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

Monday, February 29, 2016

Bits from "Deep South"

Happy Leap Day!  Last time we had a February 29th, Andrew and I visited Bamberg, Germany, with a friend.  This year, I'm home.  How about you?

Recently Andrew and I were at a Barnes & Noble in Myrtle Beach, SC, and we were looking at travel books. I text him the names of a few authors and books that looked good.  Before buying books, I like to see if my local library has them. Sure enough the Graham library had Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads by Paul Theroux on the New Books shelf!  What an interesting read!  First a couple posts I wrote on Facebook about it:

I'm reading "Deep South" by a man from Massachusetts. In it the author, Paul Theroux, talks about food he encounters along the way. I chuckled at his description of okra "as viscous as frog spawn, next to a kettle of sodden collard greens looking like stewed dollar bills."   :-D
This was early on in the book, but I noted many pages later - this book has over 400 of them - that he ordered a side of fried okra to go with his chicken salad so ...

Also, I'm not a fan of collard greens, but I've read that partly why they are eaten on New Year's Day (or is it Eve? -- clearly it's not a southern tradition I've been part of) is that they resemble money and are supposed to be lucky.   How's that workin' out for folks, I wonder.

I included a link to the book with this recommendation on Facebook: 

If you enjoy travel books, and hearing stories about the people who live in certain areas of the world, and experiences of authors traveling there, I recommend this one. The author focuses more on the Lowcountry, the Black Belt, the Delta although not exclusively. It's an interesting collection of stories of blacks, whites, even a Lumbee or two. What I like, too, is that the author didn't just write about a one-time journey through these cities and states. He went back in the different seasons, and checked in on people he met during previous trips, and sometimes he met new people. He visited churches, and gun shows, pawn shops, diners, and more.


Here are just other tidbits from the book that I noted:

In this book I met such interesting characters such as the lawyer/pastor Virgin Johnson ("My grandfather picked the name, it seemed special - Virgin Mary, virgin soil, virgin anything. My son is Virgin the Third." pg. 60) of South Carolina; the Greensboro, Alabama, historian "Our Randall Curb"; the author Mr. Curb introduced us to, Mary Ward Brown (called Mary T - short for Mary Thomas) age 95, and many, many more!   The author speaks of southern literature, the use of the N-word including the usage by black rappers and how black folks greet each other in some circles with forms of this word "nigga" or "niggaz" (some claim that by using it, they take the power out of it.); he takes us to Bill Clinton's birthplace as well as the area in which he grew up.   I really enjoyed learning more about Strom Thurmond's secret, biracial daughter.   And what should one think of the claim about white southern politicians supporting racial groups because it was politically good for them?  (The author mentioned Bill Clinton's eulogy of Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia.) 

The author has traveled to many places in the world, and often hearing someone's story is easy.  But he notes: "Poor Americans, who have very little, still have their privacy - in many ways it is their last possession, and they resist losing it. That is a challenge for a traveler who is curious to know: What do people do when they don't appear to do anything?"  (pg. 24)

"...people attended church to find hope, dignity, love, consolation, fellowship, and advice. The church was central to life here in a way I had never seen elsewhere in the United States - certainly not where I was born. A church in the South resembled the life around a mosque or a temple in India or Africa."  (pg. 149)

The author mentions "Dot Indians" who have come to the South and own a bunch of the hotels.  Overwhelmingly (70% of all Indian owned hotels) these people have the last name Patel and come from the same region of India.  (pg. 161)  Also he noted once or twice that the reason Indians owned the hotels were that white people didn't want to sell them to black people.

The author goes to at least three gun shows, and he comments how polite and considerate everyone is there. He describes the process for checking in, emptying your guns, and tagging them.   I have never been to a gun show or a pawn shop (that I recall) so it was interesting to read about those experiences and impressions especially related to who goes to the shows and the atmosphere there.

I enjoyed a couple of stories shared about people he met - at their houses or places of work --  who wanted to shoot guns with him. One was a sixty-two-year-old lady who wanted to see if she were a better shot than he (she was.)

One time the author showed up for an appointment fifteen minutes late.  A black lady in attendance was angry, and started talking about "white privilege," accusing him of taking advantage because he was late and didn't bother to call when he could have (he had a cell phone, after all!)  She accused, you didn't bother to call because you are white. You assumed I'd wait for you to come since I'm black!  He was stunned by her accusation.

And then there is this...

In Vicksburg, Mississippi,  when he told the group in a restaurant that he was from Massachusetts a white lady turned hostile accusing him of starving them.  "You made us eat rats!" she said referring to the siege (that was 1863, folks.)

As one person he met along the way said of the South, "history is alive and well here." 

Thankfully, the author didn't write in dialect throughout the whole book.  He did a little at times, but it wasn't overdone.  (If it had been, I'd probably stop reading.)  I'm a Southerner, but I hate reading more than a few words written in our accent.  I am used to writing and reading in a regular way, no' lahk thees, ya know?  Occasionally he'd mention a person saying he'p for help or "what the hail are you doing?"  cause we often really do say "hell" like "hail."   One thing the author quoted early on in the book were the words "ah mo."  I immediately recognized "ah" for the way many of us say "I," but "mo" threw me.  Is this "more"?  But then I read a few of the sentences out loud, and it made more sense.   One example. See if you can figure it out. 

Eutaw's first black mayor had served three terms, but lost the last election.  He spoke of how the election was dirty, and when the author suggested that he - Mayor Steele - could now just run his dry-cleaning business and let the new mayor try to solve Eutaw's problems, the former mayor is quoted as saying, "Exactly right.  Ah mo buy me some popcorn, set me down, and watch the show."  (pg. 81)

I read one of Peter Theroux's (Paul's brother) books back in late 2011.  Peter's book was about his travels in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.  Here is that post.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

"God Can Take It"

One last bit from the book I've written about the last couple of days.

I enjoyed this section under "God Can Take It."   I couldn't help but think of an atheist friend whom I've never met, but we've been blogger, and now Facebook friends, for several years.  I know bits and pieces about her past so, while she sometimes posts vile things about God and my beliefs in Jesus - some things that make me cringe a little because they are blasphemous, I try to "listen" to her suffering heart, remembering from where she comes, and pray instead that Love will one day reach her and heal her. 

Speaking of interpreting the message of Job after "suffering on the scale of the Holocaust," the author says about the Book of Job, "We cannot read into it reassurances that things will work out for us in the end if we just trust God, for things do not always work out.  Interpretations of Job that do no more than confirm the absolute wonderfulness of God simply do not speak to the pain and suffering of real people.

... Those of us who choose to believe in a benevolent and powerful God, despite the suffering that we see all around us,...cannot use God, or our belief in God, to dismiss other people's pain.  Sometimes, this means listening to things that make us uncomfortable or challenge our beliefs.  It means allowing people to speak ill of things that we think well of - including (and perhaps especially) ourselves.  And it means listening compassionately to those who criticize, contradict, or seek justice from God or from the human institutions that claim to represent Him.  God can take care of Himself; our responsibility is to take care of each other. 

To meet our obligations to our fellow human beings, we need not believe that God is lacking in either power or goodness.  We just need to understand that He does not require our assistance in dealing with challenges to His authority.  We do not have to protect God from criticisms, complaints, and petitions...He can take criticism.  He can handle complaints.  And He has no need to fear when human beings ask Him to do things differently.  Too many people - often from positions of ecclesiastical authority - spend their time trying to make sure that God's feelings do not get hurt.  This is how we become the Comforters [used in this book to refer to Job's friends] when we should be listening - really listening with our hearts - to the suffering Job."

An excerpt from page 134  of  Re-reading Job:Understanding the Ancient World's Greatest Poem by Michael Austin

Friday, February 26, 2016

Job and Jesus

Just something I wanted to note from the book I mentioned yesterday.

"If there is one uncontestable theme in the Book of Job it is that God lies entirely outside human understanding. ... If anybody manages to read all the way to the end of Job without getting the point, Yahweh himself shouts it from a whirlwind for the last four chapters.  God is not the sort of being that humans can even begin to understand.

The problem with perspective goes both ways. Human beings cannot understand God, but, at the same time, Job's God shows little ability to sympathize with human beings.  God's speeches are not even as comforting as those of Job's friends. He shows no interest in Job's feelings or his pain. He sees some people making theological arguments based on false premises and decides to spend a few hours shouting sarcastic comments out of a whirlwind in order to set them straight.  The Book of Job, therefore, shows us two perspectives - human and divine - that cannot be reconciled to each other.  Job, therefore, introduces the argument that human beings have a desperate need for reconciliation with God, which is also a central theme of the New Testament.

As one who was both fully human and fully divine, Jesus Christ could inhabit both perspectives at the same time.  He could simultaneously experience both Job's agony and God's responsibility. As Paul writes in his first epistle to Timothy, 'there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus' (I Tim. 2:5)."  

An excerpt from pages 116-117  of  Re-reading Job:Understanding the Ancient World's Greatest Poem by Michael Austin

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Blasphemy (?!) of Job

Have you ever started reading the Book of Job, been amazed at how much he suffered, and how well he seemed to accept the bad things in life in the first chapter or two, and then read the bulk of the Book, and wondered what happened to this guy of whom was said  "In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing." (1:22)?    Because he totally did that!  

I finished reading a fantastic book, Re-reading Job:Understanding the Ancient World's Greatest Poem by Michael Austin, last night.  A Facebook friend read it last year, and highly recommended it. At times I enjoy reading how other people* understand biblical books, and so I put this on my Amazon Wishlist and received it for Christmas.  The author captured my attention from the first page.  There are many good points throughout the book, and I didn't start noting them much until I was in the last few chapters.  Here are a few things that took my attention there.

From the chapter, "Why Job's Redeemer Does Not Live - and How He Does"...

The author talks in detail about why this phrase from Job does not speak of Christ.

"But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last."

However, New Testament truths are in the Book of Job.

"When Job lists his virtues in his final speech, he says nothing about praying, fasting, or physically worshipping God in any way.  Rather he talks about how he has treated other people:"

see Job 31:16-20

Job, his friends, and the author of the poem simply take it for granted that 'virtue' is best seen as a measure of how well we treat other people.  The author has no desire to start a fan club for Yahweh. The poem says nothing about praying, sacrificing animals, or singing psalms of praise.  It doesn't even say anything about refraining from idol worship - the go-to definition of morality in the culture that produced Job  This is one of the more relevant connections between Job and the New Testament.  'Pure religion' in the Book of Job means something very similar to what it means in the Book of James: 'to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep [oneself] unspotted from the world' (James 1:27)."

(pg. 114)

When Job says things that many would consider blasphemous, remember the Jewish audience of this poem. Even to be in the presence of someone talking against God was serious.    "Jewish law took blasphemy very seriously.  Blasphemers had to be stoned, and those who heard the blasphemy had to do the stoning (Lev. 24:13-14)."

"... to sympathize with Job as he criticized God would have made them complicit in his blasphemy.  To remain free of sin, they had to abandon a friend in a time of great need."

"Much like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Job's Comforters fear being contaminated by something theologically objectionable. The priest and the Levite do not want to risk ritual uncleanliness by touching a dead body. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar don't want to risk the moral contagion of listening to Job's blasphemous complaints against God. In both cases, the representatives of the orthodox religion choose abstract theological purity above the physical and spiritual needs of another human being. For both Jesus and the Job poet, it is the wrong choice."  (pg. 116)

I might post more about this later. My arm is sore from being on the computer too long this morning! :) 

*  This is written by a Latter-Day Saint, but aside from relatively few references to Joseph Smith, books like Mosiah, Church teaching, or a Mormon hymn, I could relate to most everything.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

January Books