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

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

May Books

Another month is nearly over, and I don't think I'll finish another book by tomorrow so I'll go ahead and post this now.  I'm still making pretty good progress on From Plato to Nato which is the somewhat intimidating book I started one month ago today. For those asking, I am on page 398.

What Saint Paul Really Said
by N.T. Wright  -- the author claims Paul was not the founder of Christianity rather a "faithful witness and herald of Jesus Christ"; this book was a bit difficult for me to get into, but had some interesting points. I especially enjoyed the thoughts of Jesus within Jewish monotheism and how Paul's views of creation, for instance, would contrast with the pagans - as well as what many of us believe today

The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Kang Chol-Hwan -- My friend Adam has lived in Seoul for several years now and he recommended this book which I got for my birthday.  Political prisoners' families often are taken to camps to serve sentences. The author was ten years old when his grandmother, uncle, father, sister and himself were taken to such a place. This book tells the story of life inside the camp and Kang's escape to China and later South Korea.

Can you imagine? -- So in this book I'm reading on North Korea, Kang Chol-Hwan talks about a Confucian tradition "which continues to hold sway in present-day* Korea."  This happened in his family**:  "a married woman BELONGS to her HUSBAND'S FAMILY and remains so, irrespective of divorce or separation. If she tries to return to her parents' home, she will most likely be turned away."  (emphasis mine)

‎* This book was published in 2000 in France so maybe things have changed since then.

** His father at age 15 was forced to marry a girl about the same age. They didn't love each other so when he divorced her, she had to live with HIS parents. He went to Japan, married again and then brought his new bride to live at his parents' house. Where his exwife still lived. Awkward.

When Kang finally made it to South Korea he had a hard time adjusting at first.  He was one of the oldest at college, yet students would sit in front of him and smoke - something you didn't do to an older person where he came from. He said "The North is hypertraditionalist. Friendships between members of the opposite sex is not the norm.  When a man speaks to a woman his own age, he employs the familiar form of address, she the formal.  Relations follow a strict hierarchy.  Here, we were equal!  Some of the female students were so self-confident, they hardly paid me any attention when I spoke to them."  (pg. 228)

I posted these notes on Facebook, and Adam and I discussed them somewhat. That was interesting hearing his thoughts on Korean culture.

Not a Fan. by Kyle Idleman -- This pastor challenges us to be followers of Jesus, not just fans.

"For many Christians the concept of denying themselves was not part of the deal. They grew up with the message that such a radical decision really isn't necessary. So they signed up to follow Jesus, but if denying themselves was part of the explanation, it was definitely the fine print. That's especially true of American Christians. In part, this is due to the collision of Christianity with American capitalism. It has created a culture of consumers in our churches. Instead of approaching their faith with a spirit of denial that says, 'What can I do for Jesus?' they have a consumer mentality that says, 'What can Jesus do for me?'"  (pg. 148)

If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley -- see previous post on childbirth and bicycling

"Before 1696, the basic tax upon a household was levied upon the number of hearths. But the 'hearth tax' was difficult to collect because tax inspectors needed to enter people's houses to check the number of fireplaces.  Clearly they weren't going to be welcome visitors. When in 1696 a new tax was levied instead upon windows, the inspectors had only to walk round the outside of the house and count."  Detractors called this "a tax upon light and air." (pg. 196)

"In 1908, Ellen Richards calculated that an eight-room house required eighteen hours of cleaning time a week just to remove dust.  Washing the windows and walls would take the total up to twenty-seven hours a week, even before the clothes-washing, bed-making and cooking began. This was simply unsustainable after the two world wars removed the huge infrastructure of servants who had done such work in the past."  So labor-saving tips were needed and "books for the newly servantless middle classes began to appear."  One taught how to break an egg, and advised "them not to chop onions with raw hands because the smell will linger and spoil the enjoyment of a later cigarette."  (pg. 266)

"[Refrigerators] were initially rather glamorous possessions, and in the 1930s their owners might invite their friends to a 'refrigerator party' where each course was pre-prepared and then whipped from its own shelf in the fridge.  Cookbooks from the period show guests in evening dress gathered in the kitchen to enjoy the novelty of eating an entire meal of cold food."  (pg.271)

Memories of Eden by Violette Shamash -- This book was the memoir of a Jewish lady who grew up in Baghdad before it was Iraq. Well, it became Iraq during her time there.  I enjoyed reading about interactions with the neighbors (she said they got along well with the Muslims and, in fact, often acted like mediators between Shias and Sunnis who argued with each other more than they did the Jews.) By the way, Jews made up 40% of the population of Baghdad at this time.   I found the Jewish culture aspects interesting though I think none of it really surprised me.  They favored sons.  Mother in laws were upset when mothers produced more daughters.  Same old stupid stuff.  Did you know haircuts were immodest?

"Before the 1930s, the mere idea of having a haircut was unthinkable, a girl's hair being considered her crowning glory. The only way to tame such a lot of thick and wavy hair was to wear it in two ringlet-like plaits. Almost all of us wore it this way, but it was time consuming and seemed old fashioned.  The breakthrough came when the first ladies' hairdressing salon opened and was patronised by the younger element - a controversial break with tradition. A popular song that captured the disapprobation of our elders went "...'The chaste daughter [of the house] has had her hair cut! God help us, where will that lead us? She's taken leave of her modesty.'"  (pg. 30)

And a girl's life mission - of course - was to get married, keep house and raise babies.  Education was not necessary for girls although Violette's dad let his daughters attend school.  Working outside the home was seen as something only girls from poor families would do. So well-to-do ladies would never stoop so low as to work.

The chapter on love and marriage was good as was her discussion of sabbath and "high holy days."

Also I was under the impression that Muslims welcomed Jews into the Middle East when it was awful Christians in Europe who persecuted Jews. Well, I suppose to some degree this was true, but not the entire truth. I was shocked to read of the Arabs embracing Nazism and turning on their Jewish neighbors and friends. Not all of them. The author gave very sweet examples of Muslims who protected scores of Jews. But still, I didn't realize the Arab Muslims (and maybe Christians?) embraced Hitler's ideas of ridding the world of Jews.  That was sad for me to read.

The author and her family ended up leaving Iraq for India, later Palestine, then Cyprus and finally London.

In the Steps of St. Paul by H.V. Morton -- This book was given to me by a thoughtful friend for my birthday.  Initially I thought I'd have to wait until I read the other big book I'm reading, but later when I was flipping through this one, I saw where it was not overly-deep and would be a nice book to read at the same time as the other book (From Plato to Nato).  In the past year or so I've enjoyed travel books from Vietnam, through various other parts of Asia, Iraq and the Middle East and even the one about the family who took a whole year to travel around the world.  This book tells of the author's journey to the various places mentioned in the Bible where Paul traveled - anywhere from his journey to Damascus to persecute Christians to his missionary travels to his imprisonment and supposed death in Rome.

The author talked of ruins he saw (he especially admired the Parthenon p. 312), customs of the people then and now, how Paul would have seen the cities (it was quite thought-provoking when he would describe the ghost towns some places now were compared to how they would have been back in their primes), people he met, how these certain 'races' were (sometimes these were a bit off-putting [i.e., describing how current Greeks were unlike the ones depicted on statues and the impression that they were not as pretty; how he described Arabs and Jews], but in the introduction Bruce Feiler warned about this so it wasn't as surprising). Actually that part was also rather interesting because his honesty revealed quite a bit about how people were perceived back then. Oh, did I mention this travel was in the mid 1930s?  So, yeah, I do wonder how things have changed in these cities/towns/ports in these last 75 years!

Some brief notes I took:

-- impressions of Tarsus - how St. Paul was born at this place that bridged East and West; rather fitting for a man who took an eastern faith into the western world  (pg. 68)

-- in Aleppo he met a sheik with four wives listed on his British passport (pg. 88)

-- he mentioned a custom of salting Arab babies (pg. 91)

-- he discussed Antioch's scientific achievements, modernity (pg. 99)

-- mused on Paul's 'thorn in the flesh' - could it be malaria, headaches?  (pg. 104)

-- talked about the destruction goats have caused by eating vegetation and seedlings and leaving lands barren (p. 125)

-- he met a Cypriot who could "speak American" (pg. 125) -- did I mention the author was English?

--  the author greatly admired the progress made by Ataturk and told of the great changes in Turkey; once he made me laugh when a Turk told a sexist joke and the author said with the new modernity in Turkey, he (the Turk who made the joke) should be a feminist (pg. 201)

-- I enjoyed the section on Paul "the babbler" which was when the Athenians wanted Paul to explain himself more. The author said Paul didn't speak from an Old Testament knowledge of religion which would have made no sense to these people. Instead he used common religious terms and ideas in order to establish some commonality.  (pg. 318)

-- The authors impressions of Greece and the Greeks in particular was interesting especially as I compared what a couple Greek men told him about their own people. "'That is the curse of my country,' said Sophocles.  'We all know. We all think we could do so much better than the people in charge. We all believe that if we were in control of the country everything would be all right. Every Greek rules Greece in his own mind.'"  (pg. 329)

-- The author mentioned the love of the sea is a modern notion because often in ancient writing the sea is an enemy. I enjoyed his musings on this.  (pg. 428)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Talkin' Tradition

I tend to think of stuff like this Cherokee (NC) war dance as more cultural/traditional than anything in my life
Have you ever had people ask what your region is famous for or to tell them about your culture and drawn a blank? I have.  Well, I could maybe figure out a food* that is well-liked in this area, and perhaps tell you North Carolina grows a lot of tobacco, but I can't always find something that seems "traditional" and "cultural" that distinguishes my area from others.   Likely I'm just blind to those things or assume most people do that so how can that be cultural/traditional if it's normal?  Should I even be using those terms together like that?  Let me look them up ...

This was in South Horr, Kenya when Andrew went December 2011 - time for a wedding

OK, here is culture as defined by Dictionary.com

1.the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.
2.that which is excellent in the arts, manners, etc.
3.a particular form or stage of civilization, as that of a certain nation or period: Greek culture.
4.development or improvement of the mind by education or training.
5.the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture.
and tradition

1.the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice: a story that has come down to us by popular tradition.
2.something that is handed down: the traditions of the Eskimos.
3. a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting: The rebellious students wanted to break with tradition.
4. a continuing pattern of culture beliefs or practices.
5. a customary or characteristic method or manner: The winner took a victory lap in the usual track tradition.
So I guess tradition is more the things that influence or make up culture? I don't know.  

Anyway, I read this in From Plato to NATO by David Gress, and wanted to see what you thought about the West not losing, but rejecting tradition.

"What Eliot saw was that the West was becoming a world, an outlook, and a culture that no longer wanted or needed tradition***.  The West by 1920 was not a civilization that had lost its traditional moorings, which one could perhaps restore or at least rediscover or describe. It was a civilization that rejected moorings of any sort. The essence of the modern West was that it had no essence, no heritage, no tradition. Tradition had become not the missing center of culture, but something that the culture increasingly regarded as its enemy."  (pg. 163)

***For Eliot this apparently meant "Western civilization needed both the church and the literary tradition of antiquity" and "the West was dying because it had forgotten its own tradition, one of myth and the hidden traces of the sacred." 

 Do you agree with Eliot's thoughts on the West's view of tradition?  Do you consider tradition as an enemy?  How could it be?  And how would you answer someone wanting to know about the cultural and/or traditional aspects of your area of the world?  What is it famous for? What do y'all do that distinguishes you from others?

*  We were asked this while in Syria and Andrew told them our region was (locally anyway) famous for its barbeque.  Yes, that's BBQ as a noun and it means THIS although, thankfully, I mostly only see it on sandwiches or plates.   That's better. Well, maybe not for a Muslim. Alas, we are neither Muslim nor Jew nor vegetarian.  And although the one asking never treated us any differently in the slightest, I was a little embarrassed/shy that Andrew said this in a culture that considers pork unclean.  Makes me feel like a dirty Christian ...  


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

On Childbirth and Bicycling; Updates

One of the books I received for my birthday was If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley.  The book is divided into sections such as the bedroom, living room, kitchen and bathroom. Within each part, there are a variety of topics. Anything from the description of the actual types of beds to closets to knickers to being born and being murdered. And that's just in the bedroom section!

In the chapter on "Being Born," she mentions the old days when people lived and died in their bedrooms (which, by the way, were much more communal than our private bedrooms are today).  Now, she states, both are often done in the hospital.  But during the time of births at home, she writes:

"The gathering of the women, the gossiping, the pleasure they took in their shared experience made giving birth a much more sociable event than it is today, when it's chiefly an individual drama. In fact, the bonding nature of childbirth explains why the users of the 'molly-houses' (male brothels) of early eighteenth-century London replicated its rituals: homosexual men pretended to give birth, and celebrated with the traditional party afterwards. The first known piece of printed gay porn was entitled A Lying-In Conversation with a Curious Adventure (1748), and it describes a man in drag infiltrating a lying-in chamber.  Fetishising childbirth is not common in modern male gay society, and that's probably because lying in bed alone in a hospital is not nearly so much fun." (pg. 20)

(Sidenote: I wonder why nature didn't make it possible for gay couples to procreate. Now we can do it artificially thanks to technology, but nature didn't deem this possible for same-sex couples. This came to mind one day when I was thinking of population control, but that's a topic for another time perhaps.)

Other interesting facts:

"The medieval death rate was one in every fifty pregnancies  Considering that it wasn't unusual for a woman to give birth a dozen times, the odds quickly mounted up for reproductive wives. Many pregnant Tudor ladies had their portraits painted for the poignant reason that they might well have been saying goodbye to their husbands for ever when they disappeared into confinement.  If so, their families would at least have had a final image of a lost loved one."  (pg. 18)

In the past women used more of a birthing chair since midwives understood the importance of gravity in delivering children. As male doctors took over the birthing process, women started lying on beds - probably because it was easier and more comfortable for the men attending those giving birth.  (pg. 24)

Men also introduced forceps to help with delivering babies.  Midwives continued to have misgivings and used them only in extreme circumstances - like when someone had labored four or five days!  (pg. 23)

The Victorians thought it tasteless to refer to "being with child" and suggested "the genteel lady should merely inform 'her friends that at a certain time she will be confined'.  The downside of all this tasteful gentility was that women began to think of pregnancy as an illness, and Victorian books about childbirth began to refer to it among 'the diseases of women'.  In the bedchamber, as in society at large, women began to be seen as fragile, vulnerable and incompetent at looking after themselves."  (pg. 26)


Not related to childbirth, but one tidbit I learned in this book is about bicycling's role in the emancipation of women. According to Susan B. Anthony:

"Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel...the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood."

Here is an interesting article explaining more about this.

I wonder if this is the real reason women riding bikes has been frowned upon in some cultures. Hmmm.

A couple of updates:

Soon after I posted the pictures of my birthday books, I received one more that was late in arriving. Andrew got me a book about Iran that had been on my Wishlist ever since Lat read and blogged about this country many months ago.

As of now, I am on track to finish From Plato to Nato - the book I called intimidating in my last post - well within the four month time frame I generously allowed myself.  Reading 5 pages per day, I should be on page 45. Instead I'm on 125. And it's actually pretty interesting stuff. So that's good.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Books, Books and More Books!

You may recall the dozen books I received for Christmas last year
I have finished 8 of them, and recently started on the most intimidating one - at least to my eyes.

My current reads. The middle one is the aforementioned "most intimidating one."

See, it's even difficult to picture on my blog! It was turned properly on my camera, but loaded sideways.
It has over 600 pages and not super-large print. I started this one on my birthday hoping to read at least 5 pages a day so I can finish it in about 4 months.  I'll try to update you each month about my progress. Maybe putting it here will make me more accountable. Can I finish it by August 31?

The books I received for my birthday.
The one on the bottom left was used and came with no book jacket.
It is "The Call to Seriousness: Evangelical Impact on the Victorians."

In case you are keeping track, these are the books I have left to finish. I hope to make a dent in them before the allure of the library captures me and I start reading those again!