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

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

January Books

Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O'Brien  -- I really enjoyed this book because I love cultural stuff. This book points out areas where we as people living in the West may have "cultural blinders" which make us misunderstand parts of the Bible.  Or maybe not understand the verses in the ways the people living back then did.

They deal with such things as race and ethnicity, languages, individualism, honor/shame, time, rules, relationships, virtue and vice and everything being all about me.  Good stuff! Challenging stuff!  I want to read this one again to soak it all in.

1000 Years of Annoying the French by Stephen Clarke -- I saw this book nearly a year ago at a train station in Germany. I guess I forgot how long it was, but I put it on my Amazon Wishlist and received it for Christmas.  It was a rather interesting and amusing way of learning/reviewing/reading new stuff about the French and English conflicts (or should I say annoyances?) over the centuries. The author looks at people, events, places, food with interesting twists and humor.  I think I learned quite a bit.

And God Said by Dr. Joel M. Hoffman - I put this one on my Amazon Wishlist because I read something on HuffPo Religion about how shepherds (think Psalm 23) didn't convey today what they did back then.  And the Ten Commandments were not translated quite right (kill is more like murder and covet more like taking). Also the Song of Songs "my sister, my beloved" - that's not an incest thing, but a sign of equality in the relationship. Also the Hebrew levav incorporates emotions and rationality together.  So loving the Lord your God with all your heart includes both emotion and rational thinking.  So I saw a post online about this author and got the book. It was more technical than I thought, but not in a bad way.  Just a bit deeper and more into linguistics and translating than I might have thought. 

In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language by Joel Hoffman -- another book by the same author, this book was a bit more technical and while I enjoyed some of it, I realized I am not all that interested in how the pronunciation of ancient languages may have changed.  I did like the chapters about the Jews' magic letters - the consonants they used also as vowels - and the information about the Dead Sea Scrolls and reviving the Hebrew language in modern Israel.

Grace for the Good Girl by Emily P. Freeman -- the author "invites you to release your tight hold on that familiar, try-hard life and lean your weight heavy into the love of Jesus"

In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor's Journey in the Saudi Kingdom by Qanta A. Ahmed, MD -- After reading this, I wondered if one of my favorite bloggers who writes about Saudi Arabia had read it, and found this interview from a few years ago.  Apparently I'd seen it back then, but I reread it since I just finished the book last night.  The author tells about her impressions of the people in Saudi Arabia. At times I was giggling at her descriptions. Not necessarily that the people were so funny, but her word choices were amusing. Who describes someone's beauty this way?  "I studied her for a long time, searching for the source of familiarity in my attraction to ineluctable good looks. After a few moments I found it: the squared-off jaw leading to a subtly cleft chin; the perfect symmetrical nasolabial folds, deep lines stretched across full, high cheeks flanking the wide, warm smile; and finally, the endearing yet slightly imperfect alignment between her incisors peeping between wide bow-shaped lips were all very familiar. She was the Saudi Gloria Steinem."  (pg. 372)

I was sad during parts of this book especially the chapter on the lost boys: those the author claims are products of polygamous families and don't know quite where they fit because they often are sons of second, third or fourth wives.  Many of these came to her hospital intoxicated or with arms showing their drug usage. My heart went out to them.  I enjoyed reading about her hajj experience. The way she felt absolved of her sins from performing these rituals made me think of people who feel similar when they come to Jesus.

Dear Zari: The Secret Lives of the Women of Afghanistan by Zarghuna Kargar -- I'm not sure how this book ended up on my Amazon Wishlist, but I received it for Christmas and really enjoyed it.  Whenever I'm tempted to complain about my life, I should recall the truly awful reality for many women in this world. Not every story had a tragic ending, but most did. In this book you can read about a woman (a girl of 9 in reality) given to a family to settle her brother's gambling debt. She was badly mistreated and when she started her period, she was given to one of the son's as a vessel to produce his babies. Another lady was married to a man who was known in the village as a homosexual. Her marriage to him was only to give some respectability to the family, and she was sorely mistreated in this culture that dislikes homosexuality.  Another woman grew up as a boy - and this continued through adulthood so that she had no chance for marriage and having a family of her own. Instead she was mocked as a eunuch.  Throughout the book Zari speaks of her own life and I found this interview online just now if you are curious to learn more about her.  In the epilogue she wrote how the radio show was useful in helping women in Afghanistan so I was sad to read that the British government no longer funded the Afghan Women's Hour.  Apparently the show empowered women and gave information to them that was turning the tide.  Here is more about the book.

The Souvenir: A Daughter Discovers Her Father's War by Louise Steinman -- I like reading about history this way. The author discovers a Japanese flag that her father sent home from his time in World War II.  After an acquaintance translates the writing on it, the author decides to find the man or his family and return it. This takes her to Japan where she met the man's family, and later to the Philippines where she saw where her father had served.  I especially enjoyed her recollection of visiting Hiroshima and the peace museum there. Also it was interesting "seeing" Japan and the Philippines through her eyes.

Whose Land? Whose Promise? by Gary M. Burge -- "what Christians are not being told about Israel and the Palestinians" -- I enjoyed this book as the author identified the background to the problem, the Old Testament and the land, the New Testament and the land, and introduced us to several Palestinian Christians and evangelical Christian groups working for justice in Israel/Palestine.  I really wish many people I know would read this book because too many have a very lopsided view and stance on their nearly unconditional support for Israel. I understand why they support Israel, but willful ignorance is not a good reason.  Not when you can read books, search online for news and talk to people who have been there and can share the realities of life there.

Enemies of the People: My Family's Journey to America by Kati Marton -- Can you imagine receiving a file from the State where you glean more about your childhood than your parents ever told you? This was the "gift" left for the author when the Hungarian government made her parents' files eligible for her to receive.  The stories are told by informers to the State. A rather interesting book if you enjoy this sort of thing. I liked reading more of Hungary during the Communist rule and how this brave couple defied their government to realize their dream of living in the United States.

Sacrilege: Finding Life in the Unorthodox Ways of Jesus by Hugh Halter -- This unorthodox pastor gives tips on how to be Jesus to the world. I enjoyed many things he said especially entering into people's pain although I don't always like the commitment that takes.  Challenging book.

Our Brother's Keeper: My Family's Journey through Vietnam to Hell and Back by Jedwin Smith -- the author tells the story of his family, his childhood memories and his brother's death in Vietnam. He shares of his eventual meeting with his brother's fellow soldiers and takes a trip to see where his brother died. I got this from the library - good book overall

In My Brother's Shadow: A Life and Death in the SS by Uwe Timm -- a German man reveals his thoughts and research as he reads his brother's diary. I enjoyed this look into a German family's life during the war. It was especially interesting hearing his thoughts about the silence of the German people: did they really not know what was happening to the Jewish people?; also see this post

Coming Home to Jerusalem by Wendy Orange -- The author, a Jewish American, decides to visit Israel, falls in love with it so much that she decides to move there with her young daughter. This book describes her first days and weeks, first winter there (which she hates).  Later she meets many Palestinians, traveling for her work as a journalist to the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem.  Many things stood out to me in this book: how Israelis fear, the racist banter that flows freely, the sense of community, the fact that the Sephardim are looked down upon by the Ashekenazim.   I understood a little how she felt. Just reading the book made me want to move there..and I've never even wanted to visit Israel!  Really though it made me remember my days in Syria. And how I missed it so much even though I was only there for twelve days. I wanted to move there if I could.  (By the way, we left four years ago today - January 28 - for Damascus.)  Wendy was in Israel when the IDF left Gaza, when Arafat returned, she reported on Jordanian and Israeli leaders signing a peace accord, she talked to settlers, men in Hamas, and many many others. (I only wish I could have sat in on some of those conversations!) 

She quoted both a Jewish woman and an Arab man telling how Palestinians are the Jews of the Arab world.  (pgs. 59 & 169)  I found that interesting, but it makes sense now that I consider how Palestinians have been treated by other Arab countries.

I like the story of how she and another leftist Jew were invited to present the Israeli viewpoint on a (then) recent PBS documentary.  She knows the two Palestinians asked to join the panel and all during lunch, the four of them are agreeable and having fun while the host tries to create divisions in order to make the upcoming discussion more... well, whatever TV people look for in panels.  She was amazed that once they started talking about the documentary, how those divisions came up. They'd just been together laughing and talking and being so agreeable - what happened? Upon reviewing it, she realized what was "minor for Jews leapt out as central for the Palestinians, and vice versa. ... I hear Charles and myself as sounding exactly like right-wing Jews."  (pg. 220)

Also interesting was Bibi Netanyahu's election - and how the Sephardim (who tend to be the working, poorer, darker, from-Arab-countries Israelis) were elated that "their guy" won! I never would have guessed that. Of course this book was about things in the 1990s...perhaps this has changed.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Blind Spots

In the book In My Brother's Shadow: A Life and Death in the SS, Uwe Timm reflects on the diary his brother kept for almost six months in 1943. The entries are short

14 February
We expect action any time now. On the alert from nine-thirty.

15 February
Danger over, waiting

14 March
Airplanes. Ivans attacking. My looted Fahr machine gun, too heavy, shoots like a mad thing I can hardly hold it steady, a couple of hits

Stuff like that though the author is troubled over a few, such as

21 March
Bridgehead on the Donez. 75 m away Ivan smoking cigarettes, fodder for my MG.

But a note home is what prompted me to post.  His brother, fighting for the Nazis in the Ukraine, writes home:

"I'm worried about everyone at home, we hear reports of air raids by the English every day. If only they'd stop that filthy business. It's not war, it's the murder of women and children - it's inhumane."  (pg. 84)

The author is troubled by his brother's inability (or unwillingness) to see the parallels to what the English are doing in Hamburg with what he, Karl-Heinz, and his fellow Nazis are doing in the Ukraine and beyond.

How often do we see the bad in what others are doing, but don't apply those same standards to ourselves? I think of 9/11 and all the innocents who died. Yet many who protest those murders seem little troubled by those in other countries who are killed by our wars and our drones. You know, that collateral damage.

I'm sure I could think of other examples.  Can you? Do you think we have blind spots to our own faults yet clearly see the faults of others? How can we remedy this?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Changing the Culture

I was reading a book the other day about women in Afghanistan.  So much of what happened, many Muslims would argue is not true Islam. Among other things, these women were denied inheritance, made to marry men they didn't meet until their wedding ceremonies, traded for gambling debts or because their fathers wanted second wives, beaten and so forth.  Often I read blogs about things happening in Saudi Arabia with the disclaimer that those are tribal practices, not Islam.  Female circumcision, again, cultural. Even Christians do such things, I've heard.

I understand in pre-Islamic Arabia that little girls were often killed, and Islam put a stop to that.  Additionally men and women were able to practice polygamy, and Islam did away with women marrying multiple men while limiting Muslim men (except Muhammad) to only four at a time.  So some good stuff, some bad (if you were a woman wanting more than one husband anyway.)

I was wondering how good is it for religion to influence and change native cultures.  Where is the balance? Do we seek to bring "correct" scriptural teachings to these people so their cultures will value girls, honor women and just be nicer? Or do we live and let live, and allow people to do what is traditionally best for them and stop caring what they do to each other as long as it doesn't hurt us?


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 Meme

1. What did you do in 2012 that you’d never done before?

visited Eagle's Nest

2. Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I didn't make any that I recall. Probably not.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

one of my good school friends had a little girl, Ivey, in June; she has three boys already

4. Did anyone close to you die?

my grandfather, Pop

5. What countries did you visit?

Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, and England (airport only)

6. What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?

a new phone - it's time I got smart

7. What date from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

June 8  - two months after his 86th birthday, Pop left us

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

flying to Europe

9. What was your biggest failure?

doing little to make the world better

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

just the usual bruises of mysterious origins

11. What was the best thing you bought?

plane tickets

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Michael -- he's just a super guy; and he did an outstanding job at his church Christmas play as Sherlock Watson. I'm not just saying that because I'm his aunt. He did awesome!

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Syrian regime, and Morsi, and I'm sure I could think of others including myself at times

14. Where did most of your money go?

health insurance or plane tickets

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

seeing Samer during our second trip; I wasn't excited about the first trip until I got there (true story)

16. What song(s) will always remind you of 2012?

Cheer Up, Ye Saints of God  (reminds me of Pop)

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

i. Happier or sadder?

ii. same

iii. Thinner of fatter?

iv. fatter

v. richer or poorer?

vi. richer

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

helping the poor; making a difference

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?


20. How will you be spending Christmas?

I spent it with my inlaws for lunch and my family in the evening at Mema's apartment

21. How many one-night stands?

this is a silly question

22. What was your favorite TV program?

The Amazing Race  -- I love seeing other parts of the world, their cultures and the people

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

24. What was the best book you read?

This is always a tough one for me, but among my favorites were

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans -- just a fun book, with lots of good truths!  (I'm making Andrew read it...haha)

Even After All This Time: A Story of Love, Revolution, and Leaving Iran by Afschineh Latifi  -- I really enjoyed this lady's tale about moving from Iran and settling into life in the United States

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother
by Xinran -- I like about anything written about China especially on this topic. Fascinating!

 American Nations by Colin Woodard -- this one helped me better understand my country and why we are so divided in our thinking

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

When Zach was 17 months old, I was singing in the kitchen at my dad's house and he was playing nearby.  When I failed to finish a phrase of a song, he sang it perfectly. I didn't even know I'd sung the song enough that he knew it! 

26. What did you want and get?

a new mattress on December 1

27. What was your favorite film of this year?

I think I only watched movies on airplanes this year, and I can't remember what all I watched.  I'll say Puss in Boots since Andrew and Michael thought that one was oh-so-funny.

28. What did you do on your birthday?

early voted in the NC primary, and went to Purple Penguin with Michael and Andrew that evening  (I checked my calendar to remind myself)

29. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2012?
comfort is key

30. What kept you sane?

talking to my friends here and occasional outings with real-life people

31. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

no one

32. What political issue stirred you the most?

all the drama over debt ceiling and fiscal cliffs - why do they wait 'til the last minute so the media can make it so dramatic?

33. Who did you miss?

I still have days where I really wish I could see Pop again, but I know he is well now and that helps

34. Who was the best new person you met?

Daniel - a German-American guy we talked to on a train from Munich to Nuremberg back in March; two hours, standing up outside the WC - the train was crazy-busy

35. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012.

If used correctly, Facebook can be a tool for learning a lot about a variety of viewpoints!


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

On the sin of eloping and guessing on a multiple-choice exam


Two stories from the current book I'm reading, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O'Brien. 

One of the authors talks about a conversation he had with some elders in a village on an island near Borneo. They'd asked his opinion about "a thorny church issue."  A young couple had lived among them for several years after leaving their home village after committing a "grievous sin."  The couple had attended their church for a decade and lived godly lives.  Now they wanted to join the church.

"Should we let them?" asked the obviously troubled elders.

Attempting to avoid the question, I replied, "Well, what grievous sin did they commit?"

The elders were reluctant to air the village's dirty laundry before a guest, but finally one of them replied, "They married on the run."

In America, we call that eloping

"That's it?" I blurted out. "What was the sin?"

Quite shocked, they stared at this young (and foolish) missionary and asked, "Have you never read Paul?"

I certainly thought I had. My Ph.D. was in Paul.

They reminded me that Paul told believers to obey their parents (Eph. 6:1). They were willing to admit that everyone makes mistakes. We don't always obey. But surely one should obey in what is likely the most important decision of his or her life: choosing a spouse.

I suddenly found myself wondering if I had, in fact, ever really read Paul. My "American Paul" clearly did not expect his command to include adult children deciding whom to marry. Moreover, it was clear that my reading (or misreading?) had implications for how I counseled church leaders committed to faithful and obedient discipleship."  (pg. 18)


Here's another cultural thing I found amusing

Randy was grading a multiple-choice exam in Indonesia. He couldn't believe some people left answers blank.

"Why didn't you select an answer on question number three?"

The student looked up and said, "I didn't know the answer."

"You should have at least guessed," I replied.

He looked at me, appalled.  "What if I accidentally guessed the correct answer? I would be implying that I knew the answer when I didn't. That would be lying!"

I opened my mouth to respond, but then realized I was about to argue him to a lower standard!  I shut my mouth.  My American pragmatism had been winning out over my Christian standard of honesty. What was worse was that I hadn't even noticed until a non-Western person pointed it out. What I have found equally interesting is that my Christian students in the United States don't enjoy this story - because they still want to guess answers.  Nonetheless, the challenges of reading with others' eyes should not deter us. We can learn so much from each other."  (pg. 20)

Do you have any similar stories to share about cultural misunderstandings or differences in understanding Scripture (or anything really)? By the way, I absolutely love this book so far!