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

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween & October Books

Andrew and Walker, our neighbor

Desire of the Everlasting Hills by Thomas Cahill -- see previous posts

Grace at Low Tide by Beth Webb Hart -- Fifteen year old DeVeaux struggles with life on Edisto Island after her father declares bankruptcy and the family is forced to move from Charleston to a new life.  The biggest struggle isn't their going from the rich house to the poor, but the fact that her father has become a jerk and mistreats people as he works through his issues.  Good reminder of the hope we have with God. I got this book from Cindy.

Muhammad: A Prophet For Our Time by Karen Armstrong -- see previous posts

Home Another Way by Christa Parrish -- from the back cover:  "Sarah Graham is living life hard and fast -- and she is flat broke.  When her estranged father dies, she travels to the tiny mountain hamlet of Jonah, New York, to claim her inheritance. Once there, however, she learns that her plans for the future - and her memories of the past - are about to change forever."  -- I enjoyed this book as Sarah interacts with mountain folks who seem to know all about her, yet mostly embrace her as part of their community.  It's good to see how her brash personality plays out amongst these people.  I got this book from Cindy.

By Reason of Insanity by Randy Singer -- from the back cover: "Following a series of murders in Virginia Beach, newspaper reporter Catherine O'Rourke experiences disturbing dreams that detail each crime.  To aid the investigation, she shares them with a detective working the case.  But her plan backfires when she's arrested as the main suspect."  Catherine turns to a Las Vegas lawyer Quinn who specializes in insanity defenses.  Another book I borrowed from Cindy.

Matthew's Story: The Jesus Chronicles by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins -- This novel is fictional in that we don't know about Matthew's early years except that the Bible speaks of him as a tax collector.  The authors have taken us from the time 8 year old Levi saw his baby brother murdered as Herod sought to destroy any potential rival to the throne.  Levi grew up believing in God, but hated the God who would allow such hurt into his family.  Instead of becoming a priest as his parents desired of him, he vowed to become a tax collector in order to secure himself in riches instead of God.  But Levi's life takes a dramatic turn when this Jesus guy comes through town. Eventually Levi becomes Matthew "gift from God" and allows Jesus to soften his heart and bring him back to the God Matthew vowed to hate.

Mark's Story: The Jesus Chronicles by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins -- speculating about John Mark and how he came to write one of the Gospels of Jesus Christ

Noah's Other Son by Brian Arthur Brown -- see previous posts

"Mark gives the essence of the teachings of Jesus, implying that if we get that, the more esoteric doctrines of his birth and resurrection may be seen as presentations of messianic credentials.  That is a subject for believers, once they have accepted his teaching. Matthew focuses on the 4 Jewish Diaspora from east to west and develops the messianic claim within Hebrew 'proof texts,' quoting prophecies and tracing the lineage only within the family of Abraham. Luke presents a gospel to the non-Jewish world, not quoting Scriptures that would be unfamiliar, but eyewitnesses who could then still be verified.  His genealogy relates Jesus to the whole human family, beginning with Adam."  (pg. 182)

"Unless the loving, healing, and redemptive relationship with God is secured through an encounter with God in worship (a burning bush experience, whether spontaneous or planned), the social action of the Christian Church is at risk of becoming a temporary feel-good exercise with constantly diminishing resources and impact. This has been precisely the experience of mainline Protestant Churches in North America and the state churches of Europe, in spite of sincere and heroic efforts to be relevant." (pg. 180)

What Paul Meant by Garry Wills -- see previous posts

Coexisting in Cordoba...with just a little martyrdom thrown in

Notes and reflections on Peace Be Upon You: The Story of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence by Zachary Karabell

Chapter 3 speaks of Cordoba.  And how relevant is this topic with the now-fading (thank you, Lord) talk of Park51 or the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" which was supposed to have this name?  Muslims said the chosen name of this community center was to reflect a time of coexistence whereas the people who never have anything nice to say about Muslims took it to mean Muslims were celebrating Islam's conquest of Christian Spain. So, I really enjoyed learning a bit more about this period in history.

Karabell mentions what a glorious time it was - "a magical fusion of commerce, learning, and power that put it in the rarefied company of classical Greece, imperial Rome, Han China, and Renaissance Italy."  Yet he mentions a small group of Christians who were not happy. In fact one of them - a monk named Isaac - requested admittance before a leading Muslim judge in which he blatantly spoke against the Quran and Muhammad.  Not accepting the Quran as God's word or Muhammad as a prophet was not a huge deal among the people of this time, but there were boundaries of speech one didn't cross ... unless he wanted to die which is exactly what Isaac wanted. He desired to speak out against the evils of Islam and stand up for the true faith. He was tired of Christians converting to Islam. He was tired of them learning Arabic and studying Arabic books. He was tired of assimilating to the conquerors and imitating their manners and mores. He was tired of being a second-class citizen in his own land. 

The author said many Christian-to-Islam conversions happened because people wanted to progress in life. Sure they had good positions even with Muslim rulers, but they could only go so far and they were "never allowed to forget that their freedoms were at the mercy of the Muslims who controlled the armies and the treasuries."  (pg. 67)

Isaac and his followers, one of the most famous being Eulogius, were martyrs for the purity of Christianity in a sense. However, the majority of Spanish Christians did not agree with their stance. In fact their biggest opponents were fellow Christians who thought Isaac and Eulogius had gone too far in their resistance.  "It was an archetypal struggle that conquered peoples face: resist or assimilate."  Some Christians were even collecting taxes for the Muslims. This reminded me of the New Testament and how tax collectors were often despised by their own people for collecting taxes for the Roman occupiers. 

For the most part Christians, Muslims and Jews got along well in Cordoba, however, the Arab Muslims often treated the Berber Muslims (from present-day Morocco) as "second-class clients."  Because of this there were few periods where at least one minor war was not active in the region. 

The Jews of Spain, with their religious communities in Muslim lands and Christians lands, thrived as intermediaries dealing with trade relations.  Also their knowledge of many languages was valuable as the Muslim leaders desired books to be translated to the common tongue.

The author went on to share some incidents of coexistence and quoted an idea from a historian that I liked:  "unless people are forced to confront alien groups, different habits, and unfamiliar customs, they become rigid, brittle, and complacent."  (pg. 76)  He believes that "competition between the faiths" was a reason monotheism spread rapidly beyond the Mediterranean while the "interaction between the faiths also fed intellectual creativity."  Muslims acquired ancient medical wisdom through the linguistic skills of Spanish Jews and Christians, while Jewish merchants thrived during this time of "Pax Islamica that extended to Jews the protections granted to the People of the Book."  (pg. 77)

Granada was an example of both good and bad as a Jewish man, Samuel the Nagid, was able to lead Muslim soldiers at one point in its history.  Yet the bad part was when Abu Ishaq fell from grace and decided Jews were to be slaughtered. This led to many days of terror and death for Jewish leaders.  Never underestimate the power of hateful campaigns in fueling the mob mentality. 

The rise in the wealth and power of the Christian Cluny order and the Muslim puritan group from today's Morocco - the Almoravids - set the stage for thinking in terms of holy war.  The Cluniacs were "disciplined, focused, and intent on imposing order" in a time when much of the church "could be charitably described as anarchic."  As they gained control they started "framing battles and campaigns against the Muslims as divine acts, sanctioned not just by the church but by God."  The Berber Almoravids were "intent on restoring what they thought was the lost piety of early Islam."  It was the Muslims' turn to say Islam's decline in Spain was a result of Muslims straying and God's punishment. Now the Almoravids came and ruled with much less tolerance, more taxation and more restriction on the People of the Book. 

As the Christian "holy war" against Muslims started succeeding in Spain, the new pope from the rising Cluniac fame -- Urban II -- started looking towards retaking Jerusalem. While the author doesn't mention promises to the Christian soldiers about gaining numerous sexual partners in heaven, he does report Urban II's promise that anyone who fought would gain forgiveness for sin.  Apparently this was incentive enough.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Abbasids: Taking Islam From Arabia to Diversity

Notes and reflections on Peace Be Upon You: The Story of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence by Zachary Karabell

Chapter 2 mostly dealt with the Abbasid rulers in Baghdad, a created city which took Islam from a more Arab-centric place towards Persia and a more diverse Islam and a "culture that celebrated the divine right of kings and sybaritic [luxurious or sensual] pleasures....Creativity, reason, and openness to new ideas were embedded in early Abbasid culture."  Indeed the author gave examples of how the Muslim caliphs would invite theologians from other faiths to debate them. One ruler studied the art of debating by reading Greek literature before inviting a Christian theologian to his court.  The author states, "From the vantage point of the early twenty-first century, what is most striking about these debates is not just that they took place, but that such a premium was placed on logic rather than faith.  An elite group of Muslims and Christians in the Abbasid ninth century relied on reason and philosophy, not personal piety or the strength of belief, in order to demonstrate the truth of their religions." (pg. 49)

He had been talking about a debate between the caliph Al-Ma'mun and a Greek Orthodox bishop, Theodore Abu Qurra, and Muslim scholars "analyzing the Torah and the gospel to find errors of logic."  The ideas of the virgin birth and the Trinity were illogical - the author gave these examples, but I know Muslims nowadays believe in the virgin birth of Jesus so I don't understand why this was given as proof of Christianity's "not true religion" status. Unless back then they had a different interpretation for those Quranic stories about Jesus being the son of Mary, a virgin.  *shrug*

Karabell (the author) told how during this time so many books and pamphlets were translated to Arabic and how this proliferation of knowledge contributed to the empire's golden age.  He wrote, "Al-Ma'mun understood that only in an atmosphere where divergent views were welcome could knowledge advance, and that such advancement was to the greater glory of God. The Abbasids in their prime reaped the rewards of this openness."

The author noted how Muslims were divided between rationalists and traditionalists. The former held most of the power during this time and while they were generally tolerant of the People of the Book, they tended to persecute Muslims who held to the traditional point of view. Traditionalists believed the Quran was uncreated. Rationalists argued that this was almost being like the Christians in holding a book up to the same eternal quality of God. 

Just as people tend to do today, the Abbasids were tolerant and open during times of security, but began discriminating when they felt insecure or that their rule was shaky. An example given was in 806 during Harun al-Rashid's power when violence "erupted between Christians, Jews, and Muslims" possibly due to a Byzantine attack on an Abbasid outpost.  However this conflict wasn't against all Christians. In fact while Harun was fighting the Byzantines and persecuting Iraqi Christians under his rule, he was wooing "very Christian" Charlemagne who had been crowned as pope in Rome and set himself up as "the Western alternative to the Byzantines."  Charlemagne was also a "sworn enemy" of the remaining (Muslim) Umayyads in Spain. So, in a sense,  you have Muslim Abbasids wooing Western Christianity as allies against Muslim Umayyads and Eastern Christianity.

The Byzantine emperor did not believe in separation of church and state and he was both a political and religious leader. Thus when the Byzantine and Abbasids fought it truly was a religious war...yet it was also political. As the author notes, war during that time was seldom seen apart from God. He reminds us of the Israelites in the Old Testament who were either urged to war or admonished by God concerning fighting with others.  Byzantine emperors "viewed war as a holy errand" and victory a sign of "God's pleasure, defeat indicative of moral weakness." While Muslims were fine ruling over nonMuslims and did not, in fact, seek to convert people by sword, they had no problem using their concept of jihad "as a source of strength and justification" when fighting did occur.  (pg. 58)

The author mentions the Turks and how these incohesive tribes contributed to the ultimate downfall of the Abbasids. Eventually their rule didn't extend much beyond Iraq yet for a time Baghdad remained a "center for inquiry" and a "cultural hub where philosophy, science, and art survived."

While the author admits that the Abbasids were people of their times and thus didn't have all the "moral and legal niceties that the modern world demands," he is honest in saying that during their rule "there was an eruption of intellectual and philosophical creativity that has rarely been exceeded."  Wealth and "simple curiosity" were factors, however, the author credits "this flowering of inquiry, this preservation of the knowledge of ancient Greece and the advancement of math, science, and philosophy took place in an environment where Muslim rulers welcomed and invited interaction with the People of the Book. They used Christian scholars and administrators as foils to hone their own arguments about Islam, and the interaction between the faiths -- sometimes friendly, often competitive, occasionally contemptuous, and now and then violent -- ignited a cultural renaissance."  (pg. 62)

I didn't know much about this period of Muslim history so I enjoyed learning some new things in this chapter.


Friday, October 29, 2010

Islam as a 'Christian' Heresy & Such Things

Notes and reflections on Peace Be Upon You: The Story of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence by Zachary Karabell

Most of the things in this first chapter were a review of early Islamic history that I recently learned from Karen Armstrong's and Reza Aslan's books so I won't rehash those tidbits.  I made quite extensive notes while reading No God But God and Muhammad: A Prophet For Our Time.  I'll only note a few things that were new to me or a bit different from how Armstrong and Aslan presented things.  Karabell isn't quite so kind when speaking of the Jewish tribes being sent out of Medina by Muhammad yet he isn't harsh on the Muslims in retelling it. He just doesn't make it seem as no-big-deal as the other two whom I've read on this subject.  What this author does stress is how being part of the People of the Book was a good thing as Muhammad thought well of them.  He had hopes the Jews would embrace him as a prophet. Of course it was disappointing when they failed to do so.

The part I found most interesting was the author sharing how easily the Muslim empire expanded. Not because the Muslims were slashing everyone in sight and inflicting terror with swords. Nope. Mostly because the Christian populations of Damascus and Egypt were upset with the Byzantine rulers. At this time the nature of Christ -- fully human? fully divine? both? neither? -- was the hot topic and not every Christian agreed with what the church leaders had decided was the official position.  These Christians were often considered heretical and were not treated with kindness.  When the Arabs came wanting to take their territory, they often agreed and some groups even fought with the Arabs against the Byzantines! Although they had to pay a poll tax to the Muslims, they were generally left alone. At this time Arabs weren't even really infiltrating the new lands in great numbers so people just went along with their lives with little change.  The author states that Muslims "removed the top layer of Byzantine and Persian administration, but initially they left the other layers untouched."   He notes one scholar as saying "the Muslims left such a light footprint on the parts of the world they occupied that it took more than a century before many of the people under their rule began to adjust their lives significantly and figure out what had taken place between 630 and 640."  (pg. 30)

Also of great interest was this fact: while "the message of Islam had been given to Muhammad in Arabic for an Arab audience, and while Arabs believed that the message was universally true, they did not go out of their way to convince non-Arabs.  They sought to rule and to tax the peoples of the Near East and beyond, but they did not try to save their souls or show them the true light."  The tribal mentality was still in play and as the author states "tribes rarely admit converts."  (pg. 30)

The author tells how Sophronius led the resistance against the Arabs and later negotiated the surrender of Jerusalem which was of great sorrow to him. He said God allowed the fall of Jerusalem as punishment for the Christians' divisiveness. He especially blamed the Egyptian Copts. Though he considered Muhammad an "agent of God's wrath" and "his message a blasphemy," he believed the "Christians had only themselves to blame for straying, and that had led to their utter defeat." (pg. 32)

Christian theologian John of Damascus saw Islam with its denial of Jesus' divinity as another heretical Christian group! The author says this shows how close the two faiths are as no one ever mistakenly called Buddhism or Zoroastrianism a Christian heresy. 

"Within the Muslim world, Christians began converting to Islam, but in trickles rather than droves. As they moved out of the garrison cities, Arabs were slowly integrated into the societies that the first caliphs had tried to keep them separate from.  They married, and their wives and children became Muslim. Arab soldiers found ways to settle and acquire land; Arab merchants began to trade; and men of religion started to carve out a special sphere of influence."  (pg. 38) 

Anything here take your attention? Thoughts?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Life Happenings, Picture Links, I Watched Oprah & Last Bit about Paul

Been staying fairly busy lately. Last Saturday we celebrated my dad's birthday at my brother's house.  Some of us took a walk and posed for some crazy pictures near the lake.   I went out with my dad, sister and Michael on Monday and my dad bought me and my sister new tennis shoes.  You can see mine on my foot here if you want. I know not everyone is into shoe pictures.  I generally don't take pictures of my clothes or shoes, but these are hot pink and a bit different from the kind I typically wear.  Thus, a picture is called for.   :)

Today I returned some library books and got three others.  The one I started discusses some history from the time Islam was formed. It promises to not focus on the bad aspects or the good aspects, but to be balanced. The author rightly said he grew up hearing one side so he wanted to learn the other. He said showing only the bad - as is often done in the United States media - is only giving part of the story.  But he also said showcasing only the good is inaccurate. I'll see if I learn some interesting tidbits from him that are worthy enough to share.  Let me go get the book so I can remember the author's name. 

*wanders off to find the book*

It's called Peace Be Upon You and it promises "The Story of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence" by Zachary Karabell.

Anyone who knows me well, knows I am not a movie person. I would much rather waste my life on the computer or reading a book than sitting in front of the TV or a movie screen.  That said, I did enjoy The Sound of Music when I was a kid and today I watched Oprah because she had the original cast together as they celebrate 45 years since the movie came out. Mind you, I was not around to see it fresh off the screen, but still The Sound of Music and I go waaaay back.   It was interesting to see how grown up the cast looked now.  Hehehe.  In case you didn't know and cared....Christopher Plummer was 34, Julie Andrews 28 and the girl who played Liesl was 21 when the movie was filmed in Austria.  I would not have known it was on except that I called my mom at 4 and she told me. So I ended up watching Oprah today.

I know, I know..the excitement never ends.


Here is the last little bit from the book I just finished about Paul that I wanted to note.

"Religion took over the legacy of Paul as it did that of Jesus -- because they both opposed it.  They said that the worship of God is a matter of interior love, not based on external observances, on temples or churches, on hierarchies or priesthoods.  Both were at odds with those who impose the burdens of 'religion' and punish those who try to escape them.  They were radical egalitarians, though in ways that delved below and soared above conventional politics. They were on the side of the poor, and saw through the rich.  They saw only two basic moral duties, love of God and love of the neighbor. Both were liberators, not imprisoners - so they were imprisoned. So they were killed. Paul meant what Jesus meant, that love is the only law.  Paul's message to us is not one of guilt and dark constraint." 

It is this:

8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4

pg. 175, What Paul Meant by Garry Wills

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Paul, Early Church Communities and Teachings of Jesus

What Paul Meant by Garry Willis  -- just a hodgepodge of things I've noted thus far in this book

"[Paul] is a mystic and a deep theologian, but also a voluble street fighter, a man busy on many fronts, often harried, sometimes exasperated."  (pg. 7) Paul's "real weapon was always language" (pg. 42) even when he fought against the believers in Jesus prior to his acceptance of the Way.

"If we want to see what the original Jesus communities looked like, the first and best witness to this is Paul, the earliest writer of what would become in time the New Testament. ... Those who believe in a providential revelation through the New Testament must deal with the fact that Providence preserved the first batch of inspired writings with the signature of Paul."  (pg. 10)

Speaking of the church communities (think meeting in houses not buildings such as today), the author discusses how "the proliferation of these gatherings was astonishingly rapid." He says too that, "The story of Paul is never that of an individual, some religious genius hatching his own religion out of his head. We find in his letters hymns that communities had formed and sung before he set them down in an epistle. ... He takes us closer in time to Jesus than does any other person or group or body of writings. The best way to find out what Jesus meant to his early followers is to see what Paul meant to his fellow believers, many of whom had seen Jesus in his earthly lifetime or after his Resurrection without having written their stories down for us.  Paul did write. But he was writing about a shared experience, not a single and idiosyncratic one. If Paul was such a foe and underminer of Jesus, why was he accepted so soon and broadly by those who knew Jesus?  The answer is that Paul was not a counterforce to Jesus but one of the early believers who together bore witness to him.    The Jesus gatherings in the Diaspora proved more fertile and lasting than those in Judaea itself, not because of any one man's brilliance, energy, or deceptions, but because they were more vitally expressive of what Jesus meant.  Paul was part of this explosion of belief. His letters are dispatches from that hurricane of activity." (pg. 15)

"The experience of the risen Jesus was not only the pivotal event in Paul's own life. It was for him the center of salvation history, for the Jews and for the world. It is what he preaches. Without it, he would have nothing to say and the gatherings would have nothing to bring them into existence."  (pg. 29)

Why did Paul not recount more about Jesus' life?  "The letters are not expositions of the meaning of Jesus' life -- though Paul could have engaged in that when he was with the gatherings he helped form.  The letters are addressed to specific problems, and he uses materials from Jesus' life only when that is needed for addressing those problems." (pg. 44)

The author argues that although Paul may not always use the specific words of Jesus, "he surely had grasped the key to what Jesus taught during his life on earth."  Paul also taught love for your neighbor and enemy (Rom. 12:20), overcoming evil with good instead of taking revenge (Rom. 12:19), not judging and condemning others (Rom. 2:1 and 14:10) among other things Jesus taught. 

Nietzsche said Paul was a man with a "'genius for hatred.'"  Yet the author wondered if a hate-filled heart could pen something as lovely as this which is more in line with Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule.

From Paul to the Corinthian believers: 

 1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,but have not love, I gain nothing. 

 4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

 8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 

 13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.  

(I Corinthians 13)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pondering the Symbolism of the Quran

Notes and Reflections on Noah's Other Son, by Brian Arthur Brown -- see introductory post for more information on this book

In chapter 14 the author mentions several people who make "cameo appearances" in the Quran:  Enoch (Idris), Job (Ayyub), Elijah (Illiyas), Jonah (Yunus) and a few others.  He said these folks being only briefly mentioned should not be taken as an "insult" to them because the nature of the Quran is such that you can take "each ayah, or verse, ... out of context as a basis for meditation." Actually I believe he only means the Quran's statements about these individuals because I often see "take this in context" stressed when reading verses most of us consider the hateful verses in the Quran.  "Slay the unbelievers wherever you find them" is much more tolerable in the context of ancient tribal warfare than a twenty-first century call to arms for Muslims against nonMuslims.

About these "cameo appearance" verses, the author notes:  "The use of such material out of context is actually intended and approved.   There is the presumption of additional knowledge furnished by the Hadith, or, in the case of Muslim scholars, the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, though the latter require careful exegesis because they are thought to be compilations from various sources, some of which have become jumbled."  (pg. 153)

That made me smile since most Muslims I know will just flat out tell you: your Scriptures are corrupted so we can't use much of them unless they agree with the Quran and hadith.  I found it amusing that this guy tried to make it all sound prettier by simply saying that Muslim scholars had to be the ones carefully looking at our "jumbled" Scripture.

Ever wonder why the Quran mentions Mary as Aaron's sister or puts Haman and the Tower of Babel together in a story that also mentions Pharaoh and Moses?  The author states that this means in the Quran God is using "'types' of characters." Remember how the Quran often speaks of "its words are but 'signs' and similitudes'"?  Referring to someone as 'a Haman' should be clear to us what that means just as in today's world most of us know what 'a Judas' or 'a Jezebel' are. (pg. 160)

On this topic, the author writes:  "Perhaps seeking the deeper levels should not be so difficult with the Quran, because, as noted, every page reminds the reader that much here is sign and symbol.  While the whole of Islam is inclined to meditate on the deeper meanings, one group in particular, the Sufis, have cultivated the practice of the deeper focus."  The author says people "often erroneously assumed that Muslims are literalists," but "such is not the case at all.  The sounds of the recitation are intended to lift the worshiper into an ecstasy in which the content of the passage is sometimes almost incidental to the meaning of the experience."  (pg. 161)

How much do you value ecstasy or "meaning of the experience" over what the message is actually saying? Or are both necessary to grasp the true spirit and letter of the content?

I was discussing some spiritual things with a Moroccan Facebook friend recently and I used metaphors in an effort to explain. He later came back wondering why I used such things and I got to thinking how he didn't understand symbolism and maybe the Quran did not stress this. I'm used to the Bible using parables and metaphors so I use them at times when I'm trying to explain, for instance, how we have to be like a branch attached to the Vine (or root or Jesus) in order to produce fruit (good works) such as Jesus described in John 15. (A branch lying by the side of the road will wither and die because it's been cut off from its source of power.) Zayd either didn't understand or appreciate symbolic language and that's fine. Some people are literalists completely so I was surprised by this author stressing so much the rich symbolism of the Quran.

I've seen others argue that the Quran is very literal.  One man I read said even its view of heaven is basically a "very literal sort of 'paradise'; in most respects it's the crudely concrete fantasy a very materialistic young man might come up with -- the best food, the best sex, the best entertainment, in the most comfortable setting, and all of it much more intense than anything on earth."  I see where he is coming from. When I was reading the Quran I was struck often with how opposite of extreme desert life it was -- luscious gardens, much water, delicious fruits and drinks. Even someone who commented on those Quranic notes mentioned how much of Islamic heaven was symbolic of things they wanted but could not get on earth. Thus it was a 'reward' in the afterlife....a 'reward' for having done all those good deeds and passing all those moral tests.

Do you tend to believe the Quran is more about literalism or symbolism or a mixture of both?  Do you get the impression most Quran readers understand it the same as you or do you believe it is open to much interpretation depending on the reader and the experiences each has had?

About Ezra's brief mentions in the Quran, the author wonders and states: "Ezra is important in the whole story of Abraham's family because he reconstituted Judaism following the Babylonian captivity and he supervised the Return. Muslims cannot help but meditate on this passage, and on its parallels in the Hebrew Scriptures, at this time when some kind of right of return is being negotiated between the Palestinian people.  The question being asked is, 'Where is Ezra when we need him?'"   (pg. 160)

Is this true?  Do Muslims really study Ezra (Uzair) in this way?  When talking to my Syrian friend, I've only ever gotten the impression another Saladin was desired in the region. You know...to free them from their oppressors. So to see "where is Ezra" here made me take notice.

Any thoughts?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Role of the 10 Commandments & Feminine Role Models from the Quran

Notes and Reflections on Noah's Other Son, by Brian Arthur Brown -- see introductory post for more information on this book

I'm moving on and not noting as much in each chapter although he has some pretty good information in many of them. He often introduces someone and then ends the chapter discussing some political topic or world event and relating it somehow.  I did note a few things as I read the chapters on Jacob (Yaqub), Joseph (Yusuf), Moses (Musa) and the three Israelite kings (Saul/Talut, David/Dawoud and Solomon/Sulaimon). 

The Ten Commandments are a summarization of universal codes of ethics that were passed down before them and "they endow those that come after them."   The author mentions how "Christianity sits on a Jewish foundation and Americans in particular frequently refer to a Judeo-Christian foundation of their new-world culture." Therefore, "it is not unreasonable to state that Western civilization has a Jewish moral foundation and the Ten Commandments are increasingly acknowledged as Judaism's inestimable contribution of the moral foundation to an emerging global culture." (pg. 124)

The Ten Commandments are a foundation and thus, not everything. For they need interpreting.  "Understood correctly, the Sharia is a divine abstract of the Law; the summary of the Law by Jesus is an interpretation; each person must work out his own ethical responsibilities in fear and trembling, as opposed to either merely obeying the Law or adopting the illusion that anything goes."

He states there are "both personal and communal applications of the Law to be worked out in every age" and the Ten Commandments are about "fundamental relationships." We must extend the application of these relationships to being not only between us and God and our fellow man, but to our environment and the animal kingdom.  (pg. 125)

The author notes that the Quran "gives greater place to the quest to recover the Law."

In a chapter on "Women Who Have Names" the author speaks of the feminism of the Quran which is much less patriarchal than the Bible.  For instance Pharaoh's and Potiphar's wives and the Queen of Sheba are all mentioned by name unlike the Biblical versions of their stories.  He says Hagar is "especially important" (although I honestly cannot remember her being mentioned by name in the Quran).  He states "only Mary rivals Jesus in the time and the space dedicated to individuals in the Quran.  ... They are by far the two persons most often mentioned in Muslim Scriptures."  (pg. 144)  I may be wrong, but I remember Moses being mentioned the most in the Quran though I never did a formal count of how many times people were mentioned. I just recall hearing about Moses and Pharaoh a lot.

Although the author stated in the beginning he only wanted to explore the actual Scriptures of each faith - which he said meant he was not going to explore the ahadith, he broke this "rule" a few times in order to make certain points.  He wanted to share the Muslim community's four feminine role models: Khadija, Fatima, Mary and Asiya who "together portray the feminine ideal in leadership roles in Muslim business, religion, family, and government."  (pg. 144)

Question:  If you were going to choose feminine role models from Scripture or religious history/tradition, would you have chosen these four or would you replace one or two with others?  Who would YOU choose and why?

Thoughts on anything else?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Abraham, Hagar, Ishmael & Lot

Notes and Reflections on Noah's Other Son, by Brian Arthur Brown -- see introductory post for more information on this book

The next three chapters deal with Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael. Sarah is mentioned in the Abraham chapter, but the author didn't devote a single chapter to her.

Mr. Brown commended Abraham for his total submission to God. He let nothing - not even the family he so desired - get in his way of submitting to God's will.  Thus why he was willing to sacrifice his son.  The author notes that Jews and Christians know this to be Isaac as mentioned in the Bible whereas for Muslims it is Ishmael which he says is mentioned in the Quran. I didn't see a specific son mentioned in the Quran for this, but I know in more recent traditions it is thought to be the older son.

"The test was not to see if Abraham would kill for God, as some have speculated. The test was to determine if Abraham was willing to sacrifice his life's dream of a family and the precious promise made to him regarding that family.  That test comes to every human being. Are we willing to put God first, with no rival priority?"  (pg. 75)

The author asks if Abraham's children - Jews, Christians and Muslims - can learn to submit completely to God and be in good relation with one another.

The author makes mention of the good mother Hagar was and why she is so revered by Muslims. He points out the favorable things the Jewish Scriptures say about her in Genesis.

Through Ishmael he explains the alienation of the Arabs from the rest of Abraham's spiritual descendants.  He says the Quran believes him to have nearly been sacrificed by his father whereas the Bible speaks of his being sent away from his father as a teenager. What child wouldn't feel alienated?  He then says a spirit of fearfulness is what drives the lesser jihad -- terrorism.

Chapter 8 was about Lot/Lut whom the author says was made into a "bad actor," "villain" and was deliberately slandered by the ones who wrote/edited the Torah.  In the Quran Lot is "rehabilitated" and shown in a much more favorable light - a prophet and warner to the people of Sodom.

I thought this statement was interesting:

"The Bible is not intended as either a whitewash or a slander. It is the story of human corruption and God's redemption of all, including the writers.  Sometimes, the writers were unaware of corrupting their own material, as Muslims have charged, but even that is part of the human situation with which God deals. In the case of Lot, the writers would have been very much aware of the hatchet job they were doing." 

Why slander Lot in the book of Genesis?  "As the ancestor of Israel's enemies, nothing good is said about him in the Bible, while nothing bad is said about him in the Quran. The fact that he assimilated toward the Arab side of the family did nothing for his reputation among the Jews by the time these stories were being written down in the biblical account." (pg. 96)  Actually the author notes that the New Testament is more favorable towards Lot. In II Peter 2, Lot is called a "righteous man."  We do know even from the Torah that Lot was saved from the destruction God brought down upon the people who stayed behind.

The story of Lot getting drunk and his daughters committing incest with him "was intended not only to discredit Lot, but also to cast Israel's Arab neighbors in the least favorable light, a deliberate slur on traditional enemies who claimed descent from the righteous prophet Lot."    

Note: Lot's sons by his daughters were the fathers of the Moabites and Ammonites. Interestingly enough, however, Ruth - of whom a Biblical book is named - is from the Moabites and she accepted the God of her mother in law (Yahweh) when her husband died.  She married Boaz who was the great grandfather of King David and she is an ancestress of the Messiah, Jesus.

So, yeah, God is all about redemption even in yucky situations like incest.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Details the Bible Didn't Share about Noah's Other Son

Notes and Reflections on Noah's Other Son, by Brian Arthur Brown -- see introductory post for more information on this book

Chapter 3 is about Noah/Nooh and his sons.  Most noteworthy perhaps the son whom the Bible "forgot" to mention whose story is told somewhat in the Quran. As the author put it, "The Quran does not dispute the truth of the Bible, but frequently adds details."  (pg. 50) 

According to hadith, his name was Canaan.  (In the Bible Canaan was Noah's grandson, the son of Ham.)  The Quranic Canaan was the son who drowned because he put his trust in the mountains to save him from drowning.  Mr. Brown says Canaan's story shows the familiar tale of one going his own way, exercising his freedom of choice by rebellion. Yet unlike the story of the prodigal son (see Luke 15), this story shows the consequences of going our own way and not turning back to God.

Remember after the Flood, when Noah was drunk, Ham found him and somehow later got in trouble for not covering his father's nakedness?  (It's in Genesis 9).  Some have puzzled why Noah cursed Canaan for this when Ham was the son who had offended Noah.  They came to the conclusion that sometimes "the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children."  This author suggests Noah truly meant to curse Ham, but just as parents often confuse the names of their children, Noah simply said "Canaan" (meaning his son who was drowned in the Flood) instead of saying Ham.  Brown notes that "This episode provides an instance where knowledge of the Quran resolves a textual conundrum in the biblical text."  

He continues, "The Quran preserves a few somewhat sophisticated twists that had been forgotten or lost."  (pg. 53)  But remember the Quran assumes people already know the Biblical stories as it usually leaves a lot of details out.  From my understanding of the author, he believes the Bible provides the main part of the story so you have to know it first. Then you can read the Quran which might add a few interesting bits to the story that the Jewish authors didn't note when they wrote their version. 

About the numerous flood stories the author writes:  "Some stories may have borrowed material from others, as did the Hebrew version, almost certainly, but others are too widely separated for that. The common thread is water both falling down and rising up; the destruction of society and information about a few survivors who had built a boat -- a family and their animals.  There are a few hints of awareness about the wrath of the gods toward corrupt civilizations, but only the Hebrew account is focused on the cleansing and redemptive purpose of it all, the rainbow of God's love, the grace involved in second chances, and the quest for meaning."  (pg. 46)

About Noah, the author notes he is presented with a "high moral tone" in the Quran since he is on a mission to warn sinners of impending doom.  You won't find the details about Noah getting drunk and lying naked in his tent in Muhammad's version.  Brown says the Quran presents models of good character and conduct not "examples of redemption" that the Jewish authors present.

Chapter 4 deals with the Tower of Babel and how it is a warning for modern times when we build things for ourselves instead of for God and others.  The author says it's a warning that there should be no "unity among humans based on one language or on a super race of superior people."  Most of this chapter was a warning against American Christian fundamentalism and extreme capitalism which lead to wars on drugs, crime, abortion and terrorism and do not solve problems or bring peace.  A modern day Tower of Babel could be the World Trade Center towers which were also brought down.  Hmph!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rethinking Cain and Abel: Technology vs. Nature; Role of Religion

Notes and Reflections on Noah's Other Son, by Brian Arthur Brown -- see introductory post for more information on this book

Chapter 2 is about Cain and Abel or Qabeel and Habeel if you prefer the Quranic names.  Here is a bit of what the author had to say about these brothers and what they represent.

"Abel is an ancient word for 'shepherd,' though it can also mean 'breath.' ... [He] represents the era in human history when humanity developed beyond hunting and gathering food.The era of animal husbandry is the first era of civilization." On the other hand Cain, meaning 'smith' as in blacksmith represents someone who "made tools that would actually interfere with nature." You know like putting up fences to keep out Abel's animals or trying to force plants to grow in rows, using animal waste as fertilizer and manufactured instruments to break up the soil.   The author notes that "primitive religious folk" believe Abel's offering was accepted by God because "compared to the more natural life of Abel, the shepherd breathing freely out under the stars, Cain was seen as positively decadent in lifestyle and activity, much the way we feel about farmers using herbicides and pesticides, or the possible curse of genetically modified foods."  (pg. 40)

Mr. Brown notes that both Cain and Abel had a God consciousness "which was one of the finest human instincts from the beginning." It is rather interesting to learn about more remote tribes and realize the people in those lands also have gods and ways to worship and please their deities. It seems a rather universal trait to have some awareness of higher beings out there running things.  Do you suppose it's because people long for an explanation of why things happen - why a torrential rain would flood their land and wreak havoc?  why a swarm of locust would ruin the crops? why the sun would do its job and cause things to grow?  I wonder if it's only (or mostly) in more civilized societies where technology reigns where we find people denying the existence of a god controlling at least a few things out there.

The author credits Seth as introducing 'organized religion' based on the last part of Genesis 4 which reads: 

 25 Adam lay with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, "God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him." 26 Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.
      At that time men began to call on  the name of the LORD.

Brown believes the role of religion "in addition to offering warnings in the name of God [for such things as global warming, materialism, militarism], is to provide the protection that God offered Cain in a world where risks must be taken, technological or otherwise. Preachers are not to encourage turning back the clock at every juncture, but rather to offer encouragement and wise reflection on the trends, guiding progress instead of preventing it." (pg. 43)

Then he takes about a page to explain that mainstream Christian churches are declining, but perhaps this is what civilization needs as Christianity becomes more cultural.  He even says some historic churches may be called to become 'shrines'  as centers of cultural religion.  Instead of meeting in churches, he says "serving God in the community and in the world is the new agenda." 

Now I'm curious..if you were brought up hearing the story of Cain and Abel, what explanation were you given for why God accepted Abel's offering and not Cain's?  What do you think of the author's interpretation of this story?  Do you think he shows technology in an unfair light or is he pretty balanced in his thinking that people are often resistant to change ... perhaps even God because He accepted Abel's offering and not Cain's.  Note: the author did make mention that Cain threw himself upon God's mercy after being judged for killing his brother.  Thoughts?

Monday, October 18, 2010

NC State Fair

Bonsai trees

This giant bug was made of garden tools such as hoses

Michael found a one-legged praying mantis

Checking out this handy tool

I like how the ice cream freezers are powered

Where we got some really good corn

I liked this old church and the big trees

Mama pig is plum wore out with all those young'uns

Can't get much better than this for me!


For more photos, see my Facebook album

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Rethinking Adam and Eve: Did God want them to eat the fruit?

Notes and Reflections on Noah's Other Son, by Brian Arthur Brown -- see introductory post for more information on this book

In chapter one, the author fittingly begins with Adam and Eve or Aadam and Hawaa. He chooses a more metaphorical version declaring many "adams" (men) and "eves" (mothers) were "created" on the first day ... rather they developed out of the "primordial soup" which mysteriously came forth from the big bang.   The author reminds us that the Quran presumes the earlier stories of Adam are already known "because it launches into deep theological questions without any of the detailed background we might require."  He shares

how the Quran says Adam was created from clay,

how God decided Adam would be his "vice-regal representative upon the earth,"

how the "angels protested that such a person could created havoc, even resulting in bloodshed, as compared to themselves, who were programmed simply to praise and honor God,"

how God told the angels they could not grasp His purpose and explained no more to them. 

Instead God discusses animal names with Adam and appoints man as the animals' "teacher."  God wanted the angels to bow down to Adam. Of course Iblis (the devil) refused and this disobedience to God and believing he was superior to man was his great sin.

A difference between the Quranic and Biblical versions is that in the Islamic understanding, humans - with their abilities to choose freely unlike the angels who were programmed to produce "music and poetry that reflect God's glory" - were "a whole new order of creation, above even angels."  Yet the author makes note of the Jewish and Christian understanding based on Psalm 8 where David speaking of man declared him made "a little lower than the angels."

Any thoughts on this topic?  What do you think of the Quranic version of man being higher than angels because of his ability to choose? Do you think the freedom of choice is not taught in the Bible?  When I read the Quran I was often overwhelmed by a sense of predestination - that is God chose who would be His slaves and who would follow his own path which resulted in hellfire.  Yet the author's understanding of the Quran seems to show a strong sense of freedom of choice. Do you agree with his version of things? Does this seem to be how Islam is practiced when most people born into Muslim households are automatically Muslim with little choice in the matter?  Or do, in fact, "born Muslims" have a choice to become Hindu, agnostic or Catholic if they so choose?

And what do you think of the Psalmist declaring man "a little lower than the angels"?  Is this offensive to be considered lower?  Does it makes you feel inferior somehow or are you OK with that? Would you argue we are higher or lower than the angels? Why?

Furthermore, if the Quran is a mere continuation of the message of the previous books, is this conflict proof that the Jewish Scriptures had been corrupted and needed correcting? How else would one reconcile the view of David (men are lower than angels) to Muhammad's version (men are higher than angels)? Or do you simply realize David was speaking with poetic license or he was speaking of something else entirely and not freedom of choice?

The author mentions How Good Do We Have to Be? by Rabbi Harold Kushner who believes eating of the forbidden tree "was not entirely a bad thing.  We advance by pushing the limits, though we must discover the proper limits. Kushner suggests biting the apple was one of the bravest and most liberating events in the history of the human race, and in the personal development of each person, and that God planned it that way.  Its consequences are painful in the same way that growing up and leaving one's home can be painful. In the same way, marriage and parenthood can be painful and cause us to wonder, 'Why did I give up my less complicated life for all these problems?'  For the mature person who has experienced the complex, hard-earned satisfaction of seeing these things through, there is no doubt it is worth the pain.  The woman is not necessarily the villain of the story, enslaved by her appetites and bringing sin and death into the world. She can be seen as the heroine of the story, leading her husband into the brave new world of moral demands and moral decisions -- the only kind of world in which love can be found."  (pg. 36)

Do you tend to agree with Rabbi Kushner that eating the fruit was no big deal...in fact, it was exactly what God wanted Eve to do?   Maybe a little reverse psychology at work perhaps.  How does this theory work together with or tear apart the traditional thought that this act of disobedience brought death and heartache into the world? Do you agree that having these painful life experiences is really a good thing although we don't always like going through them at the time?  Does Rabbi Kushner's theory suggest God wants (or, at the very least, wanted in the beginning) people to disobey and challenge Him?

The author then ends with an alternative story from Rabbi Kushner's book where Adam and Eve did not eat the fruit though tempted by the serpent.   God rewarded their obedience like this:

"To the man he said, 'You will never work a day in your life. Spend your days in idle contentment with food growing all around you.' To the woman he said, 'You will bear children without pain and raise them without any trouble.  They will not need anything from you and never depend on you.' God told them, 'Children will not cry, nor even grieve if their parents die.  Parents will not cry if their children die; they can have as many more as they wish.  No one will ever laugh or cry, and nobody will ever receive something they have always longed for, because they will have everything.' And the man and the woman grew very old in the garden, and very fat, eating daily from the tree of life and having more and more children.  And the grass grew high around the Tree of Conscience until it disappeared from view, for there was no one to tend it." 

What's wrong with Rabbi Kushner's version of the Reward of Obedience?  What is right? Do you tend to agree with his scenario or would you write your version of Reward for Obedience differently?  Personally I find this man lacks greatly in his view of God's ability to create a perfect place.  His view is that reward is simply being able to eat and reproduce to your heart's content and there is little room for relationship and enjoyable work in a perfect world. What do you think?  After reading this view of Reward, can you see why eating the fruit would be a better alternative for humanity in Kushner's eyes?

I'd love to hear your point of view on any of these topics!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Understanding the Islamic Perspective

I'm somewhat aware that Salman Rushdie is perhaps not a huge favorite in the Muslim world, however, I read a couple paragraphs of an op-ed piece published in the Washington Post in August 2005 that I wanted to share.  Actually these paragraphs were mentioned in the forward of the current book I'm reading, Noah's Other Son, by Brian Arthur Brown a minister of the United Church of Canada.

It should be a matter of intense interest to all Muslims that Islam is the only religion whose origins were recorded historically and thus are grounded not in legend but in fact. The Koran was revealed at a time of great change in the Arab world, the seventh-century shift from a matriarchal nomadic culture to an urban patriarchal system. Muhammad, as an orphan, personally suffered the difficulties of this transformation, and it is possible to read the Koran as a plea for the old matriarchal values in the new patriarchal world, a conservative plea that became revolutionary because of its appeal to all those whom the new system disenfranchised, the poor, the powerless and, yes, the orphans.

Muhammad was also a successful merchant and heard, on his travels, the Nestorian Christians' desert versions of Bible stories that the Koran mirrors closely (Christ, in the Koran, is born in an oasis, under a palm tree). It ought to be fascinating to Muslims everywhere to see how deeply their beloved book is a product of its place and time, and in how many ways it reflects the Prophet's own experiences.

However, few Muslims have been permitted to study their religious book in this way. The insistence that the Koranic text is the infallible, uncreated word of God renders analytical, scholarly discourse all but impossible. Why would God be influenced by the socioeconomics of seventh-century Arabia, after all? Why would the Messenger's personal circumstances have anything to do with the Message?

The traditionalists' refusal of history plays right into the hands of the literalist Islamofascists, allowing them to imprison Islam in their iron certainties and unchanging absolutes. If, however, the Koran were seen as a historical document, then it would be legitimate to reinterpret it to suit the new conditions of successive new ages. Laws made in the seventh century could finally give way to the needs of the 21st. The Islamic Reformation has to begin here, with an acceptance of the concept that all ideas, even sacred ones, must adapt to altered realities.

Now I'm not saying Muslims must think of their Scriptures as mere historical documents and not sacred, however, I do think it's important to realize that everything done during Muhammad's time does not, in fact, have to be done today in the same way.  You can ride in cars instead of camels. You can use a toothbrush instead of miswak.   You can wait until your daughter is grown instead of marrying her off to some old man when she is twelve or younger.  You can have one wife instead of four. I've seen some Muslim women talking about this very thing on other blogs lately especially in regards to women's rights and roles in this world.

I've never read anything from this author before, but he said his hope is "to illustrate how much the West and the world as a whole can learn from the Qur'an, and to boldly offer the fruits of more than a hundred years of biblical criticism among Christians and Jews." He hopes this will profit Jews and Christians so they can understand a religion they may know too little about. And he hopes to inspire Muslims with "techniques of scriptural analysis" so they can "unlock the treasures of the Qur'an" for the benefit of everyone.

I've yet to get into this book's chapters because I had to first read the foreword, introduction, prologue, cast of characters and preface.    I did glean a few things from those pages worth sharing.  The author reminds us that we are no longer in a secular age like the 20th century was labeled.  The liberal Christians' idea that we are in a "post-religious" age is just not true according to this liberal Christian. 

Also this author believes Islam to be "beautiful" and will avoid speaking of leaders and followers, but the Scriptures. He will talk of the Torah, Gospel and Qur'an instead of Judaism, Christianity and Islam or even David, Jesus or Muhammad.  So this seems like it will be interesting .. hope so.

The author believes the "Qur'an is as hard to read as the books of Daniel or Revelation, and it is presented in a similar style. (pg. 9)  He had many Muslims help with this book and he addressed how they were "aghast" at how the Bible portrays the prophets and leaders as very imperfect people especially in the Jewish Scriptures.  In the spirit of understanding the other point of view, he wanted the reader to realize this important distinction between Muslims with their nearly-perfect prophets and Jews and Christians with their error-prone prophets.  Muslims, he claims, use this view of the prophets as proof the Bible has been corrupted, whereas Jews "[appreciate] God's response to the human quest" and Christians believe in grace, both of these "depend on the fact that God redeems these great prophetic characters in spite of their sins, not because of their virtues. The point is that this redemption is available to all."  (pg. 26)

The author had a new twist on the Golden Rule for his book:  "To understand others as they would want us to understand them, we must put forth the most favorable interpretation of any cherished belief, as long as it does no real damage to our own.  We would hope that others might look at our tradition through our fond eyes, rather than looking for every inconsistency and hypocrisy they can find."  (pg. 10)

So I guess this means I need to see Muhammad as a Muslim would.  O_O 

Or at least try.  Trying is good.  

Stay tuned. I'll share more if the chapters are any good! 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Random Dozen

Yay, so I finally finished another book (the Muhammad one) and posted my last notes on it yesterday.  Thanks to all who have commented on those posts. As always, you made the reading more interesting and informative! I returned the book to the library and ended up with three more plus a couple others on my list to get another time.  I got one about Paul, a fiction one fleshing out the story of Matthew (despised-by-his-own tax collector for Rome turned disciple of Jesus and writer of the first gospel) and another that deals with Noah having a son who drowned. Actually it discusses some of the similarities and differences of the Quran and Bible - I think. I didn't check it out too thoroughly there since I planned to read it.  

In the meantime, I read this Random Dozen on another blog and decided to fill in my own answers just for fun.  I hope you all are having a great week/weekend!

1. Is there a word which you initially mispronounced? Were the circumstances in which you made the faux pas embarrassing? By the way, that's not "foax pass." (I know you know that. Just jokin' with ya.)
I pronounce a lot of things the Southern way so I'm not usually embarrassed unless it's just a word I've seen in books many times and know what it means, but when I go to say or read it out loud I'm like, "Errr, how exactly is that said?" I think the most embarrassing one was saying facade like "fuh CADE." At least that's the one that comes to mind now.

2. How do you feel about the use of texting shortcuts and trends? (ex: "I've got ur notes. Get them 2 u 2morow.")
It annoys me sometimes. Is it that much harder to write "your" than "ur"?  However, I do use a few of them from time to time on blogs (e.g. BTW for "by the way") so I guess I shouldn't complain.

3. Tell me about your high school senior picture. Please feel free to post.
It was me in a drape-type thing...utterly cute (not!)

5. Share a high school or college homecoming memory.
High school homecomings were just basketball games and seeing some old friends. Nothing overly-memorable.

6.  Do you prefer sunrises or sunsets?
Sunsets. They both are pretty, but I see more sunsets so I have more of those in my mind.

7.  What is something you have not done that you desire to do?
live in another country for a while -- I think it would be neat to experience another culture and people for a while, see what I can learn from them, what I miss from home and so forth. I think it would be a wonderful learning experience.

8. If you could come back [in another life] as an animal, which would it be?
maybe a marine creature so I could explore under the sea and see the beauties way down deep

9. Where were you 10 years ago? Please feel free to elaborate more than just your physical location.
let's see...we lived in a mobile home in a cow pasture that we bought prior to our marriage (we bought the mobile home, not the cow pasture, that is); Andrew lived in it a month or so before we married; we were preparing to buy the house we are in now ... or at least start looking; this was pre-Michael so those days don't stand out so much to me now except for the little I shared; boring, yes.

10. When you are proven to be correct in any contentious discussion, do you gloat?
If I could remember any "contentious discussion" where I've been proven to be correct, I'd tell ya. Usually any contentious discussions just stop with our points being heard and each satisfied with her own understanding of things.  I don't think I'm much of a gloater because I realize there is soooooooooo much out there I don't know and so many people much smarter than I.

11. What is your favorite food which includes the ingredient "caramel?"
sundaes and those little caramel candies with the white centers

12. If you could be part of any fictional family, which family would you choose and why?
The Huxtables from The Cosby Show -- they all seemed successful and had fun together; laughing together is a good thing

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Last of My Notes on 'Muhammad' by Karen Armstrong

My final notes from this book, Muhammad: A Prophet For Our Time by Karen Armstrong. Forgive me as they are rather scattered in nature, but since they are things that took my attention and I took the time to type, I will just stuff them all in this post to get them out of the way! I left some questions for you throughout. :) 
While speaking of the Quran, Karen Armstrong tried to convey how lovely it is to hear recited. How it mesmerized listeners, made them reflective and "enter a different mode of consciousness"  as they "had an immediate encounter with Allah."  Indeed the Quran was meant to be read aloud or recited in Arabic.  She stressed the Quran loses its 'punch' if translated into another language and indeed I recall my Syrian friend being dismayed at how ordinary the Quran seemed when he read parts of it in English for my sake.   
Armstrong makes note that "Biblical Hebrew is experienced as a holy tongue in rather the same way." However there is "nothing holy about New Testament Greek" so Christians don't understand sacred languages in the same way that Jews and Muslims would.  Indeed our Scriptures present "Jesus as the Word spoken by God to humanity."  (emphasis mine) Hey, it's a tradeoff I'm willing to take!  No learning classical Arabic or Hebrew for me. I can experience all the sacred language I want by looking to Jesus!  
Indeed Armstrong writes next, "Like any scripture, the Quran thus provided an encounter with transcendence, bridging the immense gulf between our frail, mortal world and the divine."  Weird because that is essentially what Jesus did for us in our Christian worldview.

What irritates me about the Quran rather Armstrong's praises of it, is that she stresses the need for it in Arabic.  I don't think the majority of the world's residents are going to bother learning classical Arabic so they can experience this wondrous feeling they are supposed to get upon hearing the Quran recited. I can hear the Quran recited and find it lovely although I do not understand the words.  Are we supposed to be moved by the beauty much as we are moved to joy or tears by a song?   Songs makes me cry sometimes...does this mean God touched my heart? Just musing out loud.
I believe God speaks in a universal language so that all of His creation can know Him without having to learn some strange, difficult language.  (Speaking from the back of my throat is hard work.  I've tried, but I only use those muscles for clearing gunk out of my throat usually! Yes, I have a weak throat!) For me, Jesus is universal. He is a life we can see and follow ... no words necessary.  Reminds me of that saying, "Preach a sermon every day. If necessary use words."  Jesus is that. He preached a sermon wherever he went. Sometimes he used words.  Most of the time, his sermons were actions. I like that.  Actions are more easily understood by all than are languages.
Question:  What do you think?  Does God speak so all can hear Him or only those willing to learn an ancient language like Hebrew or Arabic?   Or do you believe one who truly wants to know God will do whatever it takes - including learning a difficult foreign language - to know God better?  The Apostle Paul said God is evident in nature - which is universal - so we are without excuse.  Thoughts?

Karen Armstrong notes that many of the earliest suras invited the listeners to question themselves and left "the audience with an image on which to meditate but with no decisive answers."  Almost as if God wanted them to reflect and find their own answers rather than have set rules.  (pg. 61)
Question: Do you think God left some things purposefully vague so we would reflect and seek answers and maybe mutual understanding instead of being dead-set in one way and not willing to budge? Or do you tend to believe God has rules set in stone that no on should seek to modify or update as centuries pass?

The Quran didn't believe people were "inherently evil, but they were forgetful" and "all too eager to push [any] uncomfortable ideas to the back of their minds."  So the Quran was a reminder for them to do good deeds - remember the poor, be humble instead of proud, be generous instead of greedy.
Question:  Do you prefer and/or agree with this view that people are just forgetful instead of evil?

Something that did strike me as really good is when Armstrong told how putting your head to the ground was a sign of humility that was missing among the Quraysh who were a proud people. Actually all the bedouin tribes were proud, I'd say.  (Are we not all proud?) This seeming groveling and making oneself a slave to Allah was hard for many of them to accept. But for those who did, it was a reminder five times daily of their submission before God.  "It taught their bodies at a level deeper than the rational to lay aside the self-regarding impulse to prance and preen arrogantly."  (pg. 65)

Armstrong mentions "most people objected to the day of reckoning" idea promoted by Muhammad. They thought this was "an old wives' tale" because they didn't understand how rotting bodies could be resurrected to live again.  (pg. 67)

Question:  Do you see how these actions and ideas could be hard for people to come to terms with?  What do you think of them personally?

Karen Armstrong believes the "story of the night journey reveals Muhammad's longing to bring the Arabs of the Hijaz, who had felt that they had been left out of the divine plan, into the heart of the monotheistic family."  This, she claims, is a story of pluralism of the monotheistic kind. "In Jerusalem, he discovered that all the prophets, sent by God to all peoples, are 'brothers.'  Muhammad's prophetic predecessors do not spurn him as a pretender, but welcome him into their family.  The prophets do not revile or try to convert each other; instead they listen to each other's insights."   (pg. 97)

Armstrong believes one verse quoted often to "'prove' that the Quran claims that Islam is the one, true faith and that only Muslims will be saved," in fact teaches the opposite because the word "islam" here was used prior to that word being the official name of Muhammad's religion.  When read in context, Armstrong believes this is a very pluralistic verse which includes all who surrender to God regardless of their official religions.  Here is the verse she means:

"For if one goes in search of a religion other than self-surrender (islam) unto God, it will never be accepted from him, and in the life to come, he shall be among the lost." (pg. 99)
Question:  Do you agree with Armstrong that Islam is very pluralistic ... at least it was meant to be? Is it still or do you find it not as Armstrong has described? Do you agree that this verse should be translated to include all who submit to God regardless of religious labels (Hindus, Jews, Christians, Muslims) or do you believe it means only Islam is the way to God?

In this chapter the author explains that hijrah (migration) from Mecca to Yathrib was "absolutely unprecedented."  She said abandoning kinfolk for the "permanent protection of strangers" in a land where "the tribe was the most sacred value of all... amounted to blasphemy."   She said this was "far more shocking than the Quranic rejection of the goddesses."  (pg. 108-109)
I just thought that information was interesting and makes sense! I guess it would be like me abandoning my family to take up with some Chinese people and fighting my people!  Strange!
Thoughts on any of this?