"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)

1 comment:

Rebekka @ Becky's Kaleidoscope said...

I absolutely love reading about all the books you read!

The Aquariums of Pyongyang sounds so interesting! I can't even begin to fathom living with an ex-husbands family - especially after he remarries!

In most Muslim countries it is common for the wife to go live with her husbands family when they marry, but at least she gets to go back home if they divorce.

If Walls Could Talk is just my kind of book! I LOVE history and especially domestic history!

Memories of Eden sounds really good too.

Not a Fan seems to deal with many of my issues when I began to learn about American Christianity which often clashed with the Christianity I was brought up with. I'm speaking of the 'prosperity gospel', and the like, whereas the Christian community I belonged to was more likely to be on the socialist side, with a stronger focus on looking after the poor etc. I have often wondered how those who believe in the prosperity gospel justify it in terms of NT - or if they have read the same Bible as I ;)