Before They Come Knocking On Your Door

Given the history of the Jews in Eastern Europe, the somewhat conflicting stories about a request for registration with the quisling Russian-supported government of Eastern Ukraine would lead to alarm from a population that has seen this movie before [1]. When one takes the evidence together, it would appear as if someone is threatening the Jews with bogus leaflets that would make the Jewish community of the Eastern Ukraine uncomfortable and feeling as if they are under impending danger and unwelcome in a home where they faced trouble from Soviet Russia as well as Nazi Germany during historical memory. It is not, after all, as if anti-Semitism is an unknown problem in this or any other part of the world [2]. This historical context makes it more difficult to understand what is going on.

It is clear that the fear of the Jewish community in Eastern Ukraine is entirely predictable and legitimate, even if the threat comes from an unknown direction. After all, a population that is required to register with the police is automatically considered a target of concerted police action, and no one really likes the police randomly checking up on someone [3]. The fact that the Russian-dominated government could plausibly be accused of such an hostile act towards the Jews is itself troubling. There are at least two possible motives, and they may in fact be intertwined. For one, it is possible that the people who threatened the Jews with those anonymous leaflets were trying to make the Jews uncomfortable or hostile towards the Russian regime as a way of threatening the legitimacy of that government and/or the Jewish community there. Additionally, there could be a motive of encouraging the Jewish community to leave, which would serve the interests of those whose lingering anti-semitism remains in Eastern Urkaine, and who would want to Russify the area by ridding itself of a notable minority population.

For too long in my life, and too painfully, I have known what it is like to live in fear, and known what it is like to have to deal with the fear of others, especially when both are legitimate and reasonable fears in light of the way this corrupt and wicked world is. When there are patterns of mistreatment and abuse, whether on an individual level or on a larger collective level, any sort of action like this one is very likely to bring those patterns to mind and to increase fear and anxiety among such people. In the absence of love and trust, it is hard to avoid living in fear, even if no one really enjoys it very much [3]. All too often, though, people do not feel it possible to live in trust and love because of their fears.

What then is one to do? If one has a faith in God, it is possible to live in love and to trust God even if others cannot exactly be trusted very easily. Of course, such a faith in God does not mean that life will not be difficult, and that there will not be considerable hostility for any number of reasons, not least because we will stand out from those around us. Generally, the only safety we can find in this world is to develop enough ties with people of like mind and like interests who love and respect us that we do not feel surrounded in enemy territory all the time. Of course, we may also feel deeply attached to some areas for reasons of having a tie that goes back for centuries, even during dangerous times when circumstances are adverse. All too often we have to decide what to do before they come knocking on our doors, whether that is showing the resolve to deal with whatever will come, or the desire to find a safer place where one can live under less stress. Either way, while we cannot choose the times we live in, or the behavior of others, we can choose how to best respond to that without being paralyzed by fear. Hopefully the Jews of the Eastern Ukraine can find and choose such options for themselves.

[1] See, for example:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/04/17/jews-ordered-to-register-in-east-ukraine/7816951/

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/04/17/jews-in-east-ukraine-are-being-threatened-but-by-whom.html

[2] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/book-review-the-israeli-solution/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/book-review-bloodlands-europe-between-hitler-and-stalin/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/springtime-for-neo-nazis-in-thailand/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/book-review-anti-semite-and-jew/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/03/01/anti-semitist-rehab/

http://www.ucg.org/doctrinal-beliefs/page-worldwhy-jews-reason-antisemitism/

[3] Not even me:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/a-momentary-lapse-of-reason/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/shine-sweet-freedom/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/11/29/why-do-they-always-run/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/10/07/im-as-jober-as-a-sudge-nanowrimo/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/09/04/popo-dont-you-lose-my-number/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/please-remember-to-obey-the-law/

[3] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/living-in-fear-till-nothing-else-remains/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/living-with-a-target-on-your-back/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/09/02/sooner-or-later-we-must-try-living/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/sirens/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/06/brave/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/10/27/were-on-each-others-team/

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Non-Book Review: Rag Man, Rag Man

Rag Man, Rag Man, by Michael J. Lacivita

I got this book yesterday from the Naval Historial Institute, for a scholarly book review [1] and from what I can see so far, this looks to be a memoir by someone with a fair amount of (mostly local) journalistic experience. The author himself, from the letters that are included, is about 90 years old and wants to see his book published and back in print (as it is out of print at present) before he dies. Included in the book that was sent to me were a few letters from the author as well as from the Naval Historical Institute, which add to the interest of the book as far as I am concerned, especially because one of the letters contains a note to me from the person who sends me books that is asking my thoughts on whether this book should be reprinted by the Naval Institute Press or whether the author should pursue self-publishing through Amazon.com. This adds a bit of intrigue to my review, as it comes with a recommendation for a business decision, which means I will be viewing this book not only for its own quality, but also for what I would judge as its marketability.

From what I can see from the book so far, the book calls itself a collection of personal essays, but in reality it appears to be more like a somewhat conventional memoir in four chapters, dealing with family history (Italian origin), a rough childhood during the Great Depression, experiences as a navy man (which would account for the potential interest of the Naval Historical Press in this account), as well as his postwar life. Given the rapid aging and departure of our World War II generation, if this is a well-written and gripping story, I would think that it would be of interest to add to the historiography of WWII memoirs. Although this is not necessarily my favorite part of history, it is an area I enjoy reading about from time to time [2], and as I read a lot of memoirs as well, and come from Western Pennsylvania (this author is from Eastern Ohio, not that far away), I look forward to reading the review and see whether its style and approach is one that I think many others will enjoy as well.

[1] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/11/25/scholarly-book-reviews/

[2] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/book-review-bloodlands-europe-between-hitler-and-stalin/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/book-review-patton-and-rommel/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/book-review-the-last-lion-winston-spencer-churchill-alone-1932-1940/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/10/16/book-review-unbroken/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/a-non-book-review-kaigun/

Posted in Book Reviews, History, Military History | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Strangers At My Door

Strangers At My Door: A True Story of Finding Jesus In Unexpected Guests, by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Multnomah WaterBrook Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]

While I have never read any of the books by this author before, it appears as if this leader of the New Monastic movement and a known peace activist (he approvingly quotes poet William Stafford [1], for example) fits in with the general social justice tenor of the books I have read from this publisher [2]. This is not at all a bad thing, but knowing the general context of a work like this helps to understand the approach of this book in urging greater attention to the outcasts, strangers, homeless vagabonds of this world who face the threat of prison, loneliness, and are caught in the grip of powerful addictions (like drug and alcohol abuse) often thanks to terrible family histories. For a variety of personal reasons, including my own family history and my visits to prisons and my own close brushes with homelessness and the treat of imprisonment, this is a book that strikes a lot of personal resonance for me.

This book is organized as a set of stories about Rutba House, a community of people who live together in a sort of communal and monastic way (although the author does not appear to be a Catholic at all). The stories are poignant and all related around the concerns of trust and community. The author appears to misunderstand the nature of God’s laws and justice, a common enough problem for someone with issues with the penology of the Bible, but as an exponent of God’s grace with regards to our conduct and our compassion and openness and vulnerability towards the hurt and exploited and oppressed of the world, this book is a very honest and sincere work that ought to encourage others to be generous and open towards the poor and outcasts where they happen to be. Having been an outcast for my entire life, I am familiar with the family cycles and societal cycles that tend to reinforce failure in certain areas of life, and I have compassion, as well as sadness, for those whose lives have been even more difficult and their social networks even more frail.

As a book that is squarely in the social gospel tradition, this is not a work that will appeal to those who wish to read about the need for greater personal responsibility and holiness. This is, on the other hand, a book that is gritty about the addictions and compulsions that we struggle against and rather empathetic to those in the grips of such problems. This book discusses some fairly weak ground rules for the community, but is definitely lax on personal morality. That said, this book is strong when it comes to an understanding of social injustice and the patterns of failure and exploitation that are embedded in society, walking a very fine line between compassion for the oppressed and liberal white guilt. It would be best, in reading this book, to appreciate it for what it does well, speaking about the need for compassion and openness from a strong biblical perspective, and to seek out commentary on areas where this book is weak (namely the justice of God) from those sources and works that handle that necessary aspect of God’s character better.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/the-golden-thread/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/a-story-that-could-be-true/

http://www.convergentbooks.com/author/jonathan-wilson-hartgrove/

[2] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/03/book-review-the-power-of-a-half-hour/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/book-review-crash-the-chatterbox/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/book-review-the-israeli-solution/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/book-review-i-like-giving/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/book-review-a-godward-heart/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/book-review-unstoppable/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/01/07/book-review-10-days-without/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/book-review-this-beautiful-mess/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/08/09/book-review-greater/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/book-review-humble-orthodoxy/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/book-review-the-blessed-church/

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Not A Bad Thing

I had thought to write a blog entry analyzing the song lyrics of a new song by former ‘N Sync member Justin Timberlake, called “Not A Bad Thing,” but an examination of its lyrics showed the casual use of a swear word to signify a casual no-strings-attached relationship involving fornication. Since it was therefore inappropriate to examine the lyrics of the song in depth, because there is a tension (if not a contradiction) between the song’s equation of love with casual fornication and the outright statement that it would not be a bad thing to fall in love with a casual fornicator. It is this contradiction that makes the song an immoral one, aside from its use of language. After all, aside from a repeated use of a swear word, the song itself would very easily fit on an easy listening or adult contemporary station.

This is not as unusual as it may appear. All too often songs are considered to be easy listening based on the production and instrumentation and music of a song, and not on what the song is actually about. A few examples should suffice. In about 1980 a song came out called “Steal Away” that managed to be an immoral song for at least two reasons. For one, ironically enough, the song was a ripoff of a recent hit by the Doobie Brothers [1] (“What A Fool Believes”), and for another, the song was about fornication. On moral grounds alone, the song was not a good one, but because it was not too loud or jarring, it was easy to miss that immorality in message because of the innocuous style the song has. This is a common problem. Another example of the same kind, among many examples that could be chosen, is the song “2 Become 1″ by the Spice Girls, their first hit on Adult Contemporary radio, a song that became a hit because of its orchestral cello-driven music, but whose lyrics rather straightforwardly discuss the plans of the singers to enjoy their first sexual experiences with that particular partner.

It is not only fornication (or adultery [2]), or related sins, but other matters that are much smoother when dealt with in Adult Contemporary songs. For example, one of the songs I loved as a child was the song “Even A Fool Can See” by Peter Cetera. The song itself is inoffensive adult-oriented radio, but it happens to be a song about a man who can’t return home because his estranged wife doesn’t want to be around him, and he is trying to convince everyone that he is alright even though he was totally blindsided by her desire to separate from him. In retrospect, that was probably not the most encouraging or suitable song for a budding romantic with a bad family history like myself. I have seldom needed more gloominess to reflect upon when it came to music, after all.

Despite my concern with the messages of songs, which does not always appear to be a concern of radio station program directors or music audiences in general, there is at least one area where I can have at least partial agreement with Justin Timberlake, even if I would mean different things by the same words. Like the singer, I don’t think it’s a bad thing for someone to fall in love with me. What I mean by that is less in terms of physical intimacy than in terms of gentle affection and kindness and tenderness, but the general gist is not so different. While it is hard to believe, aside from reasonable suspicion about loyalty [3], that someone would think it a bad thing to fall in love with a handsome and wealthy and charismatic entertainer, those of us who are less handsome and less charismatic, and certainly less well-off, share those same concerns and longings. We are all human beings, after all, however we express those longings. Let us make sure to do so in a godly and legitimate fashion, not merely relying on an inoffensive style to disguise our intents and wishes in order to deceive. Love is too precious to be wasted on those who are only playing games, after all.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/04/22/why-arent-they-in-the-rock-and-roll-hall-of-fame-the-doobie-brothers/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/song-of-myself/

[2] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/im-a-fool-to-do-your-dirty-work/

[3] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/12/21/why-do-you-have-to-be-so-hard-to-love/

Posted in Christianity, History, Love & Marriage, Music History, Musings | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Book Review: My Heart Makes Its Home In A Faraway Land

My Heart Makes Its Home In A Faraway Land: A Book of Poetry and Reflections, by Lisa Hare Wimberly

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Author Blog Tours in exchange for an honest review.]

As a longtime poet, it is always enjoyable for me to examine the works of other poets. This particular volume consists of a variety of reflective poems from a ‘mainstream’ Christian experienced with divorce and remarriage whose reflections range across a wide variety of subjects, including family (see, for example, this representative quatrain about a special needs foster child named Scott from p.120) among other topics:

He had the innocence of a child,
With a heart that was gentle and pure.
It was hard for him not to tell the truth
Whatever consequences he had to endure.

These particular lines are emblematic of the poems of this book as a whole. The vast majority of these books are written in ABCB rhyming format with little attention paid to meter. The lines are straightforward, referring to personal incidents for the author or those she was commissioned to write for or literature (including the story of “The Three Little Pigs”) as well as many scriptural references. As a poetess, Ms. Wimberly is not a subtle or deep thinker, although her reflections are full of feeling and her observations are generally sound and focused. She is not a writer of ambiguity or layering, but rather someone whose writings express her thoughts and feelings very openly and transparently in a rhyming manner. Those readers who want elegant poems along the line of the witty haiku of Lady Murasaki or the ambiguous sonnets of Shakespeare or Petrarch or the terza rima of Dante will be disappointed; this is not that sort of work and Ms. Wimberly is not that kind of poetess.

What this is, and is a good example of, is of devotional Christian poetry with biblical quotes and commentary on the circumstances of how and why and about whom the poems were written. I have myself undertaken such tasks as a poet myself, and this book also contains thoughts on brokenness that are not too different, if more optimistic, than my own [1]. The book is divided into four sections: reflection, inspiration, introspection, and celebration. All throughout the poetess makes reference to marriage, family, faith, and friendship. The first poem, a reflection on our being strangers and pilgrims in this earth, gives the collection its title. For all of those who have mused upon the subjects of this poem and share a biblical faith, this is a worthwhile book to read, and one whose straightforwardness will make it easier to appreciate the poetry rather than be daunted by the usual difficulty in understanding poems. This, therefore, ought to be a book with a wide potential reading audience, as long as that audience is not scared away from reading poetry altogether because of prior experiences.

[1] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/broken/

Posted in Bible, Book Reviews, Christianity, Love & Marriage, Musings | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Sudden Death

There are some sports (like professional American football) where the concept of sudden death overtime is a very real concern, where a quick score as a result of an unexpected turnaround automatically ends the game, leaving no opportunity for a rejoinder on the other team. Such endings, whether one is talking about a “golden goal” during injury time in a soccer game or an interception returned for a touchdown in overtime that quickly ends a lengthy and close football game, or a walk-off home run in baseball, such endings are especially stunning and decisive and very memorable. Sometimes, though, when sudden death occurs outside of the context of sports, it is far less enjoyable and pleasant to deal with, if equally shocking and memorable.

Although I have a habit of writing obituaries and eulogies [1] for those who have died, recently I have had to deal with the sudden death of two older women who I did not know well enough or long enough to consider them close friends, but whose deaths were nonetheless shocking and jarring to me (and especially to others who knew them both better). Although I did not know their lives enough to write about them in detail, I would like to at least write a little bit about their lives as I knew them, so that those who knew them better may add to these modest and slight reflections their own far more substantial base of knowledge about these devoted servants of God. It is my hope that my modest reflections will not in any way trivialize or insult these people or their families, though.

The first of the deaths, which happened a couple of weeks ago, was of Becky Knutson. The Sabbath before she died, a friend of mine and I had given her hugs just before she left services. Although I never got to know her well–she was not an easy person to get to know, although she was very serious-minded woman, the grandmother of one of my friends in the congregation, and a particularly decent woman. She happened to be responsible for sending information to me as one of the leaders of the area; I think she was a deaconess. Most of our conversations revolved around my frequent moving and the difficulties it progressed in terms of keeping informed. Sadly, there was not time for more, although I imagine I will get to know more about her after the fact at her memorial service, along with the comments about her life from those who knew her far better than I.

This afternoon just before services I found out about the death of a deaconess who sat next to me often during services and who loaned me a book to read [2] and often wondered solicitously in her warm and friendly way about my jobs and my love life. From what I have heard from friends, she took a regular interest in helping people feel welcome and a part of the congregation through providing service opportunities to others. Apparently, from what I understand, she had a death like my grandmother. She felt a bit ill and somewhat run down but not really troubled, she went to sleep in a chair, and she never woke up. And now she leaves a grieving widower who had to deal with a coroner and an inquest this morning, which is not the way someone wants to open up the Days of Unleavened Bread, not by any means. Sometimes life gives us what we don’t expect, though, and we have to find the reasons why.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/05/24/obituary-jacob-franklin-snyder-koontz/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/03/15/to-dust-we-return/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/11/18/book-review-divided-they-fell/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/this-day-in-history-on-july-16-1885-ulysses-s-grant-won-his-race-with-death/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/death-is-a-hungry-hunter/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/ghosts-of-the-taira-the-relationship-between-the-wars-of-the-gempei-and-the-warrior-ghost-noh-dramas/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/15/book-review-the-kaisers-holocaust/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/06/26/as-she-lay-dying/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/today-in-history-on-january-22-1973-the-united-states-supreme-court-legalized-abortion/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/why-arent-they-in-the-rock-roll-hall-of-fame-gram-parsonsthe-international-submarine-bandthe-flying-burrito-brothers/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/12/09/why-arent-they-in-the-rock-roll-hall-of-fame-badfinger/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/09/13/no-good-deed-goes-unpunished/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/07/28/if-you-sleep/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/it-is-a-far-better-thing-that-i-do-than-i-have-ever-done/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/06/09/today-in-history-on-june-9-1948-king-ananda-rama-viii-of-thailand-was-probably-assassinated/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/05/23/why-arent-they-in-the-rock-roll-hall-of-fame-the-carpenters/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/this-is-how-republics-die/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/04/06/why-did-jesus-christ-have-to-die-by-crucifixion/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/today-in-history-on-march-19-1536-anne-boleyn-was-executed/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/somebody-loves-you/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/i-dont-like-mondays/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/09/09/only-pieces-of-the-night/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/07/24/the-tragedies-of-amy-winehouse-and-jennifer-elliott/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/requium-for-a-rapper-nate-dogg/

[2] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/11/07/book-review-boarding-party/

Posted in Christianity, Church of God, Musings, Sports | Tagged | Leave a comment

Walking Out Of Egypt

In retrospect, we may not think that walking out of Egypt is necessarily the most exciting or notable aspect of the experience of Israel in the wilderness. After all, having a large number of people who spend most of their time walking, and rarely even fighting their own battles or even able to do mundane tasks like provide enough food for themselves, is not necessarily the most exciting sort of model for our lives. Yet there are at least a few obvious matters of this experience that are worthy of our attention. Obviously, much more could be said but as is often the case, time and space are somewhat limited (especially time), let us focus on a couple of the most obvious aspects of this experience, as even that will be an ambitious task to think about.

First, we have to understand that even if the experience of Israel in the wilderness is not particularly glamorous or necessarily exciting on a day-to-day basis, they are of a high degree of relevance in our lives as believers. It should be fairly obvious to any reader of the Bible that the experience of the Exodus was foundational to Israel throughout its history and through the writers of the New Testament for Christians today. Given this large amount of evidence, it would be impossible to go through all of it in detail, but it is nevertheless important to recognize at least on some level the large amount of influence the Exodus has with regards to the practice of believers. This influence is particularly strong in the law, the writings, and the New Testament, and is not absent from the prophets either.

In the law, for example, the experience of Israel in Egypt and departing Egypt was to have an influence on the way that believers lived their lives afterward. In Deuteronomy 5:12-15, the rationale for keeping the Sabbath is one of social justice relating to the experience of slavery. As God freed Israel from slavery in Egypt, so Israel too was to avoid exploiting others by making them work seven days a week and denying them rest and forgiveness of debts. Obviously, this remains relevant for believers today. Likewise, the prohibition on kings returning to Egypt (Deuteronomy 17:16) is related to the experience of the wilderness, and a few other laws specifically. In the prophets, it should be imagined, these laws are referred to, reinforcing the value of the wilderness experience in having a lasting relevance for the lives of believers, even if indirectly. The writings are full of references to the experience of the wilderness, from the mourning of the people of Israel at the time of Nehemiah about the sins of the people and their culpability in their exile experience (Nehemiah 8:1-12), and especially the writing of numerous psalms that address the wilderness experience (see, for example, Psalms 95, 105-107, and 136, to name but a few examples) in the light of then-contemporary relevance. The same is true when the wilderness experience is used by Paul to urge the brethren of Corinth to avoid complaining or falling into the lust of evil, or testing God by a lack of faith (see 1 Corinthians 10) and by the author of Hebrews to remind us that the promised freedom from death and exploitation and injustice is yet to come, and so there remains a Sabbath for God’s people to remember and practice (Hebrews 3 and 4 [1]).

Even a cursory look at the scriptures ought to help us understand the multifaceted nature of the influence and the relevance of the wilderness experience on believers. For one, it is a lengthy and extended story of God’s love for a faithless and rebellious people, a microcosm of the entire experience of God in dealing with both ancient Israel as well as the church. We can learn from the mistakes of others before us, even if we tend to make the same foolish mistakes time after time and generation after generation. We also ought to recognize the interconnectedness of our lives with those of other generations, and with some parts of scripture and other, and some parts of life and others. The same principles and the same patterns apply, helping to reinforce the lessons of others and the consistency of God, both in mercy and in judgment, in dealing with mankind.

Let us close with a surprising aspect of the wilderness experience that has especial relevance to the lives of Christians that is not often exhibited. God told Israel in Exodus 19:4 that he bore them up on eagle’s wings and brought them to Him in Sinai. Without the grace and providential action of God, Israel could not have been saved from slavery. Neither can we as Christians be saved from the slavery of sin and oppression by our own efforts alone. Yet, we should also notice that Israel was not supernaturally brought to Mount Sinai, but rather they had to walk every step of the way, however reluctantly, however fearfully. The same is true for us. God bears us on eagle’s wings to His kingdom as well, but we must walk every step of the way. Let us walk wiser than the ancient Israelites, and with greater faith and obedience than they did.

[1] Some of these matters have been dealt with in other blog entries, for those who want more detail:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/reflections-on-the-haggadah/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/so-i-swore-in-my-wrath-they-shall-not-enter-my-rest-a-reflection-on-psalm-95/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/11/05/they-shall-not-enter-my-rest/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/02/14/there-remains-therefore-a-sabbath-rest-for-the-people-of-god/

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A Night To Remember

Tonight was the Night To Be Much Observed, one of the more enjoyable traditions inherited from my religious background, involving long hours of excellent conversation with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ designed to help us reflect on the gracious acts of God in history, especially looking at the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Given my travels throughout my life, I have enjoyed this particular tradition in two foreign countries and all four corners of the United States. For a variety of reasons, not least of which is scripture, I really like eating lamb on this particular night (as I did tonight), even if it’s a food I do not get to indulge in often because it can inflame my gout. Sometimes, when one has as many sensitivities to food as I do, one simply eats what one enjoys as accepts that there may be repercussions for it.

I was a bit concerned about making it on time to enjoy the full evening, which was scheduled to start at 5:30PM, so I worked from 7AM to 4PM today, a fairly ambitious schedule given my day yesterday [1]. Although I was tired during the day because I did not exactly get a lot of sleep, the directions given by the hostess of tonight’s dinner were very excellent and the route was lovely given the glorious sunny weather and smooth traffic (once I crossed over the Ross Island Bridge at least), and I was the second of the host family’s guests to arrive. Over the next hour or so, the rest of the ten guests (plus the host family of three) arrived and we enjoyed some hors d’oeuvres and amusing conversation while trying to keep the two shaggy dogs away from our food, which was an amusing task because the dogs were friendly even though they were not particularly well-trained, and at least as far as I am concerned, friendliness covers a multitude of sins.

After the catered food was heated up, which included a wide variety of very tasty dishes, all of which I tried (I ate a lot tonight, including two pieces of unleavened cheesecake, four pieces of unleavened bread, some chicken, rice, asparagus, and salad, and lots of water), we started eating and chatting. In looking at the people at the dinner, I would consider a few of them friends of mine (including the hosts, whose son is in my Sabbath School class and who did once loan me an excellent book to read [2], which is always a good thing as far as I am concerned), but the majority of the people there (including my pastor and his wife) would be at best friendly acquaintances, and a couple of the people there I really must admit that I barely knew at all. It was, in other words, an opportunity for me to get to know people better in a setting that encouraged serious conversation.

One of the ways in which the host family sought to encourage serious conversation, which succeeded wonderfully, was to have everyone answer questions about their own conversion as well as their coming out of Egypt. I was asked to begin, probably because I’m reasonably good at starting conversations out on the right foot, and in turn all of us (including the host’s son, who was the only person younger than I was at this particular soiree) told poignant and funny and personal stories about our conversion and the tangled paths in following God’s ways that we have seen. A couple of the stories were real tearjerkers, including the comments from one of the women about her struggle against cancer and another about having an abusive husband hostile to God’s church and her insistence on following it. On the lighter side our hosts had a funny story involving two teenagers in love (namely, themselves) with a challenge that whoever could convince the other person would win a convert to their ways. In the end, their challenge encouraged them to prove God’s ways. A lot of us (myself included) had their faith formed in inconvenient times, including the tumultuous early and mid-90′s. It was interesting to see the parallels between many of the stories, showing intriguing connections.

Even for the ancient Israelites, leaving Egypt was far more about a state of mind than it was about leaving the place. Although leaving the land of Egypt only took a few days with the dramatic power of God, the vast majority of the nation of Israel never left Egypt in their hearts. For us, the situation can be similar. No matter where we may wander over the course of our lives, it is all too easy for us to lug around the same chains and the same burdens in our hearts, to never feel a part of the community of God’s people and never fully enjoy being in His family. Sometimes it is good to remember where we have come from, and the path we have trod, and to recognize that we do not travel alone, no matter what struggles we face. Although the evening was long–I did not get home until nearly midnight–it balanced a lot of humorous comments and silliness with some serious reflection, and that balance, along with the sense of camaraderie and the good food, made this a memorable Night To Be Much Observed for this vagabond whose life has been spent wandering in the wilderness, not so much unlike many others.

[1] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/because-i-like-tormenting-myself/

[2] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/book-review-killing-jesus/

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Book Review: The Second Exodus Generation

The Second Exodus Generation: How Ignorance Regarding Israel Has Cost The Church, by Dr. Ephrain Tristan Ortiz

This is a book that is deeply muddled but also deeply earnest and undoubtedly sincere. It would no doubt come as a great surprise to the author, who has very severe and passionate views about the importance of Orthodoxy (as he would define it as a Latin American evangelical, possibly even a Pentecostal) that two of the main sources he uses to justify his positions, Rick Warren and Joyce Meyer, themselves have come under serious fire for not being true to even fairly debased standards of mainstream Christianity. Likewise, it would come as a surprise to the author that despite his beliefs that he is preaching the restored biblical truth of the Bible that his Trinitarian views, his refusal to worship the biblical Sabbath and Holy Days, and his own misrepresentation of the positions of others amount to placing himself within the camp of those opponents of God that he condemns so harshly in this book.

The author, whose credentials are rather unknown, presents himself as a somewhat self-appointed teacher and preacher who rails against social injustice and especially against cohabitation and holds very strong views about repeating scriptures and appropriating those promises for ourselves, in what appears to be a form of the prosperity gospel. On the plus side, he appears to claim that those who support the people of Israel receive blessings by God and those who are opposed to the people of Israel are bound to fail. With this general argument I have no disagreement, but it is only a focus of the first section of the book. For the remainder of the book, the author shows himself somewhat inconsistent, accepting Catholic authority about the nature of God and Sunday observance while rejecting the obvious corruption and doctrinal innovations of the Catholic Church; he simply does not have enough understanding to know when those innovations began.

Among the most interesting points the author makes, and the reason why I picked up this book to begin with in the first place, is the apparent connection between the troubles of our contemporary society (including Christians who do not bring a good example to others) and the struggles of the wilderness generation whose carcasses scattered the wilderness. This particular connection is not really brought out, though, leaving the title of the book as a bit of a tease. This book does not succeed in presenting the author of an authority in reforming Christian education practices, nor does the author show either a sound or a biblical view of truth and practice. Nevertheless, there is some value of this book in presenting an obvious statement of concern with the way that our contemporary religious practice is lukewarm, lacking in enthusiasm or zeal, and is often lacking in biblical knowledge and obedience. As is often the case, the author correctly diagnoses many problems but does not offer proper solutions. At least the book is full of quotes from the Bible and from others who are more articulate and polished as authors than he is, as well as intriguing but somewhat self-serving personal stories.

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Because I Like Tormenting Myself

So, today was a pretty full day for me, as it was for many of the people I know, a spring to the beginning of the Spring Holy Day season. Since I am a person who likes to comment drily and ironically about the events of my life from time to time, I thought this would be an appropriate place to comment a little bit about my day and the scattered randomness that filled my time from when my sleep was interrupted by one of my local church friends blowing up my phone with Facebook messages copyediting my post from last night [1] to the time when I returned home from Passover services to try to get some sleep given the early work I have for tomorrow’s marathon day before the Night To Be Much Observed.

In the morning and early afternoon I tried to do my normal errands, with the special tasks involved in finishing up cleaning before the Days of Unleavened Bread. I checked coursera in the hope that I could do a bit of studying for that, but both of my classes begin tomorrow, so that is going to be a different matter. I did some writing and cleaning to the music of “The Best of Keane [2],” managing to write a blog entry [3] and find my refund check from the state of Oregon for my state income taxes. I also managed to find my offertory envelopes, which is what I was looking for this morning after all, while pouring through my mail. It was nice to have the area around the loveseat where I spend my evenings reading and writing much cleaner and less cluttered, just before finishing the deleavening in the kitchen.

Once I had taken a shower I started my laundry, hoping to get that done a bit early, and then went out to do my errands and finish cleaning my car. First I went to my usual local grocery store with a $10 off coupon and proceeded to buy some food and some cleaning supplies (since I had to clean my toilet afterwards, not one of my favorite tasks but one that needed to be done). While I was there I looked for some unleavened bread, and not being able to find exactly what I was looking for, I asked one of the employees about it and she wanted me to go back to the bakery aisle, apparently thinking that I like to torment myself by being around what I’m not supposed to have. I then went to the credit union to deposit my state income tax return, and back to the library to drop off the book on Italian history that I read earlier this week [4] before returning home to finish the laundry and do a bit of reading before heading off to dinner and Passover.

When I headed off to dinner, I thought I had given myself plenty of time to get to Passover in a timely fashion, though in retrospect I should have made more sure where exactly I was going. Dinner itself was quite excellent, but the directions I got led me to a shipping and receiving area for a company just north of OR-224, which meant that I was lost and late. Not wishing to turn back when I knew I was close, I went to get directions at a nearby 7-11 and after a few minutes the combined intelligence of a few phones got me an address and some directions, and I thanked the people who helped me and headed off, rather irritated at myself for being late to Passover in an area that I was not familiar with. Fortunately, these directions were good and I arrived at the Milwaukie Center about fifteen minutes late, just barely early enough to do the footwashing and find a seat for the rest of the ceremony, which was thoughtfully done by our local pastor. At least the drive home was nice, even if there was at least a little bit of the drama concerning some of the people there that I was concerned about. Far more important, and worthwhile, was the reflection on the day and its meaning, and my usual over-analysis about what symbolic importance was in a day like today and how it progressed.

[1] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/port-of-morrow/

[2] http://youtu.be/bnv6dPQ5f88

[3] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/and-if-she-is-a-door-we-will-enclose-her-with-boards-of-cedar/

[4] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/book-review-the-pursuit-of-italy/

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