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Representation Matters, Christian Edition

This post is particularly intended for my fellow humans who claim Christ, and more particularly a subset of these fellows who are white and think representation is a newfangled idea born of newfangledism.

Jesus’ story is a story of representation. Pretty much exactly as we mean the term today. The story of Jesus says representation matters. And it says it over and over again.

The story begins in the womb of an unwed mother. Jesus is born on the way to a religious pilgrimage. As a baby, Jesus, along with his mother and stepfather, become political refugees seeking asylum from certain harm.

Representation matters. Jesus was a Nazarene. Maybe that doesn’t mean anything to you, but to the people of the day Nazarene whispered words like thug and animal.

Jesus was the son of a carpenter. He was homeless as an adult. His friends were a rough sort—tax collector and fishermen and the like. He ate with prostitutes. He was unbothered coming near to children and lepers and bleeding women and Samaritans and a freshly caught adulteress.

Representation matters. Jesus broke the rules of his society. He angrily purged the temple for its failure in purpose. He fed people who were hungry and healed those deemed worthless and unclean by society.

His first recorded miracle was extraordinary in its simplicity and lack of religiosity: he turned water to wine for wedding guests because his mother asked him to.

Representation matters. Jesus avoided those in power who sought to trap him, to kill him. He made the powerful small whenever they interacted.

Representation matters. And Jesus died as a political captive. For no crime but angering those with power. On baseless accusations of nonexistent threats to overthrow Caesar. So hated that the mob chose to free a known murderer just to kill Christ.

Representation matters. From the one who bore his cross to the one who bought his tomb, from the sinner on his left to the sinner on his right, from his best friend to his grieving mother, the lowly are the ones highlighted.

Representation matters. Women found the empty tomb. If you wanted to build a false religion around a tomb not really emptied, it wouldn’t begin with women. With unbelievable, unbelieved people without class or station. But this is the story of Jesus and representation matters more than society’s systematic oppression.

Jesus challenged institutional racism (see the Samaritans), systemic oppression of the poor and those without a class, the lofty proclaiming their own loft, the way things have always been done. Jesus practiced socialized medicine and fed people in a socialized manner in that he fed whoever hungered.

Jesus even counseled that the first will become last and the last will become first.

Representation matters. It matters to Jesus enough to fill his story with people who had little representation. It still matters today.

Note that Jesus, obviously, was Jewish by birth, born in Bethlehem (Palestine). You can know if you view Jesus as default white simply by this litmus test: when you picture the Jesus you let into your heart, is he in any way a brown man of a dispossessed race?

Consider that Jesus was born as he was, where he was, and when he was on purpose. The savior we both claim walked this earth—and was always meant to—as a brown man of the Middle East, a member of an oppressed race.

I am represented in Jesus’ story as a woman, as a sinner, as a believer, as a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, as a person who bleeds, as a person in need, as a member of a different race. I have found my representation in the story and it matters to me. And his ability to lift up the representation of so many, that matters to me too.

I owe no less in my story than to reveal a broad representation of people. Both in my real story and my fictional stories. There are many still waiting to see themselves in the story of America, the stories on our shelves and televisions, and the stories of American infrastructure. As Christians, we have a well-made blueprint of inclusion and representation. If only we’ll use it.

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Edit by (Soft) Firing Squad

Tons of writing advice implores you to read your work aloud. You can hear the snags, the run-ons, the unwitting alliteration. You can hear when you used a word that doesn’t fit the tone or time period of the manuscript.

Not too long ago, I tried this with a twist. I’d already read the manuscript many times, both silently and aloud. But I took the opportunity to read it aloud to my three sons and two nieces, all between the ages of ten and thirteen.

I now call this edit by (soft) firing squad.

Kids are excellent listeners. You need not tell them to listen for mistakes. You need not tell them to pay attention to continuity. They do it by design, and they’ve been doing it all their lives, or for as long as they’ve been read to.

And they are not easy. Oh, they’re impressed. It’s like a warm bath of adoration when they come to realize you have strung together so many words. They have a knack for balancing love for you the person with critique of the work. They have not yet learned to be unhelpfully polite.

The rapid fire comes sooner or later. Hands shoot into the air: I don’t understand. I’m confused. What is this word? What happened to X? Or my personal favorite: Wait, when did Y get there? Wasn’t he missing?

They miss nothing. It is a step beyond word choice, beyond culling adverbs and discovering concision, beyond anything I’ve ever done before. It was a live preview into readership. When were they antsy and bored? When were they invested and unwilling for me to stop reading? When did something not click or seem less clear than I thought?

At no point did any of them say, “This story arc should be changed in these substantial ways.” They told me which characters they liked and why. Which characters failed to accomplish their purposes, though not in so many words. They told me when they were afraid for relationships, for character safety, for the outcomes. They told me when they were satisfied.

It was amazing.

As a second layer for me, my nieces are second generation on their father’s side. They perked up when they heard words from their second language. One said, “I always look in books for words I know, like a little wave.” The other said, “I can’t speak for everybody represented in your book, but I think you did a good job.” They are not representative of every character in the book or even every character like them. They cannot grant me absolution for any errors in representation. They do represent honesty for themselves and their own perspectives, because we’ve cultivated a relationship of it.

Edit by firing squad is not the first, the only, or the last edit. It was a terrific edit that gave me information in real time like no other edit to date has. And it sharpened aspects of the book I didn’t realize needed sharpening.

Is a live read edit something you would try?

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