Saturday, March 10, 2018

My name is Venus Black: a young adult story I could not finish

My Name is Venus Black by Heather Lloyd is the story of Venus Black, who at the age of 13, committed a crime which has her incarcerated until she’s 18. During her incarceration, her half-brother, Leo, goes missing. After 5 and half years, she’s released, and she slowly tries to rebuild her life, putting her past behind her and creating a new identity. As her old life begins to remerge in her new one, Venus must find a way to truly leave the past behind her in order to move forward. Will she be able to move past her crime? Will she be able to find her brother after so many years?

Unfortunately, My Name is Venus Black is a book I could not finish. With seven parts, 51 chapters and multiple points of view, it became way too long and too muddled that I found myself getting bored and not caring about Venus, her crime or her life after incarceration. The book is marketed as young adult book which I don’t like it’s why I couldn’t finish it as I’ve read a decent amount of young adult books and was entertained. I cannot recommend My Name is Venus Black. The book started with a great idea, but it didn’t live up to it.

My Name is Venus Black
is available in hardcover and eBook

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Luke: blessings, women's roles and a lesson in mercy

This month’s reading was on the book of Luke. Luke was a doctor, Greek and a Gentile Christian. He is the only known Gentile Christian to author a book for the Bible (he also wrote Acts which we will get to in a couple months). He was a close friend and companion with Paul. Luke’s purpose in writing this book was to present an accurate account of the life of Jesus. This book is the most comprehensive Gospel. The general vocabulary shows that Luke was educated and Luke stresses Jesus’s relationships with people, empathizes prayer, miracles and gives prominent place to women.

In Luke 6:20-23, Jesus gives the Beatitudes. In verses 20-23, he speaks of those who are blessed. The word, “beatitudes” is from the Latin for blessed. They describe what it means to be a follower of Christ, standards of conduct in contrast with the world values. Verse 20 states that “blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God.” Poor in this verse doesn’t necessarily mean poor in money. Many commentaries state that it may mean poor in spirit. Someone who is thirsty for revival, for God’s presence to return to the people. In verse 21, he states “blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.” This isn’t a just physical hunger, but for a hunger for God as well. In a time when riches were a sign of God’s favor, those who were poor, hungry and at the bottom of society, yearned for God’s favor. Jesus is telling us that riches are not a sign of God’s favor. God’s favor came to those who searched for him and followed his Word. Also, in verse 21, Jesus states “blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” A time of laughter and joy were coming. In verse 22, Jesus says “Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.” Jesus is saying that when we are hated, pushed aside, and rejected because of our belief in him and his words, we are blessed. Jesus is also trying to prepare his followers for the days when they will be persecuted because of their belief. This persecution still goes on today as many believers are ridicule in the media, in schools and by family and friends for their belief. Jesus tells us in verse 23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.”

Luke speaks about the women who accompanied Jesus during his ministry. In Luke 8:1-3, a few are mentioned by name. “Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene), from who seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.” Three women are named specifically. First, Mary Magdalene, who tradition often tells us that she was an immoral woman, which the Bible never says, and this verse specifically tells us that she was healed from a possession of seven demons. Many scholars believe that the story of her leading an immoral life is because her name is first mentioned right after the story of a sinful woman who anoints Jesus’s feet (Luke 7:36-50). There is no evidence the two women are the same. Second, Joanna, the wife of the manager of Herod’s household. The Bible doesn’t state what she was cured of, but she traveled with him throughout the rest of his ministry. Third, Susanna which no further information is given about who she is or how she came to follow Jesus. However, the most important information about these women is found in the last part of verse 3, I wrote it above and wonder if you caught it. Luke writes “These women were helping to support them out of their own means.” These women had their own money and were using it to support Jesus’s ministry! Jesus lifted women from the agony of social degradation and servitude to the joy of fellowship and service. Women weren’t allowed to learn from the rabbis and Jesus shows that all are equal with God by allowed these women to learn from him. These short verses also give a glimpse into the behind the scenes of the ministry. Many times, the focus is on those in the forefront, but it is those who are working in the background who are the backbone of the ministry.

Lastly, everyone has heard of the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-38). It is a lesson in who is our neighbor and how we should treat them. An expert of the law came to Jesus and asked how he could inherit eternal life. Jesus responds by reminding him of the law. “Love your God with all your heart and with all your sour and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself” (verse 27). The expert further asks, “who is my neighbor?” (verse 29). Jesus tells the story of a man on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was robbed. The man was beaten and left for dead (verse 30). A priest passed him and didn’t offer help, a Levite passed him and didn’t offer help (verse 31). A Samaritan came upon the man, took pity on him, bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them, took him to an inn and took care of him (verses 33-35). Jesus then asks, “which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” (verse 36). Here is the lesson, the expert answered, “the one who had mercy on him” (verse 37). Jesus tells him to go and do likewise. To love our neighbor is to show mercy. Our neighbors is everyone, even those we have a deep hatred for as the Jews and the Sarmatians had for each other. The Samaritan in this story probably had the most reason to leave the man on the road but he didn’t. He saw a man hurt and in need of help and took pity on him. When we are able to push our hatred aside to show mercy, we are loving our neighbor. I know it is easier said than done and we don’t often do it. That is when we need the guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit to help us.

In conclusion, the book of Luke is filled with wonderful examples of how we can follow Jesus in our world today. The Beatitudes tells us that we will rewarded for our suffering and persecution today. Women who have been traditionally in the shadows of history and in the church are shown in Luke to have played a major and important role in Jesus’s ministry. And lastly, a lesson in loving your neighbor told through the classic story of the Good Samaritan. Although it is hard to follow or emulate these lessons in life; however, don’t forget we have the Word of God and the guidance of his Holy Spirit to show us, to correct us and guide us to continue on our path with God.