"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)