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

Thursday, June 30, 2011

June Books & I fought temptation and won!

Another month has gone, and we are half a year away from 2012, people!  Half a year away from making new year's resolutions and posting lists of books we read in 2011 and putting away the Christmas decorations after yet another busy holiday season. Time sure does move quickly.

So in my May post I told y'all I read a book about a road (from Damascus) and this month I read about another road (Eastern Orthodoxy).    Last month I read a book by an Indian (from Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh) who said very positive things about Christianity and the Bible. This month I read a book by an Indian (Native American) who didn't much care for most of the Christians he'd encountered. (I think he was OK with Jesus.)   I finished my journey through America with Akbar Ahmed and his team.  That book was rather long (500ish pages) and detailed, but kept my attention throughout.  I read a book about two "promised lands" - Israel and the United States. The latter dealt with Moses' impact in inspiring the settlers here.

Have you read any good books lately? 

Journey Into America
by Akbar Ahmed -- fantastic book about American identity and culture and the ways minority groups have been treated here; see posts from late May and early June for many more details

"Through discussion and dialogue with my Jewish friends, I have learned about Jewish history and culture and how these shape Jewish identity -- the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the trauma of the Diaspora, and the tragedy of the Holocaust, which remains a dark and troubling cloud over the history of all humankind. I also learned of the deep attachment that Jews feel toward the city of Jerusalem and the land of Israel, which is more than just a country to the Jewish people. It is an expression of their religious and cultural identity.  Becoming friends with Jews allowed me to view the Israeli narrative from their perspective. In this way, while they saw and hopefully understood my Muslim narrative, I tried to understand theirs." (pg. 395)

The chapter on Mormons and Muslims showed me how similar the two faiths are. In fact the Mormon university has a geography class where one professor gives handouts showing 21 similarities between the two faiths. Granted, they also have huge differences, but the team said Mormons they met seemed to be the most accepting of Muslims in America.  When breaking down stats, Mormons over any other group put religion as number one in their lives (96%; Muslims were at 85%),  When asked about the biggest threats to America, Mormons were more likely to say the "breakdown of the family," "ourselves," "immorality," and "the economy." One student "named pornography as the greatest threat to America, calling it 'the root of a lot of evil.'"  "More Mormons saw America as a Christian country than did either Protestants or Catholics." (pg. 420-1)

When discussing the rise of Mormonism during what he calls "the Great White American Century" the author noted "Mormonism provided an optimistic theology in an era of hope and promise. Unlike the austere and puritanical preachings of Calvinism, Mormonism offered what scholar Fawn Brodie called an 'ingenious blend of supernaturalism and materialism, which promised in heaven a continuation of all earthly pleasures - work, wealth, sex and power.'"  (pg. 405)

The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy by Alexander Schmemann  --  I shared much more about this book here.

"In the record of Orthodoxy, as in the story of Christianity in general, there is no lack of defects and human sins. ... The true Orthodox way of thought has always been historical, has always included the past, but has never been enslaved by it. Christ is 'yesterday and today and forever the same,' and the strength of the Church is not in the past, present, or future, but in Christ."  (pg. 341)

Speaking of Jesus by Carl Medearis -- after having read a book filled with Christian Church stuff, this book was almost simplistic by contrast.  The author basically tells us to just talk about Jesus.  He reminded us that the complicated doctrines, explanations, egg illustration of God and often horrid Christian history are not what people need. They just need Jesus. And he shares what a joy it is for him to talk about one he loves so dearly. I like too that he stressed discipleship - a commitment of relationship - rather than evangelism which is often a one-moment deal (e.g., one altar call, one revival meeting, one door-to-door soul winning evening).  ; also see previous post

"We can't simply pull in our church boundaries, tell the rest of the world to drop dead, and then bomb the sand out of the Middle East. At least not if we are trying to follow Jesus.  The conservative movement here in the West often tries to embrace the moral code of Christianity without the self-sacrificial teachings of Jesus."  (pg. 148)

Here is an article of Carl's published at Huffington Post just yesterday.

Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto by Vine Deloria, Jr. -- Andrew asked why I got this book and I think it was in the footnotes of a book I read earlier this year. I decided I wanted to read a book about Indians from an American Indian rather than a white author so I found this one on Amazon and received it for my birthday.   Read more about my thoughts on this book here. 

And see my pictures from the Cherokee Indian Reservation here if you'd like.  We were there last Saturday.

The Much Too Promised Land: America’s Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace by Aaron David Miller -- My brother found this book somewhere and gave it to me for my birthday. He said he saw the word "Arab" and knew how much I like them so he got this.   About halfway through this nearly 400 page book I was ready to toss it aside because I was exasperated with how much time and money and energy has been used in trying to bring peace to this region! (Not to mention all the trees killed to write all those drafts and official treaties!)  To read more go here.

America's Prophet: How the Story of Moses Shaped America by Bruce Feiler --  I saw this on Amazon.com and decided to buy it. It was inexpensive and I like Bruce Feiler. I've read at least three of his other books.  See the previous post for some of the American Moseses (or Mosii per Amber's suggestion) discussed in this book.  Also I'll probably add a bit more from this book in an upcoming post.  I finished it just in time to add to June books! 

If you want to see most of these books because you are a visual person and maybe like to see that people actually are nerdy enough to take photos of their stacks of books, go here. From my stack of 18 books pictured there, I have only one left to read!  I actually went to the library once, had 3 books in my arms to check out and ...

(try not to faint when you read this)


I yielded not to temptation because I remembered I still had books at home that needed to be read.  Just a few more to go now and then Helloooooo, Library!  :)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The American Moseses

"The persistence of Mosaic imagery at nearly every major turning point in the country's formative century shows how clearly the themes of chosenness, liberation from slavery, freedom from authority, and collective moral responsibility had become the tent poles of American public life." (pg. 173)

In America's Prophet: How the Story of Moses Shaped America author Bruce Feiler, well, gives a lot of coverage to how the biblical story of Moses has played out in American history. I've still got about one hundred twenty five pages to go, but I've been keeping track of who all is compared to Moses.  Here's the list I've collected thus far.

President George Washington

"'Kind Heaven...pitying the servile condition of our American Israel, gave us a second Moses, who should (under God) be our future deliverer from the bondage and tyranny of haughty Britain.'"  (pg. 102)

Harriet Tubman "the Moses of Her People"

"The Founding Fathers chose the Exodus as their theme in an attempt to make their lives better.  The slaves needed it to make their lives worth living."  (pg. 107)

Uncle Tom, the character in Harriet Beecher Stowe's book

"On the page he may have been a Christian symbol of martyrdom, but once he entered the culture as the face of American slavery, Uncle Tom became a Mosaic call to action."  (pg. 152)

President Abraham Lincoln

For his part in freeing America of that "peculiar institution" of slavery.

Daniel Boone, the "Moses of the West"

Lead people further into the country so they could settle "the Promised Land" (pg. 148)

Lady Liberty

"'The Moses story is about the tension between freedom and law,' ... 'between the exhilaration of the Exodus moment followed by the constriction of the Sinai moment.  And it seems to me that you can see this tension in the Statue of Liberty, from the broken chain at her feet to the tablet in her right arm to the light around her head. She perfectly embodies the American story - and the Mosaic story.'" (pg. 187)

Emma Lazarus

A nonreligious aristocratic New York City Jew, she became interested in her faith when Jews from Eastern Europe fled persecution for the United States.  She penned The New Colossus as an expression of what the Statue of Liberty, what America should mean to oppressed people from other lands.

"A society must gauge its worth not by power, the statue insists, but by how it treats its strangers." (pg. 191)

You may find this next addition out-of-place on the list since he's not typically thought of as a religious figure.

Recognize the 'Moses' in this picture?

Jews "began converting Moses into a pillar of American identity" perhaps because their "'greatest fear was that America would become a Christian nation. ... By emphasizing Moses, they showed that Jews belonged here as well. Jews were fortunate that so many American Protestants were Old Testament-focused.'"

Some left-wing Jews even suggested Judaism change its name to Mosaism, "in part because Moses was perceived to be a more appealing figure to Christians.  Many Jews had a sense that the words Jew and Judaism had negative connotations.'"

Yep, it's Uncle Sam!

"Exactly when the United States was becoming more religiously diverse, Jews subtly redefined what it meant to be American. Instead of a Christian country, they insisted, America was a biblical country. Moses played a key role because he resonated with Protestants and Jews. Jews belonged to the United States, they said, because America and Judaism had the same source: Moses." (pg. 200)

Any surprises?  Which is your favorite?  Do you agree with these choices?  Which is most interesting to you? Who would you take off the list? Add to it? Any other thoughts or observations?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"Bibles and bullets had long gone together..."

It's interesting how wars and religious beliefs shape countries.  Even national obsessions and reenactments.

Bibles and bullets had long gone together, and the Civil War was no exception. ... [The] American Bible Society published three million Bibles during the war, and three hundred thousand were smuggled from the North to the South.  IN GOD WE TRUST was first placed on Union coins during this period; Thanksgiving became a recurring national holiday. And with 622,000 dead, heaven became a national obsession. Before the war, most people died at home, surrounded by family members, and heaven was a vague place where the deceased went to be with God. On average, the number of books about heaven published each year was not quite one.  But with so many people dying far from home, and many bodies never returned, families became concerned about their loved ones.  In the decade after the war, ninety-four books about heaven appeared. (pg. 159)

Beginning with the Puritans, the world was often referred to as God's "manifestation" and history as God's "destiny."  Manifest destiny was another way of saying that God had chosen Anglo-Americans to convert the land for him - no matter who got misplaced. In the same way that colonizing America was viewed by many participants as a reenactment of the Exodus, many settlers heading west saw themselves as reliving the Israelites' flight into the wilderness to create a new American Israel.  (pg. 148)


America's Prophet: How the Story of Moses Shaped America by Bruce Feiler

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A few thoughts on Arabs, Israelis and America: 'small tribes' talk and all that

The Much Too Promised Land: America’s Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace by Aaron David Miller
When the Jewish State was created, many people's homes were stolen.

 My brother found this book somewhere and gave it to me for my birthday. He said he saw the word "Arab" and knew how much I like them so he got this.   About halfway through this nearly 400 page book I was ready to toss it aside because I was exasperated with how much time and money and energy has been used in trying to bring peace to this region! (Not to mention all the trees killed to write all those drafts and official treaties!)

The author is a former State Department historian, negotiator and analyst who worked for several administrations on creating treaties between the Arabs - mainly Palestinians but also Syrians were mentioned a number of times - and Israelis.  He is an American Jew (and I was shocked with just how many other people in this process were Jewish), but not religious.  The first section explores why Americans favor Israel. He speaks of the Jewish community and how Israel is like an insurance policy for them. He devotes much time to AIPAC and its influence on Congress and how it is highly influential in making US policy favorable to Israel and appropriating funds for the Jewish State. He also speaks of the conservative evangelicals who strongly support Israel. In one chapter he visits Jerry Falwell and later attends a night for Israel held at John Hagee's church in Texas.  Pastor Hagee presented millions of dollars to Jewish organizations and had a program the author stated didn't mention Jesus Christ one time. This was about Jews and Israel after all.  Jesus isn't so popular with that crowd. 

The organization that assures US support of Israel by controlling Congress.

The second section included rather long chapters on Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter and James Baker - three men the author thought worked the most on Arab-Israeli peace. I felt I knew much more about these guys after reading those chapters.  The last section dealt with presidential years  - how the presidents like Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43 dealt with the situation. He went into discussions of the various Israeli leaders and how the US presidents got along with them (or not). Another main player was Yasser Arafat and also mentioned several times was Hafez al-Assad from Syria.  He was a tough guy with little room for negotiating. The author stated how weird it was that a man who lost ground in a war would come with such confidence that he wanted everything back.  Perhaps the author believes what is lost in war is negotiable because, hey, you lost.  I didn't take extensive notes, but did mark a few pages especially in the earlier section about small tribes and great nations.

In the later chapters the only thing I noted was during the 6 months between Rabin's murder and the next election in May 1996.  The author admitted they did "all [they] could to ensure that Shimon Peres...won the election." Of course Benjamin Netanyahu did instead.  This quote stuck out to me: "The idea that America doesn't sometimes interfere in Israel's politics is about as absurd as the notion that Israel doesn't meddle in ours." (pg. 267)

In the section on smaller tribes ...  "Great powers...meddle in the affairs of small tribes at their own risk....Small powers can't always best you, but they can always outwit and outwait you."  He uses the example of Vietnam, "a nation that has defeated the Chinese, French, and Americans. It's a fact of life: small guys who have a single-minded purpose and resolve can wear out and wear down big guys who may be focused for a time but are far from home with many other things to do."  (pg. 45)  He also gives the example of Iraq. (This book was published in 2008.)

These ghosts of the past make Israel a security blanket of sorts for the Jews.

"Smaller nations will do just about anything to survive and are not inclined to listen to or even trust advice offered by a distant power whose political and physical survival is not at stake. The ghosts of the past, made real by history's fears and traumas, speak louder than the untested promise of a brighter future offered by American diplomats."  (pg. 37)

"Americans who recognize the galactic gap between a secure and confident America and the traumatized and insecure world of Israelis and Arabs fare best of all."  (pg. 38)

"This region hates big ideas, certainly those offered up from outside and usually those from inside as well. ... Small tribes don't convert or transform easily. In fact, if there's any conversion, it's usually the other way around. The last three truly big ideas floating around out there - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - came from them, and they converted us."  (pg. 38)


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Where's Susanne?

My cousin posted this photo on Facebook awhile back.  Oh the memories!  It's cute seeing the family back when we gathered to celebrate my great-grandmother's birthday each October. Any guesses about which one is me?

Monday, June 20, 2011

River Pic, Father's Day, Mike to Camp, Book Talk

Samer shared this on Facebook a few days ago when he was walking by the Main River in Frankfurt. 

How was your weekend?  Father's Day was yesterday and I got together with my parents, siblings and their families. Of course we all had to love on Zach and Michael. Speaking of Michael, he is going to camp this week.  He went last year for the first time and absolutely loved it!  A whole week of spending time with his friends and having fun and learning about Jesus and buying Sour Punch candy at the canteen! What's not to love about that? He is incredibly excited and has been looking forward to it for weeks!

Have you read any good books lately? Any bad ones? Done any traveling? Watched any thrilling movies? I am making progress on my Christmas/Valentines/birthday books ever since I quit going to the library. Of the 18 books, I've only got 2 left to read!  Yes, two!  I did buy 3 more books earlier this month when I was ordering something on Amazon for a friend.  I've read one of those.  As I read one book, I often get suggestions for more from either the author's text or footnotes. (Thus Custer Died for Your Sins from my last post.) It's a never-ending cycle!

Maybe I can refrain from buying more books and after finishing these, I'll revisit the local library as there are several books I've made note of to get.  Can you believe only a few years ago, I would read 98% fiction? Now it seems the opposite. Why have I changed thus?

OK, enough Monday morning ramblings. Have a great week!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

An American Indian's Thoughts on White People, Tribalism, US Culture, Churches

Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto by Vine Deloria, Jr. -- note: the author uses Indian to refer to himself and his people throughout the book when not speaking of specific tribes (e.g. Cherokee, Sioux, Seminole) so I will use Indian instead of Native American in this post, but do realize we are speaking of the inhabitants of present day United States and not the Asian country!  I have questions for you at the bottom. Be thinking how you would reply to the author if you could and what lessons we can learn from his thoughts.

Andrew asked why I got this book and I think it was mentioned in the footnotes of a book I read earlier this year. I decided I wanted to read a book about Indians from an American Indian rather than a white author so I found this one on Amazon and received it for my birthday.  I expected this book to be more about the wars between Indians and the white people who came to the United States. I expected Custer to play some role in the book (the title kind of conveys this) yet he only came up a couple of times. This "Custer died for your sins" thing was actually a bumper sticker "originally meant as a dig at the National Council of Churches" and which "referred to the Sioux Treaty of 1868 signed at Fort Laramie in which the United States pledged to give free and undisturbed use of the lands claimed by Red Cloud in return for peace.  Under the covenants of the Old Testament, breaking a covenant called for a blood sacrifice for atonement. Custer was the blood sacrifice for the United States breaking the Sioux treaty." (pg. 148)

I knew the title was a rather clever play on words since most Christians say Jesus died for our sins.  It's a bit weird and good reading this book just after Carl Medearis' Speaking of Jesus which stressed, well, our speaking more of Jesus and essentially not bringing western cultural baggage into the mix. Jesus wasn't a westerner and although many bad things have been done in the name of Christianity, Jesus never started this religion nor did he ever instruct us to go and make Christians out of people or compel them to join the Christian cause. 

As I was reading this book I was heartbroken at times especially when I realized how different things could have been and could be if we acted like Jesus instead of going into situations as Christians bent on solving the Indian problem essentially turning these "savages" into respectable white people. As if that's what Jesus meant when he told us to go and share the good news with every creature!  The disciples struggled with this. Do the Gentiles have to become Jews? Must they be circumcised? Essentially, must they be one of us, adopt our customs, follow our law in order to follow Jesus?


This book gave me a different perspective on tribes. Of course the Bible - the Old Testament - is full of tribe talk.  There are the 12 tribes of Israel as main players after all.  And, of course, I was familiar with Indian tribes. I've always loved the names and found them fascinating to say.  Yet when I hear of tribes today, I think of conflicts in the Arab world and places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. I think of divisiveness (sectarianism) and narrow mindedness and keeping women down and exalting the almighty man.  Saudi Arabia's tribal culture - rather than its religion - is often blamed for the things I don't like about that country. Sure there are a number of good things, but those tend to be overlooked when compared to honor killings and the importance of virginity in women and the control of parents over their daughters.  Honestly it makes me feel smothered reading about such things.

Yet, this book helped me see tribes in a better light. How if there is a good hunting season, everyone eats. And if there is a bad hunting season, everyone suffers. There is not this hoarding of wealth and this great divide between the haves and the have nots.  The author notes "each man must be judged according to his real self, not according to his wealth or educational prowess. Hence a holder of great wealth is merely selfish unless he has other redeeming qualities besides his material goods. Having a number of degrees and an impressive educational background is prerequisite to prestige in the white world. It is detrimental in the Indian world unless the person has the necessary wisdom to say meaningful things also."  (pg. 233)

This book was published in 1969 during the era of hippies and black power movements.  Hippies, the author notes, had shrugged off some of the prestige qualifiers of white culture yet he found fault with them for not adopting the things that make for good Indian prestige. Hippies were basically passing fads and out for publicity.  The Indians often rejected the black power movements because equality meant the blacks would be equal to the whites. To Indians, equal meant sameness and they did not want to adopt 'white culture.' They were Indian and they had their own customs thus they refused to be 'white' no matter the effort government agencies and churches undertook to make them 'white.'

Speaking of 'white culture', Deloria says it's like a cancer. It destroys other cultures and the whites essentially have no culture except the violent culture they brought from Europe to the New World.  He says when we cannot solve problems, we use violence - overkill - to stamp out our enemies.  He says this country "has never made a successful peace because peace requires exchanging ideas, concepts, thoughts, and recognizing the fact that two distinct systems of life can exist together without conflict.  Consider how quickly America seems to be facing its allies of one war as new enemies."  "Violence is America's sweetheart," and America "alienates everyone who does not automatically love it."  (pg. 256)

You can imagine how much love I felt reading this book, right?  Yes, it's often painful to see ourselves through others' eyes yet we often need attention drawn to our blind spots and things we'd rather not consider. This book has definitely made me reflect on several issues - some serious ones like how Jesus, the wonderful person that he is, got so separated from people who claim to follow him (these "Christians").  Other issues perhaps not so serious, but still thought-provoking: do we 'white' folks really have no culture?  Is violence really our "sweetheart" and why do we alienate people who don't love us? Why do we "overkill"?

Has this ever truly been a Christian nation?  Or shall we once and for all separate the word "Christian" from "follower of Jesus" since there seems to be a huge divide between most Christian action and the actions of the Christ.

Thoughts? What do you think of tribalism?  Do you tend to view it negatively, neutrally or positively? Why? What do you think of the author's view of white culture? Do you think white people have no culture? Do you agree with Deloria's thoughts on black power (equality = sameness)? This actually reminded me of Akbar Ahmed's thoughts that I expressed in this post about Barack Obama acting like the white presidents.  Do you agree that we love violence?  Why is this? Do you think we should separate Christianity in the US from Jesus?  What took your attention from this post?  How would you reply to this author if given the chance?  Any lessons we can learn from Vine Deloria's thoughts?

I've already alluded to Deloria's disdain for the Christianity as shown by most churches. You should also hear his loathing for anthropologists and his views of Democrats and Republicans.  I would share more, but this post is too long already.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

"Christianity is problematic in so many ways."

While the ideals of Christianity have a basis in Jesus, in the history of the world - from the Crusades to Calvin's oppression of Geneva - we have often seen everything but Jesus' love. Culturally, Christianity has met with resistance because of this pained history, and also because, to most of the world, embracing Christianity means embracing Western civilization, Western policy, and even Western rule.

Even within the boundaries of our own "civilized" countries, we can see the systemic problems within Christianity. Picketers, political manipulators, and cultural warmongers all tend to have their own versions of Christianity.  Many racists consider themselves Christians. The same goes for many corrupt politicians, gangsters, and abusive parents.

...  Within the domain of Christianity, we all suffer beneath the weight of sin. Understanding the doctrine of forgiveness does not deliver us from sin.  Jesus does.  Our Western logic, our reason, our "right thinking" cannot deliver us from evil. ...

As Christians, we're faced with a problem difficult to see because it's so obvious. We're aware of Jesus, but we are obsessed with Christianity.  We're stuck on its requirements and we're defined by its doctrines, caught in an endless struggle to find out where we fit, if we've "arrived" yet, and if we're doing it right.  We struggle with sin, and yet, because of the boundaries, we're forced to decided between being honest about our feelings and hiding for fear we'll be judged.  In this state, we're not living in the grace of Jesus. We're trying to maintain our membership.

excerpt from pg. 72-3 of Speaking of Jesus by Carl Medearis

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Six weeks ago right now, I was waiting for a phone call to inform me ...

...that this sweet boy had arrived!
Isn't he so snuggly cute in his pajamas?
This is the bear his Poppy bought him and his parents named Napoleon.
"Susie, what're you doing now?"
Look!  Baby drool!
Already wearing a tie!

(click any picture to see the cutie pie a bit bigger...especially that first picture...how can you resist a face like that anyway?  :-))

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Eastern Orthodox Stuff: Constantine, Pagan Influence in the Church, Obliged to Believe, Christ

You may recall that I started off this year reading Timothy Ware's The Orthodox Church which had been recommended by two friends.  It was a great overview of this faith so when Amazon recommended The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy by Alexander Schmemann, I put it on my Wishlist. And a dear friend sent it to me for my birthday!  *feels the love*  So I just finished reading it and must admit the first book was better, more complete in explaining (so, Amber, your recommendation was better than Amazon's), but this one had many interesting aspects not covered in the first.  So I feel a bit more well-rounded after having read both!

Here are a few things that took my attention enough to jot down the page numbers with intent to share. There was other stuff that I just decided not to post although I found it educational as well.

This bit about Constantine was good.  I'll let you guess which side I fall under in the East/West divide.  I was especially surprised when I read that the Eastern Church puts Constantine up there with the disciples of Jesus! 

"For Eastern Christianity, Constantine still remains the holy initiator of the Christian world, the instrument for the victory of light over darkness that crowned the heroic feats of the martyrs. The West, on the other hand, often regards the era of Constantine as the beginning of an enslavement of the Church by the state, or even as the first falling away on the part of the Church from the height of primitive Christian freedom."  (pg. 62)

For some reason I found this incredibly interesting although I'm not exactly sure why. Is "becoming a Christian" being baptized, saying a 'sinner's prayer,' following Jesus or what?  Reminds me of becoming Muslim being as simple as saying the shahada. For the record, Constantine really wanted to be baptized in the Jordan River so that may be why he waited so long to be baptized.

Constantine did not receive baptism "the only symbol the Church accepts of becoming a Christian" until his deathbed.  Thus the "primary, initial paradox" is "that the first Christian emperor was a Christian outside of the Church, and the Church silently but with full sincerity and faith accepted and recognized him." In Constantine's mind his faith in Christ "had been bestowed personally and directly for his victory over the enemy - in other words, as he was fulfilling his imperial duty. Consequently the victory he had won with the help of the Christian God had placed the emperor - and thereby the empire as well - under the protection of the Cross and in direct dependence upon Christ."  (pg. 66)

Ever heard how Christianity has a lot of pagan aspects to it? Like Christmas, for instance, isn't talked about in the Bible as being December 25. Easter eggs? Not there.  Christmas trees?  Nope.  Animal sacrifice and circumcision starting with the Jews as something new God gave only to them?  No again.

The author talked a bit about paganism and how people back then felt about their religions and in a section speaking of reverence for saints and their relics and the "increasing complexity of worship" and interest in holy places and such, the author notes that many have directly attributed this to "pagan influence in the Church and regarded [it] as a compromise with the world for the sake of a mass victory."  Yet the author states that the Christian does not need to apologize for this or try to explain it. "On the contrary, he may boldly accept the charge....Christianity adopted and assimilated many forms of pagan religion, not only because they were the eternal forms of religion in general, but also because the intention of Christianity itself was not to replace all forms in this world by new ones, but to fill them with new and true meaning." Instead of thinking of Christianity borrowing from and being influenced by pagan things, think in reverse. All things were initially good, but due to the fall, it has been distorted.  "The Church in its own mind has returned to God what rightly belongs to Him, always and in every way restoring the fallen image."  (pg. 98)  So in a sense, the pagan rites have been redeemed by Christ!

Even if you come to church for the wrong reasons, it's OK!  You can hear about Christ and - who knows? - your life may be changed because of it!

Speaking of the "cult of saints" even when their deeds were distorted greatly, the author says when people came to the Church and learned of the saints, they could see how lives were transformed by Christ.  "However much men may have brought into the Church what they had seen and sought in pagan temples, when they entered it they now heard those eternal and immutable words about the Savior crucified for our sins - about the perfect love that God has shown us - and about His kingdom as the final goal of all living beings."  (pg. 101)

Notice that last phrase and tell me if that won't make a HUGE difference in your "Christianity." Christian-in-name-only, anyone?

About a "Christian theocracy" -- "State sanctions gave the Church unprecedented strength, and perhaps brought many to faith and new life, but after Theodosius the Great it was no longer a community of believers; it was also a community of those obliged to believe."  (pg. 111, emphasis mine)

Well, hey, if many in your community were "obliged to believe," why would you not have this problem? What is our excuse today? This is how John Chrysostom saw the Church

"His central concern was the Christian life of his flock and its variety and everyday reality.  Before him was a world that had accepted Christianity but was still so close to paganism, so deeply poisoned by sin and ignorance, that it did not take the faith itself too seriously. People crowded into the churches, but outside church walls - and indeed, sometimes within them - were moral irresponsibility, hatred, and injustice."  (pg. 112)

This was the last bit of the whole book, the last sentence is included below.  I love the last three words.

"In the record of Orthodoxy, as in the story of Christianity in general, there is no lack of defects and human sins. ... The true Orthodox way of thought has always been historical, has always included the past, but has never been enslaved by it. Christ is 'yesterday and today and forever the same,' and the strength of the Church is not in the past, present, or future, but in Christ."  (pg. 341)


Saturday, June 11, 2011

When a little cub comes to visit ...

In recent weeks there has been talk of black bears being spotted in areas populated by people and airplanes.  In fact a black bear had to be killed after it was roaming a nearby international airport. They just couldn't take a chance of a plane hitting it on the runway.

But no one warned us about little tiger cubs prowling around with all of their cuteness ready to pounce and overpower unsuspecting adults!

Behold! One of those bundles of adorableness showed up at my house.

Thankfully it was caged because 
they like to bite!
and growl  *roar!*

And their little faces scream "Kiss me!"

which I do - with joy!

And who knew they enjoyed milk so much?

May your life be as blessed by a cute little cub as mine was today.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Suffering for Jesus

I read this excerpt today and it made me think.  It was said in the context of Chinese Christians denouncing their faith in Jesus when being persecuted by their government.  There were many who did not, of course, but this was just a small part of what was said.

Your not becoming a traitor and your resistance in times of intensive trial depends upon your earlier Christian life.

When, after the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the Lord appeared to Ananias, He told him how to teach a new convert: "I will show him how many things he must suffer for my Name's sake" (Acts 9:16).

Every Christian church that does not teach its members the main religious science, sufferology, does not fulfill its duties.  Impose upon yourself mortification. Learn to suffer and not to yield. The time may come when you will need this knowledge. -- Richard Wurmbrand as quoted in The Voice of the Martyrs, pg. 10 - June 2011

Why do you believe it matters that we endure a trial and resist denouncing our faith even under intense pressure?  Is that crazy? Would something like taqiyya be more sensible in getting through this world?  I remember in a book I read last year that Maimonides thought it foolish of his people to go through suffering when they could easily "convert" in name only in order to be left alone. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Grrrrrr!! Why are we so angry?!?!

So today I was glancing at the Yahoo headlines and this article Poll finds Americans angry about pretty much everything caught my attention.  We are angry at Obama for not doing enough! We are angry at the congressional Republicans for not doing enough!  Dadburnit, we must be angry at God because He only has a 33% approval rate according to the poll! 

"The poll finds that Americans are being affected by their anger in other parts of life as well. Fifty-six percent are so angry that they can’t even sleep and 13 percent say the anxiety has affected their sex life. Twenty-six percent of married respondents claim the country’s economic problems have affected their marriage, with more than half of those people saying it has made their marriage worse."

In Journey Into America, anthropologist Akbar Ahmed talks about Americans living at such a fast pace and being so "connected" to electronics and social media and "drowning in information" that they don't take much time for self-reflection, for silence.  He claims "people have lost the capacity for self-reflection and find it difficult to see the majesty and mystery of life." 

Take time to enjoy the many pleasures God gives us every day

He describes today as "cynical, noisy, iconoclastic, and [a] materialistic world of consumerism" where even "heroes and role models provide little more than temporary entertainment." Often politicians, performers and sportsmen end up "as fodder for everyone's entertainment" when they fall from grace.

"It is perhaps an awareness of this predicament at various levels that makes Americans, in spite of consuming a disproportionately large share of the world's wealth, among the unhappiest people on earth while obsessively insisting they are happy.  Americans have much to be unhappy about: the incidences of suicide and depression are abnormally high, especially among their students and soldiers; their jails are the fullest compared with those of any other nation, their rates of obesity the highest, their marriages more in danger of breaking up, and more Americans claim to have been abducted by aliens than any other nationality. A foreigner may be forgiven for assuming Americans perpetually oscillate between two primary emotions, those of anger and fear, all the while proclaiming that their country is the greatest and best in history."  (pg. 461)

In another part of the book, the team had met with Noam Chomsky. I'll quote him in regard to the American fear factor.

"For Chomsky, it is not the idea of freedom and democracy that lies at the heart of America, but fear. A sense of fear and threat permeates every aspect of society, he explained to us: 'It's a very frightened country. Unusually so, by international standards, which is kind of ironic because [we're] at a level of security that nobody's ever dreamed of in world history....The theme is we're about to be destroyed by an enemy, and at the last minute, a super weapon is discovered or a hero arises, Rambo or someone, and somehow saves us. The Terminator or high school boys hiding in the mountains defending us from the Russians.'" (pg. 379)

Have you ever stopped to wonder why a nation that supposedly has a majority of Christians is so angry and so fearful? My pastor reminds us regularly that the Bible tells us "do not fear" over three hundred times.  Enough for nearly every day of the year. So why are we afraid? Why do we fear? Why do we let anxiety and fear and anger rule our lives?

"He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul."

How about we meditate on this instead?  Seriously. Isn't this great stuff?

 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.  (Phil. 4)

Saturday, June 4, 2011


Samer recently took a short trip to Vienna and he gave me permission to tell y'all a bit about it.  OK, actually I just asked him to send me certain pictures and he did knowing full well why I wanted them.  Thankfully he doesn't mind my talking about him.  :)

He has scads of wonderful pictures from museums and the streets of Vienna and visits to Beethoven and Mozart's houses, - oh, and he went to a zoo for the first time in his life and has pictures to prove it - but I decided to only share four pictures on this post.  (The files are rather big - click the pics to enlarge - and take some time to upload.) 

Early in June each year, they have this outdoor concert.  You can sit on the hill for a lovely view or move on down to actually hear the classical music.

Samer enjoying the view
Lovely garden area
The parks are full of vibrant flowers
Wheeee! I love flowers!

And Vienna has terrific desserts like this Sachertorte which is pronounced in German like this:  [ˈzaxɐˌtɔʁtə]

Does anyone else see someone peeking over Samer's shoulder?

 If you can say that correctly, you are my new hero.  I can't seem to get that throat-clearing sound to come out easily enough.

Vienna looks like a great place to visit!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Comparing African American Muslims with Immigrant Muslims

I don't know why I find this type of information interesting. I guess I like learning of others' experiences and why they think and act and believe as they do. This is a continuation of Wednesday's post about African American Muslims as told by anthropologist Akbar Ahmed in Journey Into America.  This post compares African Americans with immigrant Muslims from the Arab lands and Southeast Asia.

Most African American Muslims that the team met were - in Mr. Ahmed's opinion - very likable, outgoing and "ready to receive us with a big smile and embrace."  He contrasted this with immigrant imams who "tended to be defensive" (because of what the community had endured in recent years) and often "surly and rude to [team] members" trying to set up appointments.  One immigrant imam in Las Vegas was so "abusive" to a female team member she was in tears!   (Note: he generalized this way so maybe this was his overall impression though I am sure not all AA's were likable nor all immigrant imams bullies.)

One of the most interesting parts to me was when the black community shared how they were treated by Muslim immigrants from Arabia or Southeast Asia: "they see us through white eyes."  One lady shared how she traveled to Egypt only to be dismayed that she was treated there like she was in "mainstream America."  Many found it irritating how immigrants would criticize their Islam and tell, for example, how the African American women were not wearing their headcovering in the correct way (i.e., according to Arab culture).  Constance, one black woman, retorted that that "'reflects your culture, not mine.'"  Many folks were irritated with the way immigrants assumed that America and Islam were incompatible and when immigrants criticized the African Americans for doing certain things they considered American and not Islamic.  "Constance had an answer for this: 'I am American,' she said with pride and some attitude."

Of course the picture I chose has this AA Muslim wearing hijab the 'right' (i.e., Arab) way, I think

Besides what I mentioned above, here are some differences between the two communities that Ahmed summarized.

For African American Muslims, Islam means tackling issues of health, education, violence, drugs, and poverty.

For immigrants, by and large better educated and more prosperous than African American Muslims, Islam is about uniting the ummah, or the global community of Muslims, and rallying the world behind the suppressed Muslim minorities in Palestine, Kashmir, and Chechnya.

For African American Muslims, Islam is a simple and functional way of life, directly related to the example of the Prophet Muhammad as a social reformer.

For immigrants, Islam is a complex, grand, overarching historical experience initiated by the Prophet and the inspiration for splendid empires and dynasties.

African American role models are mostly contemporary American figures such as Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Imam W.D. Mohammed.

Immigrant role models are mainly Arab and lived in the distant past, such as the Prophet of Islam, Umar, Ali, and Saladin.

The Islam of African Americans is arrived at through personal choice, a process of trial and error, and is valued for its own sake.

The Islam of immigrant Muslims is part of an unbroken line passing through the generations and is their inheritance.  The latter therefore take possessive ownerships of Islam with an air of superiority over other Muslims, which African American Muslims find arrogant and irritating.

Mr. Ahmed told how 9/11 had actually helped bring the two communities together. The "rich" doctors and engineer immigrants were suddenly being scrutinized by the government so they turned to the African American Muslims to help them deal with the problems black people had had from the government for generations. 

I tend to read blogs of either Muslim converts who are white and western like me or Arabs so I really enjoyed learning about African American Muslims in this chapter and how they compared to and related to immigrants who come sharing the same religion, but not necessarily understanding it and using it in the same ways.

info and quotes from chapter 4 and the first pages of chapter 5

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Too much freedom is a bad thing

More notes on Journey Into America by Akbar Ahmed

Speaking of equality between men and women is like comparing apples to oranges

So I finished the chapter on immigrants and it was interesting reading about people from the various communities in the United States. Some are very pro-America; some not so much.  From the section on Salafis, I marked a quote I found thought-provoking.  This from a "forty-seven-year-old Jordanian man from New Jersey [who] said it was 'unfair' and 'unjust' to speak of gender equality: 'You cannot compare apples with oranges.  So there is no justice when you try to make people equal because people are not equal in their abilities, and treating them equally is not fair. For example, when a woman is pregnant, she is not to fast during Ramadan. So she is not treated equally, but it is fair and better for her. So obligations are based on abilities. Justice is better.'"  (pg. 260)

What do you think?


Now I'm reading a chapter on American converts to Islam.  They are only about 30,000 out of the country's 300 million people so a "tiny fraction." And the women to men ratio is 4 to 1 surprising to some who think Islam is oppressive to women. I've read about half the chapter and so far the overall theme to me is:


I was reading a bit and then came inside to clean and was pondering what Mr. Ahmed shared in this chapter.

We often celebrate freedom as a good thing. The Arab uprisings in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and beyond are rightly touted by many as people yearning for freedoms we often take for granted in the United States. Freedom to speak against the government if we choose. Freedom to express our views on most any topic. Freedom to assemble peacefully. Freedom to elect our leaders in fair elections.  Freedom to use Facebook and Blogger and YouTube.

Yet freedom without any structure is a recipe for chaos. Like anarchy.  If I am that free and there is no higher authority around to stop me, I can punch you in the nose because I am bigger and faster than you.  And, whoa to me if someone is bigger or faster than I as the same fate could await me!   So, how does this freedom stuff relate to this chapter on American men and women converting to Islam?

Because many of those who have converted found structure in Islam that they were unable to find in American society.  They've seen Christianity as too broad a thing without enough guidelines.  For them, you can go to church on Sunday and do whatever you want the rest of the week. By contrast, Islam with its emphasis on salat (prayer and worship of God) is structured around remembering God all the time. Five times a day, every day of the week, every week of the year, for your whole life.   It doesn't have ambiguous rules on the subject of alcohol. There is no freedom to drink moderately or abstain. You abstain if you follow the teachings of Islam.  There is no freedom to eat pork or abstain. You do not eat pork products at all.  One male convert who formerly used drugs and was attracted to Islam for the discipline it brought into his life said "Islam was unlike Christianity...in that 'it sets out a process for the entire day, every day.' In Christianity, 'you don't actually follow anything; you just say you're a Christian.'"***

Female converts often hated how sexualized American society is, how a woman was objectified by her body and the types of clothes she wore.  They were attracted to the ideas of modesty, honor and shame in Islam.

A former party girl, this Texan found dignity in the modest dress of Islam

Lesson for me:  the more liberated and relativistic America has become in its morals and values and style of dress, the more people will associate this with Christianity and when they find this lifestyle empty and start looking for something more satisfying in the spiritual realm, they will not go searching for Jesus. Why should they if America as a "Christian nation" has lead to this longing of their souls?

Carrie Underwood showing what is valued in American society?

*** Note: I have some problems with this, but for the sake of letting the converts speak for themselves, I won't offer my thoughts on their views of Christianity.  I know much of it is warranted by the way Christians have failed to be salt and light.  I'm sure those who know me can articulate what I would say anyway.

But I would love to hear YOUR thoughts so share! Do you think there is too much freedom in Christianity? In American society?  What did Jesus mean when he said, "Therefore if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed"? What about the truth setting us free?  Is freedom good; but rules better?  Thoughts?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

African American Muslims

So I'm moving on in the Journey Into America with Akbar Ahmed and his team. I found the chapter on the African American Muslim community of great interest.  I was struck over and over with how many of those interviewed initially were part of the Nation of Islam (NOI) joining Islam not for spiritual reasons, but political and social reasons as one man put it.  It was a joining of something to express their hate of their situation and the white people whom they understandably blamed. Often they saw Islam as the true, original religion of slaves forced to America from Africa and they wanted to embrace their historical religion and reject what they considered the white man's religion which was forced upon their ancestors. 

NOI, of course, doesn't embody the true teaching of orthodox Islam. They revere Elijah Muhammad way more than Muhammad the Arab prophet (or so it seemed to me!) and they didn't encourage any sort of understanding between the races. In fact Ahmed noted there was some talk that the KKK had actually funded some NOI stuff because of their shared common goal of keeping the races separate!  NOI and KKK...how's that for strange bedfellows?

Thankfully many NOI members initially became mainstream Sunni Muslims and sought to have better relationships with whites.  I'm glad. The NOI's Yakub - the mad scientist - was a little freaky, what with his tinkering with genetics and creating the devilish white race, those blue-eyed monsters! 

I enjoyed reading of the teams travels throughout the country especially to the coastal region of Georgia where a Christian lady told of her Muslim ancestor who was known as Bilali. He had come to America as a slave. Mr. Ahmed was able to tell her the story of Bilal the slave from prophet Muhammad's time so she would understand the connection to her own ancestor's name and story.  Many black people remembered grandmothers who would shun pork and cover their hair and wash their arms and feet and such that Muslims do before prayers.

The testimonies of how Islam saved many people made me feel glad for them.  It's no secret that the black community has its problems. Everyone does, but it seems disproportionately black youth and men especially are in prisons and children are born out of wedlock more than they are born to married parents.  This means many black children are raised in poverty and drug abuse and gangs absorb many of them.  Yet I saw where finding Islam helped many of them. With its rules and highly structured way of life, Islam told them to do this, do that, don't do this and it has essentially stepped into the parental role.

Perhaps in a way, God had become a Heavenly Father to them.  Something - a person, a system to give structure - they were lacking in their own houses.

Wherever they went throughout the country Ahmed and his team asked what was the greatest threat to America. He had shared in an earlier chapter that ignorance, lack of education and loss of civil liberties were the most common replies. When asking the black community, the greatest threats to America tended to be "white people" and issues pertaining to racism and the "unwillingness to part with the notion of white privilege."

I was introduced to many African American imams, the two Washington politicians (one reared Catholic, the other Baptist, but went to a Catholic school) and some entertainers. Must say that I never heard that Snoop Dogg was Muslim before this book!  Did you know Mike Tyson cleaned the prayer rugs at a mosque as an act of piety?

Later I will share the major differences Ahmed observed in the African American Muslim community and the immigrant Muslim communities.

information from chapter 4