Another month is nearly over, and I don't think I'll finish another book by tomorrow so I'll go ahead and post this now. I'm still making pretty good progress on From Plato to Nato which is the somewhat intimidating book I started one month ago today. For those asking, I am on page 398.
What Saint Paul Really Said
by N.T. Wright -- the author claims Paul was not the founder of
Christianity rather a "faithful witness and herald of Jesus Christ";
this book was a bit difficult for me to get into, but had some
interesting points. I especially enjoyed the thoughts of Jesus within
Jewish monotheism and how Paul's views of creation, for instance, would
contrast with the pagans - as well as what many of us believe today
The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Kang Chol-Hwan -- My
friend Adam has lived in Seoul for several years now and he recommended
this book which I got for my birthday. Political prisoners' families
often are taken to camps to serve sentences. The author was ten years
old when his grandmother, uncle, father, sister and himself were taken
to such a place. This book tells the story of life inside the camp and
Kang's escape to China and later South Korea.
Can you imagine? -- So in this book I'm reading on North Korea, Kang
Chol-Hwan talks about a Confucian tradition "which continues to hold
sway in present-day* Korea." This happened in his family**: "a married
woman BELONGS to her HUSBAND'S FAMILY and remains so, irrespective of
divorce or separation. If she tries to return to her parents' home, she
will most likely be turned away." (emphasis mine)
* This book was published in 2000 in France so maybe things have changed since then.
** His father at age 15 was forced to marry a girl about the same age.
They didn't love each other so when he divorced her, she had to live
with HIS parents. He went to Japan, married again and then brought his
new bride to live at his parents' house. Where his exwife still lived.
When Kang finally made it to South Korea he
had a hard time adjusting at first. He was one of the oldest at
college, yet students would sit in front of him and smoke - something
you didn't do to an older person where he came from. He said "The North
is hypertraditionalist. Friendships between members of the opposite sex
is not the norm. When a man speaks to a woman his own age, he employs
the familiar form of address, she the formal. Relations follow a strict
hierarchy. Here, we were equal! Some of the female students were so
self-confident, they hardly paid me any attention when I spoke to
them." (pg. 228)
I posted these notes on Facebook, and Adam and I discussed them
somewhat. That was interesting hearing his thoughts on Korean culture.
Not a Fan. by Kyle Idleman -- This pastor challenges us to be followers of Jesus, not just fans.
many Christians the concept of denying themselves was not part of the
deal. They grew up with the message that such a radical decision really
isn't necessary. So they signed up to follow Jesus, but if denying
themselves was part of the explanation, it was definitely the fine
print. That's especially true of American Christians. In part, this is
due to the collision of Christianity with American capitalism. It has
created a culture of consumers in our churches. Instead of approaching
their faith with a spirit of denial that says, 'What can I do for
Jesus?' they have a consumer mentality that says, 'What can Jesus do for
me?'" (pg. 148)
If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home
by Lucy Worsley -- see previous post on childbirth and bicycling
1696, the basic tax upon a household was levied upon the number of
hearths. But the 'hearth tax' was difficult to collect because tax
inspectors needed to enter people's houses to check the number of
fireplaces. Clearly they weren't going to be welcome visitors. When in
1696 a new tax was levied instead upon windows, the inspectors had only
to walk round the outside of the house and count." Detractors called
this "a tax upon light and air." (pg. 196)
"In 1908, Ellen Richards calculated that an eight-room house
required eighteen hours of cleaning time a week just to remove dust.
Washing the windows and walls would take the total up to twenty-seven
hours a week, even before the clothes-washing, bed-making and cooking
began. This was simply unsustainable after the two world wars removed
the huge infrastructure of servants who had done such work in the
past." So labor-saving tips were needed and "books for the newly
servantless middle classes began to appear." One taught how to break an
egg, and advised "them not to chop onions with raw hands because the
smell will linger and spoil the enjoyment of a later cigarette." (pg.
"[Refrigerators] were initially rather glamorous possessions,
and in the 1930s their owners might invite their friends to a
'refrigerator party' where each course was pre-prepared and then whipped
from its own shelf in the fridge. Cookbooks from the period show
guests in evening dress gathered in the kitchen to enjoy the novelty of
eating an entire meal of cold food." (pg.271)
Memories of Eden
by Violette Shamash -- This book was the memoir of a Jewish lady who
grew up in Baghdad before it was Iraq. Well, it became Iraq during her
time there. I enjoyed reading about interactions with the neighbors
(she said they got along well with the Muslims and, in fact, often acted
like mediators between Shias and Sunnis who argued with each other more
than they did the Jews.) By the way, Jews made up 40% of the population
of Baghdad at this time. I found the Jewish culture aspects
interesting though I think none of it really surprised me. They favored
sons. Mother in laws were upset when mothers produced more daughters.
Same old stupid stuff. Did you know haircuts were immodest?
the 1930s, the mere idea of having a haircut was unthinkable, a girl's
hair being considered her crowning glory. The only way to tame such a
lot of thick and wavy hair was to wear it in two ringlet-like plaits.
Almost all of us wore it this way, but it was time consuming and seemed
old fashioned. The breakthrough came when the first ladies'
hairdressing salon opened and was patronised by the younger element - a
controversial break with tradition. A popular song that captured the
disapprobation of our elders went "...'The chaste daughter [of the
house] has had her hair cut! God help us, where will that lead us? She's
taken leave of her modesty.'" (pg. 30)
a girl's life mission - of course - was to get married, keep house and
raise babies. Education was not necessary for girls although Violette's
dad let his daughters attend school. Working outside the home was seen
as something only girls from poor families would do. So well-to-do
ladies would never stoop so low as to work.
The chapter on love and marriage was good as was her discussion of sabbath and "high holy days."
Also I was under the impression that
Muslims welcomed Jews into the Middle East when it was awful Christians
in Europe who persecuted Jews. Well, I suppose to some degree this was
true, but not the entire truth. I was shocked to read of the Arabs
embracing Nazism and turning on their Jewish neighbors and friends. Not
all of them. The author gave very sweet examples of Muslims who
protected scores of Jews. But still, I didn't realize the Arab Muslims
(and maybe Christians?) embraced Hitler's ideas of ridding the world of
Jews. That was sad for me to read.
The author and her family ended up leaving Iraq for India, later Palestine, then Cyprus and finally London.
In the Steps of St. Paul by H.V. Morton -- This book was given to
me by a thoughtful friend for my birthday. Initially I thought I'd
have to wait until I read the other big book I'm reading, but later when
I was flipping through this one, I saw where it was not overly-deep and
would be a nice book to read at the same time as the other book (From Plato to Nato). In the past year or so I've enjoyed travel
books from Vietnam, through various other parts of Asia, Iraq and the
Middle East and even the one about the family who took a whole year to
travel around the world. This book tells of the author's journey to the
various places mentioned in the Bible where Paul traveled - anywhere
from his journey to Damascus to persecute Christians to his missionary
travels to his imprisonment and supposed death in Rome.
The author talked of ruins he saw (he especially admired the Parthenon
p. 312), customs of the people then and now, how Paul would have seen
the cities (it was quite thought-provoking when he would describe the
ghost towns some places now were compared to how they would have been
back in their primes), people he met, how these certain 'races' were
(sometimes these were a bit off-putting [i.e., describing how current
Greeks were unlike the ones depicted on statues and the impression that
they were not as pretty; how he described Arabs and Jews], but in the
introduction Bruce Feiler warned about this so it wasn't as surprising).
Actually that part was also rather interesting because his honesty
revealed quite a bit about how people were perceived back then. Oh, did I
mention this travel was in the mid 1930s? So, yeah, I do wonder how
things have changed in these cities/towns/ports in these last 75 years!
Some brief notes I took:
-- impressions of Tarsus - how St. Paul was born at this place that
bridged East and West; rather fitting for a man who took an eastern
faith into the western world (pg. 68)
-- in Aleppo he met a sheik with four wives listed on his British passport (pg. 88)
-- he mentioned a custom of salting Arab babies (pg. 91)
-- he discussed Antioch's scientific achievements, modernity (pg. 99)
-- mused on Paul's 'thorn in the flesh' - could it be malaria, headaches? (pg. 104)
-- talked about the destruction goats have caused by eating vegetation and seedlings and leaving lands barren (p. 125)
-- he met a Cypriot who could "speak American" (pg. 125) -- did I mention the author was English?
-- the author greatly admired the progress made by Ataturk and told of
the great changes in Turkey; once he made me laugh when a Turk told a
sexist joke and the author said with the new modernity in Turkey, he
(the Turk who made the joke) should be a feminist (pg. 201)
-- I enjoyed the section on Paul "the babbler" which was when the
Athenians wanted Paul to explain himself more. The author said Paul
didn't speak from an Old Testament knowledge of religion which would
have made no sense to these people. Instead he used common religious
terms and ideas in order to establish some commonality. (pg. 318)
-- The authors impressions of Greece and the Greeks in particular was
interesting especially as I compared what a couple Greek men told him
about their own people. "'That is the curse of my country,' said
Sophocles. 'We all know. We all think we could do so much better than
the people in charge. We all believe that if we were in control of the
country everything would be all right. Every Greek rules Greece in his
own mind.'" (pg. 329)
-- The author mentioned the love of the sea is a modern notion because
often in ancient writing the sea is an enemy. I enjoyed his musings on
this. (pg. 428)