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

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Let it be said of me, too, please!

"Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are."

or put another way, 

"Teacher," they said, "we know how honest you are. You teach the way of God truthfully. You are impartial and don't play favorites."

~ Pharisees to Jesus in Matthew 22:16

Thank you, Father, for your blessings on us all!

"He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."  Matthew 5:45b

~*~Happy birthday, Samer! ~*~

Friday, April 29, 2011

April Books

Wow, these months do fly on by, huh?  One third of 2011 is nearly over!  Hope it's going well for you!   Here are the books I finished this month.

Islam Today
by Akbar S. Ahmed -- a "short introduction to the Muslim world." I was especially interested in the talk of the Central Asian Muslim countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union because I didn't know much about them.  The author tended to focus more on Asian Muslims rather than Arabs. That was a change so I Iearned a bit from that perspective which was good.  see previous posts about this book (they are in March)

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives In North Korea by Barbara Demick -- The author told the story of northern North Korea - a city called Chongjin - through the tales of defectors she met while living in Seoul.  I heard about this book from Bridget's blog and when I found it at my library, I checked it out.  It's so interesting and sad. Several times I had tears in my eyes as I thought of the difficult lives of these people.  The author described party faithful and those who were questioning of the regime, but dared not say anything for fear of neighbors who would report them.  The lies told about how poor the capitalists were and how privileged the North Koreans were by comparison were heartbreaking especially when people finally realized the truth.  So many people starved to death.  Ugh.  The author also told how hard it was for many North Koreans to start over in China or South Korea. After having the government tell them what to do and basically make every decision for them and provide everything, they didn't know what to do with the array of choices available in South Korea.  Due to lack of nutrition, North Koreans average about five inches below their southern counterparts in height.  Also the north has kept more of the traditional culture than the south.  South Koreans worry about the reunification because of the problems of having millions of extremely poor people in their country. Also imagine a group of people who don't know much about how to use ATMs, internet, cell phones and so forth. They've been literally kept in the dark. Great book. And the title is from a North Korean song in case you were wondering.

Motoring with Mohammed by Eric Hansen -- This library book published twenty years ago tells of the author's adventures first getting shipwrecked in the Red Sea, his rescue, burying his travel notebooks and later - a decade later - his return to Yemen with hopes of locating these.  I enjoyed the tales from his weeks living amongst the Yemenis and meeting Westerners who lived there.

The Gifts of the Jews by Thomas Cahill -- "How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels"  -- see previous post

Feather in the Storm: A Childhood Lost in Chaos by Emily Wu and Larry Englemann -- This book describes the early life and teen years of Emily as she grew up during the Cultural Revolution as a daughter in a "black" family - one where her father was considered "ultra-rightest" due to his intellectual and American ties (he was a professor and had been university educated in Chicago.)  I really enjoyed this book though it was not uplifting and sweet and cuddly at all. Still the determination and hard work and the strength of some people is admirable.  I was glad to see glimmers of compassion and community in certain characters.  Emily was interviewed for a documentary described here.  Wow, I just saw where one of the relocated youth teaches at Duke University which is about a half hour from my house!  Here he is now.  Oh,oops!  It seems he died last Christmas at age 59 and his memorial service at Duke was held just yesterday! Freaky coincidence since I'm just learning about him today (April 9).  Here's the notice.   Sad!

Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter by Thomas Cahill -- see previous post; this book talks about how the Greeks contributed to our western culture

Historic India by Lucille Schulberg.  -- see previous posts

Himalayan Passage by Jeremy Schmidt -- a traveler's tale of his seven month journey with his wife and friends through the high country of Tibet, Nepal, China, Indian and Pakistan. I enjoyed the tales of people they met, sights they saw and experiences with officials, locals, dogs and so forth. Got this at my local library.

North Korea by The Voice of the Martyrs with Todd Nettleton -- a brief book with a bit about the situation of Christians past and present in this country

The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization by Richard W. Bulliet -- This Columbia University professor discusses how Islam and the West are like siblings and how very similar their paths have been. He discusses democracy and fundamentalism within the world.   The book consisted of four rather lengthy chapters and number three was my favorite.  It was especially interesting to read this in light of what has happened this year in many Arab countries.

Why Do You Kill?  by Jurgen Todenhofer was recommended to me by a Moroccan Facebook friend. I read much of this book with Samer (I read it to him) and finished it on my own.  It gives the story of the Iraqi resistance. I thought one mother's summary was good. "Can you not make your American friends understand that they have to stop presenting our children with this horrible alternative -- either to stand by and watch their families being slaughtered or kill someone themselves? Tell them to end this war, which is killing both their young soldiers and our sons - for no reason at all."  (pg. 138)  It really helped me see the Iraqi perspective as so many people have been affected by what the United States has done over there. 

The Jesus You Can't Ignore by John MacArthur -- This is one of my brother's books that he gave me to read. The theme is that Jesus thought so much of Truth that he didn't always be nice and tolerable to people who were distorting it. The author showed several confrontations Jesus had with Pharisees and false teachers and how he stood up for the Truth.; also see previous post

"Truth was his only weapon. He did not assault the false teachers in Corinth the same way they had attacked him - with innuendo, distortions of his teaching, purely personal insults, and webs of deceit.  He answered their deception with truth."  (pg. xxxii)

A Deadly Misunderstanding by Mark Siljander -- a great book about a former Republican Congressman from Michigan as he changes his views about Islam once he meets Muslims and starts listening to them; saw this mentioned first by an Arab Christian friend on Facebook, Nabeel Jabbour, and got it for Christmas off my Amazon Wishlist.

What have you read lately that has most interested you?  :)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

On *God* Having To Learn Justice and Morality

I'm currently read Joseph's Bones by a - I think - Jewish guy, Jerome M. Segal. He doesn't say "I am Jewish," but he teaches Torah to children and young people.  Anyway, this book deals with the Torah from a different perspective: as the Bible being written not as God's words, but "a perception of...humanity's message to itself."    Thus far we have Abraham teaching God lessons. Like justice.  Not punishing the good with the evil in the event of Sodom. And holding people individualistically accountable rather than the whole of society suffering for the sins of individuals.  The author brags on Joseph and how his morality seems to be more "firmly lodged in his self-identity" than in God's self-identity.  (pg. 66)

Because of Eve eating the fruit, mankind now has the ability to know good and evil. Thus Eve is "vindicated" -- she is part of the "human process that, if successful, will result in a world of justice, a world achieved by transforming God."  (pg. 72)

Yes, God is the one needed to be overhauled and taught morality and justice.  Perhaps this was the reason God created man. I'll have to keep reading to find out.

Now I'm on a section about the Tower of Babel as recorded in Genesis 11.  Read it and tell me what stands out to you and/or what your understanding of it is symbolically or literally or in harmony with religious tradition and holy books. I am curious. 

 1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
 3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
 5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
 8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel —because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Thoughts?  What do you think of the idea presented about the Bible's message and God needing to be taught by His creation how to be just and merciful and moral?

Don't forget to share your Tower of Babel interpretations.  :)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Religious Culture of the Pharisees

I read this and wondered how often we put our religion and doing extra things "for God" over God Himself and what He truly wants from us.  How often do we focus on external things and appearances of religiosity rather than the things that truly matter to God? 

To the eye of a superficial observer, the religious culture the Pharisees had cultivated in first-century Israel might have appeared to represent a kind of golden age for Jewish law. It was certainly not the same variety of overtly false religion we read about so frequently in the Old Testament -- those repeated epochs of backsliding and idolatry with golden calves, Asherah worship, and worse.
No one could accuse a Pharisee of any overtolerance for pagan beliefs, right?  They were, after all, strongly opposed to every expression of idolatry and totally committed even to the incidental minutiae of Jewish law.  Plus, for safety's sake they had added many surplus rituals of their own making, as extra shields against accidental defilement.  If biblical law demanded ceremonial washings for priests offering sacrifices, why not add extra washings for everyone, and make them an essential part of common daily routines?  That is precisely what they did.
From a human perspective, these things all had the appearance of profound devotion to God. Looked at in that way, the Pharisees might have been thought the least likely men of their generations to become Messiah's worst enemies.  They were profoundly religious, not careless or profane.  They certainly weren't avowed atheists openly undermining people's faith in God's Word.  They promoted piety, not licentiousness. They advocated zeal, rigor and abstinence - not worldliness and indifference to spiritual things.  They championed Judaism, not the sort of pagan syncreticism their Samaritan neighbors and so many earlier generations of Israelites had dabbled in.  Their religion was their whole life.
It even took precedence over God Himself.
And therein lay the problem. The Pharisees had devised a slick disguise, concealing their self-righteousness and hypocrisy under a veneer of religious zeal. They were careful to maintain the appearance of - but not the reality of - sincere devotion to God.  (pg. 9,10*)

Isaiah 1

11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
   what are they to me?” says the LORD.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
   of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
   in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
   who has asked this of you,
   this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
   Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
   I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
   I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
   I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
   I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
   I am not listening.    Your hands are full of blood!

"But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."  ~ Jesus  (Mt. 9:13)

*The Jesus You Can't Ignore by John MacArthur

Monday, April 25, 2011

Defining Things

A few things I noted from The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization by Columbia University history professor Richard Bulliet ...

"Books offering new looks at Islam -- this one included -- appear every month. The problem is integrating this mass of information about Islam with the perspectives of those charged with determining government policies.  The policy community, and the scholars on its fringes, continue to shun alternative visions of modernity that might embody a Muslim rather than a western perspective. At worst, they posit Islamic politics as a malignant and inveterate foe, debating the best strategies for holding the Muslims at bay while simultaneously whining 'Why do they hate us?'"  (pg. 115)

This made me wonder how people view modernity.  How would you describe it? Must you own a smart phone or Kindle in order to be modern?  How might a Muslim differ from a Western perspective on this subject? What mights an alternative view of modernity include or exclude?

"Like latter day missionaries, we want the Muslims to love us, not just for what we can offer in the way of a technological society, but for who we are - for our values. But we refuse to countenance the thought of loving them for their values."  (pg. 116)

Do you think this is true? If so, how do we remedy this problem?

"Virtually all thoughtful Americans shudder at the idea of Islamists forming governments, even through free elections. But they are generally hazy on what the world 'Islamist" actually means.  Liberals shudder because of the illiberalism they see at the heart of Islamic movements. Conservatives shudder because of the anti-Americanism they see in those same movements."  (pg. 125)

This reminds me so much of what is happening in the Arab world this year. I recall when Egypt was going through its peaceful revolution, many people here kept saying the Muslim Brotherhood was behind it and they might gain power and put in some very anti-American government that kept minorities within Egypt (whether that were the Coptic Christians or women) down.  How do you define Islamist for yourself? And does the thought of Islamists in power make you shudder or squirm?  Why or why not?

"From the dawn of Christianity down to the nineteenth century - and still today in evangelical Christian circles - the winning of souls took precedence over wealth and power as a sign of success."  (pg. 41)

This was said in context of Islam and Christianity spreading. The author noted that Islam spread to many areas that already had a monotheistic view of God compared to Europe which tended to have the idea of many gods or spirits.  But what I wanted to ask about this is how do you define success? For yourself and/or for others (i.e., societies, governments, etc.)?

You know how you often read about Westerners not crediting Muslims for the scientific achievements and not recognizing cultural superiority during the time when Europe was in its dark ages?  The author draws this parallel. 

Postcolonial thinkers from lands subjected to imperialism concentrate on forms of subjection involved with European imperialism that were virtually unperceivable to past generations of traditional European intellectuals. The latter were prone to stress the economic and technical benefits of relations with Europe in the imperialist era, a phenomenon usually described as westernization or modernization, even as they grudgingly acknowledged the oppressive nature of the colonial system.  People from formerly colonized societies see these as benefits for which no one is owed any gratitude, given the immensity of the burdens inflicted by the putative imperialist benefactors. In exactly the same manner, the Latin Christian of the twelfth through fourteenth centuries (as well as their descendants today) saw no reason to express gratitude toward, or to recognize the scientific and artistic superiority of, the Muslims societies from whence they were obtaining the ideas, techniques, and industrial processes that would soon catapult Latin Europe along a new and immensely fruitful developmental path. Borrowers have their pride.  (pg. 32)


P.S. --  I hope you all had a nice Easter yesterday!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday Sadness

So today was Good Friday, the day many Christians remember Jesus' crucifixion.  I found out about an event at a rescue mission located about 45 minutes away and went there to help serve lemonade to the people from the community who came to eat. The day was cool and rainy, but we had a large crowd to feed. I had a wonderful time smiling at others, talking to the adults and making funny faces at the children.  I wanted them to see Jesus in me and I hope they did.  The mission gave away bags of groceries, nice clothes, Easter baskets and had games and balloons and prizes for the children.

On the way down I was listening to a CD from a message my pastor spoke a few months ago. I remember liking it then so I saved it and today I remembered why. One part he talks about suffering with people.  How we enter into their suffering the same way Jesus suffered with us.  So this evening I've been suffering for Syria.

They had "Great Friday" there.  Each Friday they have had names for their protests -- the day of persistence and .. I'm drawing a blank, but you get the idea. Today being Good Friday for Christians, they decided to show solidarity with the Christians within Syria and gave it the Arabic version which Samer told me translates to Great Friday. So, Great Friday was a horrible day!  Almost 90 people killed and I saw some gruesome videos!  I "liked" Shaam News Network* on Facebook so my news feed has been full of the reality of the day there!  And it's awful!

So I am sharing in their suffering and am heartbroken for the beautiful people throughout that country who are seeing their country fall apart and for those precious souls who lost their lives today.  I weep with them.

Edited to add this video. A Syrian friend (not Samer who has been asleep in Germany for hours now) asked me to share it on Facebook just now and I decided to add it here. It will break your heart.

* Click the link, but be prepared for some graphic stuff. Some of my Facebook people seemed to have problems with a couple things I posted from it today.  Reality is too difficult for many folks whose vision of reality is Survivor and Hell's Kitchen.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

India: Rethinking God, His Oneness, Intuition Over Reason

My last few notes on Historic India by Lucille Schulberg


"Even as he reaffirms the ancient concept of oneness, Krishna reveals a shift in the concept of god and of man's relation to him. God, or the prevailing spirit behind the universe, remains one with creation, but he is no longer impassive; he is a personal god who loves man, who desires love in return and - most significant - he is a god who will assist man in his course through life."

"Such a god as Krishna is a far remove from Brahman, the impersonal world spirit put forth in the Upanishads.  Krishna's words indicate how the concept of the deity have evolved.  By the Fourth Century A.D. the loving kind of deity of which he spoke had grasped the hearts of the people -- and as it took hold there arose a new form of worship appropriate to such a god." 

I think it is interesting to consider the concept of oneness and how it is understood by different religions.  Here you see these words and may think of monotheism in the Islamic sense..especially if you aren't familiar with Hinduism at all and are just reading this quote plucked from its context.  Yet this oneness is a oneness of God with his creation.  Not "there is no god but God."   Hindus worship a variety of gods though they have their favorites.  (The book states "Vishnu, Shiva and Shiva's wife in several guises get the lion's share of" worship, that is bhakti: "a form of intense personal devotion.")  Likewise, the Trinitarian Christian's concept of oneness is also different from what a Jew or Muslim would understand it to be.  Perhaps two becoming one in marriage is a simple though imperfect way to better understand how three persons can make up one God.

Also isn't this quote interesting in that God is no longer impersonal, he loves and desires love in return? Also he will help us throughout our lives.  I couldn't help but think of Jesus's words about God loving us and us loving Him.  The assisting part reminds me of the Holy Spirit who would be sent to guide us into all truth.  Did this also make you think this way?


In the 9th century one of the greatest Indian philosophers Shankara "did for Hinduism what the 13th century Thomas Aquinas did for Christianity: he took his religion apart and examined it in minute detail, then drew the pieces together again in one cohesive whole."  He preferred the impersonal Brahman rather than the "concept of a warm and loving deity," yet "he persisted in writing eloquent hymns in praise of Shiva."  He wasn't a fan of Buddhism yet "employed missionary techniques similar to theirs."  After accepting without question his religious scriptures as divine revelation, he set about verifying his faith through reason yet in the end discarded reason in favor of intuition which was "the ability to seize on truth without recourse to reason."  Intuition was to be prized more than reason.  "All knowledge, he said, is warped and inconclusive, for the senses impair man's grasp of reality. Hampered by illusion and ignorance, man sees many forms where there is in truth only one reality -- Brahman: a reality that is changeless, timeless and unified in all things."


The final chapter dealt with the Muslims coming into India. Here is how the author contrasted Hindu and Islamic beliefs.

Muslims -- rigid monotheism; no God but God and Muhammad is His prophet

Hindus -- flexible theology; a "private affair" where each was able to find religious truth "in God, gods or a godless intellectual concept"

Muslims --  "all Muslims were brothers and that all men were equal before God regardless of their class or color"

Hindus --  "social inequality was the law of the universe and that if there was such a thing as blasphemy, it was to be found in the act of tampering with social order"

Any thoughts, corrections or observations on any of this?  What do you think of the shift of God from impassive to loving and personal and helpful to people?  Shankara preferred the former. Which do you like more? What do you think of Shankara's views about intuition trumping reason? Do you agree that "the senses impair man's grasp of reality" so knowledge is "warped and inconclusive"?  Other thoughts or comments?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Thoughts on Indians' Idea of Bliss: Get Rid of Your Individualism!

So I finished reading Historic India by Lucille Schulberg last night. You may recall I first mentioned this book in my post about extinction which was based on my misunderstanding of what extinction involved. But thanks to Amber and Sarah, I am better informed now.  (Thanks, Ladies!)  Also I belitted the notion of Siddhartha Gautama's father ridding his immediate surroundings of suffering people because he was fearful his son would take up an ascetic life.  Yet I read later in the book that asceticism "was a time-honored tradition in India" and "the highest salvation is reserved for those who take [this] arduous path."  (pg. 122)  I think it was pretty obvious by my last post that I was very ignorant of this fact by believing most people would choose the path of least pain and maximum pleasure. I suppose I don't see very many people denying themselves much of anything in order to live in solidarity with those suffering. Yet it seems Indians are different and those desiring "the highest salvation" will live a "life of austerity, a giving up of worldly goods and pleasures." 

Rather impressive!

Over and over I kept seeing the world "individual" in this book.  And it wasn't said in a good sense. In fact, the overarching theme I got from reading of the ancient religions of India was individualism was the enemy we each had to overcome.  See this passage about the duty or dharma prescribed to each person based on birth. Dharma - along with karma and rebirth - is one of the key components of Hindu faith.  Notice how not individualistic and very traditional this is.

"In ancient India's bustling towns and villages, each squalling infant grew up knowing that he had to mature in the pattern of his parents. To do so was his dharma; he was never to deviate from tradition.  Every act of his life, no matter how trivial, was a religious ritual, enforced as a prescribed duty. The way he brushed his teeth, stepped from his house or greeted his neighbor was supposed to conform to his own group's habits or the universe would tremble.  The work he did, the tools he used, the way he used them -- his group's ways with all these matters was theoretically part of his dharma, and to tamper with them was to defy the universal order.  In this ideal scheme of things, personal inclination was not a major consideration. If a child from a family of cotton merchants liked to nurse sick puppies back to health or to rescue maimed birds and mend their broken wings - signs that, in our own culture, might suggest the family start saving for medical school -- his dharma would nevertheless prescribe that he be trained as a merchant.  In the words of the Bhagavad Gita, 'It is better to do one's own duty badly than to do another's duty well,' for only when men performed their hereditary dharma did society function properly as an element of the universe."   (pg. 136)

What do you think?  Some of this made me think of Muslims who follow the example of their prophet down to the most minute details. Perhaps Muslims think this is their dharma as being part of the Islamic Caste. Same with those who follow Judaism especially the minute details of the rabbinical literature.  I used to think Islam - like Judaism - ruled its followers to death, but now I'm beginning to think we Christians are the odd ones with our lack of a gazillion and three rules to micromanage our lives!  Are we missing out?! 

There were four classes of men - "strictly graded and segregated" - and each needed to perform its set tasks. The castes  (this term actually came from 16th century Portuguese travelers and Indians have a different name for this) were interdependent - the warriors would protect the farmers and carpenters and in turn needed food from the farmers and houses built by carpenters - and gave members a sense of security.  "The caste assumed all financial responsibility for everyone in it, from the aged to the infant; even an incurably lazy young man was often housed, fed, clothed and protected by members of his caste."   (pg.141)

I have a bit more to share, but don't want to make this post too long.  So I'll just briefly mention the Mahabharata which speaks "to the universal human condition...Yudhisthira voices the eternal struggle of individual conscience against society as it is ordered, and he shares the universal plight of man powerless against forces he did not create -- forces he may decry but has to reckon with."  (pg. 119)

Yudhisthira didn't want to go to war, but it was his dharma as a warrior.  He cried out against this "cruel carnage" and was condemned at death with "a stint in hell and further rebirth" because he railed against his duty.  His "vain and pompous cousin, whose greed had brought on the war," was "feasting happily with the gods."   His cousin had fulfilled his dharma "in going to war without quailing." 

Lesson being: if you are a warrior and your duty is to wage war, do it. Even if you have personal objections.  It is your duty and your individualistic thoughts do not matter.  Leave your conscience at the door and due what duty demands.

At least that's how I take all this.

Yes, being community-minded and duty-minded is good in many ways, but is "the Indian idea of bliss" i.e,  "the absorption of individuality in a greater whole" the cure for society's ills?   Or should there be some balance?

What do you think of the information presented here? Please feel free to correct my understanding of things if you can shed some light on these topics.  How does the idea of dharma and tradition to this degree make you feel?   What are your thoughts on individualism?  Your thoughts on the caste system's built in interdependence and sense of security?  Any thought on Yudhisthira's story?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Extinction as Our Goal & A Bit about Heaven

So the other week when I was visiting ye ol' county library, I checked out a tall, rather slim Time Life volume (published 1968) on Historic India by Lucille Schulberg.  I've become increasingly fascinated by this country. Maybe The Amazing Race has something to do with it since it seems they make a stop in India during most seasons.  Sidenote: I thought it was the sweetest thing when the deaf contestant Luke was struggling in a task to the point of tears. The Indians overseeing this particular tea-tasting task looked on this touching moment as Margie encouraged her son to not give up. And when he was done, my goodness, I had tears running down my face as those sweet men clapped for Luke like he was their hero!

That's not the point of this post which is actually about heaven.  See in this book about India, there is a chapter on Buddhism since Siddhartha Gautama came out of this region.  So Gautama was the son of a lord and his father was fearful that if his son saw suffering people, he would become an ascetic.

1.  a person who dedicates his or her life to a pursuit of contemplative ideals and practices extreme self-denial or self-mortification for religious reasons.

2.  a person who leads an austerely simple life, especially one who abstains from the normal pleasures of life or denies himself or herself material satisfaction.

Right.  Since everyone loves denying himself pleasures to live in solidarity with those suffering.

Or maybe people back then and there were this way? It seems not Gautama's father however, if he was willing to remove any suffering person from his midst so his son wouldn't happen to realize some people are poor, some are sick, some are physically challenged by blindness and deafness and distorted limbs.

I just don't see it now. But I am from the United States in a society where most people are more concerned that the transmission went out on their car or their harddrive crashed than the fact some people in the world listen to their children cry themselves to sleep at night because they are starving.

Maybe Indians in those years before Christ were more intune with the suffering of mankind?  *shrug*

Ah, heaven.  Let me get back on track. So from the talk about Buddhism in this book I get the idea that we were born to suffer or rather "to live was to suffer."  I guess this means suffering is common to humankind and that makes some sense.  I know no one immune from suffering to some degree or another. 

But then I read about the ultimate goal - nirvana - which the author says literally means "extinction."  You are completely released from all desires never to be reborn again. Therefore: you are extinct.

Ah, sorry, but that does not sound good to me.  Yes, if I were starving to death, a really long sleep might sound good. But to be utterly extinct?  Does that not go against the natural longing* of humanity who wants to live forever?  Why do we take vitamins and eat rice cakes and exercise and use anti-wrinkle cream?  Why do we undergo face lifts and search for that proverbial fountain of youth? 

I guess it's because we aren't Buddhists. But still.

We put animals on endangered species lists. We speak of extinct things with some melancholy.  We procreate!  (Well, not me, but I am abnormal in this regard..ha!  My contradictory life amuses me!)

Extinction as our goal seems so, so not-human to me! 

Maybe I have found the "otherness" that I cannot abide. Extinction as my goal for eternity. No thank you.

How about you?  And while we are on the subject of heaven -- well, sort of.  What do you think of it?  Islam describes it in very earthly-sensual terms: fine wine, fine food and fine women. Revelation in the New Testament shows it more worshipful: all nations, tribes and tongues surrounding God's throne in praise and worship.  Eastern Orthodoxy gives me the impression it's being in God's presence and "one" with Him (whatever that means).  My preacher firmly believes heaven will be far grander than anything on earth and not the boring place some imagine where we will sit around on clouds eating grapes.  I wonder how it really is. 

*  Yes, I speak as one who believes God has put eternity in our hearts so we desire to live, we struggle for it!  And this fact makes me so not a Buddhist where my goal is to rid my heart of desires including the desire to live.

Aaaaaand I must say for those of you who have heard me say (or write) sometimes I wish I were never born (hey, to live is to suffer!), you might wonder why I think this way. Well, since I'm already born, it doesn't mean I want to now die. Especially if I believe what I do about the eternality of the soul.  C.S. Lewis says we are souls with bodies...not the other way around.  So where will my soul be a thousand years from now?  Extinct?


Thursday, April 14, 2011

How Much "Otherness" Can You Handle?

I finished reading the book on the Greeks the other day and last night was looking through the 60+ pieces of art included in the picture section.  Three times the author makes mention of the Greeks' disgust with physical deformity and how the statues wouldn't show, say, an Amazon who cut off her right breast in order to wield her sword with more proficiency because they didn't really want to picture an abnormality.  Even a man playing the pipes would be of the servant class since "well-born Greeks avoided any physical distortion, and pipe playing, because it distorted the cheeks, could not be taken up by citizens."

For what it's worth: "the lyre was their instrument."

I was kind of surprised to read this.

Not sure it's exactly related, but that coupled with the niqab talk going around - thanks to France - and a video I saw earlier today,  got me to thinking about "otherness" and how much of it we will allow to touch and maybe even influence our lives.

I think some people are much more tolerant than others, but maybe even those who have seemingly high degrees of tolerance have their limits. 

It might be someone with a different culture or religion.  Someone of a different race.  I remember a friend married to a Greek man told me some of her inlaws believed blue-eyed people were evil.  Maybe you dislike people of other genders. Or those of different sexual orientations. Maybe you don't like those who speak another language than you? Those who can't speak your language without a thick accent?   It could be any number of things.  Perhaps you are Catholic and greatly dislike Protestants. Or a Sunni who despises Alawaites or Druze. Or a Republican who has no time for someone on the opposite side of the aisle. 

In reality we could divide ourselves all day, couldn't we?

In my own case, I think it's funny to think about my past. I grew up in an almost all-white, all-Protestant school and church.  Even then I found people from other parts of the country so interesting. Since they were still white Protestants, I'd detect their different accents and culture.  So fun. I've always been fascinated by foreigners, but my area is not that diverse so my mingling with them wasn't an everyday occurrence.  I still recall my time at the community college. I had black classmates for almost the first time ... and found many of them quite fun. In fact my best friend for a time was a young black man who grew up completely differently than I although we lived in the same small county! We'd sit together at breaks and talk about our backgrounds.  I remember asking him why black people named their children such funny names.  Yes, I'm brazen like that sometimes, but we had that kind of friendship.  And I've always been curious about names so why not ask?  :)

Then most of you know my interest in Syria and by default other Arabs and Muslims and Middle Easterners and that all started with God bringing Samer into my life.  He and I were talking about this just recently because we are still often amazed at how two people of such vastly different backgrounds became dear friends.  On paper you never think of folks like us having enough in common to form a lasting friendship. A passing acquaintance...no problem.  I have those all the time with a wide variety of people.  But a true friendship? 

It's something for which I thank God.

So how much otherness can you handle?  Are you like the Greeks?  Do you draw the line at physical deformities

(and do those include such things as puffy cheeks from someone playing pipes?) Have you had experiences with "other" people that you found surprising in good or bad ways?  Learned any valuable lessons? Made any dear friends? Share your experiences if you'd like.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Should I Encourage Revolution?

Ever have a conflict of whether you are right to encourage people to fight for their political freedoms?  I'm not speaking of people in America, but in a country where your President (for life) and the military are so entwined and most of the people weaponless so that any conflict will be vastly unfair.

I don't want to say "don't fight...you might be killed!" when they want change yet are frightened of the brutal response of the regime and its supporters.  I'm done with fear being the reason for doing or not doing anything.  Fear holds me back too often and I want to throw off that chain whenever it reaches out to hold me down.

On the other hand, should I encourage them?  I am pretty good at giving pep talks, urging people to remember God, not to fear and all that stuff.

But should I?  I realize I am thousands of miles away and don't have to deal with seeing my friends beaten, arrested and shot at. It's easy to be a cheerleader when you don't have to get in the game ... and possibly be hurt or killed.

I wonder what Jesus would tell me to do . . .

He didn't lead any revolutions against the Romans yet he was for righting wrongs.  And we Americans surely pride ourselves for rebelling against the British when they were heavy-handed.

Hmm, decisions, decisions.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Reading's Influence on Community and Vision

This book is part of a series about the development of our Western culture.  I've kind of read them out of order since I've yet to read How the Irish Saved Civilization (the introductory volume) yet read the book about Jesus and Christianity last year (it's third in the series and you can see my numerous posts on it by scrolling this link which is a search using the author's name).  My previous post touching on The Gifts of the Jews is second in the series, and this blurb is from book four Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter by Thomas Cahill.

"Many cultural commentators have theorized that oral society -- that is, society in which writing is unknown -- is far more communal and visionary than society in which human thought is objectified by writing and that written language encourages the reader in his separateness to individualism (uncommunity) and by its sequential format to sequential, rational analysis (unvision). Though there is probably much truth to such theories, it may also be true that the type of literacy a given society enshrines may work great wonders than the fact of literacy itself.  A type of literacy that can be grasped easily by almost anyone will tend to spread some kind of proto-democratic consciousness far and wide, even if this is accomplished only in small steps over a very long period of time. ... A type of literacy that demystifies the act of reading, erasing for all time the aura of an unapproachable Sacred Brotherhood of scribes, wisemen, and potentates, will by its very nature tend to demystify additional realms of human experience
."  (pg. 60)

I guess this struck me as worth sharing because of all the talk of the old Jewish and Arabian societies being oral in nature. I remember a post I did not long ago about the Quran being repeated over and over and basically perfected by Muhammad as he taught it to his followers before it was finally written in the version we have today (thanks also to Uthman who had the first Quran burning for copies of the Quran that were not the Authorized Version.  Yes, I know I'm being silly calling it the AV which is usually attributed to the King James Version of the Bible, but I'm in that kind of mood.)

So about oral societies vs. literate ones.  Do you think it's true that we readers are more individualistic and rational thus not prone so much to community ties and being visionary which I suppose means - what? dreamers?   Actually what do you think the author means by this vision vs. "unvision"? Is this why we don't have angels talking to us and bringing us fresh revelation from God?

I can see that when I read, I am being individualistic in that I am not interacting with anyone until I decide to do this -- share on my blog and ask you to discuss what I read!  So maybe blogging is getting back to community somewhat.  And for sure if you have an oral tradition of stories, it would promote interaction. It's like the entertainment of the day - hearing the stories, the family history, the battles, the struggles to survive, the victories!  Nowadays we have television.

Also what do you think about reading being demystified and this leading to more democratic movements?

Any other thoughts or observations?  Please share!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Did Western Individualism Come from the Jews?

The Gifts of the Jews by Thomas Cahill -- "How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels"

I got this book (along with four others) yesterday when I went to return the 8 books I checked out last time. I had plans to finish the books I have here waiting at home which I received for Christmas and Valentine's, but my "let's just see what they have on the new book shelf" turned into my browsing the other shelves and I came home with books about a journey through the Himalayan passage as told by some adventurous Westerners, ancient India, Jews, Greeks and a Chinese woman.  So I started this one yesterday - The Gifts of the Jews - and finished it today while getting sunburned on my arms as I sat outside enjoying the glorious warmth.   I jotted down page numbers of things that interested me and here is a bit of that.  I may write about more later. 

First a quote the author used on a page when he was trying to make sense of God.  And found he couldn't.

"We are talking about God. Which wonder do you think you understand? If you understand, it is not God." - Augustine of Hippo  (pg. 159)

Then this which makes me think the notion that man has a sin nature was known well before Christianity popularized it.

"Man behaves badly." -- Utnaphishtim

"Never has a sinless child been born." -- Sumerian proverb  (pg. 61)

A Lesson from Exile....

 27 “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will plant the kingdoms of Israel and Judah with the offspring of people and of animals. 28 Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the LORD. 29 “In those days people will no longer say,
   ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes,
   and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’
 30 Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge. (Jeremiah 31)

No longer will God visit the sins of the fathers onto the next generations.  Each person is responsible for his own sins.  Individualism -- a difficult concept in a "world of groups, tribes, and nations, in which all identity and validation comes only from solidarity with a larger entity."  (pg. 230)

"Democracy...grows directly out of the Israelite vision of individuals, subjects of value because they are images of God, each with a unique and personal destiny. There is no way that it could ever have been 'self-evident that all men are created equal' without the intervention of the Jews."  (pg. 249)

So, see, there is a bit of the gifts the Jews gave us.  Rather, God gave us all through the Jews.  I wonder if this is what God meant when He said the Jews would be a light unto all nations.

I found this rather interesting because I'd been wondering - and asking Amber - where our western sense of individualism came from...tada!  The Bible!

Or did it?

What do you think?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

To the Park, NK Book, World News

Happy April!  Hope you are enjoying lovely spring weather these days!  Yesterday Michael and I went to the park and had a picnic.  We went for a hike along a nature trail. (We took his "pet" fuzzy worm that his friend's father got him as part of a bribe that involved a scary ride at Great Wolf Lodge.  Wormy is fake and he's on a string, in case you were wondering.) 

Michael played with some children he met at the play area, and I continued reading Nothing to Envy a book about ordinary citizens of North Korea by Barbara Demick.  It was a very interesting read if you are interested in that sort of thing. Made me wish to go over there and take food to those in need.  Koreans have that cultural thing where the first born son is expected to care for the parents when they get old. Also in the case of divorce, the father's family gets custody of any children, riding a bicycle is considered a bit suggestive for women to do and they are much more modest (i.e., conservative) than their South Korean counterparts.  Kim Il-sung's era forced a pretty strict dress code including skirts a certain length, no blue jeans or t-shirts with Roman alphabet writing ("a capitalist indulgence") and men couldn't have hair longer than 5 centimeters on top (unless you were balding, they allowed 7 cms for comb overs apparently!).  Of course boys are preferred and women are blamed if they have daughters.  *sigh* Same old, same old.

Here is an example of the type of propaganda the kids get while attending school.  Consider this math problem...
A girl is acting as a messenger to our patriotic troops during the war against the Japanese occupation. She carries messages in a basket containing five apples, but is stopped by a Japanese solider at a checkpoint. He steals two of her apples. How many are left?  (pg. 120)

I greatly enjoyed the book and recommend it to those who like cultural things and learning about other people in the world.


In other news, here is an interesting CNN Belief Net post that a Jewish guy wrote about the Bible.


Did y'all know Syrians had been protesting a bit in recent weeks?  That's pretty huge for a police state such as this.  The elder Assad had 15,000 or more of his people killed in an uprising in Hama back in the early 80s. The younger Assad, they hoped, would be better, but after 11 years in office, Syria is still pretty brutal to political dissidents and corruption is rampant.  I wonder why speaking your mind is such a thing to be punished?  Regardless, I've been following that news with interest.  I'm sure that is no surprise to any who know my love for Syria.  

Syria has a very pretty first lady.  In fact Vogue magazine did a flattering piece on Asma Assad a few weeks ago.  Many of my Syrian friends think it's crazy how Westerners love dictators as long as they have glamorous, modern (read: not outwardly-Islamic) wives.  Maybe if Ahmadinejad married a hot babe, we'd suddenly find him endearing.

Here is just one article about her, but there are many more that have been surfacing lately.

A different British article that I read yesterday suggested maybe she could save the day in Syria!  Asma the Super Hero...expect the action figure in a Walmart near you come Christmas!  ;) 


Here is an interview of an American student who was studying in Damascus and got arrested when he started recording something going on. (Turned out to be a protest.)  He was held by Syrian authorities for two weeks and describes his time there in this CNN interview.


I've found the deaths in Afghanistan due to Nincompoop Floridian Guy's (NFG) actions disgusting.  I think burning holy books unnecessary and NFG's intentional provocation to be exactly what Jesus would not have done, but obviously, y'all, this dude is not a follower of Christ.  I don't understand why the Afghan leader would mention it knowing the kind of intolerant, abusive people who exist in his country. And for sure I don't understand people who kill because a book was burned. Not everyone in this world thinks the same things are good and holy. Suck it up.  Learn this lesson and get over it. Enough with the murdering because you don't like what people do. 

I swear sometimes I wish the world were still large and people didn't know what happened thousands of miles from them.  

So what's new with you?