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

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July Books

I struggled reading during the first half of this month. I think the topics were too deep.  Theology challenges and deaths in Russia.  Interesting, but I just didn't read a whole lot.   Thankfully the last three books went fairly quickly so I have five books on this post instead of just two. 

The Human Faces of God
by Thom Stark  -- see previous posts

On human sacrifice to the gods:

"Today we denounce such practices as inhuman and reject as irrational the belief that the spilling of innocent blood literally affected the outcome of harvests and military battles. Yet we continue to offer our own children on the altar of homeland security, sending them off to die in ambiguous wars, based on the irrational belief that by being violent we can protect ourselves from violence. We refer to our children's deaths as 'sacrifices' which are necessary for the preservation of democracy and free trade. The market is our temple and must be protected at all costs.  ... Our high priests tell us that it is necessary to make sacrifices if we are going to continue to have the freedom to shop. Unlike King Mesha, however, in our day it is rarely the king's own son who is sacrificed; rather, the king sacrifices the sons and daughters of the poor in order to protect an economy whose benefits the poor do not reap." (pg. 222)

Night of Stone by Catherine Merridale -- the book on death in Russia --  see previous posts

The White Masai by Corinne Hofmann -- Swiss lady moves to Kenya to marry a Masai warrior -- see previous posts

Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier by Joanna L. Stratton  -- I saw this in a consignment shop for less than a dollar. It's the story of settling Kansas from the perspective of white women settlers.  I was appalled reading the chapter about the swarms of grasshoppers that would come and destroy crops and eat through clothes. Even the animals that ate the grasshoppers (like chickens) had such a vile taste, the people could barely eat the poultry.  Interesting facts to me:  Kansas was the first state to have a constitutional amendment outlawing alcohol (1881) and also was the first state to elect a woman to the office of mayor (1887).

Culture Shock!  A Guide to Customs and Etiquette - Germany by Richard Lord -- this is part of a series of books that give information about countries. I was at a consignment shop the other day and saw it for eighty-nine cents and couldn't not buy it.  Someone must have originally bought it in Britain as the price tag on the back was £ 9.95.   Although this book is several years old (first published in Great Britain in 1996), it was enjoyable to read especially as many things in it I'd already heard from my Syrian friend who has lived in Germany for nearly three years.  There were several times I noted things "show Samer" which really means I read them out loud to him and we talk about whether or not this part was true of his own experiences there.  I enjoyed the chapter on Germans themselves - their personalities and such - the most.  Also it was good reading about their food, health care, moving-there procedures and so forth.  For such a secular place, I am amazed people have to pay taxes to churches or mosques if they register themselves as part of a certain faith.  And register you must. Every time you move apparently.

Haha...this is so me!  Who knew I was part German?!  :)  --  "You'll soon discover that it is not advisable to extend a last-minute invitation to Germans as they have almost certainly made plans for that day, even if said plans entail nothing more than spending a quiet evening at home.  As this suggests, spontaneity is no major virtue for most Germans." (pg. 47)

Monday, July 30, 2012

11 Things

Happy almost last day of the month!  Any of you watching the Olympics? I hope you are enjoying them. In my area, most schools start back in August.  That day will be here before we know it - wow!

Occasionally I still see these question thingies floating around blogs and enjoy doing them myself.  It's been awhile so when I saw this one on Wafa's blog, I decided to post one, too.

Eleven facts about me...

1.  I like Facebook too much.  It's where a lot of my friends and family live, it seems. That said, I could do without all the militant anti-and-pro stances (e.g. Chick-fil-A) some days.

2. I sometimes wish I lived in another country - or even another area in the United States - just to experience something different from what I'm used to.

3. That said, I like home.

4. I don't like loud neighbors. Or rather I like them, but don't appreciate their loudness.  I have one in mind in particular...

5.  I enjoy meeting people from other countries.  Shoot, I often enjoy meeting people from different parts of this country!  I remember back in high school how infatuated I was with the folks from the North who came here to live.  I recall we used to joke about accents and certain sayings (might could, reckon, over yonder, y'all) a lot.  One guy from Connecticut even called me a "redneck" one day!  :)

6.  I believe I'm a little strange because I don't feel the need to have children of my own to complete my life. I must be missing that gotta-have-a-child gene.

7.  I usually enjoy discussing politics and religion. I always hope to learn from the opinions and perspectives of others.  I hope I have a teachable spirit.

8.  Was thinking the other day that this October marks five years since I met Samer, and my eyes were opened to a whole new way of looking at the world as I started to see things through his eyes.  In Muslim-calendar years, this present month of Ramadan marks five years since we met.  October 9, 2007 was during the last few days of Ramadan.

9.  Oddly since I met Samer, my tastes for books has changed drastically from almost entirely fiction to almost entirely non-fiction.  I really like fiction books still, but just find myself more and more reading the non-fiction variety. This is quite a huge switch for me!

10. I recently found a reservation receipt from when we went to Charleston, SC several years ago. It was addressed to me as "Suzzain." Now I'm wondering if this is really how I say my name.

11.  I always hoped to go back to Syria one day, and I hope that happens still. Unfortunately the country is in a civil war at this time.  That makes me really sad when I see stories or talk to friends about it.  When I was there, the country was so peaceful, and the people were very kind.  I remember they seemed to like Obama. He'd just been sworn in not long before we were there. Now I see how militant John McCain is about helping Syria and wonder at the irony.  If he were President, would the United States be more involved in helping the opposition? Or is McCain able to hold his more truculent stance because he is not the President.  If he were President, would he be as slow-to-get-involved as Obama has been. Just things I wonder sometimes ...

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Swiss Lady in Masai Territory

This is why I asked all those questions about marrying into another culture the other day.   (Thank you to all who commented!) I think I was still in disbelief about how this book ended, about the trouble Corinne encountered and how if what she wrote is true**, I could not have stayed either.  And although I get infatuated with other cultures and people from other countries pretty quickly, I don't believe I would have married someone like this in the first place.   I suppose my practical side is just too strong in some matters. 

SPOILER ALERT: If you want to read this book, this may tell you too much information.

The White Masai by Corinne Hofmann -- A Swiss lady goes to Kenya with her live-in boyfriend, sees a beautiful Masai warrior, realizes she's in love with this long, lean man, and decides to go back to Kenya with the goal of living there with him.  They don't even speak the same language!  As in, no common language because she knows very little English and neither does he. Forget his knowing German or her knowing his tribal language.

After reading the first chapter or two, I was laughing at myself for reading such a book, but I stuck it out. And it was pretty interesting.  I did enjoy the cultural aspects, and mentioning the Samburu was great since Andrew had his own experiences with them just last December when he went to South Horr.  In fact when they talked about a wedding ceremony, slaughtering goats, drinking the blood, and the circumcision ceremony, I had pictures and tales from Andrew's trip to help me visualize what Corinne experienced. 

By the way, Corinne refused the cliterodectomy when she had her marriage ceremony.  Her husband told the tribe that white women had that done as babies so Corinne wouldn't have to undergo this rite of passage. 

Some things I learned: warriors cannot eat meat that women prepare although they can drink tea - and they like it plenty sweet.  Masai don't kiss - the mouth is for eating.  Never ever ever use both hands while eating. Everyone will stop and a hush will come over the crowd as they stare at you for violating social norms.  When Corinne brought a brown baby doll to someone as a gift, the little girl ran away and even the grandmother recoiled in horror. "Is this really a dead baby?" they wondered.  This book showed how frustrating it is to own a vehicle in Kenya - or at that time anyway.  I remember Andrew speaking of how bad the roads were and how often tires needed changing. You just expect delays from flat tires when you go anywhere there, I suppose. 

I think the greatest lesson I learned from this book is to make sure of the other person before you invade his culture.  While I admire Corinne's sincere attempts to fit in, I was struck even more with how difficult cross cultural marriages can be - especially when there are such vast differences. (Or maybe her husband truly was crazy.)  There are sequels to this book so maybe things turned out better in the long run.

**  I realize, too, that I never got to hear the Masai warrior's point of view, his perspective since he didn't write a book.  I don't think he could have. He didn't know how to read or write much.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Marrying into another culture

Lots of questions for you.  I do have a reason for asking this that I will get to later.

How much of another culture would you be willing to adopt if you chose to marry someone and live in that culture?  Where do you draw the line?  How OK are you with bringing your own thoughts into that culture knowing they are quite different from the prevailing attitude? Do you find it arrogant (or fill in the blank) of someone to come into another culture knowing she won't obey all the cultural rules? knowing she may disrupt the norm and possibly cause other women to get radical thoughts that might, oh, challenge (or change!) the cultural norm?

How well do you think cross-cultural marriages work? Do you think it definitely works better in some and not others? Why or why not?  Do you have any experience with this in your own relationships or with people you know or have read about?

Any other thoughts on this?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Russia Again

Trivia question:  I asked this on Facebook and someone actually got the right answer. According to a survivor of the Leningrad siege during the Patriotic War (that'd be World War II), what was on the first train that made it past the blockade?  The lady telling the story said everyone came down to the train station to see this and it was "funny, really."  I'll answer in the comments in case you want to guess now and then check your answer.

Can you imagine?  "Ten times more people died in Leningrad during the blockade than were lost in the atomic bombing over Hiroshima. At first they died during the bombardments. Later, during the siege, they also starved and froze."  It was very difficult to find room for all the bodies. In one museum, the basement was used as storage for employees who died.  One survivor recalled going past corpses on the street on the way to buy bread, and when he returned parts of these same people were missing as Leningraders tried to survive their extreme hunger by eating human body parts.  (pg. 235, 238)

These are more interesting tidbits from the book - Night of Stone by Catherine Merridale - which I finally finished this evening.  (First few chapter notes here.) I tell ya, I have not been reading a lot this month.  Should I blame our having company from West Virginia for much of the week of the 4th?  Or the fact that I am constantly distracted by Facebook - so many interesting articles. And then there are blogs to read, oh, and the news out of Syria.  I've spent a few hours this week talking (instant messaging rather) Samer's twin brother as he's shared how things look like or sound from the family home in Mezze neighborhood.   Anyway, I finally finished this book about death in Russia. 

Some other things that took my attention.The sheer number of people dying, corpses lying around, and bones being unearthed.  In some places, people were dying and their bodies were left in the garbage or lying around until someone had the time or strength to move them.  People got used to seeing bodies lying on the sides of roads.  Children used skulls for soccer balls and for picking blueberries!

Chapter 6 mentioned the awfulness of famine in such a descriptive way that I've had to reread these few sentences ... just to fully grasp the horror.

"Starvation itself is not a private matter. It certainly is not quiet. The people weep; they plead; they keen over their dead; their children scream and beg. You cannot hide a swollen body, either, or wasted limbs, infected sores. A human being who is dying from cholera suffers from violent and near-continuous diarrhea; he loses the lining of his guts and then he vomits wheylike, speckled spew until there is no fluid left in his exhausted tissues. The diseases of famine, like starvation, visibly consume a living body, noisily destroying the individual, the person, before they kill their biological host."  (pg. 157)

Sadly when Irina told her story about leaving Kiev with her parents and brother, she said they were so hungry they had to eat grass.  But the locals complained: "we were stealing their pasture."  (pg. 232)

I was introduced to the term "dekulakized" in chapter 6. These were people "driven from their homes, locked in prisons, transported to the remotest parts of the taiga, shot, or starved to death." (pg. 167).

The chapter on the gulags was interesting as the author described all the frozen skeletons and mass graves still to be unearthed (there are "millions of complete skeletons" left to find). One person told her the easiest form of suicide for the prisoners was trying to escape.

The remaining chapters discuss things like World War I ("neglected" by Russians), World War II (celebrated by Russians as they feel they saved the world from fascism), the Afghan war (highly unpopular and the treatment of vets reminded me of our own Vietnam vets. The book said the World War II vets would often look down upon the veterans of this unpopular war.)  The role Chernobyl played in bringing about openness was interesting.  The author also discussed PTSD which one lady called "post-dramatic." Those types of diagnosis aren't sought very much in Russian society. Or they weren't when this book was written. I don't know how things have changed in those dozen years.

OK,I think that's it for this book!  Now I'll see what other books from my stash I'll read.  I found a little consignment shop near my parents' house last week and got 3 more books for a good price. The 2 paperbacks were 89 cents and the hardcover was $1.50. I couldn't just leave them there. 


Saturday, July 14, 2012

On Russia and Death

I recently went to a book warehouse in the county and bought a book about Russia for ninety-nine cents plus tax -- Night of Stone by Catherine Merridale.  For that cheap of a price I didn't care too much what it was about. It seemed interesting from my brief look at it, but I didn't realize until later that it was almost entirely about death***. You know Russians = death culture, right?

Each chapter has interesting tidbits. Like I didn't realize Russians thought animals didn't have souls. Well, I don't know that I do either, but the author mentioned BEARS being an exception.  As in they might have souls.  The first chapter deals with peasant life and I noted how important being buried on home turf was.  How some took cup fulls of dirt with them in case they died while away from home. Everyone wanted to be buried near home because Russians visit the graves of relatives - regularly. Take food (eggs, honey), picnic in cemeteries, and commune with the dead. Or they did traditionally. I'm still reading the book so I'm not sure if this is still practiced, but pre-Communism, this was the tradition.

Since this book is quite lengthy, yet has pretty neat facts, I decided to jot down a few tidbits about each chapter. I hate when I get to the end of a book and realize, while I found some interesting stuff along the way, I didn't note any of it (which translates to I will probably forget about it.) When I write stuff down such as I'm doing now, I tend to recall it better. Who knows when information about Russian deaths will come in handy.

Chapter 2 began with the low life expectancy. Such as even in the mid-1990s, it was 58 for Russian men.  Wow.  The chapter discussed the high suicide rate, public executions, and children with playground games of "death penalty" inspired by the prevailing culture. One five year old "accidentally strangled her three-year old brother after condemning him to death in a mock trial in their nursery."  (pg. 67)

The third chapter mentioned the Immortalization Committee which had the thought "preserve the mortal body using science, and one day science, too, will resurrect it."  (pg. 93).    Also the differences in "Red" and traditional funerals, and the way the Russians "neglected" their history in World War I were mentioned at some length.

Chapter 4 dealt with the trauma of civil war and how mentally ill patients were treated. Also children would play civil war: Reds vs. Whites. (One daughter of an Old Bolshevik noted that the girls always had to be the Whites.) (pg. 117)  Suicides were mentioned again.  They were deemed too individualistic for Soviet society.

E.M. Yaroslavskii, the "Communist Party's ideological spokesman" said "suicides were 'weak-willed, weak of character' and lacking in faith in 'the power and strength of the Party.' A Russian historian of the issue recently added that suicide, by the late 1920s, appeared to some to be 'a witness to the free right of an individual to choose its own fate. And that did not suit Soviet power at all.'"  (pg. 120)

I read most of chapter 5 today and who ever knew learning about the backlog of funerals could be so interesting? No really, there were so many bodies to be buried, yet the workers only did 7 burials per day so some bodies were in storage for over a month!  Some were shipped by train to other places. The Communists finally decided to cremate bodies (which was highly frowned upon in Orthodox Christianity, but who cares about them at this point). But their crematory was terrible and after many hours of building it, it burned to the ground after cremating only a small percentage of what was needed. The leaders finally decided to take over the cemeteries. They took down the monuments and made them parks.  This chapter also mentions the plundering of church icons and buildings and taking gold and silver for state use (some villagers fought this unsuccessfully).  The death and preservation of Lenin was amusing to me.  He was refrigerated, displayed, rotting so they decided finally to embalm him and then display him so the adoring masses could visit and commune with the departed leader.  An atheist approach to death mentioned: skip the coffins and rituals; my body "should be sent to a factory without any ritual, and in the factory the fat should be used for technical purposes and the rest for fertilizer," wrote M.S. Ol'minskii in July 1924.  (pg. 142)

I'm on chapter 6 now so I won't bother with any more notes, but I'll go ahead and post these in case anyone is interested in these Russian death tidbits.  What did you find most interesting?

*** (Er, I suppose the subtitled should have tipped me off: Death and Memory in Twentieth-Century Russia

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Bible as a Mirror

"Every war needs killers and they can always be found. We always put ourselves in the skin of the victims and not of their killers - we never put ourselves in the skin of a Nazi or Khmer Rouge.  Yet between them and us there is very little difference, no more than between the victim and us."  (from this post)

Thanks to those who took the time to comment on my last post about those yucky Bible passages. I was nodding my head at times as I read each of them. They are things I've either encountered in this book, The Human Faces of God by Thom Stark, or not so long ago in other books.  It was kind of neat seeing them restated by all of you!

So what does the author suggest we do about those disturbing passages in the Bible?  Instead of glossing over them, ignoring them, or cutting them out of our text, we should retain and condemn them!

His argument throughout the book is that while the Bible may be inspired by God, it is not inerrant. It argues with itself and he believes God wants us to wrestle with the text, with what is stated and then come to just solutions for our societies.

Why acknowledge these texts are there? Why not cut them out completely? Because they are there.  And they shape many of our backgrounds more than we realize. He suggests the Bible is a mirror. It shows the good and bad of human nature.  It shows what we are capable of. What we are capable of justifying in God's name!  How many of us are appalled at radical Muslims who strap bombs to themselves and say "God is greater" right before blowing themselves up and often killing fellow Muslims?  How many of us are stunned that the Crusaders and people today of their same mindset can kill others because they believe God would have it that way?  And Jews who believe the land is theirs and if people are in the way they've got to go. Either they need to leave or face unpleasant consequences.  All because God - the scapegoat - said so. 

The Bible shows not perfect people, but imperfect prophets, kings, patriarchs and ordinary folks. Yes, even amongst the "chosen people."  You want to destroy your enemies? You want to keep virgin women as your own after conquering their people?  OK, write the history and say God commanded it.  Simple as that.

"The Bible reflects our doubt and our mediocrity.  It mirrors our best and worst possible selves. It shows us who we can be, both good and evil, and everything in between."  (pg. 218)

The author quotes John Collins who states, "There is no reason in principle why a text that is shocking might not be inspired. Such a text can raise our moral consciousness by forcing us to confront the fact that immoral actions are often carried out in the name of religion ... Rather than ask whether a text is revealed (and by what criteria could we possibly decide?), it is better to ask whether a text is revelatory, whether we learn something from it about human nature or about the way the world works. A text that is neither historically reliable nor morally edifying...may be all too revelatory about human nature."  (pg. 219)

You may recall this post from the American who was hosting a book club in Kosovo.  I remembered her words this morning as I thought about what to write in this post. 

...Is their bitterness, their fear so great that they could do to Serbs what Serbs did to them?  Could soft-spoken Veton burn a Serb village because his own was burned by Serbs? Would sweet, wide-eyed Enver, who loves basketball and never misses a class, stand by and watch while atrocities were committed?  Could any of these bright, kindhearted young people kill Serbs because they are Serbs?

And if I were in their shoes, what would I be capable of? Have I come to grips with the darkness in my own heart?

Thom Stark in The Human Faces of God believes God can speak to us through the texts. Whether they are passages that inspire us, make us feel the love or shock or disgust us. They mirror humanity, and show us what we are capable of doing to each other.

Feel free to share the texts that inspire or disgust you the most. What do you think of the author's idea that "their status as condemned is exactly their scriptural value"?  Do you think people are capable of all sorts of evil or just the rare few?  Any other thoughts?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Those Yucky Bible Passages

So I'm reading a book someone recommend many months ago and I got for my birthday.  Anyway there is a question in the last chapter about what we should do about disturbing biblical passages.  The main ones discussed were the ones about the genocide against Israel's enemies. You know where they are commanded by God to kill every man, woman and child. And in others where one could stay alive if she were a virgin woman (I suppose for sex slave purposes), but not if one were not a virgin - and definitely not a man.   Still others where God seemingly cared more for trees than people.  (Sounds like some extreme environmentalists I've heard of.)

I was going to share the author's words about those, but figured first I'd ask you.

Should we allegorize them?  Excise them from the text? Ignore them? Condemn them? Learn how to defeat our own enemies from them? Celebrate them as God's plan for keeping the line for the Messiah safe?

All, some, or none of the above.  Please tell me how you view them. How do you deal with them and explain them to others?