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

Monday, December 31, 2012

December Books

Last day of the year!  I hope you have a wonderful 2013!

I started the year reading a book about grace, and the last book I finished was about the prodigal son - a benefactor of his father's mercy and grace.  Good thoughts for this year!  Here are the books I finished this month.

Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong
by Jean Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow  -- I got this from my Amazon Wishlist. It tells about the French mindset and covers history and the importance of the State to the French. I especially enjoyed the chapters on World War II and the war in Algeria and how both have shaped France today. I also liked the chapter on the language and French thoughts of what is private compared, say, to the average North American.   These are just a few things I copied and shared on Facebook while reading this book.

I'm reading a book about the French, and the authors said "The French love of grandeur and power unfortunately does translate into a tendency to hoard power.  As noble and well-intentioned as politicians may be, they tend to treat their elected positions like personal possessions. ... In France, a whopping 89 percent of députés and 60 percent of senators hold another office at the same time. Half of them hold three!"  For example former President Jacques Chirac: "while mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995 he was also the prime minister of France, from 1984 to 1986 he was député for his home region of Corrèze and député in the European Parliament."  (pg. 56)

"Language is a national complex in France.  Anglo-Americans consider language a tool, but the French regard it as an accomplishment, even a work of art.  They love and cherish their language in ways that are almost incomprehensible to English speakers. It's their national monument."  (pg. 162)

"The French are always surprised to hear that there are from five to ten times more accepted words in the English language than in French (they will typically talk about how much "richer" the French language is than English and assume by deduction that French has more words).  In French, the boundaries between what is acceptable and what is not are clearly defined and enforced by the Académie and the government.  In English, there is no body that rules out words."  (pg. 164)

"Because so many people speak English in so many different ways, 'getting the message through' is the spirit that dominates the use of English today.  Contrary to what many French believe, English is not a simple language.  As a French académicien once put it, English is a language that is relatively easy to speak poorly.  The real difference is that, unlike the French, English speakers tolerate poor use of their language." (pg. 169)

"France is the first country in Europe to define citizenship not by blood, language, or religion, but by residency in a territorial entity and adherence to its values....The principle shows a sharp contrast with Germany, where citizenship was still defined by blood for most of the twentieth century."  "Germany claims to have 7.3 million immigrants; France claims to have around 3.5 million. The number is high in Germany because the children of immigrants do not automatically become citizens at birth and usually remain immigrants all their lives. It's almost the opposite situation in France, where children of immigrants become citizens at eighteen as long as they grew up on French territory. Then, when they become citizens, they automatically vanish from statistics."  (pg. 301-302)

God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades by Rodney Stark -- an interesting perspective and one I've not heard. The author discusses Muslim takeover of formerly Christian lands and reasons for the Crusades. I especially enjoyed the talk of penitential warfare (pg. 107) and the Mamluks since one of my Syrian friends has this last name. It was interesting reading of his ancestors.  I've read a couple other of Stark's books and saw this one mentioned.  Got it from my Amazon Wishlist.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans  -- I got this from a sweet friend who sent it for Christmas. I greatly enjoyed this book as Rachel does a bit like A.J. Jacobs did when he lived the Bible for a year. Only she chooses themes for each month,and strives to focus on submission one month, modesty the next, purity, living justly, and so forth.  She told the tale in a humorous way, and had some rather good insight on interpreting Scripture. I really loved her conclusions while wearing modest garb...how she realized she judged people for what they wore (oppressed, sheltered, outdated, legalistic).  Sprinkled throughout the book were excerpts from her husband's journal as he shared how he felt while his wife was calling him "master" or standing by the "Welcome to Dayton" sign proclaiming that "Dan is awesome."

see previous post on "biblical womanhood"

These are just things I shared on Facebook:

I thought this was an interesting perspective.  Did you know in Jewish culture, the men memorize and sing Proverbs 31 to their wives at the Sabbath meal?  It's a praise to "women of valor" (eshet chayil). Yet due to the abundance of books (and Mother's Day sermons I might add) aspiring Christian women to be Proverbs 31 wives and mothers, the author of this book notes: "No longer presented as a song through which a man offers his wife praise, Proverbs 31 is presented as a task list through which a woman earns it."  (pg. 76)   Personally, are you made to feel it's a praise to women or is the Proverbs 31 lady someone you secretly dislike because you cannot measure up to her standard?  Or maybe you are somewhere in the middle?

This was one of my "any guesses" on Facebook....  According to this book I'm reading "To _______________ belongs the worthy distinction of being the only woman in the New Testament identified with the feminine form of the word 'disciple' - mathetria"  (pg. 223), and ___________ was the "first and only woman in Scripture to be explicitly identified as an apostle."  (pg. 247)

"When World Vision first began working in Colomi (Bolivia) just two years ago, aid workers began by asking the women there what they most wanted to change about their community. The answer surprised the workers. The women said that, more than anything, they wanted to learn how to care for children with special needs.  ... We heard stories of children who had been locked in rooms for weeks without being bathed and cared for, others who had been beaten nearly to death, and still more who had been abandoned because of fear and superstition.  Before World Vision came to Colomi, the mothers tried to organize. They formed a support group, where they exchanged stories and ideas, but they lacked basic information about how to care for their children with special needs and faced nearly constant ridicule from neighbors who said they were wasting their time."  (pg. 244)

The Book of Mormon Girl by Joanna Brooks  -- see previous post

"We inherit not only the glorious histories of our ancestors, but their human failings, too, their kindness, their tenderness, and their satisfaction with easy contradictions; their wisdom as well as their ignorance, arrogance, and presumption, as our own. We inherit all the ways in which our ancestors and parents and teachers were wrong, as well as the ways they were right: their sparkling differences, and their human failings.  There is no unmixing the two."  (pg. 28)

Heaven Is For Real by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent -- I've heard of this book, but never desired to read it. HOWEVER, someone gave it to Andrew for me so I read it. It was an easy read so I didn't feel I invested a whole lot of my life in it.  Rather cute book, I guess.Not really sure how to take the fact that an almost four year old speaks of going to heaven, talking to Jesus,  the sister his mom miscarried prior to his birth, and his father's Pop who died at 61.  By the way, he recognized Pop from a photo when Pop was 29, not the last picture taken of an old Pop with glasses.  Here is the website if you are curious about it.

The Duck Commander Family by Willie and Korie Robertson -- Andrew got this for Christmas so I decided to read it as well. It's about the guys from Duck Dynasty - some things about their growing-up years and the family.

Awake: Doing a World of Good One Person at a Time by Noel Brewer Yeatts -- I received this in the mail earlier in the month, and it was a quick, but challenging read. The author tells of some experiences she's had traveling around the world with World Help.  I especially enjoyed the chapters on the importance of clean water and educating women.  She spoke of justice, and how God wants us to make things better for people in the world.  She challenged me on whether I want a safe or significant life.

Encounters with Jesus by Gary M. Burge  -- seeing a few of the encounters with Jesus through the eyes of the people living back then;  see previous post

The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson -- a book about praying, setting goals and praising God, but mostly about "praying through" -- this is a tough subject for me because I'm an instant kind of person not a pray for something way in the future person; yes, this is a flaw, and I should change....maybe I should pray about it.  :)

A few things I noted:

"The blessings of God won't just bless you; they will also complicate your life." (pg. 113)  -- I noted Samer with a smile on my paper

"The hardest thing about praying hard is enduring unanswered prayers. If you don't guard your heart, unresolved anger toward God can undermine faith."  (pg. 124) -- um, yeah

"One of the reasons we get frustrated in prayer is our ASAP approach.  When our prayers aren't answered as quickly or easily as we would like, we get tired of circling. Maybe we need to change our prayer approach from as soon as possible to as long as it takes."  (pg. 196)

Mukiwa by Peter Godwin -- This story by "a white boy in Africa" is about Peter's life in Rhodesia before black people took over the rule of this country. The first part is about life in Rhodesia from a child's perspective. His mother was a doctor so Peter told of going on sick calls with her. Of course black people had the worst diseases and died at any age. His mom also identified what people died from so Peter described watching his mom cut people open trying to figure out what happened.  He talked about leprosy, death by arsenic and even a lady who insisted on seeing his mother privately because she wanted contraceptives. At not even 23, she had six children and was tired of birthing babies every year of her marriage. This lady spread the word and soon many African women were visiting the clinic for ways to prevent more pregnancies.  Peter talked about his years in boarding school, adventures with his nanny and other servants the family employed. 

I noticed the term "kaffir" used throughout this book, and I'm much more used to it being used by Muslims for those who are nonMuslims so I was surprised to see it here.  I looked up "kaffir Rhodesia" on Google and found this Wiki article on "fanagalo" which gave this explanation.

"The word "Kaffir" is the Arabic word for an unbeliever, i.e. non-Muslim, and was used by Arab slavers to refer to the indigenous black people of Africa. It thence became a common word used by early European settlers to refer to the same people, and in the 19th century was a term for the Nguni languages, as well as an inclusive term to describe South African shares on the stock-market. Through time "Kaffir" tended, in Southern Africa, to be used as a derogatory term for black people."

Also it was interesting to hear the black people fighting for control referred to as "terrorists."  Granted many of their practices were atrocious.  The latter part of the book talked about Peter's days in the police force, as a lawyer and journalist visiting Zimbabwe.  (The new name for Rhodesia.)

The Cross and the Prodigal: Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants By Kenneth Bailey -- I read one of his books a couple years ago and loved it. This one was much shorter and dealt only with the story of Luke 15 - the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son.  I greatly enjoyed reading this with Middle Eastern eyes. The author made it clearer how the original hearers of this story would have heard it in their cultural context.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Submission and The Greatest Among Us

Have you ever thought of hierarchy as part of the curse?  Or of Jesus turning hierarchy on its head with all those teachings of the last being first and the one who serves others being the greatest of all?  Note to all who want to be big shots served by others: in God's kingdom things are different!

I thought this was an interesting perspective. What do you think?

When his disciples argued among themselves about who would be greatest in the kingdom, Jesus told them that "anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all" (Mark 9:35 updated NIV). 

In speaking to them about authority he said,
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many"  (Matthew 20:25-28).

This aspect of Jesus' legacy profoundly affected relationships in the early church, to whom Paul wrote:

 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)

In the biblical narrative, hierarchy enters human relationship as part of the curse, and begins with man's oppression of women - "your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you" (Genesis 3:16).  But with Christ, hierarchal relationships are exposed for the sham that they are, as the last are made first, the first are made last, the poor are blessed, the meek inherit the earth, and the God of the universe takes the form of a slave.

Women should not have to pry equality from the grip of Christian men. It should be surrendered willingly, with the humility and love of Jesus, or else we miss the once radical teaching that slaves and masters, parents and children, husbands and wives, rich and poor, healthy and sick, should "submit to one another" (Ephesians 5:21).

This sort of mutual submission worked best in our marriage long before we knew what to call it.

That's because I don't respect Dan because he is a man. I respect Dan because when one of his friends moves, he's the first to show up with his Explorer to help. I respect him because he's the kind of guy who treats everyone with the same level of dignity, from his clients to the clerk behind the checkout counter. I respect Dan because he'll come right out and say, "That's not funny" when someone makes a racist or homophobic joke. I respect him because he likes to do things right the first time, even when no one is watching. I respect Dan because he has spent countless Saturday afternoons at my parents' house, planting bushes and installing showerheads and fixing the computer.

I respect him because I've seen him cry on behalf of his friends. I respect Dan because he is smart enough to win just about any argument, but that doesn't mean he always does.  I respect him because he gets as excited over someone else's success as he gets over his own....

I don't respect my husband because he is the man and I am the woman and it's my "place" to submit to him. I respect Dan because he is a good person, and because he has made me a better person too.

This is grace. And for us, it goes both ways.

(pg. 218-220 of A Year of Biblical Womanhood? by Rachel Held Evans)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A book about Jesus

First of all, Merry Christmas! 

Between me and Andrew, we got sixteen books this month!  I started reading Encounters with Jesus by Gary M. Burge this morning.  It says "Uncover the ancient culture, discover hidden meanings." Well, I love stuff like that.  A few observations so far. Sorry for the disconnected nature of this, but I wanted to note a few things that took my attention.


Western society is individualistic, and that has translated to our faiths.  The author notes the ways "every community of Christians has framed its understanding of spiritual life within the context of its own culture."   He says, "Even the way we understand 'faith in Christ' is to some degree shaped by these cultural forces.  For instance, in the last three hundred years, Western Christians have abandoned seeing faith as a chiefly communal exercise .... Among the many endowments of the European Enlightenment, individualism reigns supreme: Christian faith is a personal, private endeavor. We prefer to say, 'I have accepted Christ,' rather than define ourselves through a community that follows Christ.  Likewise (again, thanks to the Enlightenment), we have elevated rationalism as a premier value.  Among many Christians faith is a construct of the mind, an effort at knowledge gained through study, an assent to a set of theological propositions. Sometimes knowing what you believe trumps belief itself."  (pg. 7-8)


This book seeks to help us understand the encounters of Jesus in a more cultural context.  As I was reading I noticed how often Jesus didn't seem to mind being unclean in the religious, ritualistic ways of the Jewish people. Remember the story of Jesus visiting the demon-possessed man who lived among the tombs?  He ended up sending demons into a herd of pigs.  First of all

1. Gentile territory is unclean (or many Jews believe it so)
2. Tombs (unclean)
3. Pigs (unclean)
4. Demon-possessed man (surely this was unclean)

Then if you continue the chapter in Mark, Jesus is headed to a synagogue leader's house because his daughter was near death (dead bodies are unclean).  On the way, the bleeding woman touches his garment.  Granted, she made Jesus unclean by doing this, but he didn't scold her for it.  Jesus regularly interacted with the sick, those with oozing sores and other diseases that many of us might shy away from. Jews, who tried to avoid uncleanness, would likely shy away even quicker. 

Something I thought about as I read this: doctors must have been really unclean individuals.  They dealt with bleeding, oozing people, and, well, some of them died while they were tending them surely.

Actually all of society must be often unclean if you think about it. How easy is it to avoid monthly menstrual cycles, childbirth, other bodily fluids and so forth? How else do you have children without first becoming unclean?


The author provides this view of menstruation from Pliny the Elder in book 28 of Natural History.

"According to him, contact with the monthly 'flow' of women turns new wine sour, makes crops wither, kills skin grafts, dries seeds in gardens, causes the fruit of trees to fall off, dims the bright surface of mirrors, dulls the edge of steel and the gleam of ivory, kills bees, and rusts iron and bronze. Dogs that come near become insane and their bite becomes poisonous. A thread from an infected dress is sufficient to do all this. If linen that is being washed and boiled is touched by such a woman, it will turn black. A woman who is menstruating can drive away hailstorms and whirlwinds if she shows herself (unclothed) when lightening flashes. Pliny refers to Metrodorus of Scepsos in Cappadocia, who discovered that if a menstruating woman walks through a field while holding the hem of her toga above her belt, 'caterpillars, worms, beetles, and other vermin will fall from off the ears of corn.' But, he warns, don't do this at sunrise or the crops themselves will die."  (pg. 45)

He wanted to demonstrate the "superstition" surrounding menstruating women that may have influenced the region at this time.  I just found it interesting...seems a pretty powerful thing, huh?

Any surprises?  Thoughts?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

On Modesty

Have I mentioned that I really liked the Rachel Held Evans book A Year of Biblical Womanhood?  Here is something she said about modesty after she'd spent some time with Amish women.  Your thoughts?

"As Janet had observed, there's no typical Amish woman. As in any culture, there are some women who wrestle with the rules, some who uncritically accept the rules, and some who thrive within the rules. There are those who flourish under the creative constraints of tradition, and those who struggle to find their voice.  There are women for whom the bonnets and aprons foster humility and women for whom the same things foster pride. 

That's because true modesty has little to do with clothing or jewelry or makeup. The virtue that is celebrated in Scripture is so elusive we struggle to find words to capture its spirit - humility, self-control, plainness, tznuit, Gelassenheit.

And so we codify. We legislate. We pull little girls to the front of the class and slap rulers against their bare legs and try to measure modesty in inches.  Then we grow so attached to our rules that they long outlive their purpose....We cling to the letter because the spirit is so much harder to master.

More often than not, this backfires, and our attempts to be different results in uniformity, our attempts to be plain draw attention to ourselves, our attempts to temper sexuality inadvertently exploit it, and our attempts to avoid offense accidentally create it.

Perhaps this is why Paul encouraged women to 'adorn themselves' with good deeds, why he instructed all Christians, 'Clothe yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ,' and why the valorous woman of Proverbs 31 is praised because she 'clothes herself in strength and dignity.'

It's not what we wear but how we wear it.  And like clothing, modesty fits each woman a little differently."  (pg. 140)

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Book of Mormon Girl

So, I just finished reading The Book of Mormon Girl by Joanna Brooks last night. I'd seen it mentioned by a few Mormon bloggers, most recently by Sarah, so I checked my library and saw it was on the New Books shelf. I had to return a book for Andrew so I picked it up that afternoon, and read it within a day of finishing Rachel Held Evans' A Year of Biblical Womanhood.  I enjoyed learning about the typical Mormon childhood - or, at least, the cultural one for many of those growing up in the western United States.  I laughed at some of her memories. The bits about church camps, and Marie Osmond's make-up and fashion tips were especially good.  Here are other things that took my attention.

"No, no, we Mormons were taught that our works must carry us there, that our works would make us perfect enough for God to finally recognize us as worthy of His love."  (pg. 63)   This contrasts to my own faith where we stress the grace and mercy of God, and His reaching down to us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8).

One chapter is "mormons vs. born-agains" because where Joanna Brooks lived, there were apparently enough of both groups to have some conflict between them.  Maybe both groups were competing for the same souls.  (The born agains were the bad guys in case you were wondering.)  I know my own personal experience with Mormons growing up was meeting exactly one when we were pages for the NC House in Raleigh for four days when we were sixteen. Stephanie and I ate lunch together and I remember she had a houseful of siblings all with S names. We got along well.  Likely we gravitated to each other because we were not exactly like the other teens serving as pages that week. I can't recall. I just remember her name and what she looked like, and that we talked over lunch.  I'm not in a place where many Mormons live - we do have an LDS church or two around so I guess they exist. I've only ever seen the missionaries riding bikes or shopping the dairy section at Walmart.

Anyway, she writes about those California born agains -- "Had they disciplined their minds for the possibility that God would ask them to take a second wife into the family in order to get to heaven?" (pg. 80)

Uh, that would be a big fat NO. Again, we don't believe God requires us to do a whole lot to get into heaven. We believe Jesus did it for us. That's why HE is the Savior. Not us.  And we don't believe in heavenly marriages most especially not polygamous ones. I have enough trouble with Islamic heaven which doesn't sound like heaven to me AT ALL what with men having access to 70-some perpetual virgins according to some interpretations.  (I personally love the feminist interpretations that those houris are really raisins!  Haha...)

I didn't realize how important marriage is to Mormon beliefs. While I'm married, I can't help but feel sad for the many who are not. Are they doomed to lesser heavens simply because - like the apostle Paul or Jesus - they never married? 

Brooks didn't mention the need for children, but I'm guessing my choice of not having children isn't a popular one in Mormon circles.  (Truthfully, it's not exactly popular in evangelical circles either, but we aren't doomed for a lesser heaven for it that I'm aware of.)  Sorry, but the thought of "eternal pregnancy in the company of plural pregnant wives" in order to populate "the highest realms of heaven" with "spirit children" is not my idea of heaven. (pg. 97)  I really did understand more why gay marriage is such a threat to many Mormons.  You can't procreate naturally with two men or two women.

Something I wondered: can Mormon women remarry if they are widowed?  I see where Mormon men who lost a first wife can be sealed to a second wife for eternity as well. (pg. 87) She didn't mention women. Is heavenly polyandry OK in this case? This reminds me of the conversation Jesus had with the Sadducees about marriage at the resurrection. 

Never realized Mormons had to confess to a bishop when they did certain sins.

The Mormon preoccupation with the dead is interesting if not a bit creepy with all those files. I do think it's cool that they are interested in where they came from, and trying to save their ancestors by doing things for them now. Dedicated people.  For me, it's more interesting on the level that I sometimes wonder about those people who make up me. Really have you ever stopped to think how many thousands of people contributed to who you are today?

I am glad I married within my faith. I'm glad it works for Joanna Brooks and her husband, but it would be difficult for me, I think, to have a husband who is allergic to Jesus since Jesus is so central to my faith.  She said she doesn't even celebrate Christmas much any more.

I could never align myself with a church or any organization that keeps files on dissenters with the threat of excommunication and so forth. I like my freedom too much, and suppose I'm not real big on accountability.  God keeping a book about my life is one thing. A group of church leaders is quite another. I find God often is much more merciful than we humans are to one another.

Brooks talked about Mormon defensiveness. Probably because of posts like this. I really don't mean it in an evil born-again way.  I was just pointing out things that took my attention as one outside the faith.  Overall it was nice reading about growing up Mormon and how her path has differed from her more orthodox family and friends. 

One last thing...I had to smile at the couple of recipes shared in the book as they are two I'm very familiar with.  I like seeing what we have in common. Most Mormons I've met - which is online usually - seem like really, really wonderful people if not a bit cliquish. But I understand better why they are this way, and I'm thankful for the ones who let me butt in with my comments on their blogs and take the time to answer my questions. To you: thanks much!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How do you define 'biblical womanhood'?

I love what Rachel Held Evans concluded in her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood which I received for Christmas - yay!

"The Bible does not present us with a single model for womanhood, and the notion that it contains a sort of one-size-fits-all formula for how to be a woman of faith is a myth. 

Among the women praised in Scripture are warriors, widows, slaves, sister wives, apostles, teachers, concubines, queens, foreigners, prostitutes, prophets, mothers, and martyrs.  What makes these women's stories leap from the page is not the fact that they all conform to some kind of universal ideal, but that, regardless of the culture or context in which they found themselves, they lived their lives with valor. They lived their lives with faith. As much as we may long for the simplicity of a single definition of 'biblical womanhood,' there is no right way to be a woman, no mold into which we must each cram ourselves - not if Deborah, Ruth, Rachel, Tamar, Vashti, Esther, Priscilla, Mary Magdelene, and Tabitha have anything to say about it.

Far too many church leaders have glossed over these stories and attempted to define womanhood by a list of rigid roles. But roles are not fixed. They are not static. Roles come and go; they shift and they change. They are relative to our culture and subject to changing circumstances.  It's not our roles that define us, but our character.

A calling, on the other hand, when rooted deep in the soil of one's soul, transcends roles.  And I believe that my calling, as a Christian, is the same as that of any other follower of Jesus.  My calling is to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself.  Jesus himself said that the rest of Scripture can be rendered down into these two commands. If love was Jesus' definition of 'bilbical,' then perhaps it should be mine."  (pg. 295)

Friday, November 30, 2012

November Books

These books on Europe make me want to go back. I've never been to France or Italy. Maybe 2013 will be the year to visit one or the other, hmmm?  At least I can visit them in books.  Seriously, when I read books I often feel I'm there. Especially when places, people and food are described in such detail as this first one.

On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town by Susan Herrman Loomis -- An American couple moves to France, buys a house (a really cool house from the sound of it) and fixes it up.  But this is also about a lady who writes books on cooking. So this book is a nice mix of life in France with talk of French people, French quirks, fixing up an old French house, French cooking, buying school supplies for her son, her son's school experience, buying a stove and visiting Paris (and more).  Curious what the house looks like?  Here's a slideshow and article about it.

I enjoyed the bit on "tuyau," a system "vaguely comparable to bypassing authorities." It ranges from being part of a group who orders, say, wine in order to get a discount from the vintner to things which seem much more like cheating. But it's the way of life there - and a way to bypass the very high taxes in France. Apparently, it's just part of the culture.  (see pg. 76)

Other interesting bits:

The time the author held a dinner party and invited all sorts of friends only later to be called by her best French friend informing her that that particular grouping would never happen if a French person were planning the invitation list. Why? French friend's husband is a centrist politician whereas teachers - of whom the author invited a couple - were known to be left of the left and the two always felt so much at odds with the other, they didn't mix! (pg. 125)

French teachers yell at their students, and parents in general yell at their children more. In fact the author had a hard time coming to grips with French parenting styles: leaving their children in their bedrooms to cry it out and so forth

The French simply didn't understand the reason for baby showers in the American sense.  Apparently if you are middle class or lower, you got a sum from the government to purchase needed baby items. 

At Any Price by Patricia Roush -- an American woman works to get her daughters back after her Saudi ex-husband takes them from the United States to Saudi Arabia; this book disgusted me on so many levels

Out of the Garden: Women Writers of the Bible  by various authors (nearly thirty) -- see more in this post and this one on Hannah

Amarcord by Marcella Hazan  -- "the remarkable life story of the woman who started out teaching science in a small town in Italy, but ended up teaching Americans how to cook Italian" -- Actually Marcella seemed to teach not just Americans, but people from all over the world how to cook Italian food. I enjoyed reading Marcella's story of growing up in Italy and later her life in the United States and abroad.

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen -- the author discusses the biased slant of most of our high school textbooks and gives us a fuller picture of Columbus, the first Thanksgiving, racism, the war in Vietnam, and more.

"History is not a set of fact but a series of arguments, issues, and controversies."  (pg. 41)

"Columbus is not a hero in Mexico, even though Mexico is much more Spanish in culture than the United States and might be expected to take pride in this hero of Spanish history.  Why not?  Because Mexico is also much more Indian than the United States, and Mexicans perceive Columbus as white and European.  'No sensible Indian person,' wrote George P. Horse Capture, 'can celebrate the arrival of Columbus.'  Cherishing Columbus is a characteristic of white history, not American history."  (pg. 64)

"It is painful to advert to these things. But our forefathers, though wise, pious, and sincere, were nevertheless, in respect to Christian charity, under a cloud; and, in history, truth should be held sacred, at whatever cost . . . especially against the narrow and futile patriotism, which, instead of pressing forward in pursuit of truth, takes pride in walking backwards to cover the slightest nakedness of our forefathers." —COL. THOMAS ASPINWALL  (pg. 70)

see more quotes and commentary in this post

Monday, November 26, 2012

On America and Textbooks

So I have a friend from school who is now an assistant professor at one of the UNC schools. Her field is Social Studies, and she recommended a book she knew I'd enjoy, Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen. I found it at my local library and have been posting bits from it on Facebook the last several days.

Stuff like this:

For all the talk about SC being for states' rights, did you realize they opposed states' rights when it came to free states not wanting to enforce the Fugitive Slave Clause? It was "an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery" which "led to a disregard of their obligations" that South Carolinians complained about. They wanted people in free states to capture and return slaves. How is that for imposing your will on states?  (pg. 139)

and this: 

Anyone surprised that when our nation had a chance to help the "second independent nation in the hemisphere" the President's status as slave owner (or not) seemed to determine whether or not we helped Haiti in its quest for freedom or funnel money to France as they continued dominating the small country? Washington and Jefferson - both slave owners - helped France suppress its slaves in Haiti. John Adams, a non slave owner, lent the Haitians support.   (pg. 150)

and this:

"Indian history is the antidote to the pious ethnocentrism of American exceptionalism, the notion that European Americans are God's chosen people.  Indian history reveals that the United States and its predecessor British colonies have wrought great harm in the world. We must not forget this - not to wallow in our wrongdoing, but to understand and to learn, that we might not wreak harm again. We must temper our national pride with critical self-knowledge...'The study of our contact with Indians, the envisioning of our dark American selves, can instill such a strengthening doubt.'  History through red eyes offers our children a deeper understanding than comes from encountering the past as a story of inevitable triumph of the good guys."  (pg. 134)

I've even read parts to Andrew, and he asked yesterday, "Does this guy say anything nice about America or does he hate it?"

Oy!  Apparently I was reading most of the negative things. Well to be sure, the book would likely be labeled "negative towards America" if one grew up on high school history textbooks which overwhelmingly seem to support America as the peace-loving hero of the world with very few flaws.  Andrew tends to view it that way. Or did. Maybe. I remember when I first met Samer and started learning about my country and telling Andrew this non-American point of view. He warned, "Don't let him turn you against America now!" 

Ah, my sweet, innocent Andrew. :)

Well, today I read this statement and it seemed perfect. 

"By taking the government's side, textbooks encourage students to conclude that criticism is incompatible with citizenship.  And by presenting government actions in a vacuum, rather than as responses to such institutions as multinational corporations and civil rights organizations, textbooks mystify the creative tension between the people and their leaders. All this encourages students to throw up their hands in the belief that the government determines everything anyway, so why bother, especially if its actions are usually so benign. Thus, our American history textbooks minimize the potential power of the people and, despite their best patriotic efforts, take a stance that is overtly antidemocratic."  (pg. 243)

It explains the apathy with voting among some groups, the lack of interest many take in politics, even that view that if you criticize the US, you are somehow less patriotic.  Funny how that works because many people criticize Presidential administrations when their party is not in power.  Yet, if you dare tell the truth about the US's involvement in assassinations or vote tampering or torture or unjust wars or even its origins where all men are created equal as long as you were white, it's somehow not very patriotic.

I have increasingly had my American bubble burst the last several years. I realize we aren't all that special. We are made up of men and women just as depraved - and just as good - as the rest of humanity. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Culture and Proper Manners

Ladies, did you grow up thinking properly-mannered men would open doors for you and allow you to proceed first from buildings and elevators?   Or did you conclude that this is traditional garbage that needs to go the way of thinking women are property of their husbands and fathers?

Just this week I finished a memoir, Amarcord, by an Italian lady Marcella Hazan who apparently is famous for writing cookbooks and teaching classical Italian cooking.  She tells of a visit to Japan in 1969 where she'd been "told of Japanese women's deference toward men, but my romantic Italian mentality, formed by tales of the age of chivalry and gallant knights, had refused to take it in."  Yet she saw it firsthand as her husband was served first in restaurants and where "waitresses fawned over Victor."  Even when she approached a door at the same time as a Japanese man, he "would rush past me to spare me the embarrassment of preceding him through it." 

Marcella remembers a time when she and her husband were in a hotel elevator in Tokyo, and "a big American man entered."  At the next floor two Japanese women in kimonos came in. Can you guess what happened when they reached the lobby?

"The Japanese women stood aside, with a smile and a hint of a bow, waiting for the man to exit first.  The tall American smiled back and waited for the ladies to go.  We were stuck in the back.  Nobody moved, the doors closed, and the elevator, with all its passengers still in place, rose to the uppermost floor again."

(pg. 118-119)

Marcella said she still giggles about this, and it is quite funny to visualize! 

So, culturally speaking, what is proper where you are from?  Do you tend to grab doors for ladies? Offer seats to older men and women? Defer to men?  What is proper where you live? It's good to know what is expected in other places so we won't all be riding the hotel elevator up and down all day, right?

Additional question: what is something you've had to do differently in another culture when you were visiting another country or even another group within your own country?  I remember when we went to Syria the only thing Samer told us not to do (because I asked about this prior to our traveling there) was not to offer to shake hands with guys (for me) or ladies (for Andrew) unless that person offered his/her hand first.

One of his friends "complained" that I didn't shake his hand, and "blamed" Samer for this!  He taught us well!  :)

(So, I read a book about a lady famous for cooking and post about a cultural tidbit... you see what interests me.)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Opinions Wanted: American Involvement

My sister is taking an American culture something something class at the local community college. It's basically an online class of essays and papers. Her latest topic made me curious about your opinions because I've heard both sides. You don't have to write a paper, but which way do you tend to be and why?

I'd love to hear your opinion whether or not you are an American or have ever lived here. In fact, I'd enjoy the opinion of nonAmericans about this topic.

Here is what her teacher gave them ... 

"America should just forget the rest of the world. When we try to help, they take advantage of us. When we try to do what we have to in order to defend ourselves, we are viewed as evil. Well, if they don't appreciate us, fine. If they don't like us, fine. We should just stay at home, keep our money here, and if the rest of the world wants to go to heck in a hand basket, fine by me!" Either agree or disagree with this sentiment and defend your answer.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Breaking and Confirming Stereotypes

I can't even remember how we got on the subject now.  All I know is that Samer and I were talking the other day, and the subject of Americans came up.  Maybe we were talking about stereotypes because the next thing I know, I'm jotting down notes as he lists ways I broke his stereotype of people from the United States, and things I confirmed about it.

Oh, I may have mentioned Malik's post about differences in US thoughts of dogs compared to Arab Muslims' thoughts of dogs. And also Amber's comment about her thinking Southern culture was in some ways similar to Arab culture.  I think we were talking about those topics as they tend to be some of my favorite.

Anyway, here is what I noted:


* I am emotional, therefore, not the "cold Westerner" type he sees in Germany.

* I have a love for foreign stuff. I easily warm up to foreigners and am open to other points of view.

* I am not stubborn - meaning I am OK with changing my mind about things if I see that I've been wrong

* I am not brainwashed by the media

*  I don't watch a lot of TV, movies, and am not overly-concerned with following celebrities.

* I am not hardheaded re: US patriotism and foreign policy


* I am easy-going

* I am friendly

* I like jokes

* I have an American accent

I would qualify most of these because I am not always easy-going or friendly, and sometimes I am very much stubborn. But I am thankful that Samer sees me in a good light most days.

(Good thing this topic didn't come up the day I was ranting about Patricia Roush's daughters being stolen by her Saudi ex-husband because I wasn't very nice about men, Arabs, Muslims, the idea that children belong to their fathers, or mixed-cultural relationships that day.  Thankfully Samer is forgiving ... )

Have you ever had a foreign friend who shared how you either confirmed or broke stereotypes he or she had of people from the United States (or where ever you are from)? What was on your list?  What things do you believe most foreigners have right about your people? Wrong? 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

OT women: Hannah

I'm still reading the book I told you about in the last post, Out of the Garden: Women Writers of the Bible.   The latest discussions have been on Hannah. Remember the mother of Samuel?

There was something two or three writers mentioned about her prayer in the Temple.  What stands out to you about it? Do you remember anything you've been taught or deduced from it over the years?

I'm curious about your thoughts to see what stands out to you from this story - if anything.

From I Samuel 1,

There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite[a] from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.
Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”
Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on his chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s house. 10 In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. 11 And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
12 As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”
15 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”
17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”
18 She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.
19 Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 20 So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel,[b] saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.”

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A few observations from OT stories

One time while visiting a local book warehouse, I found a rather small book in the religious section.  Out of the Garden: Women Writers of the Bible was different from many of the others, and I immediately snatched it up as a good book to trade for.  (For two of my own books, they will give me one of theirs.)  It's a collection of essays from Jewish and Christian women who were asked to choose a theme, person or story from the Old Testament in a quest to see how contemporary women read the Bible.

I started reading it a couple days ago, and have already found some thought-provoking stuff.  I enjoyed the alternate view of Lot's wife turning to salt. Such a clever ending to that essay by Rebecca Goldstein!

During a chapter on Rachel and Leah, I decided to jot down a few observations (some pointed out in the book; some my own).  These aren't necessarily new "aha!" moments for me, but I don't believe I've mentioned them here before.

Here goes:

--- Have you ever noticed how many barren women are mentioned in the Bible? 

--- The author mentioned this one: Rachel demanding from Jacob children lest she die (Genesis 30:1). And then she died having her second son (Genesis 35:18).

Also, why would she demand children from Jacob when it was clearly her inability to conceive? (It seems women in the past were often blamed for infertility when it was not their faults, but clearly Jacob was fertile.)  So why demand children of Jacob this way?  Any ideas?  (The author has one, but I'll see what you say first.)

--- Also, ever notice this verse from Deuteronomy 21, and how often it wasn't necessarily followed before it became Law? By God's decree even?

15 If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, 16 when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love.

--- Read this from Genesis 30:

14 During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.”
15 But she said to her, “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?”
“Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.”
16 So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. “You must sleep with me,” she said. “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he slept with her that night.

The joys of polygyny? Jacob seems reduced to a token between his two wives who decide it's fair to exchange a night in his company for plants.

I'll see if I have more as I continue the book.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

October Books

I don't think I'll finish another book before tomorrow, and tomorrow will be busy with Halloween so here's the list for this month.  Are you dressing up for Halloween?  Having a party? Hope you have a good one!  :)

Ciao, America!
by Beppe Severgnini  -- an Italian living in the United States for a year offers his insights to life here;  see previous post

Those Crazy Germans! by Steven Somers -- Ever wondered about the various tents at Oktoberfest, and what they offered, and how hard they were to get into?  The red light districts near the train stations? How regulated the prostitution industry is in Germany?  The names of German cities? What's up with all the nude people in parks?  The spa life? Bicycling? Politics? The love of news? The work week? Holiday customs?  If so, you may enjoy this "light-hearted guide to Germany" by a self-proclaimed Germanophile. The chapters are short, easy-to-read, and informative. I certainly learned some new things, then again, I really didn't know that much about Germany since it was never a country I adored. 

Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna by Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton -- I picked this book up at the library and read it all in just a couple of hours (and I took a Facebook break or two during those hours.)  I got it mainly because it reminded me of Andrew's trip to Kenya last year. The Maasai, the Samburu, even South Horr was mentioned at some point. I enjoyed reading of Lemasolai's growing-up years, the reason he went to school (the Kenyan government required one child per family to go and he was selected) and certain customs among his people (like the circumcision ceremonies - Andrew attended one.)

The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway -- I found this book at the book warehouse and enjoyed reading about Jill's life in the outback of Australia and how they moved to the city and she went to school and university there.  Both parts were quite interesting to me as she learned to adjust to a new life - she never had a female playmate until she left the outback. Her thoughts on life fascinated me so I've already looked to see if any of her other books are available at my local library.  They are!  Yay.

My Forbidden Face: Growing Up Under the Taliban: A Young Woman's Story by Latifa -- a story that takes place in the years preceding 9/11 and the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.  This book reminds me again why the Taliban and any religious fundamentalists who impose their will on others are so awful.

The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul by Wayne A. Meeks -- A book from my wishlist. It was a bit more technical and deeper than I expected. That's not all bad, just maybe I would have enjoyed it if the author dumbed it down for me.  :) This book discussed the urban environment of Pauline Christianity, the social level of Pauline Christians (were they all poor, mostly rich, middle class?), the formation of the ekklesia, governance, rituals, and patterns of belief and life.

Even After All This Time: A Story of Love, Revolution, and Leaving Iran by Afschineh Latifi -- I'm not sure how my library got so many memoirs of Iranian ladies who grew up in Iran, but it seems I've found a few of them the last couple of years. And they've been some of my favorite books!  This was no exception as I was moved to tears reading of the Latifi's father and the struggle of the family after his execution.  The author made everything seem so real, yet she has a marvelous sense of humor.  If you are interested in stories surrounding the Iranian revolution and families moving abroad, you may enjoy this book as well.  Without exception these families tend to be what I would give as examples of "secular Muslims."

I enjoyed reading about the Latifi sisters schooling in Vienna (especially since I was there not eight weeks ago) and Virginia. Also the author attended law school in nearby Winston-Salem, NC at Wake Forest.  Really interesting book!

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain  -- I enjoyed reading about myself in this book. I'd seen this lady's TED talk so when I saw the book at the library, I grabbed it!

"Finland is a famously introverted nation.  Finnish joke: How can you tell if a Finn likes you?  He's staring at your shoes instead of his own."  (pg. 14)

"America has shifted from ... a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality."  In the former, "the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable. What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private.  The word personality didn't exist in English until the eighteenth century, and the idea of 'having a good personality' was not widespread until the twentieth.

But when they embraced the Culture of Personality, Americans started to focus on how others perceived them. They became captivated by people who were bold and entertaining.  'The social role demanded of all in the new Culture of Personality was that of a performer,'...'Every American was to become a performing self.'"

"By 1920, popular self-help guides had changed their focus from inner virtue to outer charm...'To create a personality is power,' advised [one]." 

Culture of Character guides emphasized: "citizenship, duty, work, golden deeds, honor, reputation, morals, manners, integrity"

Culture of Personality guides celebrated qualities: "magnetic, fascinating, stunning, attractive, glowing, dominant, forceful, energetic"

"It was no coincidence that in the 1920s and the 1930s, Americans became obsessed with movie stars."

(pg 21-24)

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui -- a story about a young Yemeni woman's life and how she fought for a divorce

Walking the Trail: One Man's Journey Along the Cherokee Trail of Tears by Jerry Ellis -- I found this at the local library; the author traveled from Oklahoma back home to Alabama all the while talking to people he met along the trail

Three Weeks with My Brother by Nicholas and Micah Sparks -- I thought this was going to be more of a journal of a trip, and it had that of course, but it was so much more.  In between telling of his adventure to Easter Island, the Outback, the Taj Mahal, Norway and various other places, this book is a memoir of Nicholas' growing up mostly in California. It was quite interesting to me, and made me very sad at times. I love the devotion of these brothers to each other - very inspirational.  I loved Micah's sense of devotion to his family, the way he took care of them in typical older-child fashion. I admired the optimism of Dana, the youngest member of the family and the only sister.  A really emotional books for me - both awe and wonder and laughter and disbelief to hurting for them.

And so odd to me, what are the chances that my AAA Carolinas magazine this month focused on a couple of the places mentioned in this book?  I read both within a day of each other, and the timing was weird. But I notice that a LOT lately... too much.  Is there something in the air? Hmmm  :)

Monday, October 8, 2012


Just think five years ago right now, I didn't even know how my life would change the next day when I opened a private message "From Damascus" that was sent to me on a MySpace account I'd had all of three months.  I mentioned the Middle East on my profile, and something must have prompted Samer to contact me.  His note was a slight challenge, albeit very polite.

On October 9, 2007 I read the message, wrote him back, and he wrote me back within an hour. It was during Ramadan so he was up despite the seven hour time difference.  I remember wondering if he were legit. What are the odds that some Muslim Arab guy in Syria would write me?  Was he one of those internet weirdos they warn you about on the news?

Maybe so, but we became fast friends. Family really. And I'm thankful for three times we've met in real life. Once in Syria (where we met his mom, brothers and sister, and friends) and twice now in Germany.

I'm thankful to God for what he has taught me - and where He has taken me - through knowing Samer!

Eagle's Nest - August 2012

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Foreign Impressions

I often find it interesting to hear of people's experiences in other countries.***  A friend told me of two German coworkers who visited the US (San Mateo, CA) for the first time recently.  Their impressions:

Americans are louder, much more open and friendlier. A waiter or waitress thinks nothing of telling you about his day or her family. (Apparently small talk amongst strangers doesn't happen much in Germany!)  Also the younger guy said no one smokes. In fact when he did light up in a parking lot, someone threatened to call the police!  He noted our love of ice - we 'overwhelm' them with the stuff. And they were surprised by the huge amount of Coke served with their meals.  (In Austria and Germany on our recent trip it was about 3 euros for a small bottle - cold, but no ice, no free refills.) And also the people here are fatter.  Maybe because we drink too much Coke and don't smoke..hmmm?

I was reading Ciao, America! by Beppe Severgnini and he made many similar observations. He lived with his wife in the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C. for a year.  He noted the ice (he really felt strongly about it. Why are ice cubes so offensive? Because they crunch?), the frigid air conditioning, the differences in Mass, the bureaucracy involved in getting services (piece of cake compared to Italy), and the talkativeness of random strangers.  I was especially laughing at the bit about waiters and waitresses telling about their lives and running to serve when they (Beppe's family) just wanted to be left in peace to eat.  It wasn't all negative. In fact it was mostly just observations and reactions to life here.  I found it amusing. And these I shared on Facebook as a sample.

"Relationships are good with the rest of the neighbors and conversation comes easily. Americans tell you more about themselves in an hour than the British do in ten years. The main thing is not to mistake this cordiality for friendship. It's more a sort of cosmetic to perk up everyday life, and should be treated as such." (pg. 98)

"There's always a note of alarm in American weather forecasts. TV weatherpeople have glassily inexpressive eyes. Even when they're making one of their little jokes, they give the impression that they're keeping back some tragic piece of news. There's an entire channel (the Weather Channel) that deals exclusively with the subject.  In fact, it ferrets out disasters in every corner of the Union. Hurricanes, floods, storms, downpours, eclipses, landslides - any calamity will do.  It's the meteorological version of a horror film, and we foreigners are unaccustomed to the concept. ... During the summer it is not sufficient to communicate infernal temperatures. There's also a comfort index, calculated from the combination of heat and humidity.  And winter is not just a question of bitter cold. There is also the windchill factor, ... Knowing the exact quantity of discomfort - being able to say exactly how badly you feel and why - is the first step toward the goal of every U.S. citizen: to feel good."
  (pg. 64-65)

Earlier today I was in downtown Graham running errands. Walking them really. And a little girl saw me.

"Where's your car?" 

Me:  "Around the corner and up the street.  I parked at the library."

"Ohhhh. I like your blue bag"  (I was carrying some things I'd found for Zach at Little Blessings, and the bags *are* a pretty color.)

Me:  "Thank you. I hope you have a good day, sweetie" I said as I smiled and started to walk away.

I hear floating after me:  "I looooove you" 

Sweet Stranger Moments.

And, yes, I did wonder what Beppe would have thought if he'd encountered such an outgoing little girl during his time in the United States.   :)

My apologies to those who are Facebook friends and have already read much of this. 

***  This is why one of my favorite places on the web is Malik's blog. He's from Jordan and lives in Missouri.  I love when he writes posts dealing with differences in Arab and American culture or what he finds picture-worthy.  Sadly, Samer doesn't blog because he has some good stories of life in Germany, and I enjoy hearing what he has to say about the differences in his experiences in Germany and Damascus.  Thankfully he gives me full permission to share them. I got the German coworker impressions from him. Bet you never would have guessed that, huh?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

September Books

So this month I ended up reading two books dealing with China, and two memoirs about people leaving their faiths.  I didn't know the two latter books would delve so much into childhood sexual abuse when I started them.  I was thoroughly disgusted at how two powerful churches (one for sure; the other maybe was falsely accused) have used their money and clout to cover abuse for the sake of their churches' reputations!  Children be damned as long as the faith is protected?  Horrible!  And even though these two churches are not my own, I condemn any who cover abuse for the sake of their reputations. How about some character, people...not hypocrisy!   And I would dare to speak for God and say He is thoroughly disgusted by this as well.  Yes, your church might go through bad publicity - as it should!  And it IS shameful.  And it IS a horrible testimony. And it DOES cause unbelievers to blaspheme God in many cases (see II Samuel 12).  But these things must be dealt with. You can't expect sin to stay hidden, that you will always be able to protect the guilty. God knows what is going on. He's not giving you a free pass.  Sorry, I had to get this out. I see my precious nephews. One is ten and a half, the other almost 17 months old, and I cannot stand the thought of anyone abusing them and getting by with it because some church doesn't want bad publicity.  And don't get me started on churches that know of sexual predators and reassign them to other posts where they can prey on a new batch of children. Grrrrr.

Boy, I rarely get this testy when doing my monthly book reports, huh?

Among the Righteous: Lost Stories From the Holocaust's Long Reach Into Arab Lands
by Robert Satloff -- This Jewish man researches the stories of Arab treatment of Jews in North Africa.  I enjoyed the story of Khaled Abdul-Wahab and the author's attempt to get him accepted as the first Arab remembered by Yad Vashem for his role in saving Jews during the Holocaust. He comes across many roadblocks as more recent politics play into whether Arabs want to be known for helping Jews. Also Jews sometimes deny the Holocaust's reach into the Arab countries.

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang  -- I didn't realize this book was so long when I picked it up, but over 500 pages later, I must say that I enjoyed learning the story of these three women. The author shared about her grandmother who was a concubine to a general and later married to a much older doctor.  The family dynamics of her coming into this family made me appreciate the simplicity of marriage in my own culture.  (Her new husband's oldest son ended up shooting himself in a fit of rage because of this proposed marriage. He died.)  This story involved the author's mother and father, and their commitment to the Communist Party. I enjoyed the examples of life in China at this time and during the reign of Mao and the Cultural Revolution.  I had to smile when she told of how "eat all your food because there are poor capitalists in the West who are starving and would love to have the food you are eating" was used on them as children.  (I've heard a similar version growing up.)  I was struck by the patriarchy of this traditional society and how Communism declared women and men more equal. I got to wondering just how far back patriarchy goes and where did repressing women and elevating men begin? 

I just thought this was interesting.

"Following the custom, my great-grandfather was married young, at fourteen, to a woman six years his senior.  It was considered one of the duties of a wife to help bring up her husband."  (pg. 22)

With some exceptions like books on Mao's writings and "revolutionary operas," among the many things banned or seen as too "bourgeois" during the Cultural Revolution in China -- books, paintings, musical instruments, sports, cards, chess, teahouses, bars, flowers, grass (yes, grass was pulled up as if it were an enemy!), films, plays, concerts, long hair for women...  (pg. 332)

"To me, the ultimate proof of freedom in the West was that there seemed to be so many people there attacking the West and praising China.  Almost every other day the front page of Reference, the newspaper which carried foreign press items, would feature some eulogy of Mao and the Cultural Revolution. At first I was angered by these, but they soon made me see how tolerant another society could be.  I realized that this was the kind of society I wanted to live in: where people were allowed to hold different, even outrageous views. I began to see that it was the very tolerance of opposition, of protestors, that kept the West progressing."  (pg. 472)

The Lost Daughters of China by Karin Evans - a friend sent me this book thinking I'd like it and I did!  The author and her husband adopted a little girl from China (two actually),and she tells some of their story and also bits of stories from others. She explores the reasons women would give up their daughters, the hardship of life in China, orphanage life and adjusting to life in the US among other things. I shed a few tears for the innocent ones who are abandoned and left behind in orphanages as well as the ones who never have a chance at life because they are either aborted or killed upon delivery. Also I cried for those women who would have chosen to keep their children, but could not for the sake of society.  I can't imagine how difficult that must be.

Here is one excerpt I wanted to share.

Re: the only-children of China being spoiled:  "'Many parents of the nineties,'...'were part of the lost generation of the Cultural Revolution. After suffering so much themselves, they were determined not to deprive their only child. Beijing's biggest toy store was always jammed with parents buying toddler-sized fake fur coats, imported baby shampoo and red Porsche pedal cars.'

Yet she saw good things coming out of the situation. 'Many people thought that a country populated with Little Emperors was headed for disaster. I disagreed.  Granted it might be unpleasant to live in a nation of me-first onlies, yet I saw a social revolution in the making. For generations, Chinese society had emphasized the family, the clan, the collective over the individual. Now, for the first time in four thousand years of history, the relationship was reversed. Where the Mao generation failed, the Me generation just might succeed.' She quoted a British friend, Michael Crook, 'If you have a population of Little Emperors, you can't have little slaves. Everyone will want to tell everyone else what to do. You'll have democracy.'"  (pg. 234)

Losing My Religion by William Lobdell - I found this at the local Friends of the Library book sale; a reporter talks about his faith in Christ, how he got a job reporting religious news for a newspaper and eventually lost his faith.  The book was very respectful, really, but made me sad because he admits he saw very little difference in the majority of Christians' lives compared to the general population.  I don't think it's supposed to work like that!

"So what has taken the place of God in my life? A tremendous sense of gratitude. I sense how fortunate I am to be alive in this thin sliver of time in the history of the universe. This gives me a renewed sense of urgency to live this short life well. I don't have eternity to fall back on, so my focus on the present has sharpened.   I find myself being more grateful for each day and more quickly making corrections in my life to avoid wasted time.  I've tightened my circle of friends, wanting to maximize time with people I love and enjoy the most. I've become more true to myself because I'm not as worried about what others think of me. ... That's what losing God has done for me. Permanent death - I don't think I have the escape hatch to heaven anymore - now sits squarely in front of me, unmoving as I rapidly approach.  And you know what? My breakfast does taste better. I feel the love of my family and friends more deeply. And my dreams for my life have an urgency to them that won't allow me to put them off any longer. I can no longer slog through each day, knowing that if my time on Earth isn't used to its fullest potential, it's no big thing, that I have eternity with God ahead of me."  (pg. 278-279)

Leaving the Saints by Martha Beck -- I've often been driven to tears and disgust and anger and laughter and joy, but I don't think a nonfiction book has creeped me out until I read this book. Really it wasn't that creepy, but I just so happened to read a part (about Danites if you must know) right before bed and it must have upped the "creep factor" in my mind.  Like I told someone else, I take most leaving the faith stories with a huge dose of salt (as opposed to a mere grain) because I realize sometimes people won't present their former faiths in the best lights due to their own personal experiences. For others, the faith is a hugely wonderful thing partly because they haven't experienced those awful things. So, that said, I enjoyed this book and some of the talk of sealing in the temple (she didn't go into great detail because she knows it's sacred), wards (I often wondered what those were pg. 54), heavenly mothers (yes, plural, since God is a polygamist, too pg. 75), BYU (pg. 77), the Mormon view of heaven and its levels (pg. 87), the Egyptian papyri that early Mormons bought from a traveling guy who showed the papyri for a living (pg. 155), more talk on polygamy and how women and men viewed it (pg. 177), the victimization of the Saints in history (pg. 181) and much more. I stopped noting it after awhile.

By the way, this lady came out as sexually abused by her father, apparently a well-known Mormon apologist. I decided to look him up.

This is her father, Hugh Nibley

A Q&A with her after the Mormon Church responded and a sampling of some of the responses she's received by email.  It's sad how many others have been sexually abused.

A collection of sites about this book - not sure how fair these are, but there are a number of links.

And when I mentioned this book to a Mormon blogger, she said she'd read the book, it did not ring true and she wasn't the only one who thought this way.

Monday, September 17, 2012

New Books and My Pretty Picture Book!

These are books I got within the last few days. One was sent to me by a friend who thought I'd enjoy a book she'd finished.  Two I bought at our local Friends of the Library sale, and five I got today when I traded in ten books of my own.

I made this book on Shutterfly.com last week, and received it today. It looks great! I love making books like this so I can remember our trips.  Here are a few pages from it. Unfortunately they loaded sideways so tilt your head to the right.  You can click to enlarge them, I think.

We were here three weeks ago right now...sigh. I loved it.  God really blessed us with wonderful weather, and a truly great trip!

Innsbruck, Austria

Eagle's Nest, Bayern, Germany

Salzburg, Austria

Sunday, August 26, 2012

August Books

American Nations by Colin Woodard  -- Do you ever wonder why Americans seem so divided?  In this book the author tells about the eleven nations that make up North America. He argues that the reason we have divisions now is because we've always had divisions.  From New England which had a more communal Puritan base to the Deep South settled first by the sons of English slavelords who lived in Barbados, to the more libertarian Far West and the Scots-Irish throughout Appalachia -- this book covered the beginnings of each nation, what they fought for and against and how their influences linger even today.

These were some things I shared as trivia questions on Facebook. I'll include them in my notes here since they are already typed.

In the early 1600s the Netherlands was the most modern and sophisticated country on Earth, producing art, laws, business practices, and institutions that became standards for the rest of the world. They invented modern banking, creating at [their bank] the first clearinghouse for the disparate coins and currencies of the world, all exchangeable for [their money], which became the preferred medium of international exchange.  (pg. 67)

"Rather than trying to produce cash crops for export, the Borderlanders embraced a woodland subsistence economy...Life in Britain had taught them not to invest too much time and wealth in fixed property, which was easily destroyed in time of war. Instead, they stored their wealth in a very mobile form: herds of pigs, cattle, and sheep. When they did need cash, they distilled corn into a more portable, storable, and valuable product: whiskey, which would remain the de facto currency of Appalachia for the next two centuries."  (pg. 104)

In South Carolina the backcountry made up three-quarters of the colony’s white population but had only two of forty-eight seats in the provincial assembly; this arrangement led one agitator to denounce the planters for keeping “half their subjects in a state of slavery,” by whom he meant not blacks but Borderlanders like himself. Here few “loyalists” cared about Britain, but they aligned themselves with the king simply because he was fighting their lowland enemies.  (pg. 137)

"When confederal and federal authorities started trying to collect taxes and seize property, the Borderlanders took up arms and tried to leave the union they now thoroughly disapproved of.  This Appalachian resistance movement raged for more than a decade ... It began in 1784, when people in the western territories of North Carolina (now eastern Tennessee) became disgusted with Tidewater control. Their solution was pure Borderlander: they created their own sovereign State of Franklin on nobody's permission but their own. They drafted a constitution that prohibited lawyers, clergy, and doctors from running for office, set up a government in the village of Greeneville, and passed laws making apple brandy, animal skins, and tobacco legal tender. They even applied for membership in the Continental Congress and were supported by seven states; opposition from Tidewater and the Deep South delegates denied them the necessary two-thirds majority."  (pg. 160)

Peace Meals: Candy-Wrapped Kalashnikovs and Other War Stories by Anna Badkhen -- I found this book at a dollar store for $1 and it was very much worth it.  This Soviet-born journalist shared stories from war zones and places of famine all the while telling stories about life back home in Russia and friends she'd met along the way. Each chapter talked about food shared in these places and she includes recipes.  And they are often written with funny things thrown in there.  Like when she boils a lobster for the first time and is glad her sons didn't get to see it because it was a bit more traumatic than she thought. And when she talks about caviar, she doesn't bother with a recipe, but writes "wait! you have caviar? Can I come over?"  I enjoyed her sense of humor even though much of the book was about sad things. These were just two bits from it that I shared on Facebook.

"In preying on the women of a vanquished nation, the fighters continued a millennia-old tradition that proliferates in all wars.  Japanese troops raped Chinese women in Nanking in 1937 and early 1938; Allied troops raped all the women they could lay their hands on in defeated Nazi Germany in 1945; Hutu men raped Tutsi women in Rwanda in 1994.  In this century, Somali nomads called the Janjaweed raped women farmers in Darfur. In Iraq, I have interviewed Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Christians and Sabean women who had been raped by men of other sects or religions. Rape is a common front line of war, a front line that often remains hidden because of the stigma attached to sexual violence by many societies, and because in many societies, the targets - women and girls - are considered less important than men, the fighters." (pg. 90)

In speaking about reporting across the Middle East, the author says "the Jewish state is a country That-Must-Not-Be-Named, and that the very mention of the I-word is bound to rile someone.  This is why Western reporters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, and the Gulf States refer to Israel among each other as 'Dixie' - as in, 'Justin Sullivan from Getty Images and I worked together in Dixie in 2002.'"  (pg. 140)

In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson  -- Travel journalist talks about his days exploring Australia. I enjoyed the tidbits of information about places to visit and the people, sights and so forth. His humor was an added bonus.

Many non-native animals were introduced to Australia and "the consequences for native species have often been devastating. About 130 mammals in Australia are threatened. Sixteen have gone extinct - more than in any other continent.  And guess what is the mightiest killer of all? According to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, it is the common cat."  (pg. 137)