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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May Books

Another month is almost gone and cooler, wet days have given way to hot and dry conditions where I live!  I hope your May was full of good times and pleasant memories. I happened to get a new nephew!

Here are the few books I finished this month.

Joseph's Bones
by Jerome M.Segal -- see previous posts

The Book That Made Your World by Vishal Mangalwadi  -- a book by an Indian discussing the Bible's impact on western civilization; see previous posts

When a Nation Forgets God by Erwin Lutzer -- this is a short book my brother had and thought I might like. The author gave a few lessons we can learn from Nazi Germany.  I liked this quote from Os Guinness,

"There is no problem in the wider culture that you cannot see in spades in the Christian Church.The rot is in us, and not simply out there.  And Christians are making a great mistake by turning everything into culture wars.  It's a much deeper crisis."  (pg. 140)

"We must realize that our public effectiveness is largely based on our private relationship with God."  (pg. 139)

I like that he reminded us that we must keep our credibility and joy.  Also we must realize suffering for Christ's sake is a calling. Not something to be avoided at all costs.  God uses us to respond with "humility, love, and gracious courage." (pg. 33)

The Road From Damascus
by Scott C. Davis -- A man from Washington (the state) decides to take a break from life to visit Syria. This book tells his story:  places he went, sights he saw, experiences he had, lessons he learned.  His initial trip was in late 1987, but he went back in 2001 and incorporates some changes he saw in Syria since that first trip into the book.

When the book ends Bashar al-Assad had been in power only a few months and some progress and reforms were in the works.  The fear of the secret police seemed to have lessened, some things like banks had been privatized and people were hoping for more change. In light of recent happenings in Syria, I found this last paragraph of interest.

"Ten months of change versus thirty-eight years of state control. These years will not be shed overnight. The new story is one of advancement and struggle, hope and disappointment.  More chapters will be written before the story is complete."   (pg. 370)

I found myself wondering what new chapters the author would write based on the last ten years.  And the last two months.

(Speaking of this topic, this article on Syria Comment was interesting. I read and discussed it with Samer the other day.)

I could relate to this:

"The first 29 days of my journey had changed me.  I turned instead to the people I met, the places I visited, the sounds and smells of this land. Of necessity, I made them mine.  After requesting admission to the lives of Syrians, after asking them to talk with me, to remember me, to care about me, would it ever be possible for me to dismiss them or to dismiss people from other distant lands as 'foreign?'  Didn't we all belong to an emerging world culture? By now I thought of myself as Syrian even though I knew I was also American."  (pg. 211)

and this chapter title:  "Coming Home to Damascus" (pg. 341)

I liked the incident when Scott is talking to his friend Saad about Syria's lack of violence.  Saad said it was because they had strong families.  They also "solve other problems too. Like old people.  I got some other professional men together and we donated money to create an old age home in Damascus like I had seen in the United States.  Our problem?  We couldn't find old people to move in.  Only after months of searching did we find one old woman." (pg. 77)

Soul Print by Mark Batterson - yet another challenging book by a man who has inspired me to draw closer to Christ and find my identity in him; see previous posts

"Superficiality is the curse of our culture. And the primary reason we live as strangers to ourselves is because we're afraid of what we'll find if we start digging. We don't really want to see ourselves for who we are.  But if we can dig deeper than our fallen natures, we'll find the truth that lies buried beneath our sin: the image of God. We'll find our true identities. And our true destinies as well."  (pg. 5)

"Most of our emotional problems are symptoms of one deep-rooted spiritual problem: lack of trust in the sovereign God. It's our lack of trust in Him that results in high levels of past-tense guilt, present-tense stress, and future-tense anxiety."  (pg. 37)

"Nothing is more spiritually, emotionally, or relationally exhausting than pretending you hold the planets in orbit.  And the flipside is true as well. The greatest freedom in the world is relinquishing control and submitting your life to the Sovereign One." (pg. 38)

"In a sense, our faith is really a by-product of God's faithfulness. God proves Himself faithful, and it builds our faith as we connect the dots." (pg. 39)

"Like sunflowers that face east to soak in the morning sunlight, we crave the praise of people. We want every ounce of credit we think we deserve. But you don't get honor by seeking honor. You get honor by giving honor.  Jesus said it this way: 'Don't sit in the seat of honor.' But his challenge to His original disciples to sit in the lower seat didn't keep them from asking the comparison question: 'Who is greatest among us?' We want to know where we rank, but Jesus never pulled rank. And He challenges us to follow in His footsteps and wash feet. And that's what seeking the shadows is all about. You aren't looking for opportunities to get credit or get noticed. You're actually looking for opportunities to do things where you won't get credit or won't get noticed." (pg. 71-2)

"Nothing fills you with holy confidence like knowing that God Himself is your advocate. You don't have to take matters into your own hands, because they are in the hands of God Almighty. You can bless those who curse you. You can pray for those who persecute you. You can love your enemies." (pg. 81)

"The greatest freedom is realizing that you don't have to prove anything to anyone except God Himself." (pg. 89)

"When you get excited about God, don't expect everybody to get excited about your excitement. Why? Your intensity confronts their passivity. When you completely yield yourself to God, it convicts the unconsecrated by disrupting their spiritual status quo.  Some people will be inspired by what God is doing in your life, but others will mask their conviction with criticism. After all, it's much easier to criticize others than it is to change ourselves."  (pg. 97)

That's all for May because of this and the fact I've been spending most of the last week on Journey Into America which I've already blogged about at least three times!

Intro post

Darwin and Jesus' influence on American identity and practice


Extreme Darwinian thought

I have more to share on it tomorrow concerning African American Muslims and the author's comparison of them and immigrant Muslims from mostly Arab lands and Southeast Asia.  This book is incredibly interesting to me and packed with information!

Hope you are doing well!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Pondering extreme Darwinian thoughts and how they have influenced America

This post kind of goes along with yesterday's on the Darwin/Jesus conflict in Akbar Ahmed's point of view as expressed in Journey Into America.

One example of America's meshing of Christianity and Darwinian thought is evident in the life of former President Theodore Roosevelt who was threatened enough by Catholics and Jews from Europe coming here that he urged the Anglo-Saxon people to have more children in order to avoid "race suicide."  

Please! Have more children like these!

His friend Reverend Josiah Strong wrote a book in 1885 identifying seven "perils" facing America. 

1.  Catholicism
2.  Mormonism
3.  socialism
4.  intemperance
5.  wealth
6.  urbanization
7.  immigration

The solution: "encourage progress"

Achieved how: "the propagation of the Anglo-Saxon race."

Why? It was God's will "for the white race to spread across the world until it had 'Anglo-Saxonized mankind.'" Indeed, the world was "facing 'a new stage of its history -- the final competition of races, for which the Anglo-Saxon is being schooled,' and that before long the American race would 'move down upon Mexico, down upon Central and South America, out upon the islands of the sea, over upon Africa and beyond. And can any one doubt that the results of this competition of races will be the 'survival of the fittest'?"

Did such thinking influence their world race competition?

This stuff is rich!  I'm sure people who would have believed this stuff if they lived today (which we shall bury our heads in the sand and pretend they don't), are related to the ones screeching, "Islam is trying to take over the world!  Muslims are trying to make us all submit to Allah!  And they think this is God's will for the world!"

Yet here are "perfectly normal" white men of English ancestry - or admirers of the English - saying it was God's will to spread a certain "race" - a very specific one, no less - around the world!

Apparently Hitler was an admirer of the United States' eugenics programs and was especially fond of W. Duncan McKim and Madison Grant who decided "a 'gentle, painless' means of executing those whose hereditary was 'the fundamental cause of human wretchedness' would be gas chambers."  Yes, gas chambers!  Grant argued the "need to preserve the 'Nordic races' against the Jews and others by 'the obliteration of the unfit' and against the 'sentimental belief in the sanctity of human life.'"  Did this gas-chamber thinking fail when presented to civilized, evolved people?  Apparently not!  Grant's book sold 1.6 million copies in the United States and was to Hitler, his "'Bible.'"

Meddling where no one should dare to interfere?

I remember the other day I watched a propaganda documentary from 1945 on Here Is Germany which Samer had seen and recommended. He told me not all of it was factual, but that I might enjoy seeing how Americans thought of Germans after World War II.  After I watched it, we talked about it and he asked if I noticed how they didn't focus on the concentration camps. They did show piles of bodies of people who had been starved to death, but Samer was right: there wasn't a lot of focus on the concentration camps per se.  And one would think a documentary produced in order to justify American and other Allied occupation of Germany would totally focus on such a damning thing!

Samer said everyone was too shocked about the concentration camps, and they were still trying to process that mass executions of men, women and children by use of gas chambers had actually happened at this time in history.

After reading about Hitler enjoying the fruits of American eugenics programs, I am wondering if some of the shock was guilt. Guilt that maybe we who had claims to such a sensational book and physicians and scientists would have the audacity to admire people who promoted killing off those we deemed as less desirable than our superior white race.

Were we having to come to grips that our thinking was flawed? Have we gotten over it? Or do we still live as if white children are more valuable than children "over there."  As long as our kids have food and clean water and education does it really matter what happens to the black or brown children on other continents?

Do we value the least of these or do we believe only the "fittest" survive and we are going to do all we can to ensure we are among that group?

Sarah wisely pointed out on yesterday's post that it's a shame Darwin's ideas have been misused in this way. I doubt he ever had this sort of drastic thing in mind yet people took his theories and applied them in questionable ways. The same with the man who recommended the gas chamber as a way of obliterating the unfit. Did he really mean that? Did he really think someone would take him seriously and follow-through with it?  Did he realize Hitler would come along, deem Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and the physically-challenged unfit to live in this world and use his ideas to cleanse the world of these people?

What happens when someone in society decides the traits of you and your loved ones are not acceptable? That you don't belong to the favored race?  Favored sex?  Already I read of problems India and China may have in coming years when a male population ages and starts looking for wives because many females have been aborted or abandoned because daughters are not as highly valued in some families.

I, too, have the right to live, don't I?

When do we stop deeming who is fit to live and start accepting and loving people as the valuable creations that they are despite how "flawed" they may appear in our eyes?

quotes from pg. 74-75, 81

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Darwin or Jesus: Who Influences Americans More?

In chapter 1 of Journey Into America, Akbar Ahmed speaks of the way Charles Darwin's "survival of the fittest" has influenced American life.  Recalling to mind that it's not the most intelligent or strongest who survive, but the one who is adaptable to change, he reminds us "those who succeed in the competition to survive are said to be the 'favored races.' ... [and] if the favored races are defined by a certain religion, language, and culture these will be imitated, preserved, and passed on. 

Because in America the English - and later by extension the white race - emerged on top in the competition, their characteristics have become the standard. ... In time, all others- African Americans, Mexicans, Native Americans, and Asians - were forced to imitate the dominant ethos if they wished to succeed."  He uses President Obama as an example. Despite his "dark skin" and "Muslim father from Africa," he has for the most part sounded and behaved like "other politicians from the dominant white race."


Mr. Ahmed says this tension lies at the heart of what defines and motivates American identity. Since Darwinian thought and Jesus' teachings are "diametrically opposed," they "cannot coexist simultaneously in one society without causing severe friction."

Think about it.  And think about Native Americans and other groups as you compare the two.

Darwin "represents adaptability and survival" and "acknowledges that those who cannot adapt will not - indeed must not - survive."   It's a struggle to survive and "the ruthless will to succeed, strength, speed, stamina, and force determine success. In turn, success generates pride and arrogance, the chauvinism of being on top, and a belief in the superiority of the dominant group."

Jesus' teaching of compassion and love for neighbors and enemies should motivate true followers to reach out to all people especially the "least privileged members in society" who often need the most help. Think of the people Jesus came to serve: basically all types!  Tax collectors, women, soldiers, fishermen, prostitutes, religious men like Nicodemus, ordinary people, children!  Even nonJewish people were not excluded from his help!

Yet why do we - who sometimes insist we are a "Christian nation" - act more like we follow Darwin with all the pride and hurtfulness that purifying the world of all the "bad races" involves instead of Jesus? I always thought the "Christ" part of "Christian" referred to the Messiah celebrated in the New Testament.  So why the Darwinian outlook in keeping the land pure for white people- Christian white people - Protestant white people?
We purified the land so let's keep it that way, right?!

Ahmed observes: "I have always found American fear and anger surprising.Why should the most powerful people on earth be fearful?  And why should the richest people be angry? If there was more true Christianity and less Darwinian thinking, I am convinced, there would be far more calmness in American social life."

I read this and noted "pg. 26 AMEN!" on my notepad!  Exactly!  Why are we going around fearful and angry? Why do we not live as people of faith and actually do what Jesus did and stop being so afraid and suspicious of everyone?

Anger and fear are not good foreign policy motivators!

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."  ~ Jesus Christ (John 14:27)


quotes from pgs. 24-26

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Embrace Aging

Despite your age, laugh as children do!

"'I embrace aging. It's very simple. As you grow, you learn more.

If you stayed twenty-two, you'd always be as ignorant as you were at twenty-two...

The truth is, part of me is every age. I'm a three-year-old, I'm a five-year-old, I'm a thirty-seven year old, I'm a fifty-year-old.

I've been through all of them, and I know what it's like.

I delight in being a child when it's appropriate to be a child.

Hey, I know those two!

I delight in being a wise old man when it's appropriate to be a wise old man.  Think of all I can be!  I am every age, up to my own.'"

"Ultimately, your destiny is determined by your decisions. It's your actions, and reactions, that define you.  So don't play the victim. Be the victor.  After all, that is who you are in Christ.  You are not defined by what you have done wrong. You are redefined by what Christ has done right, His righteousness. And that is both your destiny and his legacy."

quote 1  from Tuesdays with Morrie as told on pg. 45 of Soul Print; and although the quote is by a man, I chose to portray women

quote 2 from pg. 154 of Soul Print by Mark Batterson

Friday, May 27, 2011

Probing Memories

Remember in the Bible how often people made altars to God? They might look to many like mere piles of rocks, but they were set up for people to look at and remember God's faithfulness or a promise to them or a significant event that happened at a particular place.  We have places of remembering throughout our world - shrines to saints, memorials to past heroes and sometimes even extremely fancy places like the Taj Mahal built as a memorial for a beloved wife.  This is Memorial Day weekend in the United States as a matter of fact.

In the second chapter of Soul Print, author Mark Batterson speaks of Life Symbols. He makes the case for our past experiences and memories making up much of who and what we are.  He offers these Questions for Discussion and Reflection that I thought I'd pass along. 

Feel free to answer these in the comment section or simply reflect on them to yourself if you are in a memory-probing mood. If you don't want to answer all of them, one or two will do.  Perhaps just share a good or life-altering memory.

1. If it's true that our combination of memories makes us who we are, ... then who are you?

2. Are you the kind of person who tends to think about the past a lot, perhaps observing special anniversaries or using photos as memory aids? Or do you mostly stay focused on the present or the future?  Why do you think you are that way?

3.  In the months and years that followed his victory over Goliath, what do you think David was reminded of when he looked at the giant's armor?

4.  What kind of memory management do you need to do to move toward your God-given destiny? What past events do you need to start recalling to memory?  Stop remembering so much? Reinterpret?

5.  When you think about your very earliest memories, which one stands out?

6.  What tangible symbols or mementos could you use to remind yourself of some of the defining moments in your life?


info from pg. 160-1

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Journey Into America - Some Intro Stuff

I was going to wait a bit to start sharing about this, but I am too excited!

*composes self; tries to act mature*

So I mentioned recently a book I got from a friend for my birthday. It's Journey Into America by Akbar Ahmed. Initially I thought it was about Muslims in America and it is, but it's about so much more than that.  Like a whole chunk of the book deals with American identity and what has shaped this culture, this land.  Love it!  This is the kind of stuff I just eat up. Only I can't eat it but so fast. It's like an archaeological site filled with treasure that you have to go through slowly to make sure you don't miss anything! So I'm mixing metaphors..I know what I mean.

Ahmed's team consists of mostly American college-aged students from Christian families, both Protestant and Catholic. They traveled throughout the country for 9 months, visited 75 cities, 100 mosques (out of approximately 1,200 in the country) and had face-to-face interviews with numerous people. They worshiped with them (even in churches because they were getting to know Americans in general not just Muslims in particular), ate with them, shopped with them, slept in their houses. It was more than simply walking up to a random stranger and asking questions though they did this as well.

The teams visit to Plymouth, Massachusetts where actors were pretending to be people of the past quickly brought an answer to a question I had from chapter 1.  Ahmed said the question what does it mean to be American? - as they tried to understand what shaped American identity - "seemed obvious" to most and "offensive" to some.  I mused on how asking this could be offensive until I read this section.

A young Native American was dressed as a Wampanoag appearing "almost bored" as he "hammered away at some wood" before abruptly walking off "for no apparent reason."  The team wanted to interview him so they located him and asked him about American identity and his thoughts on it. His quick reply: "'That question is offensive; I am not an American.' ... He insisted he belonged to the Cherokee tribe.  That, he said, was his identity."  He spoke of his people being "forced" to convert to Christianity and if they did not, being shipped as slaves to the Bahamas. He did admit now - as compared to forty years ago - "people are so interested in us as a culture" that the Natives are beginning to use indigenous names for their children and have public ceremonies.

"Asked about the total indigenous population, he replied, 'Let me give you a shocking number.  Five hundred years ago, we made up 100 percent of what is the United States today.  Today we make up 1 percent of the entire population."  (pg. 44)

Whoa.  I'll find out if he shares other groups/people that found this question offensive. This one makes sense, I think.

Also in the introduction section, Ahmed wrote:

"I found that color continues to be a defining factor for Americans, affecting status and authority and echoing tensions of past eras." (pg. 3)

"My journey confirmed that color functions as an important factor separating social groups in America, just as tribal identity does in Muslim societies and caste in Indian society." (pg. 28)

He mentioned throughout their travels how most tourists were white while most waitstaff was either black or Hispanic. I do recall from my own life making such an observation while visiting Walt Disney World years ago and thinking how I saw maybe one or two black people (as guests) the whole time I was there!  By contrast, I heard more foreign languages from white people than I saw American black people. So, those statements by Ahmed made me pause.

I so very much enjoyed the background on American culture and how the English "as an island race" were such a huge part of forming it.  (By the way, the 2000 census reported Americans identifying themselves of German heritage more than any other.) I read a section about the Scots-Irish - Scottish people who had lived in Ireland - and considered the 'scum of the earth' to many English people back home and in the newly-forming United States.  Scum of the earth comments aside, I related so much to the description he gave of these people because the Scots-Irish influenced much of the culture of the South where we cling to our religion and our guns and traditionally have a lesser regard for a powerful central government.

Ah, I think I this post is long enough. I want to later share the Darwin vs. Jesus conflict in the United States. And it doesn't have to do with the creation vs. evolution debate, but how "survival of the fittest" shapes our cultural thought.  After all if only the fit survive in this struggle called life, why not kill off all those native peoples?  (See, Americans had Darwinian principles before Darwin was alive to share it with us!)

Thoughts? Corrections? Did you find any of this surprising or interesting or boring as all get out? :)


Ever feel as if your life is this way?

Finding that I cannot fix myself or my problems, I realize that I need God.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.

Perhaps you can relate to this ...

"Instead of trying to fix your brokenness, maybe you need to embrace it.  Your brokenness may be a blessing in disguise. Like a mother who is drawn to her crying baby, God is drawn to human brokenness. And if you allow Him to, he will put you back together in ways that will one day cause you to celebrate the brokenness as a gift from God. It's in our brokenness that God's holiness is most clearly revealed." 

"Like a good shepherd who breaks the leg of a lamb that has a tendency to stray away from the flock, thereby putting itself in danger, God breaks us when and where we need to be broken.  It seems like cruel and unusual punishment, but it is God's way of protecting us from ourselves. And the breaking always has a redemptive purpose. The hurt will heal stronger. And God graciously carries us around His shoulders until we have the strength to stand on our own two feet again."

I like that the breaking has a redemptive purpose and most importantly that God is there through it to carry me.  He has said, "I will never leave thee or forsake thee."

quotes from pages 126 and 128 ~ Soul Print by Mark Batterson

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

May Milestones

So this month marks a couple of milestones I wanted to mention briefly. First of all, ten years have passed since we moved to this house!  My how they've flown. Sunday morning I took my camera and shot these Scenes from Home.  I can't get enough of God's creation sometimes.  They are like beautiful surprises He hides along the way for me to discover! 

Secondly, a year ago this month I was well on my way to reading through an English translation of the Quran for the first time.  I even posted notes about it as you likely know already. 

I've successful resisted the pull of the local library.  We all know how those books jump off shelves into my arms and I can hardly go there without bringing home a stack.  Recognizing this problem, I decided to exercise some willpower and avoid the library completely so I can read through my stacks of books.  I tend to focus on library books when I have them since they must be returned within 3 weeks.  So these have been neglected until now!

Since making this No Library Declaration, I have read three of the books received since Valentine's Day. And two of them had around 400 pages so ...  *pats myself on the back*  ;)

This morning I started another big book that has captured my attention within the first 15 pages! It's Journey into America which a friend so kindly sent for my birthday!  Akbar Ahmed travels through America with his team of mostly Americans (some nonMuslims) to discover attitudes towards Muslims and experiences of Muslims.  I remember seeing this in a bookstore and thinking how I'd like this kind of book.  Hopefully there will be lots of interesting things to note.  Already I was reminded that an Arab/Muslim country - Morocco - was the first country to recognize the United States' declaration of independence in 1777!

In keeping with the Word theme which has seemed to permeate my life this month (thanks to God or simply patterns my brain is hardwired to notice..take your pick), I read this this morning and wanted to jot it down. 

The Word made flesh. It's the key to the entirety of our faith. While some would assume that, like many other religions, our belief is centered on a holy book, the Bible itself speaks otherwise. Rather than a long litany of divine commands, we recognize the Old Testament as an elaborate, intricate buildup to - and the New Testament as a celebration of - the person of Jesus Christ.  Taken as a whole, the written words point to the Word.

pg. 25 "The Word Is Alive" by Erin Gieschen, In Touch; June 2011

There is a fascinating illustration of this given in the article that I might share later.

Hope all is well with you!  Does May mark any milestones for you?  Got anything you want to share? Any interesting books you are reading or have recently read? Was anyone raptured besides Amber?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Selling Out Art and Religion for Adulthood

The importance of words seem to be a pattern I'm noticing. Remember the recent post I did about love including communication and since God is love, He communicated with us in words we can understand?

Words from a loved one can make us feel special

I read this the other day and noted it to share here.

Herman Melville and Leo Tolstoy ... felt that ordinary people could understand the most real and powerful forces at play in the universe.  Melville and Tolstoy were not technicians themselves, but seemed to think that their words were more than polemic or amusement, that they were a serious instrument with which to probe reality.  When you get to the bottom of it, Melville and Tolstoy believed that reality was spiritual and therefore could be understood by laymen and women who brought their own spiritual capacities to bear. Art and religion -- music, dance, storytelling, painting, prayer, penitence, fasting -- were not palliatives, decoration, or entertainment but the leading edge of human inquiry into the problem of being.

What wonderful stories can these ladies tell?

If I had become an automaton for the sake of my work, that was one thing. What bothered me was the possibility that I had sold out to a vague, modern cultural presumption that art and religion -- untidy, difficult, inefficient -- were simply an immature phase of human development that we had shed as our culture rose into a gleaming, precise, quantifiable adulthood.

What do you think?

quote from pg. 72 -- The Road from Damascus by Scott C. Davis

Saturday, May 21, 2011

It's not exactly "Talk Like a Pirate Day," but ...

seeing how Pirates of the Caribbean 4 has just come out, I thought it apropos for us to come out too! Presenting ...

Pirates of the Carolinas 

Michael (a few years back) looking rather convincing!

Errr, what are the odds that I have that exact same shirt on right now?

Sadly, there are only 3 of us cute Carolina pirates, however 

Even little Zach has the pirate thing going on with his pacifier

we thought that was more than enough.


Pirate joke/trivia I saw when Michael was watching iCarly one day at my parents' house:  A guy was saying pirates say "Arrrr" as a word with many meanings, like "shalom": used for "hello," "goodbye," and "peace."  So arrrr to you all!  Have a wonderful day!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Canonization of Scripture

Last notes from The Book That Made Your World by Vishal Mangalwadi.  I know many will disagree, but this is the author's view of the canonization of Scripture.  It's kind of a follow-up to yesterday's post "...God is love. Love includes communication."

I wanted to share this perspective and hear your thoughts if you want your chance to be heard!  :)

I thought this might be interesting to those who claim Jesus didn't write or leave a book before he returned to heaven. 

Long before any church council met, Christ's original companions and followers in Jerusalem accepted the apostles' words as the Word of God....  How could the apostle John say to his readers that they already knew the truth and did not need anyone (not even a church council) to determine for them the word of God?  The first- and second-century church already knew which books had genuine apostolic authority behind  them.  They did not recognize canonization of the apostles' writings by a church council to begin laying down their lives for the Word of God. They had been affirming their faith in these writings, by choosing martyrdom, for more than two hundred years before Constantine.

The Old Testament canon existed before Jesus' time. Canonization of the New Testament became necessary only because spurious books began to appear claiming to have been written by the original apostles.  Canonization did not turn Paul's epistles into God's word.  The purpose of canonization was to refute the spurious works as inauthentic. ...

It is important to note that only one book in the New Testament, the Revelation (to John), claims to have been received supernaturally in visions, and this book met with the toughest scrutiny before being included in the canon.  A book with a similar title, The Revelation of Peter, was rejected. Why? Because Christianity is about public truth, not about private, subjective, unverifiable, secret, inner, "religious" experience.  Private intuition may indeed be from God, but it has to be publicly authenticated before the public can follow it. The Revelation of John was included in the canon precisely because it is not a "fax from heaven."  John "saw," "looked," and "heard" certain things and then wrote down his eyewitness account - exactly as he did in the gospel of John.  The church canonized books with known apostolic authority to undercut the deception of power-hungry "religious" prophets, apostles, and mystics. ...

The point is this: the church does not believe the Scriptures because the Council of Nicaea canonized some books.  ... The Council of Nicaea did not create the Bible.  The process of canonization of the New Testament began with a heretic, Marcion (AD 90-160), who identified a widely accepted canon in order to challenge it.  In response to such attempts, the church affirmed the New Testament canon in order to repudiate heresies.

Inclusion in the canon was not dependent on unverifiable "divine inspiration" but on verifiable matters.  The first was apostolic authority, including implied apostolic authority as in the case of the books of Mark, Luke, Acts, and the epistle to Hebrews. Equally important was theological harmony with the Old Testament canon that Jesus confirmed as the Word of God. The Gnostic forgeries did claim apostolic authorship, but they did not and could not claim harmony with the Old Testament. For example, John's Revelation is a very deliberate unpacking of the book of Daniel.  In Revelation 5, for example, the Lamb of God receives the title deed of the earth that had been promised to the Messiah in Psalm 2 and Psalm 110.  The chapters that follow become the key to explaining how Jesus was the Messiah prophesied by the Old Testament.

quotes from pg. 398-9

Thursday, May 19, 2011

"...God is love. Love includes communication."

I finally finished The Book That Made Your World by Vishal Mangalwadi the other day and have just a few more notes to share.  Mostly this is for my benefit because I found this book helpful and wanted to record a few of the things that stood out to me. Really, there was much, much more, but I can't exactly reproduce the whole book, can I?  I'm aware that not everyone would like it as much as I did, but for me it was timely.  It gave me more assurance in the life-changing message of the Bible. And although the author is a Christian, he is not a Western one. (He is from Allahabad, India in the Uttar Pradesh state.) So I enjoyed the perspective of one not exactly like me writing about his own country in some aspects and all the historical ties he brought into the book.   Oddly enough, this month's issue of InTouch - which I shared recently often speaks to me on issues I am currently wondering about *cue spooky music* - came yesterday. The subject: the Word of God.  Coincidence?  (Usually in the June issue they speak about fathers because of Father's Day.)

Here are some of my last notes. I may do one more post with just a bit more depending on if I really want to type it. 

Private revelations cannot generally be confirmed as divinely inspired.  They may be supernaturally inspired, but how would we know if they are from God or from the devil, angels or demons?  Most books of the Bible are not revelations received in a subjective, trancelike experience.The Gospels, for example, claim to be objective public truth. They bear courageous witness to the public events of Jesus' teaching, miracles, prophecies, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension -- witnessed by five hundred people. The Gospel writers - "the evangelists" - challenged the interpretations of Jewish scholarship and a brutal Roman state.  They opened themselves to cross-examination. Matthew, Mark, and John gave eyewitness accounts as evidence for their truth. Luke described how he systematically researched the facts, carefully checking them out with eyewitnesses. This is a very human, scholarly way of writing indeed! ...

Ill-informed critics assume that Christians believe the Bible because the Roman Catholic Church councils declared it was God's Word.  The reality is that the Church believes the Bible because Jesus lived and died "in accordance to the scriptures." ...

[insert material about Jesus fulfilling Scripture and then an example from amoebas about how life and information transmission is related and reveals a God who speaks]

From the very beginning, the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) reveal a God who speaks: "And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light."  Thus the Jewish worldview sees language as foundational to reality.  We human beings speak because we are made in the image of a Spirit who said, "Let us make man in our image."  Man became a "living soul" when God breathed his spirit ("breath") into a body of clay. Thus, human language has both spiritual and physical aspects.

The Bible teaches that God is love. Love includes communication. Both Old and New Testaments teach that God speaks to us because he loves us. He gave us the gift of language so we may know and love him and one another as his children. Love, Jesus taught, was the whole point of divine revelation, that is, communication.  In the Judeo-Christian understanding, love and language are aspects not of chemistry but of our psyche or soul.  Our chemistry is designed to facilitate love, knowledge, communication, and worship.

pg. 393-4

Have you ever had one of those timely things just happen to you?  A book or sermon or song or note from a friend that spoke to exactly what you were struggling with?  What do you think about love including communication?  Other thoughts?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Celebrate Jesus: a new blog label is born

Lat's recent posts got me interested in reading the Gospel of Mark so this evening I sat outside wrapped in a blanket on my porch and read the first seven chapters before dusk turned to almost-too-dark-to-enjoy-the-outdoors. But the last bit I read made me stop, smile and reread.

And then I thought how I wanted to start a Celebrate Jesus label on my blog and every once in a while just share something great about him.

So for tonight, it is this from the end of Mark 7.

37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” 

That is all.

For now.

Hey, it's pretty stinkin' good, isn't it? 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

On Changing Cultures

Near the end of the book the author speaks of a personal friend Ro, "short for Dr. Rochunga Pudaite (b. 1927), [who] believes in transforming negative aspects of every culture. He believes that all cultures reflect human goodness as well as baseness. He comes from a tribe of headhunters - the Hmars of northeast India. And he has played a critical role in the transformation of his people."

The author then shares about the Hmars. These "ferocious warriors" in the British opinion, were able to take 500 British heads "during a single raid on a remote tea plantation."  While the author says some may celebrate the Hmars for their abilities to resist the British colonizers, people like Ro were suffering because his people died from treatable diseases and unsanitary conditions, were very poor and had a culture of solving problems with violence. "Women and children were the primary victims of those evils," and alcoholism destroyed those who survived death by lack of nutrition and violence.

He tells the story of the Hmars and how this tribe was transformed.  Then he mentions how many cultures were violent and many still are.  Lest you think he only picked on the Hmars, he mentioned Assyrians, Romanians, Germanic Goths and even supposed "civilized" cultures today who kill its own "almost-born babies" as examples of those who have "indulged in macabre enemy dismemberment."

He asks, "Even if it were true that all cultures rest on violence, the question remains: Is a tribe really better off if it retains its isolation, beliefs, and values that keep it poor and vulnerable to preventable and curable diseases, at the mercy of uneducated witch-doctors and warrior-chiefs?  Were the Hmars wrong in desiring fundamental change?"

Later in the chapter he writes:  "Ro thinks that it is no virtue to romanticize the miseries of a primitive tribe that lives at the mercy of natural elements, germs, demons, and unscrupulous, authoritarian priests.  The Bible set his imagination free to dream what his tribe ought to be -- educated; free to interact with neighbors and enemies; able to overcome hunger, hate, and disease; and ready to contribute to the world.  Some advocates of 'multiculturalism' condemn people to live in the Stone Age.  Ro believes imagination that sets us free is a component of our distinctly human gift - creativity. ... Ro became a linguist because he believes that language links our minds together to make us the only culture-creating creatures on this planet. It enables us to store and transmit ideas and to improve upon existing ideas." 

I rather liked the idea of transforming the negative aspects of every culture although I'm sure what is considered negative would vary depending on whom you asked. Think niqab debate for starters! But if the negative aspects are identified from within and those people wanted to change "for the better," why not?  Does this mean we should allow change to happen only from within? Or do you think it's our obligation as, say, richer, more technologically-and-medically-advanced nations to introduce things such as disease prevention, medical help, sanitation devices and such? Or is it none of our business and we should not meddle ever ...until perhaps someone from within contacts us?  Thoughts?

quotes from chapter 19, The Book That Made Your World by Vishal Mangalwadi

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Books and Playing and Nephews - Oh My!

So I've been meaning to post about books. You may recall the stack that I received for Christmas.

Nine books for Christmas 2010

Then there was the Valentine's Day gift from Andrew.

Valentine's Day 2011

All books from the Christmas stack have been read.  Valentine's Day duo...I've read the book on the left only.

The last day of April was my birthday. Here are the books I received from family and friends. 

Seven books for my 2011 birthday!

Shown another way, they look like this:

Seven of those, yet they are mostly thick!  See how they compare to the nine books from Christmas.

Does it mean you are a full-fledged nerd when you do stuff like this?

And I've not finished any of those.  In fact I've been reading one book for over ten days now. It's not that it's not good. It is!

I've just been not reading as much for some reason.

Perhaps it's because of nephew distractions!

I mean how can one read when she must cuddle?

Yes, let us blame it on the boys!

And the fact that it's spring and I've been playing more ...

Swinging on May 14

and I don't do any of that reading-while-swinging stuff!

I can barely hold onto my shoes!

(all photos get much bigger if you click on them...for those who want a better view of the books or to see if those are my toes showing in that last picture...I'm not tellin'!)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Heroes & Compassion

How do you define a hero?

Many here love their soldiers

 "Classical heroism clashed with the Bible because while the former valued power, Christ's heroism prized truth.  Other kingdoms fostered heroic deeds by cultivating racial, geographic, linguistic, religious, class, or caste pride and hatred. Jesus made love the supreme value of the kingdom of God.This love was not sentimentalism. It went beyond loving one's neighbors as oneself. Its supreme manifestation was the cross: sacrificing oneself for others, including one's enemies."

"I have set you an example..."

"Jesus' heroism replaced brutality with love, pride with meekness, and domination over others with self-sacrificing service.He exemplified this when he humbled himself, took a basin of water and a servant's towel, and started washing his disciples' feet. This, he said, is what the kingdom of God is all about. He was the King of kings and the Lord of lords. All power in heaven and on earth, he claimed, was his.  But he had come not to be served, but to serve, not to kill but to give eternal life.  These were not homilies delivered by a guru who sat on a golden throne. These teachings changed history because they emanated from a life lived in the public arena."  (pg. 134,135)

That was in a section on Heroes, but the following was on Compassion. I decided to post them together because I think self-sacrificing heroes such as Jesus display not how handy they are with swords and bombs, but how caring for others and compassion can change the world.

"Nietzsche was not alone in condemning Christian compassion. Many Hindus cannot believe that the poor are not the victims of their own karma and that God cares for the poor. They cannot understand why the West gives so much charity to serve the poor and destitute in India.They deeply suspect Western philanthropy and dislike the fact that Christians deliberately choose to serve, educate, and empower lower castes and the marginalized."  (pg. 300)

Dedicated to serving

The author then talks about how Christianity (eventually!) developed a culture of caring and compassion and how this relates to advances in modern medicine.  He speaks of the "tremendous heritage" of the Islamic civilization and its part in medicine especially Abu'l-Qasim Khalef ibn Abbas az-Zahrawi who "restored surgery to its former glory and wrote a medical encyclopedia."  He claimed plastic surgery developed first among his people, the Indians, because of the need for replacing noses that had been cut off when people acted shamefully such as committing adultery. He recognizes other civilizations' parts in medical history, however, he notes these things:

"With this tremendous heritage, Islamic civilization could have gone on to develop modern medicine, because Islam also believed in a compassionate God and respected Jesus Christ as a prophet. It failed to capitalize on its assets because it preferred to follow a military hero - Muhammad - in place of a self-sacrificing savior, Christ. Consequently, the Islamic tradition could not glorify self-giving service as a superior value."  (pg. 308)

Zorro ready to help!

Karma became another philosophical factor preventing a culture of care. A person's suffering was believed to be a result of her or his karma (deeds) in a previous life. In other words, suffering, was cosmic justice. To interfere with cosmic justice is like breaking into a jail and setting a prisoner free.  If you cut short someone's suffering, you would actually add to his suffering because he would need to come back to complete his due quota of suffering. You do not help a person when you interfere with the cosmic law of justice.

As human beings we Indians have as much natural empathy as anyone else in the world, but the doctrine of karma prevented us from turning  that natural empathy into institutions and traditions of caring.
Compassion from medical professionals

Buddhism did teach karuna (compassion) as a high value, but Buddhist compassion could not develop into a culture of care.  This was partly because Buddhism, too, believed in the doctrine of karma and partly because it taught that we must not get attached to anyone.  The Buddha had to renounce his own wife and son to find enlightenment. He saw attachment as a cause of suffering.  Detachment, therefore, became an important religious virtue.  That turned Buddhist karuna into compassion without commitment to another person.  Those whose commitment was to their own spiritual enlightenment did not have the motivation to develop a scientific medical tradition. (pg. 312)

Me and My Dad

I thought that idea of "compassion without commitment" rather interesting to consider. Is this like when we see some poor souls on television and feel sad for their plight,yet we do nothing to help? We hurt for their being raped (like in the Congo where rape is rampant) or their children starving or their families being bombed by soldiers yet we do nothing, we commit none of our time or money or energy into changing things.

What most stood out to you as you read this?  Any thoughts, comments, corrections, additions?

quotes from The Book That Made Your World by Vishal Mangalwadi

Friday, May 13, 2011

On My Southern Belle Qualifications

So yesterday I was posting something on Facebook that made me find a picture of the Cowardly Lion for my friend, Nasr. 

I'll leave it to your imagination why I thought of cowardly lions.

Somehow that lead me to showing Samer a clip from The Wizard of Oz since he'd never seen this movie before.

This lead to our speaking of Gone with the Wind. Oh yes, I think we were talking about how people in old-timey movies had odd accents.  Samer showed me this clip from Citizen Kane and we discussed whether Americans still talked this way.

We decided no.

So that's what lead to Gone with the Wind.  Because Samer is enamoured with southern accents and I was trying to find a movie displaying this most charming characteristic of genuine Southernness.

I think he started reading more about this movie because soon he asked me what a Southern belle was. 

"Look it up and tell me what you find," says bossy Susie (who was on the floor recording some donations for work.)

Samer obeys.  (Who says men aren't trainable?)

"Susie, let me see if this describes you."  So he started reading the Wikipedia article out loud.

A southern belle (derived from the French word belle, 'beautiful') is an archetype for a young woman of the American Old South's upper class.

A southern belle had a lot of rules in order to behave. Pants/trousers were not allowed on girls; they always had to wear a dress that covered their ankles and their wrists. Not doing so would result in accusations of being a tomboy, a prostitute and in some cases a lesbian. These rules became more relaxed in the 1940's when most of the men were fighting in the war, and companies began to hire women to do the work in the men's absence.

Speaking to someone who was not white, rich, or properly dressed was taboo for young girls, as well as talking about bodily functions and sexual themes. Even the word "pregnant" was banned for little girls to say, considering the word vulgar.

Women could never raise their voices at all. [Here Samer inserted, "This stuff sounds like the Middle East!" and then, "Nope, Susie, this isn't you. You yell sometimes!"They always had to be kind and polite to everyone they meet. When talking to others, women had to use proper grammar at all times and to never say swear words. Getting into rough, physical fights was only permitted for young boys and never girls.

We concluded that I didn't fit the description and Samer was glad.  According to this article, I would not be allowed to talk to him since he's not "white."

My sweet Arab friend in Switzerland - March 2010

Amber did a cute post about Southern Culture for outsiders. It is a compilation of things she and her friends came up with one night as they were discussing the subject.

I just wanted to record this because I found the whole conversation rather cute. Especially when Samer reminded me that I sometimes yell.

Who meeee?

Bless his heart.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Doing God's Dirty Work: because it's obvious He can't keep us straight without help!

"Islam and Christianity share in common the idea of moral absolutes. The difference is that Allah is too majestic to come into a dirty manger or into a filthy heart. If God does not come into this world to save sinners, then other sinners -- dictators and tyrants -- have to do the dirty work of restraining our sinfulness. But by cleansing us from the inside, Jesus makes possible inner self-government, socio-political freedom, and clean public life."

Of course this statement discounts all the wonderful people who treat people fairly and with compassion without the help of Jesus, but this bit about others having to "do the dirty work of restraining our sinfulness" made me laugh as I thought about the religious police in some countries and posts I've read about them using black markers to cover parts of women's bodies, cross out pigs and such things they deem immoral for the masses to see**. 

Piglet blacked out due to his being a pig

Even the Hasidic Jewish newspaper that smudged out Hillary Clinton in the photo the other day due to the sexual suggestiveness of posting pictures of women...I guess that would qualify!  Don't want to lead anyone astray by seeing a female face!  Is this one of the reasons given for strongly encouraging (if not forcing) women to cover their hair and bodies in some cultures?  (While many say they do it for God, I've read enough to wonder if men are thought to be animals unable to control themselves when they see women thus the women must hide.  To this I say, maybe the wild dogs need to be chained until they can act like they would if God were standing right there beside them observing how they treat the women He created.) 

I know we have people even here who want to dictate our morals, but so far I've not known of any who go quite to this extreme. 

Piglet is still safe for us to love!

By the way I'm really enjoying The Book That Made Your World by Vishal Mangalwadi and am so glad I got it for my birthday!

What morality police/political-control tactics do you find most alarming, silly or irritating where you live?

**Here are a couple of posts from 2008 touching on the subject of the religious police: from Clouddragon and Susie of Arabia.

quote from pg. 258-9