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

Friday, December 30, 2011

December Books

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi -- "a memoir in books"; see previous post

At a cafĂ© run by an Armenian in Iran -- "...forever I shall see on the glass door next to the name of the restaurant, which was in small letters, the compulsory sign in the large black letters: RELIGIOUS MINORITY.  All restaurants run by non-Muslims had to carry this sign on their doors so that good Muslims, who considered all non-Muslims dirty and did not eat from the same dishes, would be forewarned."  (pg. 180)

"'Both Yassi and I know that we have been losing our faith. We have been questioning it with every move. During the Shah's time, it was different. I felt I was in the minority and I had to guard my faith against all odds.  Now that my religion is in power, I feel more helpless than ever before, and more alienated.' She wrote about how ever since she could remember, she had been told that life in the land of infidels was pure hell. She had been promised that all would be different under a just Islamic rule. Islamic rule! It was a pageant of hypocrisy and shame. She wrote about how at work her male supervisors never look her in the eye, about how in movies even a six-year-old girl must wear a scarf and cannot play with boys. Although she wore the veil, she described the pain of being required to wear it, calling it a mask behind which women were forced to hide. She talked about all this coldly, furiously, always with a question mark after each point."  (pg. 328)

The Global Soul by Pico Iyer -- The author discusses our world of globalism and multiculturalism by visiting and reporting from airports (focus LAX), the "global marketplace" (Hong Kong), "multiculture" (Toronto), the Olympics (focus Atlanta), the Empire (focus on England) and "the alien home" (his life as a guy with Indian heritage who was born in England and grew up some there and California living in Japan with his longtime girlfriend and her two children. Oh, and his first name is after an Italian guy....so there.)

"To many I know from the New World, the Japanese response to every setback, from terrorists to burning houses to long hours, crowded trains, and sudden deaths - Shikataganai, or 'It can't be helped' - sounds fatalistic and too ready to surrender power to the heavens. But to me, coming from a California where it sometimes seems as if everyone is restlessly in search of perfection in his life, his job, his partner, and himself, it feels bracing to hear of limits that imply a sense of past as well as of future. A republic founded on the 'pursuit of happiness' seems a culture destined for disappointment, if only because it's pursuing something that, by definition, doesn't come from being sought: a culture founded, however inadvertently or subconsciously, on the First Noble Truth of Buddhism - the reality of suffering - seems better placed to deal with sorrow, and be pleasantly surprised by joy.  In a world that's overheating with the drug of choice and seeming freedom, Japan, for all its consumerist madness, suggests, in its deeper self, a postglobal order that knows what things can really be perfected (streets, habits, surfaces) and what cannot."  (pg. 284)

Two Birthdays in Baghdad by Anna Prouse -- The author is an Italian journalist and emergency medic and this book was translated from Italian. I liked reading her thoughts on people she met in Iraq - both natives and foreigners. Her thoughts on Iraqi inbreeding (pg. 38) and Iraqis' thoughts of Americans jogging for the fun of it (or health benefits pg. 48) were interesting.  Also she told how the nursing profession was looked down upon for women (pg. 90) and I questioned again why the Americans allowed the people to ransack everything. Even IVs were ripped out of people's arms! How could (1) the Americans allow this and (2) the Iraqis do this?  (pg. 94)  The story of Saba being assassinated was sad. I enjoyed her trip to visit Iranian resisters who were given sanctuary in Iraq. These were people Saddam supported because they were against their leaders. The Americans didn't send them back because they would be imprisoned or killed.  I didn't know they existed inside Iraq. I also liked the trip to Kurdish Iraq to celebrate the Persian new year festival.

My Prison, My Home by Haleh Esfandiari -- A rather interesting account of a sixty-seven year old grandmother's time in solitary confinement after the Iranian government decided she was working to overthrow the Islamic Republic.  Years prior to the revolution, she had married a Jewish man. She admitted this was an oddity even then, but not criminal as it was under the new leadership. It was interesting to me how her interrogators brought up this fact and her thoughts on this being equivalent to adultery and would she then be stoned?  This book made me see how evil the Iranian regime is.

Iran Awakening by Shirin Ebadi -- Oddly enough this lady was the lawyer of the lady in the previous book. I didn't realize that when I checked out both books. This book was great. I really really enjoyed reading of this Nobel Peace Prize winner who has fought for human rights in Iran from Iran (she didn't leave her country to fight from abroad).  I was dismayed as she reported of how she was stripped of so many rights and even her job as a judge once the Islamic Republic was founded. She was no shah-lover and was fine with his removal, but she quickly found out that the Islamists taking over was not good for women.  She has some great thoughts throughout the book. It's one of the best I've read lately.; see previous post for more on this book

Words to Live By; has no author listed just from Bethany House Publishers -- this is a book with 60 words: "reflections and insights on the most life-changing and thought-provoking words in the Bible" - I must say the one on worry was excellent and really spoke to me; I read this one to Samer - one word per day but not every day as we started this book back in May and only finished it this month!

Unveiled: Nuns Talking by Mary Louden -- the author interviews a few nuns from several different orders talking about their growing-up years, their reasons for becoming nuns, their outlooks on life and more; see previous post for a few quotes

A German Jewish lady speaks of leaving Germany for England at age 12 to escape the horrors of Hitler.  In England she learns and speaks only English because being German is suspect there during the war years. She observes later in life: "I didn't belong anywhere, and also, in terms of language, I stopped learning German by the time I was twelve and so never developed an adult vocabulary, and yet I don't feel that English is my own language."  (pg. 66)

My Guantanamo Diary: the Detainees and the Stories They Told Me by Mahvish Rukhsana Khan -- I've had this library book on my list for a few months now and I finally decided to read it. I had always thought the Gitmo prisoners were hard-core bad guys, but now I come away thinking maybe most of them are guys who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time - like at a time when turning in political enemies would give you a handsome reward!  When Mahvish told, for instance, that the per capita income of Afghanistan in 2006 was $300 or 82 cents a day and a US bounty was $5,000 to $25,000 - she said in US dollars that was like the average American household (which made in 2006 $26,036) getting a $2.17 million reward!  And she points out that tribal alliances and religious conflicts make for easy enemies in that part of the world.  One Gitmo prisoner was turned in by his own cousin because the two had been fighting the night before. So yeah, I came away wondering how many innocent folks are being kept there. Such a horrible situation and bad thing for the US to be doing.

Walking to Vermont by Christopher S. Wren - Upon retiring from the New York Times at age 65 Mr. Wren walks from Times Square in New York City to the Green Mountains of Vermont much of it along the Appalachian Trail. He has a dry sense of humor, tells tales of the people he meets - complete with trail names like Storyteller, Knute, Flash, Seven States, introduces me to trail magic and more. A good, easy, end-of-the-year read.

I also liked reading this because last year when we went to Damascus, Virginia, we saw some of those hard-core trail people getting supplies and also we stood on the Appalachian Trail as it passed through a playground near where we were staying.

I found the picture of me on the App Trail!

Tomorrow is the last day of 2011. I wish you all a joyful 2012!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

2011 Meme

Since the year is mostly over I figure I can go ahead and post this now since I have some time! :)

1. What did you do in 2011 that you’d never done before?

visited the Cherokee Indian Reservation in the North Carolina mountains

Can you find me?

2. Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I didn't make any that I recall.  No, I don't think so.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

my sister in law so I got a new nephew this year, Zach!

He's a keeper!

4. Did anyone close to you die?

no, but the pastor of the very small church I attended growing up died on November 10; he was 86

5. What countries did you visit?

none although Andrew went to Kenya so I felt I visited it through pictures and his stories

6. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?

hmmm,maybe a trip somewhere interesting; a settled soul; consistent hope and thankfulness despite life's circumstances

7. What date from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

losing weight without really trying

9. What was your biggest failure?

inconsistency in faith

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

well, the Shiatsu massage pillow is so rough it bruised my backbone - ouch!

11. What was the best thing you bought?

meals for the elderly through our county's Meals on Wheels program

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Michael - as usual he's such a wonderful young fellow

Love him!

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Bashar al-Assad's

14. Where did most of your money go?

probably health insurance and taxes

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

to be honest, I rarely get "really, really, really excited" about anything as it's not my temperament, but what I loved doing this year was spending time with my nephews and I was really excited when Andrew came home from Kenya (but don't tell him)

They're baaaaack!

16. What song(s) will always remind you of 2011?

Peace,Peace, Wonderful Peace -- my mom sang it at my former pastor's funeral; he always said he wanted her to sing it at his funeral so she did

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

i. Happier or sadder?

ii. the same

iii. Thinner or fatter?

iv. a bit (and I mean a bit) thinner although Christmas gatherings may have reversed that in recent days

v. richer or poorer?

vi. well, Andrew just broke his finger, had surgery and went to Kenya in December so ...  

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

traveling - I missed our summer beach trip due to Hurricane Irene coming through that weekend

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

worrying, being fearful

20. How will you be spending Christmas?

with family after church

21. How many one-night stands?


22. What was your favorite TV program?


23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

I try not to hate people, but I suppose I dislike some people more this year than last (see # 13 for starters)

24. What was the best book you read?

Wow, I just checked my end-of-the-month lists and was reminded of how many good books I read this year. It's a tough choice as there is no one book that stands out as my absolute favorite. I suppose it depends on what genre you are interested in. Since I have to choose, I'll go with Girl Meets God which I read in February if you care to go back and see what I noted about it.  Some books I remembered so well, I could hardly believe it had been several months since I read them.  They seemed like books I was reading just a few weeks ago not back in January or March!

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Juan, my brother in law's brother who visited for a couple of weeks from Venezuela

such a sweetheart

26. What did you want and get?


27. What was your favorite film of this year?

I only watched 2 movies, The Bucket List and Steel Magnolias; both were good and both made me cry; I'll choose the first as my favorite since I'd not seen it before and the second as my favorite because of the great southern accents

28. What did you do on your birthday?

went to a dog show with Stephanie and Michael during the day and out with Andrew for supper at Ruby Tuesday

29. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2011?

comfort is key
Me and the Ninja Child on Halloween

30. What kept you sane?

I'm not sure if I am

31. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I love all the characters on N.C.I.S. and wish I'd been watching this show for the years it's been on TV (I guess I could get the past seasons on DVD eventually, right?)

32. What political issue stirred you the most?

the hypocrisy of so many people on the Arab Spring and more; so I guess foreign policy once again

33. Who did you miss?

talking to Louai from London once he moved back to Damascus

34. Who was the best new person you met?


35. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2011.

If used correctly, Facebook can be a tool for learning a lot about a variety of viewpoints!  And oftentimes it's fun meeting new people, but hard to tell them goodbye.
Come again soon, Juan!

Friday, December 23, 2011

"Unveiled: Nuns Talking"

Here are a few quotes from Unveiled: Nuns Talking by Mary Louden that I found worthwhile to share.

"When someone dies here the attitude is one of rejoicing: we have an extra recreation day. Yes, really!  There've been five old ones go since I've been here, and they've been really beautiful moments, with the whole community gathered around the person that's dying and the priest there as well. It really is lovely, and I don't think I've ever seen anybody shed a tear. They're all thinking, lucky thing!" (pg. 53) -- Angela Therese, Carmelite Community, Darlington, County Durham 

I love this attitude about death!

"Within the Church, we're going to be faced with the question: do we really exist to serve people, and to attend to them in their needs?  Or do we exist to impose ideologies?" (pg. 178)  -- Lavinia, Institute of The Blessed Virgin Mary, Hampstead, London

Yes, really!

"Good does not exist without evil, and you can't have dark without light, but in my own appreciation, if God's hadn't allowed evil, then we would not know it,and we would almost be puppets. If good was all that existed, then I could only choose good, and it wouldn't be a proper choice. ... We search for the light, and it is an ongoing quest of humanity to find answers to these questions. Yet ultimately I believe we cannot find them here.  In the end, I have to say, 'I believe this. It doesn't hinder my reasoning, but it is beyond my reasoning.' I have to be prepared all the time to accept that reason is great, but that it isn't infinite. There is a limit to reason." (pg. 198) --  Renate, Community of The Holy Name, Derby

I love that she recognizes that reason has its limits! Tell me again why we expect to fully understand God as if saying our religion is logical means it's better somehow?

"And I believe that the Christian faith is not the faith of a book or dogma: it is the acceptance of a personal invitation. It is like someone saying to you, 'You are important to me, therefore come and join my company.' It sounds very simplistic and very primitive, but I believe that that is what it is."  (pg. 204)  --  Renate, Community of The Holy Name, Derby

Relationship rather than dogma...yay.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Last night I finished reading Iran Awakening by Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi. She had lots of really interesting things to say dealing with both Iran and the United States and our history together and apart. These are just a few of the many things that took my attention.   You'll just have to read the rest for yourself when you buy the book (or borrow it from the library as I did!)

"Ever since that day, the twenty-second of Bahman has been celebrated as the date of the revolution's victory.  In Persian, we do not say the revolution was born, that it happened or came to pass; we require an oversize verb, and so we say the revolution was victorious.  That day, a feeling of pride washed over me that in hindsight makes me laugh. I felt that I too had won, alongside this victorious revolution. It took scarcely a month for me to realize that, in fact,I had willingly and enthusiastically participated in my own demise. I was a woman, and this revolution's victory demanded my defeat."  (pg.38)

A former judge, Shirin was now relegated to a secretary in the same court in which she used to preside.  Because women couldn't be judges apparently.

Shirin enjoyed reading several newspapers every day.  As the Islamic Republic started printing their new penal code, she felt she was "hallucinating" as she read how her value had just been cut in half and women's rights were stripped. She said it seemed they "had apparently consulted the seventh century for legal advice."  (pg. 51)  She felt so unsettled about these laws where her husband remained a person and she "became chattel"  that she talked with her husband about how he'd been "promoted above" her.  He agreed to a postnuptial agreement where she had the right to divorce him and primary custody of the children if they divorced.  The notary looked at her husband like he'd gone mad.

Once when the family went on a skiing trip, Javad (her husband) rode the men's bus while Shirin and their daughters got on the women's bus.  Unfortunately something about their vacation plans roused the suspicion of the bus driver so she was questioned.  Her husband's bus had already left so he couldn't vouch for her. 

'I'm sorry,' he said obstinately. 'I can't let the bus depart.'

... 'This is absurd,' I said, 'It's not fair to the other people on that bus.'

'There's only one solution,' ... 'I have to call your mother and see if you have permission to go skiing.'

And that is how I was forced, at the age of forty-five, to dial up my mother and say, 'Maman, can you please tell this man that I'm allowed to go skiing?'''  (pg. 101)

She said her mother teased her about this later saying next time she might not give permission.

"The suicide rate among women rose after the Islamic Revolution, commonly taking the form of self-immolation.  This tragic exhibitionism, I'm convinced, is women's way of forcing their community to confront the cruelty of oppression. Otherwise, would it not simply be easier to overdose on pills in a dark room?"  (pg. 109)

I think we all remember a year ago when a young fruit vendor in Tunisia did the same thing. Many believe his act paved the way for 2011's Arab Spring.

On a somewhat related note, I heard on the news a bit ago that THE PROTESTER is Time magazine's person of the year.

Friday, December 2, 2011

That "Piece of Cloth"

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Mr. Bahri could not understand why we were making such a fuss over a piece of cloth. Did we not see that there were more important issues to think about, that the whole life of the revolution was at stake? What was more important, to fight against the satanic influence of Western imperialists or to obstinately hold on to a personal preference that created division among the ranks of the revolutionaries?  These might not have been his exact words, but they were the gist of his language. In those days, people really talked that way. One had a feeling, in revolutionary and intellectual circles, that they spoke from a script, playing characters from an Islamized version of a Soviet novel.

It was ironic that Mr. Bahri, the defender of the faith, described the veil as a piece of cloth. I had to remind him that we had to have more respect for that 'piece of cloth' than to force it on reluctant people.  ...

What could he think? A stern ayatollah, a blind and improbable philosopher-king, had decided to impose his dream on a country and a people and to re-create us in his own myopic vision.  So he had formulated an ideal of me as a Muslim woman, as a Muslim woman teacher, and wanted me to look, act and in short live according to that ideal.  Laleh and I, in refusing to accept that ideal, were taking not a political stance but an existential one.  No, I could tell Mr. Bahri, it was not that piece of cloth that I rejected, it was the transformation being imposed upon me that made me look in the mirror and hate the stranger I had become.  (pgs. 164-165)

"The Islamic Revolution, as it turned out, did more damage to Islam by using it as an instrument of oppression than any alien ever could have done." (pg. 109)

As I've read this book so far, I've thought of the elections coming up in 2012 in the United States.  And, of course, just recently Tunisia and Egypt held their own first post-Ali/Mubarak elections.   I like to learn from books and what I've learned from this book about a lady living through the Iranian revolution is this:  beware voting for people who would seek to oppress others in order to re-create their dreams of an ideal nation or appeal to a voting bloc with those dreams.  Beware of politicians who agree to sell the country to the devil in order to keep their power in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere.  Let's truly have freedom and justice and the pursuit of happiness for all.  Let's allow God to be God and not seek to be Him as we impose our visions of a perfect world on others.  Let's live Micah 6:8.

"He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

I think that's more than enough to keep us busy without meddling in others' affairs, don't you?