My favourite sort of advent book is in fact a series of devotions, each one written by a giant in the history of Christianity, each one inviting me to contemplate the great themes of the coming of Jesus from a perspective I had not yet thought of. Failing that, a wonderful series of devotions written by a modern thoughtful Christian writer can also slake my thirst for advent reading. Stick with Love is neither one nor the other: it is not clearly a set of devotions, and it speaks little of the great themes of Christmastide.
And yet it is, to my mind, an important little book, and a good one to read at this time of year..
It was authored by one of the members of the Archbishop of York’s Anti-Racism Taskforce which produced a report entitled From Lament to Action. The Advent book is a series of daily readings which offers a view “of the Church as a global assembly, consisting of individuals from diverse backgrounds, languages, and nations.”
Before going into the stories of various Christians of colour, Arora considers what would have been the effect on the history of the world had we had the image in our minds of, not a blond and blue-eyed Danish Jesus, but of a black man.
Images of Christ, reflecting the very physicality of his incarnation, have the power to inform not only how we understand God, but also how we treat one another.
Arora, Arun. Stick with Love (p. 9). SPCK. Kindle Edition.
If you are saying to yourself "That’s impossible: it doesn’t matter whether Jesus was white or purple or green, whether he was handsome or ugly, Chinese or Venezuelan," I would like you to take a few minutes to work with the blog entry called “On our image of Jesus”, to see if when you think about it, that is really your opinion.
Arora’s daily readings open our eyes to the long list of people of colour who have been part of the Christian tradition, from the Indian followers of Saint Thomas the doubter, to Saint John of the Cross, to the Reverend Canon Jemima Prasadam, the rapper Stormzy, and all the way to George Floyd, that Christian convert with a criminal record so active in his community in the months before his murder by a policeman.
In addition to vignettes about these wonderful people, Stick with Love provides an opportunity to learn about the diverse (and Christian) roots of many of our leading charitable organisations and movements for change, and to have a clearer view of our Christian world. Only speaking about the Anglican Communion, Arora writes:
[This group of worshipers] represents approximately 85 million people in more than 165 countries worldwide, speaking more than 2,000 languages, across some 500 different cultures.
Arora, Arun. Stick with Love SPCK. Kindle Edition.
Any number of the vignettes (there were about two dozen of them) offered inspirational moments, but the one that resonated most with me was of the Vietnamese Cardinal Francis-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan. He was arrested in Saigon after the departure of American forces, and recounted that:
When the Communists put me in the hold of the boat, along with fifteen hundred other prisoners, and moved us to the north, I said to myself, ‘Here is my cathedral, here are the people God has given me to care for, here is my mission – to ensure the presence of God among these, my despairing, miserable brothers. It is God’s will that I am here. I accept his will.’
Arora, Arun. Stick with Love SPCK. Kindle Edition, citing Nguyen Van Thuan
When I first read it, I prayed I would remember this as I walk through life: that wherever I am, here are the people God has given me to care for, here is my mission.
A short week spent with my niece and her children (all of them American women of colour) also reminded me, (as this book touches on, but does not really explore) how poorly I, as an old California girl, can see the glory of all those diverse people God has put in my path, who I sometimes feel I am there to help, when it is they who are there to help me.
Thank you to Arun Arora for introducing me to some of them.