Book Review: Willie’s Redneck Time Machine

Willie’s Redneck Time Machine, by John Luck Robertson with Travis Thrasher

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

I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or not that this book reminded me of my own writings and childhood. The first book of four books (so far) in the “Be Your Own Duck Commander” series by John Luke Robertson with Travis Thrasher, where the reader is invited to pretend that they are Willie Robertson and make decisions that lead to wildly divergent fates, ranging from those which feature very minimal effects, to others which are full of high drama, to still others which are grim and disastrous. This book, which is full of pop culture references from Dr. Who to modern dystopian teen fiction [1], is designed to appeal to adventuresome preteen readers, and it would have appealed to me very strongly as an 8-12 year old. Even now I find a bit of child-like pleasure in reading the book and seeing what drastic changes result from small decisions, a lesson that has applicability in our lives as well.

In fact, this book appears to be a contemporary version of the sort of book that I read a lot when I was a preteen myself, which was called “Choose Your Own Adventure.” These books share a similar structure, in that the plot skips ahead to certain pages based on a certain limited set of choices. Usually, as is the case here, the results of those choices vary on the author’s view of the moral justice of cause and effect as well as the level of wisdom or folly that is indicated in those choices. Depending on your choices, there will be either a triumphant reunion with family, visits to dangerous and deadly historical situations, or even tragic involvement in a future rebellion against a totalitarian state that views the Duck Commander and his family as mentally deficient, playing to the stereotypes that are common of people of the Southeastern United States as being unintelligent and backwards.

As might be expected, this book is full of silliness and adventure, many references to songs and hairstyles, the goings on of the wacky Robertson family (the reader, if he or she is familiar with the Duck Dynasty television show, will likely be wary of anything suggested by Uncle Sy, and it would be a wise idea to avoid gambling either). A few years ago I wrote a play whose plot device depended on a traveling portable toilet not unlike the plot device in this story, and it was appealing to think that I thought along similar lines to the authors of this entertaining and humorous work. If you are looking for reading for an 8-12 year old that involves adventure, humor, gentle moral lessons, and assumes a high degree of pop culture knowledge, this is a good book, and likely one that will be enjoyed by many young fans of the series that inspired it, as well as those who may only be young at heart.

[1] Much of which is referenced also in my own writing. See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/giving-credit-where-credit-is-due-dr-who/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/book-review-the-hunger-games/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/the-rigidity-of-dystopian-identity/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/panem-et-circenses/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/the-weight-of-the-world-upon-such-slender-shoulders/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/06/30/book-review-divergent/

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If I Could Read Your Mind

One of the perennial questions that are asked as writing prompts, or in quizzes that purport to be able to determine one’s personality in one way or another is “What superpower would you want to possess?” One of the answers that springs most obviously to my mind is the gift or ability to read the minds of others. How a desire to have this gift springs is not generally through happy experience. Indeed, those who grow up in dysfunctional and abusive families often find it necessary to develop some sort of skill in divining the intentions of the most abusive and dysfunctional members of their family. Such people are often deeply sensitive to initial conditions, or actions that serve as an indicator of moods, to determine whether conditions are favorable or unfavorable, so that one can see whether one can relax one’s guard for the evening or whether one has to remain tense and vigilant and prepared to defend one’s self (or escape) in case of trouble. When communication is open and honest and kind (not always an easy balance to attain), there is little need to read anyone else’s mind, because it is to some extent open and nonthreatening. When matters are threatening and hidden, though, one has to develop intuition far beyond normal simply to cope with the difficulties of day-to-day life. Such habits often harm us long after we should have moved past them.

Last Sabbath, a three year old child whom I deeply care for and love as someone I would like a future daughter to be like was upset at me because she expected me to read her mind about something she wanted me to do but that she was unwilling to tell me. While it was a bit hurtful to see her react angrily to the fact that I was clearly incapable of responding to her as she wished, it is a bit cute when a small child expects an adult, even a very intelligent one, to read what is on her mind. It is far less cute when people far older (especially girls and women) expect others to know what is on their mind in the absence of communication. Yet this is unfortunately all too common. I’m not a mind reader—I have one mind that I can read and that is my own, and I don’t even appreciate or enjoy reading my own mind much of the time. Nor is anyone else; even those who pride themselves on their intuition often have a difficult time understanding what is going on inside of my mind, or even more so my heart. That which is fragile and sensitive I feel a strong duty to protect, and that includes those tender parts of my own nature that have to be protected and preserved in the face of a deeply cruel and intensely hostile world. So, not only can I not read the minds of others, but other people have not generally been very good at reading my mind, even when it is displayed in print, largely because my mind is pretty complicated to begin with, even when my thoughts are expressed openly.

Should we even expect others to read our minds at all, though? I would think not. Given the fact that all of us, in at least some areas, are deeply private people about some things, none of us want our internal lives to be displayed for the entire world to see. It is immensely stressful to have one’s thoughts and feelings exposed to the wide world around, especially when there is a lack of reciprocity where others expect (and appreciate) candor from us but are unwilling or unable to return the favor. Likewise, we all wish to be able to have our own privacy, even if our desires are not blameworthy, simply because some aspects of our thoughts and feelings are not really the business of anyone else. Few, if any, of us can successfully endure the intense scrutiny that comes from being thought to be completely known. I do not envy celebrities their status—I would not wish for people to endlessly gossip and prevaricate about my personal life, weave dark and salacious stories about my nonexistent love life out of whole cloth, all to amuse and horrify a fickle and decadent crowd of people who would be painfully bored to know the truths of my existence. No, if we wish to share ourselves with others, it should be on our own terms, to those who have earned our trust through their generous spirits, through their wise counsel, and through their compassionate hearts. And we too ought to value the confidence that others place in us, and not to betray that by exposing them to the censure of an unkind world, seeing as how we are all tormented by the intense scrutiny that results from being considered a celebrity in some circle. Perhaps it might be nice to imagine ourselves as reading minds in the course of writing a prompt or imagining a superpower for some kind of silly online quiz, but in reality, few of us have the sort of gentle touch and discretion to avoid using that gift for evil. It is well that we seldom know the thoughts of people except for those who cannot help but spill them out [1], and we ought to be more gracious in handling those thoughts and feelings we do know, for we will be held accountable to the standard of kindness or harshness by which we treat others, and we could all use a great deal of mercy.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/07/07/spilling-out-ink-like-blood/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/09/10/bear-the-silence/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/02/27/safety-valve/

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These Are The Times

In early 1999, at seventeen, I made one of the more momentous decisions in a year that was full of various decisions. In addition to deciding which colleges to apply to and which one to attend (I ended up choosing the University of Southern California, but I almost chose Vanderbilt and came close to going to Nashville instead of Los Angeles), my classmates and I chose which song would be the theme song of our senior prom. Among the choices, which included Prince’s 1999, was the song that was eventually chosen, the only romantic track among the bunch, a song by Dru Hill called “These Are The Times.” The song itself was a top 40 hit [1], and it is a song that I would probably still enjoy listening to, although I have not heard it on the radio for over a decade. Being in a somewhat reflective mood, I have pondered the fact that the song itself deals with the issue of communication, and looking to enjoy these times because they will not last forever. Indeed, time so easily escapes from us, as it is one of the most priceless and also the most elusive resources that we possess.

In the early days of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine wrote a little pamphlet titled “The Crisis” that contained one memorable line that has been remembered through the ages. “These are the times that try men’s souls,” he said, seeking to encourage the people of the United States not to be mere summer patriots but to endure the sometimes cruel winters of our lives, so that the ambitious aims we seek might be accomplished through persistence and perseverance. His call for resolute determination was ultimately heeded, and even if the essay he wrote has not been remembered, it served its purposes all the same. In all his life, Thomas Paine did one noble deed, and that was putting his gift of rhetoric in defense of the liberty of the American people. The rest of his life was not a good one—he spent far too much of his life writing works like The Age Of Reason, where he condemned Christian belief, and his support of the bloodiness of the French Revolution was one that wiser men (even those as unwise as Thomas Jefferson) came to deeply regret. Yet for all of his sins, and they were many, he is remembered for at least one good thing that he did, for using his passionate pen to speak truths about liberty and to support it with a strong backbone, and let us not begrudge a man a moment of well-earned glory, even if our verdict on his life as a whole is not necessarily a positive one.

When one has the same sort of issue over and over again, one ought to reflect about one’s own role in the difficulties one faces. Although there might be clear cases where there are responsibilities shared by others, we have little control over what others do, and so we ought to focus our efforts on those things that we can control, namely our own behavior. When different people in different places lead to the same sorts of outcomes, we ought to reflect on exactly what it is about us that leads to the same situations occurring over and over again. Even in cases, as was the case with Job, where his continual difficulties led his friends to think that he must have been some kind of terrible evildoer because only really bad people have that kind of disasters, the suffering that Job faced was about him. It was not his fault, and to find fault with Job for self-righteousness or a lack of faith, as is sometimes done, really misses the point of that difficult book. Even so, it was his responsibility to deal with, and Job dealt with it well, even if others (like David) found specific aspects of Job’s passionate self-defense somewhat problematic [2]. Be that as it may, when we see the same things happen over and over again, we have to figure out as best as we can what we can do about it. Is this a test that God has allowed to refine character? Is there a weakness or a vulnerability that must simply be shored up, as many times as it takes to do the trick? Whatever the case may be, the fact that continual attention is being brought to a certain area of life suggests that we must reflect upon what we can gain from such experiences so that they do not have to happen again and again and again.

Two years ago, at this precise time of year, I was forced rather dramatically (and traumatically) to change my residence and my plans for the Feast of Tabernacles between the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement, going from plans to speak in Thailand to being a vagabond in the Pacific Northwest. The experience shook me to the core, exposing me to some of the darkest hours of a difficult life [3]. Last year, my Feast of Tabernacles was harmed by a similar kind of stress about the same general kind of issue, something which caused a huge amount of personal stress to me, and no doubt to others as well [4]. Now, it is another year, and at this precise time of year, the same sorts of pressures, in a similar situation, again have caused great anxiety and stress. And again, I am not sure what to do to make things better. Once again, changed plans for the Feast have led to a great deal of personal stress and the reality that now a third feast in a row will be impacted in the same very small but very frustrating part of my life. It is by no means a new area of stress, but to have it be so stressful so often is very worrisome. Clearly, if I was going about life in an optimal way, this sort of thing would not keep happening, but the larger question of what can be done to arrest such matters without even worse catastrophe remains elusive.

As I have commented on before [5], the Jews believe (on what grounds is uncertain) that the days between the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement are days when God declares judgment on someone’s life for the next year, deciding what kind of times someone will experience until the next fall festival season. In my own conversations with some of my more serious-minded friends, similar thoughts have come to mind, as we have mutually reflected on the sort of times we can expect for the near future. Clearly, to have three straight Feasts go the way that they have suggests that the reasons for this particular season of drama remain, and therefore the trouble will remain until whatever is supposed to be learned or done (or not done) is completed, whatever it is. At such times as these, I raise my hands in prayer to God, wondering, “Oh Lord, will this last forever?” No doubt there are others who are just as desirous as I am that these times should be over, and yet they remain despite our fervent desire [6]. The will of God prevails, even if the course of that will is not particularly enjoyable. In the meantime, we must find such joy as we can in the little moments that show that God’s favor has not been removed, even if it remains unclear just how the darkness will be swallowed in light, or how this night will end in glorious day. As I mused recently, and as I continue to remind myself, perhaps someday it will be sweet to remember even these things [7] that we are experiencing now, from a happier time and place than we now reside in the course of our lives. These are the times that try men’s souls indeed, but perhaps ours may be refined by the experience.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/These_Are_the_Times

[2] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/was-david-familiar-with-the-book-of-job-the-enigma-of-psalm-139/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/psalm-39-for-i-am-a-stranger-with-you/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/11/18/psalm-8-what-is-man-that-you-are-mindful-of-him/

[3] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/10/10/a-review-of-the-2012-feast-of-tabernacles-at-redmond-bend-oregon/

[4] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/i-remember-my-faults-this-day/

[5] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/09/20/ten-days-of-judgment/

[6] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/11/18/a-meditation-on-the-divine-will/

[7] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/forsan-et-haec-olim-meminisse-iuvabit/

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Book Review: Four Queens

Four Queens, The Provençal Sisters Who Ruled Europe, by Nancy Goldstone

As the third book of my recent bookstore jaunt [1], this book proved to be an interesting one to read. It serves as a comparative biography of four sisters, looking at European women’s history (an area of some personal interest [2]) and a way that an ambitious family with four beautiful daughters managed to find itself at the center of European power, with far reaching consequences for history as a whole. This is all the more remarkable given that the women themselves seem to be somewhat obscure. One of the joys of reading a history like this is looking at history through different angles, through seeing that even at an age of supposed male domination there were women who were able regents and even more able at ruling than their husbands, and that women not only were used as bargaining chips in alliances and as mothers for future monarchs, but were essential elements in providing strength through their counsel and through helping to steel their menfolk with encouragement and strength.

What is almost as remarkable as four sisters (who had no brothers) reaching the pinnacle of European society as queens regnant is the fact that they did so not from a famous royal family themselves, but rather from a family of second-teir nobles, as the children of a somewhat impoverished count of Provence, a semi-independent territory that officially was a part of the Holy Roman Empire on the borders between the Italian Savoyard territories (to whom they were closely connected by marriage) and France. This land of troubadours and wine-growers sent its four heiresses across Western and Central Europe, where all four of them became queens. Resolute oldest daughter Marguerite married the pious but impractical King Louis of France, who was involved in two spectacularly unsuccessful crusades (one of which cost him his life in Tunis) and had a mean and bullying mother-in-law. Eleanor, immensely ambitious, married the somewhat incompetent Henry III of England, who nearly lost his life in civil warfare against powerful barons who were upset at the influence of Eleanor’s relatives and countrymen in English politics. Beautiful third sister Sanchia married Henry’s younger brother Richard of Cornwall, who was not militarily powerful (quite the opposite) but managed to get himself elected as King of the Romans (Germany) during a complicated period in the post-Guelph Holy Roman Empire, but was unable to live long, dying in her early 30’s. Youngest sister, the spoiled and headstrong Beatrice, managed to marry the younger brother of her brother-in-law the French king, Charles of Anjou, who became king of Sicily and the founder of the Anjou dynasty of Naples. Each of these women ended up involved in the rebellions and crusades and statecraft of some of the most powerful realms in Europe, tying together realms in a complicated network of interrelated realms.

This particular history is of reasonable length (about 300 pages) and manages to cover all of the sisters, although it spends more time on the “more interesting” three sisters and less time on Sanchia, who appears to be a less substantial figure as the pretty but not particularly bright or strong-willed much younger second wife of a man who had a son who was not that much younger than she was. Nevertheless, the role of marrying wisely and in using family relations and strategic marriage alliances to help encourage diplomacy is a classic behavior of monarchs. What is not remarkable is that this was practiced, what is remarkable is that a small and not particularly powerful area of Europe would manage to maneuver itself into the center of these efforts. This book attempts to explain the results of those alliances, and how they had unpredictable results, including the debut of the Hapsburg family at the center of German politics and the fall of the Crusader states. As a single man, I can honestly say, it would be a good thing to marry as well as the four men who married these sisters did. Not all people can be so fortunate, though, to have such loyal and lovely and intelligent wives, though.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/in-my-tribe/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/book-review-ripples-of-battle/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/book-review-a-medieval-family/

[2] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/book-review-american-phoenix/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/07/14/book-review-sacred-hearts/

Posted in Book Reviews, History, International Relations, Love & Marriage, Military History | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Goodness Is Something You Don’t Have To Chase, ‘Cause It’s Following You

When I was a teacher in Thailand, one of the things I noticed particularly poignantly was the attitude of the scavenger cats who would continually pilfer food around the campus [1]. Despite the fact that these cats had an awful and shrill cry, and the fact that they were thieves and scavengers, I had a great deal of pity for them as animals. Perhaps I am a bit of a soft touch when it comes to showing compassion on those beings which have been abused and mistreated, although I could hardly be blamed for that, but despite the fact that those little cats were not particularly loveable, I still had compassion on them anyway, even as it was my unfortunate duty to trap them from time to time (these traps, it should be noted, were non-wounding and non-damaging ones). It was not a duty I relished, but being a dutiful sort of person I sought to remove the noisome and thieving and potentially disease-ridden cats without causing them any harm, wishing that they were the sort of cats that could be kept as pets and lamenting their lack of friendliness, but doing the best I could do to protect the food supply of the school without causing any harm to the unwanted scavengers. It was a delicate set of requirements that I set out for myself, one that would have been much easier to deal with if I had been dealing with beings that were friendly and kind.

What would it have taken to have had friendly relations with the Thai cats? Given the fact that the external and social environment was so adverse for these creatures, was it possible that a little bit of kindness would have been enough to make the cats less skittish, or was enough damage done that it was impossible to reverse? This is a question of more than academic importance. Although I do not consider animals to be the equal of humans, they clearly are beings that respond based on the way that they are treated, and as someone who has suffered a great deal of trauma and abuse in my own life, I cannot accept the suffering of any other being whose feelings and responses to such treatment mirror so closely my own. Alas, my own ambivalence as a hunter of the cats for personal protection while feeling compassionate for them certainly prevented me from being as ruthless a hunter as others would have been, but it also prevented me from being seen by the cats as anything more than an enemy, even if a reluctant one.

The same problems issues and questions that one has to deal with concerning pests can apply to people as well. If I desired the cats I had to deal with over and over again to be cuddly and sweet, this is even more wish when it comes to people around me. Yet I know that at times and with some people, I must appear to others as being a similar sort of being as those rather unlovable and shrill kittens. Surely, some people look at me, and though I have a hard time understanding it [2], see me as a threat and a concern. Surely my own life, with the high frequency of trauma that I have endured [3], has certainly made me as skittish and as nervous as those cats, and my own shrillness, in my own fashion, almost certainly makes me a bit less loveable to someone who might wish for someone who was less damaged and a lot less intense, and a good deal more fun. It cannot be helped, I suppose, even if we do the best we can to enjoy yourselves regardless of what has happened.

Sometimes, I wonder, though, if my characteristic response to be kind and gentle with others has not done harm because of the environment I have found myself in. In my desire to be kind and gentle and tender with those in difficult positions, have I made their lives and situations harder because I was the one to show kindness? This is something that tends to cause some sort of concern for me, since I do not desire to do good merely because I am a good man, but because I wish to have good effects on the lives of those around me. How can one do this? This is a difficult question, depending on knowledge, a certain amount of savvy, and delicacy. It also requires restraint and patience. I suppose it would be worth finding out, as best as I can, and then acting accordingly, to make sure that my efforts at kindness towards those in need of it are as effectual as possible. Let us see what can be done.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/08/26/a-note-on-cat-herding/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/theres-more-than-one-way-to-skin-a-cat/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/10/31/the-cat-and-the-mouse/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/white-lahu-cat-hunters/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/we-are-siamese-if-you-dont-please/

[2] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/09/10/bear-the-silence/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/08/31/in-the-integrity-of-my-heart-i-have-done-this/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/08/31/chick-magnet/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/under-pressure/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/05/24/let-us-have-faith-that-right-makes-might/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/just-looking-for-a-home/

[3] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/resilient/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/a-week-to-remember-a-week-to-forget/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/sink-or-swim/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/06/14/a-walk-in-the-park/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/06/05/may-what-your-eyes-see-stay-in-your-heart/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/peel-back-the-onion-be-ready-to-cry/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/09/18/ever-had-one-of-those-catherine-morland-days/

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Book Review: Disparity – A Rumplestiltskin Tale

Disparity: A Rumplestiltskin Tale, by Sonya Writes

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by the author in exchange for an honest review.]

This particular fairy tale retold, part of a series [1] shares some major similarities with its fellow tales. This particular story, on a few levels, tends to hit rather close to me. First I will give a brief description with the story as it is told here, and then I will explain why it hit close to home. The story itself is about 70 pages long and concerns as a king who hears a foolish bet, and has a fool-proof way to solve it that involves splitting his identity thanks to a curse that has kept him single for a long time. The king manages to reverse the curse, but at a heavy cost to his own relationship with his new wife, who hates the king and loves the king in his curse form because he is understanding and nice. Yet the monstrous looking but nice “old man” and the rather blunt-spoken and sometimes foolish king are the same man, a difficult fact for the queen to accept, for once the curse is lifted, the king has to convince his wife that her loyal friend and her husband are the same man, and to rebuild the trust again.

This is a fairy tale, and it ends happily, but it has some elements that I find deeply troubling. There is the matter of the behavior of people in authority, the fact that childhood curses can have a long influence, and that parents are not always good at keeping their children out of harm’s way as a result of their own ambitions. There are, of course, lessons about the dangers of wives trying to find emotional intimacy in other people, dividing their heart and body from each other. Ultimately, this story is about the betrayal of trust between husband and wife and between father and child, and those are areas that hit rather close to home with the problems of the division and social difficulties of our times. Here again, like the author’s other fairy tales retold, we see an example of a story that manages to capture the ethos of the original fairy tale, a story that often ends happily but also contains relevance for its time. This story certainly has that, in spades. If only our own lives could end so happily, though.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/09/13/book-review-vanity/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/03/book-review-lethargy-a-princess-and-the-pea-story/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/book-review-remedy-a-sleeping-beauty-story/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/book-review-liberty-a-rapunzel-story/

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Argumentative Reflection: Justice

[Note: This is the second in the series of argumentative reflections. [1]]

There are many aspects of justice that are deeply troubling and that contain troubling implications. Among the most troubling is the utilitarian view of justice that would look at justice only from the perspective of society as a whole, in believing that it would be just and proper to allow the innocent to suffer to preserve the well-being of others. Indeed, this particular view of justice is approximated by that of Caiaphas in his view of the efficacy of condemning the one true innocent Man who has ever walked the earth, when he said in John 11:49-50: “And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.” Even apart from any sort of religious scruples, the fact that one’s moral position as a utilitarian would approach that of the notoriously corrupt high priest Caiaphas ought to provide a sense of pause as to the correctness of one’s moral positions. Speaking personally, I find utilitarianism to be particularly problematic both because the conception of utility for society as a whole and people in charge (which is alarmingly easy to conflate) tends to be divorced from rigorous and consistent standards of morals and ethics and also subject to gross violations of the rights that people deserve as human beings, on account of our standing as beings created in the image and likeness of our Creator.

My own views on justice are somewhat more complicated than any of the views which were shown in the lecture this week, all of which appear to be guilty of oversimplification and a fair amount of presentism, seeking to ground our own present prejudices as ultimate truths while neglecting the source outside of humanity by which ultimate truths come. To be sure, I do not trust the capacity of people to determine fair views of justice for themselves, seeing as we are all biased and with strong personal experiences that color our views of what is just and what is unjust in our world. Those of us who have survived deep and traumatic injustices tend to be particularly prickly to the systemic and pervasive injustices that are present in our world, not all of which have strong support among cultural and political elites. An example of the complications and nuances of my view of justice would be the question of redistributive justice, attempting to right wrongs. It is my firm belief that those who are guilty of various injustices should give restitution to victims, even if such restitution can never undo the wrongs that were committed. Additionally, I believe in a periodic “reset” of society to prevent the maldistribution of resources from leading to permanent elites and permanent struggling underclasses. However, I also believe that it is unjust to attempt to redistribute resources to attempt to right historical wrongs by punishing either societies at large or those who have not benefited or committed the original injustices in the first place. The fathers should not be punished for the sins of their sons and daughters, and vice versa. Ultimately, my belief is that true justice must come from above, however much we must seek to approximate justice as best as possible given our limitations from below.

[1] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/09/23/argumentative-reflection-do-we-need-a-state/

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When Do You Have To Leave Your Gift At The Altar?

In the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ says something that has long puzzled me and provoked a great deal of thought: “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” On the face of it, this is not a particularly complicated passage to understand. What Jesus Christ seems to be saying is that we cannot properly show honor or appreciation to God when our relationships with other people are not right. It suggests that our ability to practically apply love and respect for others is the sort of gate that allows us to have a good relationship with God. On the face of it, this seems like a rather alarming implication to draw from the scriptures, and so before we discuss this implication further, it would be worth discussing whether there are other passages that deal with these same concerns, to see if our vertical relationship with God is dependent on our horizontal relationship with our brothers and sisters on this earth.

1 John 2:9-11 indicates that this is a fair interpretation in its own discussion about our need to love others: “He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” This would seem to suggest, like the Sermon on the Mount, that our ability to walk in the truth and the light depends on our love for other people. If we hate our brothers, that is, those who like us are living in the Spirit, whose walk is blameless and upright, then we cannot have the relationship with God that we want, because we hate those who are the people of God. When we love other people–not necessarily like them, but that we want what is best for them, and we treat them justly and with compassion and understanding–then our practice in love for the imperfect people around us allows us to love God in heaven above.

It is striking as well that a familiar passage in the minor prophets, Micah 6:6-8, makes the same point, albeit in slightly different language: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Here we see that in the language of the sacrificial system Micah discusses the fact that God does not desire physical sacrifices, but is more concerned with our behavior and with the state of our mind, our heart, and our spirit. Our behavior with others, whether we are just in our dealings, whether we are merciful and understanding towards others, and whether we walk humbly, determines our state with God. We cannot compartmentalize our lives so that we may have a strong relationship with God without applying His ways in our dealings with other people here on this earth.

What does this mean for us? I am a person who tends to devote a great deal of time and energy to service. I also see around me others who do the same. I believe that this service ought to be commended and appreciated [1], but it comes with a caveat that I feel at some pains to comment upon. If we serve God out of a desire to serve God’s people, and seek what is best for even those who act badly for us, then our service is to be appreciated. If we serve God as a way to avoid loving and serving others, that is a far more troublesome matter. I know that as someone who has had more than my share of difficulties with other people, I know I have spent a great deal of time and effort and agonizing reflection looking at my own motives with service. At times, one is feeling miserable about a problem and one simply does the best that one can despite one’s feelings, knowing that one desires to be right with others, that it is not within one’s power to do so, and that one has to do one’s best anyway. Sometimes we can want things to be the best but they are not because others do not wish it so, for one reason or another, but where our own hearts are not clouded by hatred for others. I would like to think, for my own sake, that our prayers are not hindered and our service is well regarded when our hearts are in the right place and we are obeying God, even if we have difficulties in our lives. That said, if we hate others, the Bible is pretty strikingly clear that God will not regard our acts of sacrifice. Let us therefore make sure that, to the greatest extent possible, no one has any just cause to have anything against us.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/09/27/a-picture-of-a-child-at-play-is-how-i-feel-today/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/09/22/book-review-being-church-doing-life/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/09/07/i-am-the-knight-who-will-fight-for-your-honor/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/a-review-of-the-2014-oregon-mens-weekend/

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No Food Is Worth That Kind Of Trouble

Yesterday, a coworker of mine was concerned that people were having eyes on his mangoes, and he made a point of offering it to us and telling us that our mouths were watering for his tasty mangoes. Whatever might have been said by other people, I wanted nothing to do with his mangoes, for one very simple reason–I am deathly allergic to them and they give me a suite of extremely unpleasant side effects [1] that include a heatbeat that races to 120 to 150 beats per minute with a migraine that makes me think I’m going to stroke out, limbs that go numb, feeling as if my skin is on fire, nausea and diarrhea simultaneously, all lasting about half an hour or so. No food is worth that much trouble, and after tormenting me a while with something I didn’t want because it is harmful to me, my coworkers who were having lunch at the same time I was generally agreed that I would not want something that had that kind of response, and figured that I was being reasonable in my denials that I wanted to take the mangoes for myself.

My response to mangoes is fairly typical for those things I have trouble with. I tend to be very anxious and wary about them, try to keep my distance, but as I do not wish for harm to anything or anyone it rather bothers me when people or things tend to torment me as they do. I tend to also enlist other people to look out on my behalf, since I figure I cannot catch everything on my own, especially given the alarm that they tend to bring me. I have fairly recurring nightmares, for example, about someone wishing to cause me harm through the use of mangoes, and at church I regularly ask what ingredients are in fruit juice to make sure that none of them contain mangoes. Fortunately, some people are used to my continual concern about this issue, and so they tend to look out for me and give me information when they know that a food around contains mangoes so that I stay safe. I do appreciate the notice, as it has helped me on several occasions [2]. I am grateful whenever I have friends who can help keep me out of trouble by looking out for me.

As far as life’s troubles go, mangoes are fairly easy to write about [3]. They don’t complain about you writing about them in your blog. They don’t ask third parties what you are writing about to make sure that they do not miss anything you write about them. They don’t endlessly overanalyze what you write about them, and send what you write to others so that they can share in the gossip and overanalysis at trying to parse every word for its possible hidden meanings. No, mangoes (thankfully) don’t read anything that I write about them, so as far as a subjects of my rumination are concerned, they are far safer and less stressful to write about than many of the other subjects that burden my mind, where I tend to use writing as a safety valve to preserve my own good spirits as best as possible and my own sanity [4].

I don’t seek out trouble, although it finds me readily enough. I tend to be honest and straightforward in expressing those things and situations that cause me anxiety and concern, and do the best I can to make sure that I can draw on the support and encouragement of others so I don’t have to bear my burdens alone and unknown. I don’t wish harm on anyone and it bothers me when others wish me harm or act in ways that are hurtful and unpleasant. If I had my way, I would be friends with anything that wasn’t evil and hurtful, and even those things that I did not particularly care for I would appreciate for the good that they had to offer, and let those who enjoyed such things do so without censure or condemnation. It distresses me immensely when things or people wish my harm, and act in ways that are hostile and unfriendly to me. I don’t know if that will ever stop bothering me, as apparently I have not seen enough evil in my life to believe that such cruel and unkind treatment is just and reasonable and deserved. So, needless to say, my mouth has not watered at the sight of mangoes, and until they no longer seek my harm, I want to appreciate them from as far away as possible, so that they will do no harm to me. If only it was so easy to avoid everything that causes such distress and alarm.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/05/17/grandmas-thai-recipes/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/02/17/the-valley-of-the-shadow-of-books/

[2] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/08/03/a-sheltered-cove/

[3] See, for example:

http://nathanalbright.blogspot.com/2006/03/mango-diplomacy.html

[4] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/02/27/safety-valve/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/07/07/spilling-out-ink-like-blood/

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Book Review: Christian By Disguise

Christian By Disguise: A Story Of Survival, by Erna Kamerman Perry

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Bostick Communications in exchange for an honest review.]

This book is a short memoir about the author’s experiences as a Jewish girl surviving by being able to pretend to be a Polish Christian while living at a church while her mother served as a laborer. The most notable parts of this book occur at the beginning and end. At the beginning of the book, the author modestly states that “I only want my children, my (few) relatives, my friends, and those readers interested in the historical horrors of the twentieth century to know that once there was a little girl who, through no fault of her own, had to lie and pretend so she could live to see another day (1).” At the end of the book, she closes with a statement of moral courage by saying: “As I breathed the air of New York Harbor, I told myself that I would try to face the future with courage and that I would look forward to my life with hope. More importantly, I decided that I would never dwell on the past with bitterness. And I never have.” Here we see the essential virtues of this work as a combination of excessive modesty about what is an excellent little book as well as a resolution to look at life, even a life filled with horrible traumas resulting in a great deal of fear and timidity in life, without the sort of bitterness that poisons us and robs us of a better future.

This book is not divided into chapters, but rather has a single narrative flow that begins with the family history of the author, an explanation of her father hunger [1], her tensions as a spirited and sensitive and somewhat naive and very curious girl with her somewhat overprotective mother, who was clearly forced into stress far beyond her abilities to successfully manage. This book manages to show how the author stayed alive in part because her mother was good at using her feminine wiles and because the author had a good memory of Catholic prayers, managing to avoid death at the hand of the SS when they were denounced by an old village crone. The rest of the story is filled with stories of tense hiding, of the sort of lying that results from living in fear in an extremely abusive environment, of life as a refugee, of shy and timid flirtation as the author becomes a young woman, and of the triumph of hope over fear, even as the author recognizes her many fears and anxieties.

At its heart, this memoir may not change the minds of any haters, or convince those who willfully deny the truth of the Holocaust, but all the same, the world is at least a little better for this elderly woman speaking honestly and forthrightly about her own childhood, about the experiences that shaped her even as it shows appreciation for God’s divine providence in bringing her alive, if deeply scarred, and providing her with a loving and understanding husband who was gentle and loving. This is ultimately a story of resilience and of the triumph of goodness over the evil and corruption of the world, a triumph of decency that is so gentle that it looks with compassion on the fate of a German family waiting in vain for their sons to come home from the Eastern front even as the author waited in vain to see her father again after his brave but doomed acts of resistance against the Nazi wehrmacht. In telling her own voice without demonizing the ordinary volk of Germany, this book is a triumph of graciousness, even as it reminds us of the continued and present dangers of anti-Semitism that exist in this world [2]. Hopefully this book can serve to encourage and inspire those who have survived their own deep traumas to seek a way to speak dark truths without bitterness or without losing a sense of innocence and graciousness to others who are caught in horrors too great to comprehend, in which we are all twisted and deformed under the resulting heat and pressure, but for our refinement into precious gems, rather than to embitter or destroy us.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/30/father-hunger/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/the-child-is-the-father-of-the-man/

[2] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/before-they-come-knocking-on-your-door/

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/

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