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Author: Andrew Hilzendeger

Do Bunny, Egg, and Jesus Really Mix?

Exploring Christian traditions often provides a fresh outlook. Reflecting on this, I observed how my church community was gearing up for the celebrations. Discussions were centered around preparing eggs, decorating actual ones, and filling plastic ones with sweets and money. Fortunately, there was no mention of purchasing a bunny costume, as individuals costumed as the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus unsettle me, and nobody suggested that I wear the furry holiday outfit.

Amidst all that’s happening, I find myself pondering the connection to Jesus. I’m that person who questions everything—not to cause trouble, but to understand the reasons behind it all. When someone says, “That’s just how it is,” or “That’s just how we do things,” I can’t help but ask why. Tradition matters to me, but I’m more concerned with its origins, and I become skeptical if it seems no one has considered the rationale behind a tradition. After all, traditions often have tenuous reasons for their widespread practice.

Easter Sunday holds many surprises, and Britannica, a trusted research source, sheds light on some of them. According to Britannica, “The Council of Nicaea in 325 established that Easter should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox (March 21), making Easter a movable feast that could fall between March 22 and April 25.” This clarifies the common query about the exact date of Jesus’ resurrection. Regarding Easter symbols, Britannica states, “The custom of the Easter rabbit, believed to lay, decorate, and hide eggs, started in Protestant areas of Europe in the 17th century and spread in the 19th century. In the U.S., the Easter rabbit also brings baskets with toys and candy to kids on Easter morning, a tradition diverging from Catholic customs. Interestingly, in some parts of Europe, other animals like the cuckoo in Switzerland and the fox in Westphalia are said to deliver Easter eggs.”

Certainly, as Britannica highlights, Easter’s celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection has seen its traditions evolve significantly through the ages. The way it was first observed is quite different from how it’s celebrated in America today. Historical and cultural shifts have gradually reshaped these traditions, changing their original meaning and purpose.

The Easter holiday we celebrate today isn’t necessarily incorrect or in need of reform. It’s quite common for people to repurpose ancient symbols with new meanings that resonate with contemporary values. This isn’t a practice confined to Western culture; it’s seen in Eastern traditions as well. The Bible itself, including the Old Testament, is filled with examples of this, using familiar images and symbols to communicate messages of theological importance and to highlight the dominance of Israel’s God above others.

In wrapping up this history discussion, it’s my view that we Christians observe Easter Sunday in line with Church tradition, which doesn’t detract from the true essence of Jesus’ Resurrection. Indeed, the egg and bunny may seem like peculiar symbols to mark such a momentous triumph over death, but they’re our way of imparting significance and honoring the sacrifice made by God for our liberation. It feels right to celebrate Easter Sunday with that same sense of liberty, setting aside any strict adherence to our current cultural commemorative practices, and recognizing that God understands our intentions. Should there be a compelling need to alter a tradition as culturally ingrained as Easter Sunday, or even Christmas, perhaps it’s best to entrust that change to divine guidance, believing in the Holy Spirit to lead the way.

Echoing Jesus’ words, “Let the children come to me,” we might also embrace the idea of letting children enjoy their childhood and the fun that comes with it. So, go ahead and collect those Easter eggs, delight in the chocolate bunnies, and sing songs that honor the sacrifice of our Savior who secured our liberty. May peace prevail and the spirit of dominion fade from our hearts.

The Chosen: Season 4 Review (Part 2)

Episodes 4-6 of Season 4 begin with Jesus and the disciples comforting Thomas in his grief over Ramah’s death. As they transport her body to her native town, they are confronted by Kafni, her father, and his men. Overcome with sorrow, Kafni lashes out at Thomas verbally. While Thomas endures Kafni’s tirade, Jesus remains notably restrained, doing little beyond expressing condolences to Kafni and not intervening to calm the distraught Kafni.

It’s hard to believe that the Messiah tolerated such venom, especially when spewed at his most vulnerable disciple. On the other hand, how the real Jesus handled such scenes back in that day is anyone’s guess as we, the church, understand so little of Jesus as he’s described in the Gospels. He’s the Savior of humanity, certainly. He’s the ultimate teacher, God in the flesh, without doubt. All-the-same, God does not hold back the heartache, let alone dull human interaction when it comes to blows. Though involved, God won’t curb the outpouring of our hearts, whether it’s pure or ugly. He deals with it all.

Jesus surely dealt with all of it as well, which is precisely at the heart of these episodes, Jesus having subjected himself to the human experience, taking in good moments and bad when and how they happen. On their way back from delivering Rama, Jesus and his disciples encounter Roman soldiers who, by imperial law, forced the Jewish company to carry their equipment. The disciples had to leave their belongings behind to aid the soldiers, and Judas was having none of it, expecting Jesus to challenge Roman authority by refusing the burdens on behalf of his disciples. Yet, Jesus did no such thing; he did the opposite by not only welcoming the Roman equipment but going two miles instead of the legal mile to which they were obligated. None of his disciples got the lesson, and Jesus was alone in practicing humility, setting the example.

When Gaius came to Jesus about his son, only asking that the teacher speak the healing into existence by command, Jesus was uplifted. Such faith coming from a Gentile, let alone a Roman, it brightened Jesus’ day to see such faith. Then, in the next moment, leaving Peter’s house where Gaius had come to see him, Jesus dealt with a not-so-great moment, this time because of two of his disciples, James and John. The brothers asked for status and prestige, quoting Jesus’ words to back up their bold requests. This time, Jesus was having none of it. At first, Jesus sighed and side-stepped the request, but when the brothers came back around, wanting to know why, Jesus explained in frustration that they were out of their depth. He had to let them go on ahead to Lazares’ town to have some alone time with his father after such a day.

Wandering into a covering of trees with light beaming through the branches, Jesus prayed earnestly for his father to center him again. It was time to see Jesus process his thoughts and emotions in private, something we hadn’t seen until now. The writers were getting bold. Without coming across as overly spiritual or too heavenly, the scene pealed back the moment with such care: Jesus watched Mary and Zebedee work the olives into wine, pressing them with mechanisms of powerful force, and that showed Jesus’ pain, his burden, and he alone could carry it. The silver lining was someone coming along to comfort Jesus in his pain, whether they knew it or not. It wasn’t one of his disciples, or even his mother. Gaius, a Gentile, found him and hugged him for healing his son, not knowing what Jesus would soon do when the time came not for olives to be pressed but Jesus’ very body, for his body to be broken on behalf of the broken.

This story of Jesus nearing the inevitable is now officially delving into aspects of Jesus as God and man that have not been explored before in television or film. The Chosen is now in a place of intimacy with Jesus’ journey that is both surprising and profoundly encouraging. There’s no denying that The Chosen continues to push the boundaries of Christian storytelling, and their approach speaks to the creative relationship the writers and the direction have with God himself. He goes before them, and they follow.

Their only message to the audience is Come and See. Yes should be our response.

Full review coming soon.

The Chosen: Season 4 Review – 8/10

The initial episodes of The Chosen: Season 4 were recently shown in theaters, and with the theatrical run for episodes 1-3 concluding yesterday, many are now anticipating the season’s release for free online streaming. Is it worth the wait? Be aware, spoilers follow.

Before the premiere of the show’s first batch of theatrical episodes, director Dallas Jenkins and his team described the new season as more thematically intense than its predecessors. The initial seasons portrayed Jesus as a rabbi gaining prominence in Galilee and Capernaum, attracting a diverse group of followers, including fishermen and women from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds. This diversity drew the Pharisees’ scrutiny, which did not deter Jesus. Crowds were drawn to Him by tales of miraculous deeds, such as healings, exorcisms, and the multiplication of food for the multitudes. By the conclusion of Season 3, it appeared that the disciples had indeed followed the right leader, the Son of Man, who wielded authority over both the human body and the forces of nature. Additionally, the series depicted a blossoming romance among the disciples, with Thomas and Rama falling in love. The question remained: what could possibly go wrong?

Season 4 starts with a bang, though not without its flaws. The positives certainly outweigh the negatives. The showrunners, led by Dallas, dive right into the execution of John the Baptist in the first episode. Andrew, once a disciple of John, receives the grim news from a sympathizer within King Herod’s court. In the execution scene, as John prepares for the ax’s fall, he gazes out the window to his left and spots a lamb on a hillside under the scorching sun. This symbolic image signifies God’s welcome to John into paradise. Despite its visual appeal, this element doesn’t enhance the scene constructively. Moreover, the execution scene, which should have been deeply moving, intersperses John’s beheading with flashbacks to his birth, where his mute father, Zechariah, speaks God’s word over him for the first time. This biblical reference, while creative, fails to evoke the intended emotion, rendering John’s death a dispassionate conclusion to his earthly journey, as he passes the mantle to his cousin, Jesus.

The opening episode stumbled briefly, yet it’s excusable. The season swiftly rebounds with a scene where Jesus experiences a dream. He stands on a hill, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. He observes John the Baptist approaching him, bound in shackles. John extends his arms, as though to embrace Jesus, and his chains break. He signals to Jesus that the path is ready. With tears in his eyes, Jesus smiles and awakens, leading into Episode 2.

Following its first episode, this series takes the theological plunge into profound depths. After mourning John the Baptist’s death, Jesus takes his followers to Mt. Hermon, known as the Gates of Hell. Here, evil is said to be most potent. The decision to lead them to such a place, even to its very threshold, deeply disturbs the disciples and others in the group. Jesus assures them that, in the face of such darkness, the Church will battle evil and prevail, even at the Gates of Hell itself. Before arriving on this foreboding site, Jesus is bestowed the honor of being Rama’s spiritual father when she and Thomas plan to get married. She wishes that Jesus would give her away. Rama’s request, made before reaching the Gates of Hell, accentuates the gap between the disciples’ envisioned life and the reality that awaits them once Jesus completes his father’s mission.

Although the disciples have yet to understand the full danger of walking in Jesus’ footsteps, they are beginning to grasp his teachings on reconciliation. Simon and Matthew have been in conflict since abandoning their former lives to follow Jesus. Simon has previously declared he would never forgive Matthew for his tax collection for Rome, while Matthew, aware of Simon’s anger and aggression, finds it difficult to seek forgiveness. As fan favorites since Season 1, Simon and Matthew’s journey in ‘The Chosen’ culminates in a poignant and heartfelt reconciliation, reflecting the spirit of the New Testament authors.

In the final act of this trilogy’s opening salvo, Episode 3 portrays Jesus as angry and vocal, delivering a scathing critique of the religious authorities. His words carry an authoritative and stark bluntness, a departure from the serene, measured tone and reflective sermons of earlier seasons. Faced with demands for silence from the religious leaders, Jesus cautions that he is “just getting started.”

As the confrontation reaches a fever pitch, the Roman authorities attempt to disperse the assembly gathered at the synagogue’s entrance, where Jesus’ radical critiques are being heard. However, rather than scattering, the crowd starts to push back against the authorities, with an agitated Quintus drawing his sword in the turmoil. In a dramatic turn of events, The Chosen concludes the episode with the unexpected death of Rama, the woman Thomas wished to wed. This poignant ending effectively prompts Christian viewers to contemplate the significance of following Jesus in the face of devastating loss.

Observing the outcomes of this crowd-funded show, one cannot help but perceive a bold, divinely inspired direction at the helm. Each episode delves deeper into provocative and intriguing lines of thought, raising questions akin to those found in a thoughtful Bible study, but paired with exceptional writing and production quality that challenges even the most established Hollywood productions. The entertainment industry, often a leader in trends, finds itself trailing this time, as The Chosen has established a new vanguard, showing no inclination towards the decline seen in productions like God’s Not Dead. The Chosen is bearing fruit that God would be proud of, and the theater is where the harvest is now plentiful, supplied with tissues. Indeed, Jesus has Dallas on his payroll. It will be exciting to see where the story goes in the following episodes.

God Is in the Drama

I’ve seen The Chosen: Season 4, episodes 1-3, in the theatre. Having waited a year to see what this season would hold, I can now say it was worth the wait, and it’s inspired some reflection.

The Chosen is a blessing to Christians. Dallas Jenkins and his team had pulled back the veil of Christian tradition to write these historical figures with humanity, something that we had forgotten to notice in the scriptures. Believers now have entertainment that explores the faith authentically.

The crazy thing is we know where this story goes. We know how it ends. Dallas Jenkins has gambled on one truth that never fails. It’s what makes the audience care, even though it’s no mystery how the story ends.

The power is in the journey, how we get to the end. Since Season 1, which opened with Jesus’ healing Mary of Magdala near suicide, Jenkins and his team has gone to great lengths to tell this familiar story from unfamiliar angles. We’ve gotten to know the disciples. We’ve gotten closer to Jesus. What’s more, the writing focuses on Jesus through the eyes of the disciples. They love him, even though they’ve misunderstood him. They’ve followed him, even though they don’t quite know his purpose.

But Jesus has been their rabbi. He’s been human, walking with them, laughing and crying and swimming with them. He’s taught them, challenged and corrected them. He’s even ministered to them by not performing miracles to make their lives easier. He’s been living in the flesh as only God can.

Starring in this multi-season show, Jonathan Roumie’s Jesus has blessed viewers in ways Jim Caviezel’s Jesus never could. Where Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ tugged at heart strings in the span of a two-and-a-half-hour movie, The Chosen’s Jesus has had seasons to show his humanity, his warmth.

Of course, not everyone has recognized the value of telling Jesus’ story this way. While I was critical of this Jesus show in writing terms before converting to The Chosen fandom, many remain critical not just of the writing but of the show’s very existence. Many Christians consider it immortal, even blasphemous, to adapt the original text for any medium, period. To them, it adds to the Bible and leads many astray. To them, Dallas Jenkins has given his audience the option in The Chosen to roll the dice on the show’s historical accuracy instead of reading the Bible. In a time of convenience and illiteracy, such concerns have merit.

Ironically, The Chosen has had the opposite effect. Instead of leading viewers away from scripture, this multi-season story has left viewers hungry for the biblical text. A wave of genuine curiosity has swept the nation as the show brings the New Testament to life like never before.

That’s precisely what good Christian entertainment should do. It should reach a wide audience and tell stories that connect our humanity with the divine. That’s the power of drama.

There are 5 more episodes of this current season and 3 seasons left to go in the series. Hopefully, the curiosity doesn’t end with The Chosen in The New Testament. There’s a whole other Testament ripe for adaptation.

May God be in the drama.

Goodbye, 2023 – Part 1

The New Year is a fresh start for all of us. It is a chance to set new goals, kick bad habits, and envision better ways of living. While celebrating the New Year is universal, not everyone makes a resolutions list as it’s the follow-through that trips people up.

Even though I love setting goals, I count myself among the uninitiated. I make resolutions every year because I like the idea of change as much as I do the feeling. The follow-through is where I faulter. No matter how appealing these self-made opportunities for renewal are, I always struggle with making sacrifices. Having to lose something to gain another is a sandpaper notion. Plus, having to do it repeatedly is like paying taxes every pay period, feeling the sacrifice while seeing no real benefit.

If I’m continuing to be honest, my success is in small goals, like washing the dishes, going to the gym (once a month), or completing a Lego set with my girlfriend. I do really well in establishing small habits. I love peeling away the days on my FRIENDS Day-At-A-Time calendar. Apart from the upfront cost, there’s no sacrifice. It’s simply a matter of remembering to keep it current. 

The big goals, like actual resolutions, are a riskier story. In my mind, these long-term goals require consistency and sacrifice. Unless the goal really matters, like writing a novel, I don’t get more than 3 weeks in before giving up. 

Last year’s resolutions partially suffered such a fate. Before I met my girlfriend in February 2023, I was working on my weight, visiting the gym twice a week and eat better. I was also making a list of topics I wanted to write about, from the philosophical to the theological and cultural. You know, lightweight stuff. When I started dating my girlfriend, however, all that got mostly derailed. Romance was in the air. There were now two butts in the car for every adventure, and a couple’s lifestyle began to take shape. My single life all but disappeared, along with free time.

About ten months later, around the New Year, I looked back on 2023. Instead of thinking this new life meant abandoning old goals, I made resolutions list about as new as the new iPhone 15. I was coming back around for a sense of completion, even though I had stepped away for a time. I’m not really one to give up on a goal permanently. A new relationship simply makes one radically rethink their lifestyle priorities.

This year, my goals aren’t all that different. I still want to lose weight (shrink from a size 36 waist down to size 34), save up for a rainy day, and read more. By making these my targets, I’m joining the majority.

There is just one goal, however, that makes this year different, maybe even specialized. It’s my novel. Not everyone wants to do that, sit at a keyboard and type words for a thousand hours or more. Those who do face a heavy question, one that I have wrestled with since the day I realized how important writing a novel was to me, “What makes my novel stand out from all others?”

Competition is fierce. Hearing it on the radio during the pandemic as an item on one’s bucket list was a reminder that writing a novel was a goal that people, not just writers, think about. Good writers don’t necessarily have an English degree to parade on their resume. Those undercover talents can come from anywhere and snatch that gold ticket to literary success right from underneath those who have to work hard to be good. Also known as undergraduates with an English degree, the pro writers are few in number out there, and with their education worth a nickel and a dime in the job market, compared to a business or communications undergraduates, there’s little else worthwhile apart from writing a novel.

“What makes my novel stand out?” That question haunted me. It made me shiver for more than weeks and months. It lasted for years. I was testing my love of writing, and my future was on the line. When I expected burnout, the passion for storytelling came with giddy excitement instead. No matter how bad a day I had, the next day never failed to renew me. It proved to be as faithful as the sunrise. Time proved to be the Great and Powerful Ozz that pulled back the curtain where the answer had been tucked away.

That’s what separates my resolutions list from that of any other writer or person who thinks they can write. It’s not just a strong desire. It’s passion, an unstoppable drive to achieve excellence, telling the best story about the deepest and clearest message of significance to the reader.

Now that I’ve thoroughly set high expectations for my intent with this novel, I’ll pull the curtain back on this painful process through which I’ve dragged the daydreamer part of me for the past six years. 

Before I do that in part three, however, I’ll share two things in part two: first, the schedule I’ve carved out for the whole year to write this novel: and second, the painful journey that prepared me for such an arduous task. 

This 3-post series will be my way of saying goodbye to 2023 and the years before that, going back to 2018. The worst enemy to a writer who has a story in his mind is a concise filter to keep his epic journey to bite-sized chunks for a weary audience. The journey of a writer cannot be told in as many words. 

I’m using a concise filter, size XL. So, buckle up.