be no repentance without confession. And there can be no confession without truth.Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise
It’s time to listen to and tell and retell the truth.
BUY THE BOOK:
LISTEN TO THE FIRST CHAPTER FREE:
Click here to open iTunes and listen to Jemar Tisby narrate the first chapter of The Color of Compromise. You will appreciate the gracious and loving way he introduces his book without diminishing the urgency of the church’s current situation.
Friends, we need more mental exercise. I’m not talking brain teasers or word puzzles. I’m talking about challenging our assumptions, exploring other cultural perspectives, unlearning false history, etc.
It’s 2019 and our world is as “Us Vs Them” as ever. We all suffer for it. Most of us put more effort into seeing what’s flawed in others than taking stock of our own shortcomings and changing. So, it’s time to learn up, lovie.
Now…I’ve always loved reading and learning! So it’s easy for me to claim mental exercise should be a priority. However, books aren’t the only way! There are really well-done documentaries and podcasts, historical art exhibits and historical sites to visit, plus cultural events to experience.
I started 2018 wanting to learn more about racial identity development, and broader Christian perspectives on justice and activism. I ended the year seeking out more author’s of color and women. I bought more books than I was able to complete, so 2019 is gonna be a real page turner.
Available on 1/22/19! I got a free advanced copy of this historical survey of the American church to review and help promote. This has a lot of historical facts and quotes, but it doesn’t read like a bland history book.
It is easy to understand, but the subject matter can be hard to confront and digest. It connects the dots, throughout American history that show how the American Christian church has, with few exceptions, silently gone along with the racism of the culture at the time.
Get your pre-order bonus here: www.thecolorofcompromise.com
I got an advanced copy of this before it was released as well. 2018 was a great year for social media book launch teams. Kathy Khang does an excellent job explaining our biggest fears and obstacles to speaking up while making a compelling argument for why we need to learn to use our God-given voices. She is encouraging and provides great practical wisdom on discernment, handling backlash, and even tackles how best to use social media.
I will share a more comprehensive review soon.
A just-for-fun novel! This is part mental exercise though, with a heap of guilty pleasure reading. Kevin Kwan is a wildly successful Chinese-Singaporean-American author and that deserves to be celebrated. This trilogy provides comedy and romance, Chinese & Singaporean culture clashing with western values, #richpeopleproblems and sinful descriptions of tasty foods I will probably never get the pleasure of trying in my lifetime.
Thank you, cousin, for sending me these books!
The first book I read in 2018. Daniel Hill, a white pastor, shares his racial awareness journey and the common struggles in faith and identity for white Christians.
I started the year with this book because I grew up in white culture and hoped this would help me decode and deconstruct some things. I think it helped. I would recommend this to all my white Christian friends.
Such a loving and gracious book. I found this enormously helpful in learning to differentiate what is praiseworthy and redeemable in my God-given ethnicity vs seeing myself through the harmful/sinful lens of the man-made concept of race. Sarah Shin does a great job of giving us positive language to use when speaking of ethnic and cultural differences.
I would recommend to anyone struggling to see past the brokenness in their racial or ethnic identity.
Fiction & Fantasy!
Ken Liu created a wonderful world and great characters and put them in an epic story that folds in elements of east asian culture and folklore. This is a beast of a novel, though, so not for the reluctant reader. It is refreshing and thrilling to read a novel of this scope and magnitude that features asian customs and traditions.
Can’t wait to read the next book and continue the story.
Oh my. This was the sweat fest my brain never saw coming. Took me months to work through this. Why? Well, for one, Christena Cleveland packs a lot of education into this book. It is part autobiography, part sociology and part social psychology.
And then, she made my spirit do some hard work. This book focuses on our life in the church with fellow believers and how we are called to a costly and deep level of unity with one another across racial, political, and cultural, lines. This is something I wish we would all read but I’d probably save the recommendation for the truly committed spiritual leader.
Finally a “Meh” rating. This was read as a group study. I wouldn’t have read it otherwise. Let’s see, this book was supposed to present how Proverbs speaks to everything. To me, it read more like how a white woman of a certain age interprets Proverbs. There were a few helpful insights, though.
I wasn’t the only one in the group study who raised an eyebrow. Can’t say I’d recommend it. Maybe to my mom. She’d probably find it encouraging.
The antidote to the last book! Haha. If you bristle at the title, calm down. This is actually way less controversial of a book than you’d think. Sarah Bessey kind of whimsically rambles a bit I think, but she shares some great insights into just how subversive Jesus’ care and attentiveness for women was in the Bible.
See, Christians have a reputation for being kind of anti-woman, but the Bible’s view of women shows crazy love for the ladies…IF you understand the cultural contexts of the stories. So I liked it. My mom probably would too if she could get past the word “feminist” on the cover. Haha. Love ya, mom. Actually, she isn’t reading any of this. Don’t panic.
Oh holy, historical (science fiction) horror!
Kindred was a very engaging and well written novel. Amazing character development, tackling two different time periods, interracial marriage, and a strong female protagonist. HOWEVER, it was hard to read sometimes as it presents some intense themes and devastating imagery (read: chattel slavery, violence, rape, misogyny). Death comes to life in this one.
That ending, though! I’m both excited and scared to read more from Octavia Butler.
Binti was a super fast and wild Young Adult Fiction read. The setting is a futuristic sci-fi space fantasy featuring a young mathematical prodigy. Binti has deep roots in her ethnic culture and has to learn how to keep her identity while breaking traditions and forging a new, controversial path. You can literally finish a book in a morning, but the story stays with you. Surprising and enjoyable storyline, even if you’re not all that into aliens and space travel and whatnot.
This 3 part documentary may be 16 years old, but the information is STILL SO NECESSARY! I’m talking debunking the idea that race has a biological reality, explaining how it functions as social construct, showing the systemic oppression of non-white people generation after generation. These are still things people do.not.understand.
So watching this as the foundational learning experience of a small group I started last year was perfect. I bought the DVD with a Home License but you can also rent it on Vimeo for less than $5 I think.
So this was the first podcast that I really got sucked into. It’s only a 14 episode series from Scene On Radio, but it’s so well done. John Biewen, a white journalist, tackles the questions of where did the notion of “whiteness” come from? What does it mean? What is whiteness for? He interviews all kinds of scholars and dives into some really interesting stories and histories. And it’s FREE!
Better will not be
Not for them
if not by me
will not all sacrifice
will not all open their eyes
Pushing my hopes into their future dreams
is just passing the stuck of our present reality
naming better evolves naturally
claiming hate fades as life cycles
is not any relief
I must show mine
how to blend action and belief
Must summon all that I already am
to cultivate all that they already are
but can’t harvest yet
I must make better
not just for them
but with them
so that by them
better we’ll be