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

Monday, November 30, 2009

November Books

It's the end of yet another month! I finished the last book just today so I have this now ready to post. By the way, ten months ago today we landed in Damascus, toured St. Paul's Chapel and St. Ananias' Chapel among other things. Such good memories. Can't wait to go back to Syria one day, Lord willing.

Life Wide Open
by David Jeremiah -- "unleashing the power of a passionate life" -- discusses getting a "grip" on the passionate life, overcoming enemies of it and unleashing the power of a life lived passionately

"Passionate, visionary people spend their lives walking away from the easy route. What's ahead is uncertain, but nothing is more certain than the love and sovereignty of our Lord -- and besides, excitement beckons over the horizon. You can't not do this, because it's what you were meant to do. You can feel it in your bones." (pg. 75)

Sin Bravely by Mark Ellingsen -- "a joyful alternative to the purpose-driven life" -- see previous posts for more information on this book

The Consequences of Love is a novel by Eritrean-born Sulaiman Addonia who was educated in Saudi Arabia. This is the story of a young African boy who left his country to live in Saudi. It's the story of a young man looking for and finding love in a country that separates men and women. There is talk of rape and homosexuality among men and also how connections are everything there. (See posts from earlier this month for more information on this book.)

by local author Don Brown is in the Navy Justice Series -- this book told the story of JAG prosecutor Zack Brewer as he tried a high-profile rape case and also one against alleged terrorists infiltrating the US Navy

Coming to America
is an Egyptian Muslim family's story and pictures by photojournalist Bernard Wolf. This children's book tells the story of eight-year-old Rowan and her family as they go to school, shop for halal meats, go to mosque and celebrate her older brother's birthday.

The Translator
is "a tribesman's memoir of Darfur" by Douad Hari. I greatly enjoyed reading this Zaghawa tribesman's perspective of the war in his region. I was often saddened by the things he reported. His descriptions of the Sahara Desert were incredible (pg. 19) and I enjoyed reading of his adventures as he translated for many reporters. Easy-to-read and hard-to-read book ... weird, huh? Besides what I previously posted about, I enjoyed reading Daoud's perspective on the why the people were fighting and the problem with dealing with rebel groups (pg. 12). A touching part was when he buried his brother Ahmed after their village was attacked (pg. 60).

Embrace Me
by Lisa Sampson -- with not much on the outside cover and no jacket telling me what this book would be about, I started reading...and wondered if I should continue. But I did and I'm glad. It was about Valentine and her life in a freak show. The second story line dealt with Drew who was writing his confession to a Catholic priest. There is talk of Daisy and her past with Drew. And also there is Augustine who lives for others. I just wanted to jot down a few sentences from this book which dealt quite a bit with the subject of forgiveness.

"Sometimes acid is thrown in your face. And sometimes it's grace. Both leave you changed somehow. Don't ask me how it works." -- Valentine (pg. 155)

"No, I'm a taker. I take from Hermy and Father Brian these days. I give them almost nothing in return."


"I suppose the satisfaction of knowing they're helping a messed-up man is something."

"God's giving that to them, not you, Drew." -- conversation between Drew and his mother (pg. 192)

"...I was trying to trust God to take care of you."

"Sometimes, Mom, God wants us to move forward when we see somebody drowning instead of waiting for a sign." (pg. 196)

"Served the people, saw a lot of heartache and pain. Learned to pray. Learned to forget about himself. Learned to help kids with their homework." (pg. 237)

"What's troubling you, Gus?"

"My father showed up."

"Oh. No wonder you're in such a state."

"How do I forgive him? He wants to make amends."

"Do you have a choice?"

"I don't feel it in my heart. I want to be obedient and more than anything, I want to be like Christ who forgives and taught us seventy times seven. But it's just not there."

Father Brian clears his throat. "If we waited to forgive people until we feel like it, most sins would go unforgiven. Just forgive him, tell God you forgive your father, and let your emotions catch up later." (pg. 275)

is book two in the Navy Justice Series mentioned above. In this book prosecutor Zack Brewer tries a high-stakes international case in Israel.

A Thread of Truth
by Marie Bostwick is a novel that takes place in New Bern, CT. It's the story about a small town quilt circle that helps out newcomer Ivy Peterson as she flees her abusive husband and seeks to start a new life for herself and her children. It is a heartwarming story about the power of friendships and how we can influence people's lives. For a fiction book this story had a lot of good quotes. I shared some of them on separate posts throughout the latter half of November.

Both Right and Left Handed
: Arab Women Talk About Their Lives by Bouthaina Shaaban -- I have many quotes from this book that I will share at a later date, but I finished this book today so I can count it with the November books.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Rise of African Rebels

One last topic from Daoud Hari in The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur which I read and posted about a couple of weeks ago. Here he is speaking of the rebel groups. When I read this I got a sense of their hopelessness and why their numbers abound.

Emotionally, they are walking dead men who count their future in hours. This makes them often ruthless, as if they think everyone might as well go to the next life with them. Many of them have seen their families murdered and their villages burned. You can imagine how you would feel if your hometown were wiped away and all your family killed by an enemy whom you now roam the land to find and kill so you can died in peace.

Among the rebels are the Sudan Liberation Movement, the Sudan Liberation Army, the Justice and Equality Movement, and several others. There are other groups in Chad, and they travel across the borders as they please. Where they get their guns and money is often a mystery, but Darfur has been filled with automatic weapons from the time when Libya attacked Chad and used Darfur as a staging area. Also, it must be understood that Sudan is aligned with radical Islamic groups and is, as a separate matter, letting China get most of its oil. So some Western interests and some surrounding countries are thought to be involved in supporting the rebel groups. It is sad how ordinary people suffer when these chess games are played.

Nearly half of Africa is covered by the pastoral lands of herding villages, and much of this land has great wealth below and poor people above. They are among the three hundred million Africans who earn less than a dollar a day, and who are often pushed out of the way or killed for such things as oil, water, metal ore, and diamonds. This makes the rise of rebel groups very easy.

(emphasis mine)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Is God Fair?

The Bible says God is just. Does this mean God is fair or what exactly? I tend to think He is not fair in the human understanding of the word. If God were fair, we would each have exactly the same things in life, but anyone can look around and see some are filthy rich while others are wallowing in filth and starvation. And there are loads of others in between these two extremes.

This site
declares God is not completely fair and says it's a good thing because fairness makes us all worthy of hell. They say God is merciful and good, which I agree that He is.

What does God being just mean?

Dictionary.com gives these definition of "just."

1. guided by truth, reason, justice, and fairness: We hope to be just in our understanding of such difficult situations.
2. done or made according to principle; equitable; proper: a just reply.
3. based on right; rightful; lawful: a just claim.
4. in keeping with truth or fact; true; correct: a just analysis.
5. given or awarded rightly; deserved, as a sentence, punishment, or reward: a just penalty.
6. in accordance with standards or requirements; proper or right: just proportions.
7. (esp. in Biblical use) righteous.
8. actual, real, or genuine.

What do you think? Is God fair? Is He just? Are justice and fairness the same thing?

Friday, November 27, 2009

"You have forsaken your first love"

Revelation 2 records:

1"To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: 2I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

Using the example of the church at Ephesus especially regarding verse four, Dr. Jeremiah compares Christians today. He writes:

"In less than a century, the church at Ephesus had lost their passion for Jesus. They were so involved in keeping up the religious practices of the church that they had become passive in their devotion to the Head of the church. . . . [We] are more in love with the church than with the Lord of the church. We have moved from faith to formalism. We have lost our first love. Losing our first love is another way of saying we have lost our passion. And the way the church at large ... loses its passion is by individual Christians becoming passive about devotion to Christ." (pg. 85)

Life Wide Open by David Jeremiah

Do you agree or do you find people you know are passionate about Jesus?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Psalm 100

A psalm. For giving thanks.
1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.

2 Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.

3 Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his ;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.

5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Hope you have a joyful day!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Overflowing with Thankfulness!

6So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, 7rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Col. 2)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Just stuff

Wow, I just glanced through the list of books I've read so far this month and got to thinking how it seemed I read some of them many weeks ago and not so recently. Hmmm.

Today I went to Classical Conversations to see Michael in his Tuesday class. It was great seeing him give an oral presentation on what he is thankful for. He's so dramatic when he speaks. Not one bit shy. And he loves giving reports. *ahem* He even volunteers for them. He passed around his paper to his class and told them to smell it. I was like "huh?" until I heard him explain that he used some scented markers on the illustration that smelled really, really good. Like cookies-and-cream good. :-) I was with Stephanie and Michael from 8:45 to about 1:45 today. Actually Steph had to watch the preschool during class hours so I enjoyed Michael's class without her.

This evening our former neighbors, Jen, Steve and Jake, dropped a homemade pecan pie by for Andrew. I really miss them living next door. They are sweet people even though they are Yankees. Kidding. Steve cracks me up because he says, "If Jen is going to ride with me, she's got to listen to my country music." Hehehe...she prefers the hip-hop music which Steve refers to as something unsavory. Those two are so funny together.

Tomorrow I think I'll visit my grandparents for a while and maybe make a dessert for Thanksgiving. The other things I'm taking can be prepared Thursday morning. Andrew is smoking the turkey tomorrow. It's always good cooked that way.

I got my photo books ordered last night, thankfully. I did two - one of Syrian memories and another of Michael during 2009. I am eager to see how they turn out.

I think that's all for now.

Monday, November 23, 2009

On Time and Things

"But more and more I believe it's our impact on individuals that matters most. I want to use my wealth and my life for that purpose, not to add to my personal comforts. I've got too much of everything as it is. Every single thing we own actually owns us in some way or another -- they all have to be cleaned, or maintained, or fixed, or appraised, or insured, or some such thing. It all takes time and that, I've realized, is an absolute finite commodity. Wasted time can't be redeemed. And a wasted life? Well, that's a tragedy."

~ Abigail speaking to her friends about wanting to make an impact in life that includes things besides funding libraries and hospitals and women's shelters.

(pg. 254)

From A Thread of Truth by Marie Bostwick

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Snapfish & Quote

Yesterday I got an e-mail from Snapfish that all their photobooks were 50% off through Tuesday. I'd been wanting to make one about our Syrian trip so I've been busy working on that. Thankfully I had most of my pictures already uploaded to Snapfish because it has taken a looooong while to do what I've been doing already. It's fun to review my pictures and create a book though. I am nearly done.

I'm still reading A Thread of Truth that I mentioned yesterday. Here is another part from the book that struck a chord with me as I read it today.

In speaking of people comparing their bad fortune with the supposed good luck of others, Ivy states:

"I realized that I'd been comparing the inside of my life with the outside of everyone else's; measuring my own fortunes against the cheerful how-are-you-I'm-fine facade that people put on for each other. At least in a small way, everybody lies about who they are because you don't have to be alive very long to understand that, in spite of what they say, most people don't give two nickels for the problems of others. No one in her right mind is going to bare her soul to someone else unless she is reasonably sure that person really cares and can be counted as a true friend." (pg. 131)

Seems valid to me! How many times has your world been falling apart and your insides were churning, yet someone asked "how are you?" and your automatic response was "fine" or something equally not true? Thank God for true friends who want to hear the true state of your life and for those who love you and encourage you through the tough times.

I think I'll go check to see if the football game is over yet.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Bless her heart" & Taking Risks

Two brief quotes from A Thread of Truth by Marie Bostwick. These resonated with me as I read them. Yeah, enough that I took the time to quote them here.

Texas lady, Mary Dell, speaking of someone...

"Well, in that case, I take back everything I said about the snooty, old . . . " Mary Dell stopped mid-sentence when she saw the look on my face. "Sorry! I meant to say, I take back everything I said about dear, darling Abigail. Bless her heart," Mary Dell said, employing that old phrase that women of the South use when they want to say something catty about someone else ... politely." (pg. 27)

Hehehehe.....love "bless her heart." :-D

Evelyn speaking of taking a huge risk in opening a new business after going through a painful divorce and uprooting from her hometown to an area hundreds of miles away.

"Did you ever know, just know, that you were supposed to do something, even though, on the face of it, that thing you wanted to do made no sense to anyone else? That's the way it was with me with ..." (pg. 19)

OK, it says, "with the quilt shop," but I stopped it there so I could fill in the blank - or YOU could. What risks do you need to take? Which ones have you taken that could possibly fit into this sentence by Evelyn?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sports Senselessness

Wow, they really take their sports seriously in Egypt!

Relations between Egypt and Algeria have been taking a serious turn for the worse in the aftermath of Algeria's World Cup playoff qualifying victory over Egypt's national football (soccer) team in Khartoum on Wednesday. Egypt has recalled its ambassador from Algiers and a wave of nationalistic fervor is gripping both countries.

Overnight, a mob of distraught Egyptian football fans attempted to attack the Algerian Embassy in Cairo, but were pushed back by security forces. Egyptian TV says that the crowd threw stones, injuring several dozen police officers and damaging cars, businesses and billboards.

The violence stemmed from this week's football game. Algeria and Egypt had to play a single-match tiebreaker at a neutral venue in Sudan because they ended the Africa zone group stage World Cup qualifying round with identical records after Saturday's match in Cairo. Algeria won the Sudan match, 1-0, securing a spot in football's premier tournament in Africa next year, while eliminating Egypt from contention.

My guess: Egypt won't win the sportsmanship award either.

Read more here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Praying in Jesus' Name

In John 14:13, Jesus tells His followers "Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do." So what exactly does praying in Jesus' name mean? Does this mean if I say "in Jesus' name" I will get that beautiful new car I've been wanting, the promotion at work that many are seeking?

According to Dr. Charles Stanley in the In Touch devotional,

"[The] phrase 'in Jesus' name' isn't some magic incantation that automatically gets what a person desires. Rather, it is a way to ensure that hearts are right and requests are in line with God's will. When we ask in Jesus' name, we are telling Him we want an answer that is based upon His complete knowledge of our situation. Moreover, we are surrendering our desires to be denied, changed, or granted as He sees fit. . . . Believers are invited to tap into Jesus' power for the purpose of seeing His will done and His gospel spread."

I don't know about you, but I rather like that Jesus has
complete knowledge of my situation because there are times when I am confused about life's circumstances. I don't know what all is going on or how it will play out, but it's great to know that God does. And that He is in control. This was a good and somehow comforting reminder to me.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Three Short Quotes from Daoud

"The best way to bury your pain is to help others and to lose yourself in that." -- pg. 64

"Chad has a great deal of oil and a great deal of oil money, but somehow the people only get a few hours of electricity a week." - p. 107

"You can walk along a mud street in N'Djamena, with old apartment houses beside you, and smoky street stalls selling richly spiced kebab lunches for your only meal of the day, when suddenly you are at the door of a four-star luxury hotel. Chad has oil wells, so there are a few grand hotels for the rich, who come to quickly take the money away before it ruins the charm of our mud and straw cities." -- pg. 108

As shared by Daoud Hari in The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Daoud's Sense of Humor

I appreciate dry humor, and I love that Daoud's book included a bit because otherwise the book is tough with all the horrific deaths and mistreatment of women and children. This is a tale of when Daoud took New York Times reporter, Nick Kristof, into hostile territory. Read on.

The sheikh of the village said he expected an attack that night. I wondered if these newspeople really understood that a New York Times press pass would not help them unless it happened to be bulletproof. Nick was very casual when I told him we should not unpack too much, and not set up our beds too far from the Land Cruiser. He was as casual as if he always slept in villages under attack.

We could hear shooting in the distance. The sheikh warned me that the trees surrounding the village probably hid some Janjaweed watching us -- shots had been fired from their earlier.

I should have mentioned that to Nick, but I didn't want him to smile at me again like I was such a worrier. Besides, there was nothing we could do except be ready to move quickly, which was my job, not his.

The three of them rolled out their sleeping bags while the driver and I talked to the sheikh. The Americans had little flashlights on headbands to help them get their sleeping bags just right. The sheikh pointed to the trees of the wadi again and said I should say something about the headlamps; he said the little lights were saying, Please shoot me in the head. Maybe I should have said something to Nick about this, but I decided they would be finished soon and lying down, which was true.

In such situations, of which this was not the first, I preferred to stay awake. The driver and I talked quietly and ate sardines from tins. In the middle of the night, automatic rifles and RPG fire came very close and woke up the sleeping campers, who seemed afraid.

I look at Nick like You are such a worrier. I told them to go back to sleep, that the fighting was still two villages away. Even so, the driver and I stayed awake and counted the seconds between the RPG flashes and their noise.

The next morning we were still alive. After tea we drove to the next village, which had been attacked in the night but had defended itself and survived.

(pg. 93-94)

As shared by Daoud Hari in The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur

Monday, November 16, 2009

"But I don't feel thankful"

Thanks to all who chimed in on the "what do you think you deserve" post from a few days ago. I'd been reading an article in a local church's monthly mailing when an article "But I Don't Feel Thankful" caught my attention. The author, Jim Elliff, wrote about his kids, how he'd prompt them to say "thank you," yet sometimes they'd counter with this "but I don't feel thankful" complaint. He goes on to ask if we should act grateful when we aren't, but then says: "Perhaps the better question is, 'How could we be so blind to all that God has done that we would ever be ungrateful?'"

He reminds us of the Pilgrims who ate the first Thanksgiving meal in 1621 even though they had seen and experienced many horrible things since they first came to this new land. For starters, half the group died during the cold New England winter!

After talking briefly of the Pilgrims, the author wrote the paragraph you all responded to last week in the above-mentioned post. He declares that our "appreciation for God's most mundane mercies" begins with what we think we deserve. I wanted to hear some opinions on this...thus my post.

The author continues, "The problem with being thankful is not so much one of manners as it is of alertness to the facts, that is, simply having open eyes to what is true. And it is true that you and I deserve nothing good. No, more than that, we deserve everything bad -- an eternity in hell. ... We could probably nip ungratefulness in the bud if we could ever learn well what we deserve because of our sins."

He then challenges us to look around us, see all the food we have to eat, the loving family and friends, our health, our places to live and say "I deserve hell." Repeat it several times because it is true.

BUT THEN "thank God for even the next breath you are given. Because it is only 'in Him' that we 'live and move, and have our being' (Acts 17:26)."

To be continued.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


"It says everything about this land to know that even the mountains are not to be trusted, and that the crunching sound under your camel's hooves is usually human bones, hidden and revealed as the wind pleases." (pg. 20)

As shared by Daoud Hari in The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Nature of Evil

When you read a book about other parts of the world, it really makes you thankful for the life that you have where you have plenty to eat, no worries about having to exchange sex for firewood, no thoughts of bombs attacking you during the night and where you don't have to watch your children suffer day after day. Last night I read this in the current book I'm reading about Darfur in Africa. Visualize this in your mind as you read these paragraphs describing Daoud, the translator, and the BBC reporters' journey into this traumatized region.

At the edge of one village, in a thickly forested place, the village defenders had made their last stand by wedging themselves high in the trees with their rifles. They were all shot and killed. It had been three days or more since the men in the trees had died, and on this steamy spring afternoon, their bodies were coming to earth. We walked through a strange world of occasionally falling human limbs and heads. A leg fell near me. A head thumped to the ground farther away. Horrible smells filled the grove like poison gas that even hurts the eyes. And yet this was but the welcome to what we would eventually see: eighty-one men and boys fallen across one another, hacked and stabbed to death in that same attack.

Reporters are so very human, wonderfully so, and they weep sometimes as they walk through hard areas. There is no hiding their crying after a time. They sometimes kneel and put their heads in their hands near the ground. They pray aloud and will often find a handful of soil to lay on the body of a child, or they may find some cloth to cover the dead faces of a young family -- faces frozen in terror with their eyes and mouths still open too wide. They will help bury bodies; we buried many on the BBC journey. But those eighty-one boys and men were too much for everyone.

People vomit when they get close to any long-dead body. You have no control of this, it just happens. And again at the next body. You will soon have nothing in your stomach, but still your body will retch at the sight and smell and of course the tragedy of life so monstrously wasted. But these eighty-one . . .

Some of the BBC people had to return to Chad, where they were in a medical clinic for three days to recover from what they saw, and smelled, and learned about the nature of what simply must be called evil.

(pgs. 112-113)

As shared by Daoud Hari in The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur

Friday, November 13, 2009

Women & Children of Darfur

"Perhaps a thousand women and children were standing in daylong lines for their monthly rations of wheat, cooking oil, and salt from the U.N. World Food Programme. Others, with plastic jerry cans, waited in separate lines for their turns at the water pump."

"Every day these same girls and women collected wood for their cooking fires by scavenging sticks from the surrounding wild areas. These areas were quickly stripped, angering local tribes and forcing foraging trips ever deeper into dangerous territory. As a consequence, rape was now the going price of camp firewood. If the women sent their men to gather wood, or if they came along as protection, the men would be killed. So the women and girls went alone and in small groups, often to be raped by the local men. It is the same in Darfur, but there it is the Janjaweed who rape. Many pregnancies of unwanted children were the next tragedy facing these women. The girls and women who looked at us and blinked away our dust as we drove past had the look of people who had seen all this." (pg. 73)

"Losing a child is so hard ... It doesn't matter where you live in the world for that. Babies are usually not named in Darfur until several days or even weeks after they are born, because so many babies die here without doctors or medicine. Those who do live are considered birds of passage who did not want to stay. Naming the child is therefore saved until it is clear the spirit in this child wants to stay." (pg. 65)

As shared by Daoud Hari in The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What do you think you deserve?

"Experiencing the loss of loved ones and all normal conveniences and even basic necessities has a way of heightening one's appreciation for God's most mundane mercies. It all has to do with our starting place. What do you think you deserve? If you deserve to be six feet under with your soul writhing in hell, then you're bound to have an elevated motivation to be thankful for any mercy at all. Even a few drops of water on the tip of the rich man's tongue, as in Jesus' Luke 16 story, could elicit thanks, if you felt what you really deserve."

~ Jim Elliff in article "But I Don't Feel Thankful"

I have more I want to add about this post, but for now I think I'll leave it for you to ponder. What do you think you deserve?

According to your spiritual beliefs, how you've lived and think: do you deserve God's best, hell or somewhere in the middle? Why do you think you deserve what you say you do? If God came to you and said, "I am a just God. I am fair and want to give you what you deserve," how would you answer?

Bonus material: Here is one belief of how The Fall affected humanity according to the Bible.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Saudi Arabia: Double Standards

In my search just now for a picture, I found this cartoon instead. Since it goes along with the double-and-weird-to-me-standards issue of this post, I decided to use it.

Please note that I am not picking on Saudi Arabia with my recent posts about children and veiled women and rape and homosexuality over there, but I was reading a book that dealt with this country thus why Saudi has been mentioned lately. Hopefully, these issues are rare and my writing about it only brings to attention a very small problem in that part of the world.

Here is my final excerpt from The Consequences of Love by Sulaiman Addonia.

Remembering how at age fifteen he was raped by his kafeel (his sponsor), Eritrean-born Naser recalls . . .

I couldn't go the religious police; not after what happened to one of the kafeel's wife's servants, a Filipino woman who had lived a few blocks down from us.

She had been deported back to the Philippines with her two young children when she reported sexual abuse to the religious police. That had been a year before and I had seen her and her children being dragged out of her house by three religious policemen. She screamed that she was the victim of a rape committed by the Blessed Bader Ibn Abd-Allah. But a policeman smacked her on the face, yelling, "We don't want whores like you coming to this blessed country."

"Classic," whispered our Saudi neighbor who lived on the second floor, and who was standing next to me. "I am sure the kafeel fabricated a lie against her to the religious police to hide his ugly crime and now she is the one being sent back home."

"Shouldn't the Sharia law bring justice in this country?" I protested.

He sighed and said, "The law, son, is only applied to the poor and to foreigners, not to the rich or to the royal family." (pg. 79)

Another lesson Naser learned from an older man:

I recalled what Mr. Quiet had told me when the religious policemen strode past us in the shopping mall looking for illicit love. "If two unmarried lovers get caught," he said, "then the man will be flogged but will live a full life. He will say I am sorry, ya Allah forgive me, and that's his ticket to a happy and a normal life. But the woman, she will find out that once the pain of the lashes subsides, she will endure a greater pain. She will be shamed forever. No man will touch her, no man will want to be her husband, and she will live like a dog with rabies, because if a bullet didn't kill her, then the pain of loneliness and rejection will." (pg. 167)
Where do you see double or weird-to-you standards applied? I know they are not only in Saudi Arabia! If you are like me, you have them in your own life. Right? ;-)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Sin Bravely" one more time!

"The life of brave sinning, with its courageous confession of sin and recognition of our inability to do any good without God, renders us God-centered at the core of our being." (Sin Bravely by Mark Ellingsen, pg. 80)

Who knew I could type so many posts from one small book?! Thanks to those who have commented on them and let me know if you agreed or disagreed with the author's statements. I greatly enjoyed reading what you had to say.

When I saw this book in the new section of my library, I was hesitant at first to read it. Sin Bravely just sounds bold and a bit risqué and then I saw it was kind of a critique of Rick Warren. Not sure how I feel about him, but he's not on my "ugh" list. I knew his book, Purpose Driven Life, was super-popular although I admit I never read it. But in my quest to read books outside of my comfort zone, some that may challenge me to think a bit, I decided to see what he had to say. Afterall he claimed to challenge Joel Osteen's Prosperity Gospel (I'm not a fan) and that his brave sinning message was based on Luther's, Augustine's and the apostle Paul's teachings so I knew it couldn't be all that bad. Right?

Were there things I disagreed with? Yes. A bit. But I found much more on which I could agree with the author. Especially if I reflected honestly instead of self-righteously. He stepped on my toes some. And some things I flat-out rejected because - of all things - political thinking. But overall, eh, not bad. I really enjoyed the emphasis on God-centeredness.

In fact if I were going to sum up the lessons I took from this book, I'd urge myself to say no to self and individualism and be others minded. ("In honor prefer one another.") I'd say to not water down God's grace. Realize my sinfulness is huge and damning, but God's grace is ... well, amazing. Really. As Jeremiah tells us in Lamentations, "It is of the Lord's mercies we are not consumed....His compassions fail not. Great is Thy faithfulness."

So, it's not about me. About how good I am and what I can offer to God. It's all about HIM and His goodness, His mercy, His gift. And how He can work through me.

From this book I am reminded of the tax collector and the Pharisee. How one tried to tell God how virtuous he was and thanked God he wasn't like the sinner over there. And how the other knew he was a sinner, admitted it, humbled himself and begged God for mercy. Do you remember which of the two Jesus commended to His disciples? Was it the one who "deserved" God's favor because of His good deeds?

In fact, Jesus stated: 14"I tell you that this man [the tax collector], rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

And finally we read this in church the other day and I thought it fit perfectly. With this book and also with my nation. Really, even among those who say they follow Christ. Especially note verse 15 and how it can apply to America these days...and also churches quite often.

Galatians 5

13You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 14The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 15If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So, love and serve others. Just as Jesus taught. Who knows, but in the process, you just might find that joy and fulfillment you seek in your purpose-driven life!

Monday, November 9, 2009

"Sin Bravely" -- quotes

"Like proponents of the Prosperity Gospel, Rick Warren is so in line with the American way of life that his purpose-driven model of life is too American, not equipped to transform American society or even to address the Narcissism and self-centeredness that plagues America and western society today." (pg. 32)

"Both [Osteen and Warren] minimize the role of grace in providing the good life (they are almost Pelagian in stressing our works) and correspondingly have a weak conception of sin. ... [They] both agree that you have to do something in order to be blessed. Warren only speaks of faults, weaknesses, or mistakes, and Osteen only refers to barriers of the past, mistakes, or 'disappointments.' Neither of them actually refers to Romans 7:14-24 and original sin." (pg. 43,44)

"The real problem with our condition . . . is that people do not want to admit they are sinners, and will not unless confronted with the Law and Christ." (pg. 47)

Brave sinning is not "permission 'to do your own thing.' Rather, [it's] a word of permission to do God's 'thing' joyously and with reckless abandon." (pg. 64)

"For Luther... joy is not based on ourselves or our situation in life. It is based solely on the hope that Christ's work provides." (pg. 78)

"The brave sinner is someone so totally dependent on God that he or she looks at life, even the most important projects, as play. They are play, because what we do has no ultimate significance unless God makes it significant." (pg. 81)

Any discussion? Any debate?

If interested, see previous posts for more information and quotes from this book by Mark Ellingsen.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

"Sin Bravely" and totally depend on God's grace!

"Faith is a loving, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God's grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures."

~ Martin Luther

More from Sin Bravely by Mark Ellingsen:

I have presented Martin Luther's vision of the Christian life as a life of brave sinning as an alternative to Warren's and the Prosperity Gospel's vision. . . . It has been shown that the core of brave sinning is the awareness that in all we do (even in our very best, most benevolent and loving behaviors), we are sinning. Such a lifestyle leads to a total dependence on God, for brave sinners know that any good accomplished by selfish human beings must in fact be God's work, since selfish people can't do good works on their own.

When we sin bravely in this way we can get our ego out of the way as we recognize that the good we do is actually being done by God through us despite our seedy motives. The awareness leads to freedom and joy, since the pressure is now removed to do and be good. In addition, such total dependence on God entails a self-forgetfulness (not unlike what happens when we fall passionately in love) that leads to happiness. . . .

It will take a model like Luther's self-transcendent, joyful God-centered way of life to change America, to get us away from our self-seeking narcissism and mad chase for self-fulfillment. . . .

. . . A spirituality totally dependent on God because we have renounced a sense that we have earned our own privileges leads to happiness and fulfillment.


quotes from pages 114-116

Saturday, November 7, 2009

"Sin Bravely" -- Motives & Good Deeds

"...If someone desires from me a service, I can render him, I will gladly do it out of goodwill. . . . All our works should be of such a nature that they flow from pleasure and love . . . since for ourselves we need nothing to make us pious."

~ Martin Luther

As previously mentioned, in this book Sin Bravely, Mark Ellingsen seeks to challenge readers with a view he claims is counterculture to the typical American mindset. He evokes more of a community-minded outlook where the poor are taken better care of as opposed to our self-centered, individualistic (dare I say capitalistic?) society where we seek to prosper ourselves by working longer and harder and using people in the process. All for what? So we can purchase more things and achieve a certain lifestyle standard. He claims we even do this in our spirituality thus the success of The Purpose Driven Life (where we are seeking purpose and fulfillment in our lives, itself a self-centered thought and act) and prosperity gospel preachers (you do X and God will prosper you -- I think we all can see the selfishness of that, right?).

Here is a bit more from the book.

"Good works are not troubling, Luther claims elsewhere, because brave sinners understand that they don't have to do them. Brave sinners know that they get no points with God for doing good deeds since all that they do remains mired in sin. As a result the good that is done by them is God's work making good out of the fallible, all-too-egocentric things that they do. When you are a brave sinner, you are no longer caught up in what you are doing, but focused on the transcendent reality bigger than you are (God) who makes good out of what you do."

What do you think? Honestly my first thoughts went back to John 15 where Jesus told us in order to be fruitful we must remain in Him. He claimed without Him, we could do nothing! And the Bible teaches the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace and all those other good things. It never says we can do those things on our own, out of the goodness of our own hearts.

"Brave sinning is surely good medicine for a society addicted to drugs and the highs resulting from wealth, power, influence, accumulation of the latest trinkets, and celebrity. Who needs those artificial highs when God . . . is giving you this life of joy through participation in the big projects of life?"


"Of course this joy is not naive and 'Pollyannaish.' In a paradoxical way, there is something very freeing, even comforting and inspiring, in becoming realistic about human motives, in bravely recognizing that in all we do, even in our good deeds, human beings are seeking (sometimes frantically) self-fulfillment."

I recall a couple years ago when a friend of a different faith and I were talking about good deeds. Somehow the conversation came around to the reasons we do them.

I asked, "Why do you do good deeds?"

With no hesitation at all.

"For the rewards I'll receive."

Is this selfish? A good, neutral or bad motive?

Why do you do what you do? Why do you do good deeds? Do they just flow naturally from you or do you purposefully do them in order to find pleasure, fulfillment or seek the rewards that you believe God offers for them?


quotes from pages 111, 112

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Rape & Homosexuality in Saudi Arabia

This post is somewhat a follow-up of the children and veiled women post from yesterday especially the part about Naser's adventures in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. But first, here is an interesting tidbit which includes KSA. The other day I saw a Yahoo news story about switching countries. Seven hundred million people worldwide (that's roughly the adult population of both North and South America) would move to another country if given the opportunity. Those in sub-Saharan Africa (38%) were the most likely to want to switch while only ten percent of Asians would move. Top places people want to move to are as follows:

The United States - 165 million -- one fourth of those surveyed
Britain, Canada and France - 45 million each
Spain - 35 million
Saudi Arabia - 30 million
Australia and Germany - 25 million each

I just find things like that interesting. :)

Now on to Naser's story . . .

When his uncle is unable to pay the fee that the Saudi sponsor requires, Naser, aged 15, is requested to meet with this man. His uncle was told the sponsor was willing to wait for the money so Naser headed to the sponsor's house in order to get the renewal information taken care of. Instead the sponsor shares that Naser can settle the debt ... and it doesn't require any money. His body will do just fine.

So is there any wonder this young Eritrean man is trying to numb his pain by drinking perfume and sniffing glue?

And later when his uncle kicks him out of the house for being a "bad Muslim," Naser is at the mercy of his friend Jasim who owns a café where men go to meet other men! And I don't mean just to smoke shisha and play a game of chess! Remember this is Saudi Arabia where the men and women are not allowed to mix.

Jasim gave Naser a job in his café and wanted him to wear tight cotton trousers under his thobe.

"Look, Jasim, I can't wear this to work. It is bad enough wearing a thobe. I can't imagine what it will be like wearing something as tight as this. I'm tired of customers pinching my bottom all the time and promising gifts if I agree to their propositions." . . .

"Don't worry, you will wear it under your thobe. But can you blame them, Naser?"


"My dear, in a world without women and in the absence of female glamour, boys like you are the perfect substitute. Why hide your attractiveness and your tender physique like a veiled woman? You are the closest my customers have to a beautiful and sensual person roaming freely in their world. So why sit on your beauty like a bird without wings, when you can fly?" . . .

"Naser, I want to make my café like a paradise, where everything one desires, one gets. They can lock women away, but they can't cage our fantasies. I want to find other ways to set passion free."

For a while, we didn't say anything to each other. And I did what I always did in Saudi when there was nothing else I could do. I closed my eyes.

So while waiting tables Naser realizes Rashid wants an inappropriate relationship with him. He storms to his room and his friend meets him there.

"Naser, it is hard for me to ask you to do this not least because ..." He paused, sighed deeply, and then said, "Naser, Rashid likes you. He said he must have you because he wants you to . . . "

"Let me guess. He wants me to be his boy until he gets married. I have heard it many times before but I am not going to do it."

"Naser, we can't refuse Rashid. He might not look it, but he is a very important man for this café. I didn't tell you this before, but for me to keep my business open, I have to do certain things, obey certain rules. I am a foreigner like you; I could be kicked out from this country any minute if I don't follow the rules. You are very dear to me, I will only ask you to do things for a reason. If this shop is shut down, where will you go? Who will open their house to you?"

Quotes from pages 56 and 59 from The Consequences of Love by Sulaiman Addonia

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Children and Veiled Women

"Children should be seen and not heard."

Does anyone else remember this saying from years past?

According to the idioms website that I found on a quick Google search, this phrase is a proverb
meaning,"Children should not speak in the presence of adults. (Often used as a way to rebuke a child who has spoken when he or she should not.) You may come out and meet the party guests if you'll remember that children should be seen and not heard."

Why do I have children and veiled women on the same post? Well, for some reason the other day this proverb came to mind as I was thinking of how some women are supposed to not be seen these days. Honestly I don't mind a woman who wants to dress modestly. I believe my country needs more modesty. The problem I have is when women are forced to dress in a way in which they are not comfortable -- whether that's being forced by a pimp to dress provocatively enough to sell your body or whether you are forced to dress in black material when you live in a desert region where temperatures easily exceed 110 degrees.

Yes, some will gladly do this "for God" and for the rewards they will get in the Hereafter, but when, for instance, a sizable number of Saudi women will remove their abayas and veils as soon as they leave the country's airport, please don't insist that all women cover completely for the sake of their religion. It's obvious not all of them do. They cover because Mama, Daddy, Grandma and/or the Religious Police make them.

I started a new book this morning. Not sure yet if I will finish it, but even in the first two chapters some things caught my eye. Naser is a refugee from Eritrea and was brought to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia at ten years old. His mother sent him and his three-year old brother to live with their uncle in order to escape the war-torn region near the Sudan. Naser remembers his mother with fondness and misses the closeness they shared in their village. His first impressions of Saudi were incredible -- such a lovely country when compared to the place from which he came. But then he noticed something that puzzled him. . . .

Alongside the men in their white thobes, there were figures in black which, under the streetlamps, looked like the men's shadows thrown against the white walls of the houses. . . . Because I hadn't seen any women in the street, I had worked out who these figures in black were.

"Uncle, can I ask you a question?"

"Yes, son," he replied.

"That's a woman, isn't it?"


"There, look, there." I pointed to the shadows.

My uncle smiled and said, "Yes. Oh, blessed childhood ignorance."

"Why are they covered so much? It is not cold here."

"The women are wearing abayas."



"Don't they get hot dressed like that? How do they breathe?"

"It's Allah's request. But He, the Greatest, will reward them in heaven, inshaAllah."

"So, will the girls in my school look like this, too?"

"You will be going to a boys' school. The girls have their own school."

I thought back to the small school in the refugee camp. All my friends there were girls. In fact the boys would beat me up because they were jealous whenever we played the wedding game because all the girls would choose me. I told my uncle the story.

"Oh ya Allah we ask your forgiveness. I will have hard work on my hands with this one. Listen, Naser, it is bad for boys and girls to mix."


"It's haram, son."

"Why is it haram?"

"Grant me your patience, ya Allah. Because ----" He stopped and looked away. After a few seconds, he added, "Because we are like fire and oil, and if the two of us come together, there will be a big flame and thus hell on this earth and in the afterlife. So you see, son, Allah is trying to protect us for our own good. Okay?"

"Okay," I said leaning against the window, not understanding a thing. (pgs. 19-21)

As a young man of twenty Naser was contemplating his life in Saudi: "It's true to say that I had no woman to share my life with, no woman to make plans with. In Jeddah there was only the unrelenting drudgery of a world full of men and the men who controlled them." (pg. 24)

Quotes from The Consequences of Love a novel by Sulaiman Addonia

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"Understand the joy of the journey"

True passion, godly passion, is lit by the sunshine of delight rather than the darkness of obsession. God wants us to enjoy the journey because He enjoys our enjoyment of it. . . . Pursue your passion, but don't forget to have fun! The kingdom of God is a celebration, not a sweatshop. . . .

Certainly there will be struggles at work, conflicts in relationships, financial crises, doubts about God, and all the rest. The passionate life neither blinds you to the real world nor numbs you to its pain. Rather, as the fire of passion ignites within you, you will find the power to triumph over temptations, persevere through problems, and optimize opportunities.

People of passion understand how it's possible to live the better part of a century and never quite reach your goal yet feel boundless joy and exhilaration. They understand the joy of the journey.

"Not that I already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on!" (Phil. 3:12)

All are quotes from Life Wide Open by David Jeremiah; pages 188-190

Abel: speaking beyond the grave

I'm nearing the end of the David Jeremiah book that I mentioned two days ago. This morning I read this verse from Hebrews 11. It was in the chapter on being excited and enthusiastic about the future. Not giving up on a passionate life simply because you are approaching retirement years.

4By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.

So what was it about Abel's offering that God preferred? How does Abel speak even now ... though he has been dead for centuries? Some people fear once they are gone, they will be forgotten. They know they are replaceable at work and church. They fear "out of sight, out of mind." Have you ever thought of such things? Feared them? Known anyone who did?

How about those who continue to speak beyond the grave - good or bad - because they lived their lives in an interesting way and made an impact on society or the world.
Can you think of others who speak beyond the grave? Who comes to mind and why?

Monday, November 2, 2009

On Original Sin & Prohibitions

In his book Sin Bravely, author Mark Ellingsen offers "a joyful alternative to a purpose-drive life." In it, the author speaks about Rick Warren, Joel Osteen and others who tend towards the Prosperity Gospel view which he finds caters to the self-centered, individualistic American mindset.

Critiquing the book is not the purpose of this post. (I've not finished it for one thing.) I wanted only to write down a couple of quotes. First about Martin Luther whom the author claims considered "even our best deeds" as sins. Luther wrote of original sin as a man's beard, something we are unable to get rid of by ourselves.

The original sin in a man is like his beard, which, though shaved off today so that a man is very smooth around his mouth, yet grows again by tomorrow morning. As long as a man is alive, such growth of the hair and the beard does not stop. But when the shovel beats the ground on his grave, it stops. Just so original sin remains in us and bestirs itself as long as we live. . . . (pg. 56)

On the next page, he writes:

Prohibitions have a way of causing rebellion, at least of the covert sort. When someone says "do it my way or else" or that you cannot undertake a certain activity, it is likely you will want to do that forbidden deed even more. In our sinful condition, we never outgrow our childishness. We are like children who are forbidden certain toys or teenagers wanting more "freedom." The prohibitions of God's Law make us want what is forbidden even more. The Law is indeed the curse St. Paul said it was in Galatians 3:10-14.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Let him who boasts . . .

Wow, another month has gone and here we are starting November! I cannot believe how quickly this year has gone by. Nine months ago we were in Damascus getting ready to meet Samer's mom, twin brother and younger sister for lunch. *sigh*

Recently Andrew got this book, Life Wide Open: Unleashing the Power of a Passionate Life, by David Jeremiah from the library and I started reading it. It has many good things in it. Nothing particularly new, but things I seem to constantly need to hear - and live!

"The great message of the Word of God: The issue is not our ability but God's. ... He can fill you with godly passion and use you to triumph over incredible odds ... and God is willing and able to transform you and fill you with passion for life and service to Him."

Why does God choose the nobodies or the "lowly underdogs" to accomplish great things for Him? "God knows that when we win against all probabilities, against insurmountable obstacles, and against overwhelming opposition despite any spectacular abilities or gifts of our own, then there can only be once conclusion: God is powerful."

"Never again say the words, 'I can't,' when talking about the work of God. You would be right, as long as you finish the phrase with, "but God can." (quotes from pages 108-110)

I really love this passage from I Corinthians 1.

19For it is written:
"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."c]">

20Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? . . .

26Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before him. 30It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

To God be the glory. Great things HE has done!