"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Remembering Syria & January Books

It's the last few hours of January and I just now finished the final pages of a pretty big book. Yay, I am glad I finished it in time to add to this list.  Here's what I read this month. Not as much as some months, but I started off slowly and just have been busy doing other things.  Three years ago right now I was in Syria. I decided to remember my days there by posting a few pictures on Facebook. I'm trying to post ones that I didn't post on Facebook when we got home. And I'm trying to share a few tidbits about the places we visited or people we met or things we did.  Also I'm trying to add just a few pictures each day and trying to correlate them to the actual date three years ago. For instance today we would have visited the Umayyad mosque and a really fancy Shiite mosque. You can check out the album at this public link - Remembering Syria.  Syria is in a mess these days.  Some of my friends from our visit are out of there now, but many remain.  My thoughts are often with them. 

Captured by Grace
by David Jeremiah -- although this was not on my wishlist, my brother gave me this for Christmas. What a challenging, good read for me!  A great way to start of the new year.  I made note of many things that spoke to me that I wanted to review later.  These are just a few things some of which I posted as Facebook status updates. 

"Mercy is God withholding the punishment we rightfully deserve. Grace is God not only withholding that punishment but offering the most precious gifts instead.

Mercy runs to forgive the Prodigal Son.
Grace throws a party with every extravagance.

Mercy bandages the wounds of the man beaten by the robbers.
Grace covers the cost of his full recovery.

Mercy hears the cry of the thief on the cross.
Grace promises paradise that very day. ..."  (pg. 22)

"Imagine discovering that the God you worship is Someone else entirely, Someone who bears radical differences to your most precious assumptions about Him. You would ask the very question Paul now asks: 'And he said, "Who are You, Lord?"'"  (pg. 112)

"...the essence of grace is surprise. There is nothing shocking about giving people exactly what they deserve. Grace subverts the rules and gives people what they don't deserve. It is motivated by the warmth of love rather than by cold calculation." (pg. 171)

Whose Bible Is It? by Jaroslav Pelikan - this was the first of my dozen Christmas books that I received and I got it from my Lil' Sis a couple weeks before Christmas day.  I cannot remember why I had it on my Amazon Wishlist, but enjoyed it nevertheless. The author started off talking about oral tradition in cultures and that lead to the writing down of the Bible over the centuries. His chapter on the Septuagint was interesting as was the Bible in various cultures. The binding of Isaac example was especially good.  He discussed peoples of the book and translating the Scriptures, the Bible according to Jews, Protestants, Catholics and so forth.  I should have been good and taken notes on these chapters. Alas, I did not.  He does conclude that the Bible is God's and "therefore really doesn't belong to any of us." 

The Book of Books: The Radical Impact of the King James Bible 1611-2011 by Melvyn Bragg.  This was one of those I found on the new books shelves at the library.  I enjoyed how the author showed how the KJB had influenced English speaking societies. I especially enjoyed his treatment of slaves and how the KJB spoke liberation to them and how they worked for their freedom. He made them seem very powerful.; see previous post for most information on this book

Jesus Before Christianity by Albert Nolan  -- one of those books I got from my Wishlist although I cannot recall why it was on there.  The author had some interesting ideas about things, however, so I'm glad I read it.  See previous posts for more details on this book

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother by Xinran  -- this book was so sad, but good!  I am glad I read it as I know couples who have adopted children from China.  It's sad to read how valueless daughters are in China that they are often killed at birth. Yet mothers are mothers and many of them do have great pain following through with tradition's evil dictates.  This book shares cultural aspects of China and includes stories of women who have given up children for adoption. A very moving read. I was in tears several times.

Below Stairs by Margaret Powell -- Although this book was copyrighted in 1968 it was on the New Books shelf at my library.  It is "The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired  Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey" according to the jacket cover. It was an easy read and pretty entertaining. If you want to know what life was like for one kitchen maid turned cook in England, this book might be for you.  A lesson I took from it is to respect all people and just because someone is a servant it doesn't mean she wants practical gifts and boring color schemes.

The Triumph of Christianity by Rodney Stark -- Last year I read a short book he wrote about the rise of Christianity and this book incorporates some of that information as well as quite a bit more. Prepare to have your thoughts on the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, the Dark Ages and the following periods challenged.  (Or maybe you'll simply scoff at how he makes a mockery of history.)  I actually enjoyed his point of view although I was left wondering if it were all true or a different sort of history revision.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Rethinking Hagar, Fearless Jesus, Chinese Women

Here are blurbs from books I've been reading in January.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of them.

In his book The Book of Books: The Radical Impact of the King James Bible 1611-2011  author Melvyn Bragg notes how different groups had read the biblical stories differently.  For instance Hagar was often seen much differently than this:

"In America, several black feminist historians have seen Hagar as someone with whom it is easy and important for former slaves to identify. She is seen as a slave forced into a pregnancy for the convenience of Abraham and the determination of Sarah that he should fulfil his dynastic destiny.  Then she is expelled for no fault of her own, out of jealousy and the possessiveness of the non-slave wife when she has no need for her. She is, like the African-American slaves, a thing, an object, to be used at will and rejected when the use is over and thrown out without a thought for her future life or that of her child.

'... Hagar, like many black women, goes into the wide world to make a living for herself and her child with only God by her side.'" (pg. 291)

In Jesus Before Christianity, Albert Nolan writes:

There are no traces of fear in Jesus.  He was not afraid of creating a scandal or losing his reputation or even losing his life. All the men of religion...were scandalized by the way he mixed socially with sinners, by the way he seemed to enjoy their company, by his permissiveness with regard to the laws, by his apparent disregard for the seriousness of sin and by what we would call a bad reputation: 'Look, a glutton and a drunkard.' ...In terms of group solidarity his friendship with sinners would classify him as a sinner....In an age when friendliness toward any woman outside of one's family could mean only one thing, his friendship with women and especially with prostitutes would have ruined whatever reputation he still had...Jesus did nothing and compromised on nothing for the sake of even a modicum of prestige in the eyes of others. He did not seek anyone's approval....His family thought he was out of his mind...; the Pharisees thought he was possessed by the devil...; he was accused on being a drunkard, a glutton, a sinner and a blasphemer but nobody could ever accuse him of being insincere and hypocritical nor of being afraid of what people might say about him nor of what people might do to him.

Jesus' courage, fearlessness and independence made people of that age ask again and again, 'Who is this man?'

(pg. 144)

And finally from the book I'm currently reading: Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother by Xinran

"Chinese women down the ages have never had the right to tell their own stories. They lived on the bottom rung of society, unquestioning obedience was expected of them, and they had no means of building lives of their own. So 'natural' had this become that most women wished for only two things - not to give birth to daughters in this life, and not to be reborn as a woman in the next."  (pg. 35)

This book is incredibly interesting though very sad and infuriating at times.  Can you believe a two thousand year old law which gives boys land and girls nothing has contributed to so many infant girls being "done"?  This is the country euphemism for smothering or strangling or dropping your newborn into the slop bucket so it would drown. 

How can people be so evil?!

Your thoughts?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Jesus on The Law and True Liberty

In Jesus Before Christianity, Albert Nolan writes:

Jesus did not see himself as a legislator. He did not wish to abolish the Mosaic Law...in order to promulgate a new law or in order to do away with all laws. Nor did he wish to add to it or subtract from it or amend it - not one jot or tittle ... What he wanted to do was to fulfill the law - to see to it that it fulfilled the role which God intended for it, that it achieved its purpose ... A person keeps God's law only when she or he fulfills the purpose of even "the least of these commandments" ... And the purpose of the law is service, compassion, love. God wants mercy not sacrifice....

Casuistry exploited the law for its own selfish purposes, thereby destroying the purposes of the law itself. By quibbling about trivialities, "the weightier matters" or purposes of the law, namely "justice, mercy and good faith" were neglected ... The insistence upon clean and unclean foods and the washing of hands and the imposition of these customs upon other people blinded everyone to the evil intentions of people toward one another ... The corban vow was used to evade supporting one's parents, thereby destroying the very purpose of God's commandment.... The scribes had forgotten or preferred to ignore the original purpose behind most of the laws. They had made the law into an oppressive power.

The leaders and scholars of Jesus' time had first enslaved themselves to the law. This not only enhanced their prestige in society, it also gave them a sense of security.  We fear the responsibility of being free. It is often easier to let others make the decisions or to rely on the letter of the law.  Some people want to be slaves.

After enslaving themselves to the letter of the law, such people always go on to deny freedom to others. They will not rest until they have imposed the same oppressive burdens upon everyone.

(pg. 87)

Later the author claims Jesus was deeply concerned about Jewish liberation yet while the Zealots "wanted a mere change of government - from Roman to Jewish, Jesus wanted a change that would affect every department of life and that would reach down to the most basic assumption of Jew and Roman.  Jesus wanted a qualitatively different world - the 'kingdom' of God. He would not have been satisfied with the replacing of one worldly kingdom by another worldly kingdom." 

The author believes Jesus was more concerned with "reaching down to the root cause of all oppression and domination: humanity's lack of compassion. If the people of Israel were to continue to lack compassion, would the overthrowing of the Romans make Israel any more liberated than before? If the Jews continued to live off the worldly values of money, prestige, group solidarity** and power, would the Roman oppression not be replaced by an equally loveless Jewish oppression?"

(pg. 116,117)

**  What is wrong with group solidarity? you may ask. The author is more concerned with solidarity with all humanity instead of dividing ourselves into tribes, nationalities, parties, sects and so forth.  He believes Jesus wanted us to genuinely care for ALL of humankind and not simply our group.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?  Do you believe some people want to be slaves?  Or do you think the author should have rephrased that because relying on the letter of the law and allowing others to make decisions is anything but slavery to you? What do you think about the idea of Jesus' relationship to the Law? Do you agree or disagree with the author?  Do you think Jesus was concerned with liberation of the Jews such as the author described or do you see things differently? Do you believe lawmakers (religious or otherwise) often make laws into "an oppressive power" so that they focus on trivial matters such as control rather than justice, mercy and love?  Do you see examples of religious leaders enslaving themselves to the law or rules in order to gain some prestige in society?  Do you believe some people truly fear the responsibility of being free?  What do you see as the root cause of oppression and domination? 

Please share any thoughts that came to mind as you read this.

(In case you wonder about all the ... in the first quote, I decided to leave out the biblical references the author provided for the sake of saving on typing.)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Polygamy in Poem; English Throughout the World

Despite my having received these twelve wonderful books for Christmas and being in the midst of reading the one whence my miracles post came, I made the mistake of dropping by the local library the other day and had to take a peek at the New Books shelves.  And, dadgumit, two books jumped off the shelf into my arms and came home with me!

I'm still reading Jesus Before Christianity (in fact the chapter on prestige and its relation to Jesus saying we should be like little children was great) and have completely finished two books from The Christmas Dozen.  Yet the library books need to be read before they are due in three weeks so I started The Book of Books: The Radical Impact of the King James Bible 1611-2011 by Melvyn Bragg. He's English so the book has those delightful English spellings and it's really so interesting to me to read an Englishman's thoughts on the KJB and its impact on Britain as well as the United States. 

In a chapter discussing the Bible and literature, I read this excerpt from John Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel about polygamy and found it cute enough to share (although anyone who knows me, probably realizes that I find polygyny as it's practiced for the most part, anything but 'cute.' Aaaaaand, in reality, this poem isn't so much 'cute' either as it's just witty....yes, let's say it's witty.)

In pious times, e'r Priest-craft did begin,
Before Polygamy was made a sin;
When man, on many, multiply'd his kind,
E'r one to one was, cursedly, confind:
When Nature prompted, and no law deny'd
Promiscuous use of Concubine and Bride;
Then, Israel's monarch, after Heaven's own heart,
His vigorous warmth did, variously, impart
To Wives and Slaves; And, wide as his Command,
Scatter'd his Maker's Image through the Land.

see the rest of this poem and more context here

This book is also where I got the John Adams quote which I posted on Facebook yesterday. I thought it was interesting especially after reading The English Is Coming! last year.
"English is destined to be in the next and succeeding centuries more generally the language of the world than Latin was in the last or French is in the present age. The reason of this is obvious, because the increasing population in America, and their universal connection and correspondence with all nations will, aided by the influence of England in the world, whether great or small, force their language into general use, in spite of all the obstacles that may be thrown in their way, if any such there should be."

—John Adams, Letter to Congress, 1780

Your turn: what do you think of either John Adams' thoughts on English or John Dryden's poem?  Would you describe it as "witty" or "cute" or something else entirely?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Miracles and Motives

Miracles are very often thought of, ... as events...that contract the laws of nature and that therefore cannot be explained by science or reason.  But this is not at all what the Bible means by a miracle... 'The laws of nature' is a modern scientific concept. The Bible knows nothing about nature, let alone the laws of nature. The world is God's creation and whatever happens in the world, ordinary of extraordinary, is part of God's providence.  The Bible does not divide events into natural and supernatural. God is in one way or another behind all events.

A miracle in the Bible is an unusual event which has been understood as an unusual act of God, a mighty work. Certain acts of God are called miracles or wonders because of their ability to astonish and surprise us, their ability to make us marvel and wonder. Thus creation is a miracle, grace is a miracle, the growth of an enormous mustard tree from a tiny seed is a miracle... The world is full of miracles for those who have eyes to see them.  If we are no longer able to wonder and marvel except when the so-called laws of nature are broken, then we must be in a sorry state.  (pg. 40,41)

How do you think of miracles? Do you believe they happen?

Why do you think Jesus did miracles?  What was his motive? We he reluctant or quick to prove himself by doing signs and wonders?

Or if you don't believe in miracles such as are reported in the Bible, why do you think Jesus' followers would say he did miracles? What was their motive?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of this!

Quote from Jesus Before Christianity by Albert Nolan

Sunday, January 1, 2012

'Cause they say confession is good for the soul

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?
26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
   28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."  

(words from Jesus as recorded in Matthew 6***)

Happy New Year!  Can you believe a dozen years have past since the Y2K hype with folks stockpiling food and water in case something bad happened because the computerized world might not be ready for a 2 as the first digit in the date?  Really, I can't quite believe how fast the years fly by.  I always heard this when I was in school, but, man, back then Chemistry class seemed to drag on forever so I was like "yeah right" when I'd hear an adult say such a thing.  Fast forward all these years, and I'm that adult.  Grrrrreat!

So today I was reflecting and resolving a bit since it is a brand new year.  I decided to go for a walk and I had this brilliant post in mind yet as I sit here hours later, I cannot recall what I wanted to say.

I did want to confess to this bad habit that I have.  See, I often approach holidays with some anticipation of all my family being together.  I enjoy myself, but there is this niggling thought about "who won't be here next year when Easter (or Thanksgiving or Christmas or the new year) comes?" 

And I hate that. I really do.  It's like this little thought bent on destroying my peace and joy. It's worry and fear tormenting me!

I want to live each day enjoying the moments, not worrying about future possibilities or probabilities.  I truly want to rest in knowing God has the future laid out and I can trust Him and rest completely knowing that my life is in His hands.  Yet that side of me that simply won't rest, won't trust, won't just relax and leave it all to God ... *sigh* 

For those of you who don't struggle with this either because it's not your personality trait to worry or you have complete faith in God or for whatever other reason that future happenings trouble you not in the slightest, I both admire and envy you. 

I was resolving today that I would trust God more. That I would dwell on His goodness and faithfulness instead of worrying about what might happen.

I want the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart to be pleasing to God (Psalm 19:14). Last year I was angry and bitter way too much.  God has been speaking mercy and grace to me lately. Christmas morning my pastor spoke on mercy.  My brother gave me a book - not from my wishlist, but one I decided to start reading first from the pile I got for Christmas. It speaks of grace. And God is speaking to me through this book.  The subtitle is "No One is Beyond the Reach of a Loving God" and if you knew the details of my life you'd know how timely this message is for me.  Today I was reading the pages about the Prodigal Son and was reminded anew why I adore this parable from Jesus.

Books I got for Christmas 

OK, enough from me. How was your New Year's Eve and first day of 2012?  I was with my family last night. We met at my brother's house and some watched movies while others of us played Apples to Apples and Scattergories.  We were laughing like crazy. Who says alcohol is required for fun?  We did just fine with our silly games!  :)

Do you have any resolutions for this year?  Any words of wisdom? Anything at all that you want to share? Feel free ... the floor is yours. 

*** Does it tell you anything about me that this passage was one I read often as a teen?