Book Review: Pursuing Justice

Pursuing Justice: The Call To Live & Die For Bigger Things, by Ken Wytsma

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson Press in exchange for an honest review.]

This particular book offers a biblical approach to justice as foundational to God’s ways that seeks to bridge the gap between theological liberals who are a part of the social gospel movement and fundamentalists who have tended to focus exclusively on personal morality apart from any larger social concerns. Both of these extremes, apart from the other, represent a classic satanic false dilemma of orthodoxy versus orthopraxy, when both justice and personal morality are required [1]. The eighteen chapters and 300 or so pages of this book are a very patient exploration of justice in many facets, pointing on the relationship between justice and love and mercy and a detailed explanation of many biblical passages that equate justice with righteousness, pointing to justice as not only the avoidance of harm, but the active action of outgoing love and concern for others, particularly those who are the most vulnerable, like foreigners and fatherless children and the poor.

This particular book manages to avoid many of the pitfalls of its less wary competitors by seeking to avoid guilt trips and presenting only one way for someone to behave in a just fashion, but pointing out the seriousness of the responsibility of living justly in one’s own circumstances based on one’s own gifts, with an eye towards a larger and more complicated picture in which justice (or injustice) can be shown in all walks of live. One of the more poignant stories in this particular book is the story of a man from the Democratic Republic of Congo who came to speak at the author’s daughter’s Oregon elementary school only to be asked questions about fancy clothing and PlayStations, not aware that a rare metal used in the Sony PlayStation led to atrocities and exploitation in the man’s homeland, where the people did not have the PlayStation but suffered so that it could be made. The author dwells repeatedly on issues of slavery (including the horrors of Elmina Castle and the rape of young women there enslaved by Europeans) as well as sexual slavery all over the world (including, sadly, in Portland). This book is full of warmth and empathy, but more than that is seeks action so that we may respond to the imago dei that we see in others as fellow children of the Most High God, in whom burns a passionate longing for justice and mercy.

This book is very excellent, and a great read for those who have a deep longing for seeing how God’s ways are to be practiced in our world. That said, this book is not perfect. One of the minor flaws is the fact that the book shows a flawed theory of multiple Isaiah authors. There are more serious flaws, though. In particular, although this book discusses several passages dealing with the Sabbath (most notably Isaiah 58), it completely fails to recognize the importance of the seventh day Sabbath in showing God as a creator (and therefore pointing to concern for God’s creation as the stewards of the earth, an area this book deals with) as well as the Sabbath in providing the way to lighten the burden on the poor and sick (similar to the way that Jesus Christ continually healed on the Sabbath and the way that the Sabbath continually points to justice and freedom from the burdens of life in a fallen world in God’s word [2]. Although this book rightly points out the problems of gnostic dualism that are present in many aspects of Christianity, it fails to present the Sabbath as a centerpiece of God’s justice as it shows itself in this world. That said, this book gives an idea of justice that ought to encourage those with the knowledge that would take this book further and in an even more biblical fashion. This book should therefore encourage readers who believe that God’s laws are the foundation of His justice, and who wish to celebrate and honor and follow in God’s ways from a heart of love towards God and towards other people.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/exodus-2-and-moses-sense-of-social-justice/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/09/01/exodus-231-19-the-relationship-between-the-sabbath-and-justice/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/micah-6-9-16-on-the-statutes-of-omri/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/05/09/book-review-heavenly-bills/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/book-review-the-legend-of-the-monk-and-the-merchant/

[2] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/05/12/the-purposes-of-the-sabbath-part-one/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/05/26/purposes-of-the-sabbath-part-two/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/06/02/purposes-of-the-sabbath-part-three/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/06/16/purposes-of-the-sabbath-part-four/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/purposes-of-the-sabbath-part-five/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/06/16/exodus-31-12-18-the-sabbath-covenant/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/06/09/matthew-12-1-8-mark-2-23-28-luke-6-1-5-the-lord-of-the-sabbath-and-the-lord-of-sabaoth/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/02/16/a-broader-understanding-of-the-sabbath-day/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/09/10/christ-the-sabbath-and-liberty/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/on-the-relationship-between-the-sabbath-and-liberty/

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

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A Week To Remember, A Week To Forget

Yesterday, when I was reviewing a book [1], I was reminded that this particular book is seeking to promote PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) awareness. Technically speaking, there is a wide variety of days, weeks, and months devoted to PTSD awareness, but it is not something about which much of the world appears aware in any profound degree. Although I have referred to PTSD in passing quite a few times in the course of my writing, it has almost never been the main subject material in my writing over the course of my life. There is one notable exception, and that is a play I wrote in my mid-20’s about an idealistic young man who seeks to help others who struggle with difficult childhood even as he deals with the stress of letting his own girlfriend know about his life and personal history. In light of the book’s urge to remember those who have PTSD, I would like to devote this particular entry to the strange mix of remembering and forgetting that comes with PTSD.

I was diagnosed with PTSD at the age of four after showing some age-inappropriate knowledge about sexuality. From the best that I can determine from family stories, it occurred with a family friend who was about my age. Of course, having survived early childhood rape and incest from a close male relative, it was probably inevitable at some point for something to come out. After that, I had frequent play therapy for a couple of years at a local psychiatric hospital (which has since closed down), where my mother got her first employment in the area. Although my own experience is pretty harrowing, it is not necessarily unusual. After all, there are at least a couple of traumatic experiences that will pretty regularly induce PTSD. One of those is sexual abuse, and the other is military service.

It is not surprising, I suppose, that military service has attracted most of the attention about PTSD. To be sure, the people in the military volunteered for their service, but combat is tough for anyone, whether they chose it or not. Given the widespread recent scandals about the quality of health care given to our veterans at the VA Hospitals, it is not a surprise that mental health issues (like PTSD) would lag far behind even the standard of health care given to physical health. And if the health care for Veterans, who have sacrificed for our country, is at an unacceptable level, how poorly do you think the care is for ordinary citizens? And if the care is for women who benefit from our society’s political correctness and the desire to blame men for the difficulties that women face, how difficult is it for men to receive the care and encouragement we need?

There are a lot of similarities between military service, though, and surviving abuse, if one looks closely at matters. Surviving abuse, after all, is a particularly ferocious form of spiritual warfare. Unlike the all-volunteer United States military, though, those who survive abuse did not choose it, but rather had it forced on them. It gives a lot of insight (much of it unwanted, to be sure) about the darkness that lies within the hearts of humanity, and about the depths that people can sink to in moral degradation. It represents a struggle against the darkness seeking to rob people of the ability to properly trust, develop intimacy, or set boundaries, a struggle to find happiness among the anxiety and stress of life. No one desires such a thing for oneself or anyone else, and we all have to wrestle mightily with what life gives us, whether we have chosen to put ourselves in harm’s way or not.

So, for all of those who have something to remember, namely the encouragement and support of friends and loved ones, and the memory of resilience and assistance, let us remember those things. For all of us who have things to forget, of panic attacks in awkward situations (I have a few such stories myself), or of the memory of difficulties that have overwhelmed us, let us forget the shame of our youth [4] and let us rise on to face what life has to offer, and to seek the deepest longings of our hearts, regardless of the obstacles we have to face along the way. Let us hope that life can provide better memories in the future to put the past into a better context. Sometimes, that is the best we can hope for.

[1] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/book-review-love-letters-from-the-edge/

[2] See, for example:

http://ptsdawarenessmonth.com/

http://awarenessribbonsptsd.com/

http://ptsdawareness.org/info.html

[3] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/book-review-the-princess-within-for-teens/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/11/19/im-just-trying-to-be-cool/

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

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/book-review-finding-the-good-in-grief/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/book-review-not-quite-healed/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/02/10/book-review-outrageous-courage/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/divine-providence-in-the-life-of-nathan-the-upser/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/09/20/the-only-thing-we-have-to-fear-is-fear-itself/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/book-review-the-ox-bow-incident/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/04/02/book-review-zoheleth/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/12/23/better-now/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/can-depression-be-cured/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/organized-chaos/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/the-hunger-games-trilogy-and-the-perils-of-adaptation/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/the-problem-of-universal-mandates/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/08/07/on-the-process-of-mental-thermodynamics/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/05/27/book-review-mockingjay/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/its-not-all-in-your-head-morgellons-and-other-diseases/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/04/04/luka/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/simone/

[4] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/06/isaiah-54-for-you-will-forget-the-shame-of-your-youth/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/the-walk-of-shame/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/04/21/overcoming-the-culture-of-shame/

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Book Review: Love Letters From The Edge

Love Letters from the Edge: Meditations for Those Struggling with Brokenness, Trauma, and the Pain of Life, by Shelly Beach and Wanda Sanchez

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

This book is both an attempt to help deal with a massive issue, namely the large percentage of people who have suffered from sexual abuse and other traumatic experiences and who have the resulting struggles with mental health issues (especially depression and PTSD), addictions, and the related suite of problems that result, as well as a part of the problem. Although the authors recognize in the introduction that while about a quarter of women suffer from sexual abuse before the age of 18, about a sixth of all men (myself included) also do. And yet despite the fact that this book recognizes the fact and includes among its excellent references a book from the same publisher about the struggle men face with sexual abuse [1], this is a book written by, for, and largely about women, despite the fact that men suffer from abuse at similar rates to women despite the huge gulf in books written for men and women about the subject [2]. There is some token recognition of the impact of abuse on men, but nowhere near the amount of depth and focus on the consequences of abuse for men as for women.

That said, this is a book that ought to appeal to its target market, which is Christian women who have suffered from abuse and from its related issues (including problems like abortion, suicide, depression, drug and alcohol addiction, PTSD, which is mentioned many times in this book, insomnia, flashbacks and nightmares, abusive relationships, grace, forgiveness, self-condemnation, cutting, and so on). The material in this book is not for the faint of heart. If you are reading this devotional (which is divided into a 12-week program with weekend projects), you probably have enough of a personal history to be able to relate to the subject material here either on your own behalf or as a way of encouraging a loved one. If a library is full of books like this, it is probably a safe bet that the reader has a dark personal history of trauma and a fervent longing for wholeness and restoration, and this book is a worthy addition to such a library, especially if the reader is female.

In terms of its organization and structure, this book is divided into four sections, the first two of which are four weeks long, and the second two of which are two weeks long each (adding up to twelve chapters, one for each week for the devotional [3]. The first section is called “Heart Cries,” the second “Grieving and Growing,” the third, “Hope and a Future,” and the fourth “Love and Assurance.” After the main section of the book are seven appendices that deal with specific guidance for those suffering from PTSD (which I have endured my entire life, being diagnosed with it at the age of four), general resources for survivors of abuse, and encouraging verses from the Bible. Each of the daily reading sections (five per chapter, and an additional weekend unit) have three sections, and the early ones usually have four (starting with a personal confession from one of the authors about their struggle with brokenness in some fashion, mostly heart-wrenching, including abortions, divorce, forgiving rapists and child molesters, dealing with the suicide of a child—this is not easy material deal with – as well as having insatiable father hunger and the resulting desire for male attention and affirmation, a subject this book dwells on over and over again in some fashion. In addition, there are three other sections of an imagined but encouraging and loving letter from God offering gracious mercy and hope, a series of topical questions called “Hope on the Edge,” and a brief and passionate prayer called a “Heart Cry.”

Despite the serious and unpleasant material that this book deals with, it is ultimately a book about love and encouragement. The love letters referred to in the title are about sixty love letters that represent the internal voice of a loving heavenly Father that the authors write in as a way of providing positive self-talk for readers (presumably mostly women) who need to be reminded not to trust our feelings when it comes to knowing our worth in the eyes of God, and who need to be comforted over the uneven progress and occasional regress that results from the struggle against darkness that takes place within those who have suffered the horrors of abuse. Ultimately, this book is a reminder that the physical and mental health struggles that result from such evil are not evidence of weakness, but are rather the source of surprising strength and compassion that can help us to relate to the undeserved suffering of Jesus Christ and show the same sort of compassion and care for others that we wish for ourselves. As such, this book is an admirable example of a devotional that deals with the darkest of subjects and strives to find within it the light of the Gospel of Christ, a work that should be appreciated by many women, and hopefully at least a few men.

[1] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/book-review-when-a-man-you-love-was-abused/

[2] Nearly all of the books I have seen on the subject of sexual abuse assume that the survivor of abuse has been a woman and deal with the issue accordingly:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/book-review-overcoming-abuse-gods-way/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/05/12/book-review-the-passion-principles/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/05/07/book-review-insideoutside/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/05/02/book-review-when-i-journal-he-speaks/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/book-review-highway-to-hell/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/book-review-forgiving-our-fathers-and-mothers/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/01/13/book-review-related-by-chance-family-by-choice/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/12/16/book-review-hot-buttons-image-edition/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/book-review-when-victims-marry/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/10/02/book-review-the-beauty-of-broken/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/09/14/book-review-wounded-women-of-the-bible/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/08/03/book-review-what-about-women/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/02/10/book-review-outrageous-courage/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/02/09/book-review-life-in-spite-of-me/

[3] The twelve weeks in the devotional are titled as follows:

Week One: I see you and I know you.
Week Two: I cradle you in my arms.
Week Three: I comfort you.
Week Four: I remember you.
Week Five: I restore you.
Week Six: I bless you with the power to forgive.
Week Seven: I secure you in my love.
Week Eight: I accept you.
Week Nine: I send gifts that renew you.
Week Ten: I bless you with the power to release the past.
Week Eleven: I promise to love you forever.
Week Twelve: I promise you a hope and a future.

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Book Review: The Beatles: Day By Day

The Beatles: Day By Day: The Sixties As They Happened, by Terry Burrows

This book happened to be a birthday present from my mother, and she did so just knowing my love of books, the Beatles [1], and historical chronology. By chance, it happens to mirror the class I took on Coursera about the Beatles, which spent a lot of time talking about songs and music (interests which this particular book mirrors), while examining the course of the Beatles along a very clear career track. First, the Beatles had to learn their craft through hard work and lots of covers and paying their dues in Liverpool and Hamburg. Here they opened and did backup duties for more established acts and developed the rudiments of their songwriting after working with a lot of acts in genres like skiffle, comedy, and R&B. After this, the Beatles developed their songwriting, first John and Paul and then George, albeit belatedly, while they became more and more popular within Great Britain. Then, of course, came Beatlemania within the United States, and then the gradual distance that grew between their ambitious studio sound and their increasingly difficult live performances, followed by their period as increasingly distinct singer-songwriters with less and less collaboration between them.

This book is organized in a chronological fashion, going back to the marriages of the Beatles’ parents, and the births of the Beatles and the key people in their lives. The book covers the important concerts, recording incidents, personal incidents, business affairs, studio work, and travels of the Beatles, the early revolving lineup, and includes sidebars to important cultural events that were related to the Beatles. Of particular interest is the way that the author manages to subtly cover many of the complicated elements that influenced the Beatles, including girl groups as well as the music of the Beach Boys and Bob Dylan. There is, of course, a lot of discussion about drugs, including how it divided the Beatles, how different members of the Beatles had visa problems later on with the United States because of drug convictions, and how the Beatles actually sponsored an advertisement in the 1960’s seeking for the legalization of marijuana, which they all smoked, among other things.

This particular book is about two hundred pages long, and constructed like a diary, with brief but informative entries that show the complex tangle between the personal and professional lives of the Beatles. The book also continues to basically the present day, looking at the ups and downs of the individual Beatles. It does not cover their inductions into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but it does cover their significant solo albums, their last hit records, and the deaths of John Lennon and George Harrison. For a Beatles fan, even one who is critical about their personal relationship drama, their rampant drug use, and their general role in encouraging and mirroring cultural decline, this is a worthwhile book and an honest book that does not whitewash the history but rather seeks to present it honestly, even where there are differences in accounts between multiple people. This sort of open and fair-minded approach makes this a valuable work of history about very familiar subjects.

[1] See, for example.

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/this-day-in-history-on-feburary-9-1964-the-beatles-invaded-america/

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

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/each-and-every-one/

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

[2] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/08/06/on-the-importance-of-chronology-in-understanding-history/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/26/book-review-pharaohs-of-the-bible-4004-960-bc/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/book-review-gods-time-capsule-the-great-pyramid-and-sphinx-of-gaza-egypt-volume-ii/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/book-review-the-origins-and-empire-of-ancient-israel/

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Friendly Skies

In life, we often take it for granted that the skies we fly on are friendly ones. Last night I kissed and hugged my mom farewell and she went off back home to Florida on a redeye flight. She took her flight, had her bags packed, all with the assumption that although it might be hard to sleep on the trip [1], that the trip would be safe, that the plane would have its mechanical systems properly checked, and that there would be no violence along the way. Although from time to time there are violent exceptions to the ordinary course of events, for the most part we have a great deal of trust that our lives will be peaceful and friendly when we go about our normal activities like flying and driving, enjoying the experiences that travel provides and trusting that we will not be in harm’s way along the way.

There are times when this sort of expectation is rather seriously dashed, though. A few days ago, a passenger plane traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lampur was shot down over Eastern Ukraine by a Russian-made missile system in what appears to have been a deliberate attack by Russian supported separatists. These incidents are not very common. Since 2000, there have only been a few such incidents, most of them (like this one) occurring in known conflict areas: a couple in Iraq, one in Somalia, and last week’s incident was the first since 2007. During the Cold War, such incidents were more common given the global nature of a world in a constant state of fierce tension. As a result of the crash, all airline flights over Eastern Ukraine have been suspended, and Malaysia Airlines’ horrible year has continued in the worst way [2], entirely without their fault, simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time around the wrong people. Time and chance happen to us all.

As world travelers, many of us expect that we will be safe wherever we travel. We expect that as peaceable American citizens on some kind of private business, or even humanitarian service work, that we should be largely immune from the fallback of bloody coups or civil wars. We generally work very hard not to take sides in such matters, even where we might have a curiosity in such affairs, and by and large are pursuing our own business with the expectation that this will not lead us into harm’s way. Most of the time, this is a sensible position to take, but at times our faith in our own safety no matter where we travel is rather rudely shaken by circumstances. How do we deal with the reality of the fact that we are not immune from the troubles around us? To what extent does it motivate us to try to build enclaves of safety in an unsafe world, or attempt to wrestle with the fact that no one is entirely safe as long as anywhere is unsafe.

Whenever I have traveled, I have behaved with the expectation that despite the differences between myself and others, that there was at least almost always the potential for friendly relations. I have, by and large, sought to be friendly with the widest number of people possible, at least to the point of civility and politeness, and superficial conversation, while those who are close to me in some fashion I like to be friends with to a deeper level, to the extent possible, through lengthy and deep conversation. Planes are good places to get to know people at least somewhat well, as one can learn a lot from watching what someone eats and drinks, what sort of books they read, what sort of music they listen to, or what sort of movies they watch when they are given many choices. What is done with this time for interaction remains up to the people themselves, whether they choose to make the skies friendly or not. Hopefully we choose wisely.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/09/25/the-longest-day/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/05/06/in-the-middle-of-things/

[2] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/vanishing-act/

Posted in Christianity, History, International Relations, Music History | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Heavier Things

Today I heard a sermon that I have never heard before, in comparing our spiritual lives to education, although I must admit that I have pondered such issues myself in a limited way [1]. It was a very inventive audience, appropriate for having a large number of guests (mostly in high school) who were on their way to camp and generally of the mood to compare life with schooling, being very familiar with schooling. I suppose I have spent enough time in school that it was not too surprising when in different areas of life I was in the high school and college age. Not surprisingly, I find that high school in general is a good metaphor for much of the way that life works [2]. Of course, while high school was not a fun period of life, college offered some enjoyment as well as a significant amount of achievement (especially in graduate school). I don’t mind life being like college, especially if it means mastering the intricacies of love (as difficult as that is). Mastering discernment, justice, and mercy, and hope, are difficult enough areas of life to deal with successfully.

What are the heavier things in life? Matthew 23:23 reads: ““Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” This is, of course, one of the best scriptures in the Bible that deals with the subject of tithing, since the subject is not dealt with elsewhere in the New Testament with any degree of frequency [3]. What is most obvious, though, is that tithing is not the highest matter of life, but that there are higher matters that should be done even as the lesser matters are not left undone. When we progress through school, we build upon a foundation of previous coursework, but just because we progress to higher levels does not mean that we reject previous learning because it was on a more basic level. We simply recognize that we have mastered the basics, continue to practice them, but wrestle with more serious issues and are grateful for the education that we have progressed through. Too often people fail to realize that morality and education share many similar elements, including the fact that heavier things are built on top of less weighty matters that form a basis for future development. Unless we master the basics, we cannot really progress to higher levels, but once we master those basics, there are other areas that demand our attention.

Life is full of weighty matters. Does it show discernment and proper judgment to read a certain book, or to listen to certain music, or to watch a certain movie, or to spend a lot of time getting to know certain people? There are areas of life that we greatly wrestle with, some areas where we are strong and others where we are weak, and we develop our strengths even as we wrestle mightily with our weaknesses, sometimes with the full knowledge that we face continual tests and refinement in areas where we know we have some massive shortcomings [4]. Sometimes we simply have to ask how long we’re going to be in high school, and do our best to learn what we need to learn and grow in the ways we need to grow, and develop the hope and faith and love that will make us more like our Father in heaven and our elder brother. Hopefully, that will be enough.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/03/17/the-graduates/

[2] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/11/19/this-is-why-high-school-never-ends/

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

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/02/22/book-review-daughters-in-danger/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/02/16/younger-now-than-we-were-then/

[3] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/04/28/for-you-have-robbed-me-even-this-whole-nation-part-one/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/for-you-have-robbed-me-even-this-whole-nation-part-two/

[4] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/you-dont-play-a-game-you-cant-win/

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

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/on-discovering-your-strengths-in-the-heat-of-crisis/

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It’s Not The Years, It’s The Miles

One poem I have meant to blog on but have not quite gotten around to it because I am not sure what I would say about it is an old English folk poem that engages in the dubious and immoral practice of fortune telling based on what day of the week someone has been born on. In addition to that practice, it also completely manages to screw up the identity of the Sabbath day, and so in writing about the poem, a lot of time would have to be spent dealing with these errors rather than with the more personal or cultural aspects of the poem as they relate to contemporary life. Many people, after all, identify themselves with the day of the week they were born on (especially Tuesday, which is a flattering day), but my day has long haunted me in terms of its meaning: “Thursday’s child has far to go.”

What does it mean to have far to go? Does it mean that Thursday’s child will be particularly driven? David Bowie seemed to think so when he wrote his own song “Thursday’s Child.” To be sure, I have traveled a long way in my life. Even a recounting of the places I have lived, from Pennsylvania to Florida to California to Ohio to Florida again to Thailand and then to Oregon, suggests a life in motion. This is not even getting into my many other travels, some of which I have written about at some length [1]. Even as a child and teenager I was often shuttling around between Florida and Pennsylvania between my two parents, during the short period of time where I was not in classes (since I almost invariably took extra courses in the summer as an academically ambitious person. I seem to have a higher tolerance for miles than most people do, but at the same time I wonder if like a vehicle I have sometimes put too many miles on myself too thoughtlessly.

In the book of Genesis, when Jacob and his family arrive in Egypt at the beginning of their sojourn there, the Pharaoh is impressed with the long life of Jacob’s family (something that is rather uneven in my family), but Jacob himself has feelings not unlike my own, which he expresses in Genesis 47:9: “And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The days of the years of my pilgrimage are one hundred and thirty years; few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.”” Certainly the years of my pilgrimage [2] have been few and evil, and they have not attained to the years of the life of my fathers, for though my father died young at 59 (because of a stroke followed by a heart attack), and his father at about 66 (because of lung cancer), most generations of my family have enjoyed long life unless they have had the ill fortune to be entangled in wars [3]. In many ways, I feel both far younger and far older than I really am because of the strange course my life has taken.

In some ways, I suppose it is not the years (which are relatively few) but rather the miles. Perhaps like our beloved automobiles, we ought to measure our time not only in terms of our model year, but also how many miles we have put on our lives in our travels, in our efforts, or in our cares and worries and anxieties. We may not wish to worry ourselves or work ourselves into an early grave on the one hand, but we might appreciate the sort of maturity and understanding we gain from a wide understanding of the world through personal experiences. There is a happy middle road between being in too much of a rush and not being motivated to do anything or go anywhere at all. Where is that balance to be found, though? I do not pretend to be an expert on achieving this sort of balance myself, although I strive for it mightily. Hopefully the years, and the miles, will be more kind to me in the future than they have in the past. I cannot imagine enduring on this earth for 35 or 40 more years, or longer, unless the years grow considerably more kind from here. There is only so much one can endure, after all.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/the-accidental-traveling-librarian-or-the-material-culture-of-nomads/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/07/03/giving-credit-where-credit-is-due-travel-electric-plug-converter/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/the-day-of-small-things-a-travelogue/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/a-note-to-the-readers-about-my-travels-to-the-winter-family-weekend/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/14/99-shades-of-gray/

[2] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/16/33/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/09/06/a-vagabond-in-vagabond-land/

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

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Book Review: Created For Influence

Created For Influence: Transforming The Culture From Where You Are, by William L. Ford III

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

Rarely do I read a book that has the qualities of this one, a book that is both close in subject matter and interest to me, and yet far away in terms of intended audience [1]. At its heart, this is a book that seeks to encourage its readers to become prayer warriors focused on dramatic and miraculous intercession from God that is directed towards redeeming the present corrupt culture into a stronghold of His kingdom. This book is written by a fellow I have never heard of, who is a disciple of another fellow named Dutch Sheets who I have also never heard of (who is mentioned often in this book and who wrote the forward), and it contains a lot of references to various movements within the black church like the “Seven Mountains” teaching that I have also never heard of.

Nevertheless, the point of the book is plain. This author is, commendably, blunt-spoken and honest both in his appropriation of biblical stories to support his position of active engagement of believers with the world in such a way that shows a model of our behavior as citizens of the Kingdom as a means of counting the activity of the evil one and his followers. This book is strong against the occult, ferocious against abortion and homosexuality (especially incensed at the way that civil rights anthems have been perverted to support the gay rights agenda and the way that abortion has decimated the African American community demographically), and hostile as well to the cult of celebrity that often is a substitute for a godly and righteous generation among the community of traditional Christianity.

This particular book is organized in a distinctive way, with thematic chapters that ramble on but tend to focus on the subject of influence (with a focus on the spiritual world and its repercussions for life on the earthly plane) and a small set of mostly familiar biblical figures but some that are not as well known to many (like that of Ahithophel the grandfather of Bathsheba and counselor to rebellious Absalom). Many of the chapter titles and contents contain notable puns and metaphors between earthly artifacts and spiritual matters: “In The Grip Of Heaven,” “Cosmic Traffic Cops,” “Under The Influence,” “Rhyme, Reason, and the Substance of Faith,” “The Anointing And The Fragrant Life,” “Kingdom Influence In The Marketplace,” “Thermostats Or Thermometers,” “Influence And Our Offspring,” “The Shepherd’s Air Force,” “Jesus And The Marketplace,” and “Reclaiming The Seven Mountains And The Threshing Floor.” Perhaps the most memorable of many excellent examples of wordplay is the way in which the author attempts to confuse the reader after constantly repeating “folk” into saying “egg yolk” instead of “egg white,” which in turn demonstrates the way that we can be influenced by those around us unless someone is strong in giving the right answer. The power of faithful people who are solid in faith and knowledge against the deceptions of Satan is something that this book talks about often, and well.

Among the more distinctive, and somewhat off-putting, qualities of this particular book is the way that this book continually deals with a mystical aspect of faith. The author, over and over again, passionately talks about mysterious dreams and “confirmations” in the most bizarre way imaginable, in wordplay and obscure extrapolating of meaning from ambiguous symbols. Many times these supposed confirmations show an extremely shallow grasp of biblical law and practice, even as the author appears to pride himself as a teacher of God’s ways to others and knowledgeable in the culture and traditions of the contemporary world as well as the Bible. Given the author’s apparent knowledge, for example, of the role of the occult in the counterculture of the 1960’s, as well as Jewish traditions about funeral processions and the right of priority when two processions collided in a Jewish town, the massive and basic gaps of biblical knowledge that the author shows are mystifying. For example, the author does not appear to recognize that the biblical calendar and the Roman calendar are not the same (which leads the author to tie biblical verses to Gregorian dates, and to think that the book of Esther was set in December because it was the twelfth month), which also leads the writer to celebrate the family friendly nature of the Rose Bowl parade, even though New Year’s Day is itself a heathen observance.

In large, part, this massive biblical ignorance (which stands in stark contrast to the author’s seemingly encyclopedic knowledge about our corrupt culture as well as obscure movements in the black church that resemble Dominion theology, apart from the interest in God’s law) can be explained by the author’s antinomian leanings (apart from a clear focus on purity and social justice, both of which are admirable and biblical ideals that are a part of the biblical corpus of law). Likewise, the author appears untroubled by the tension between his desire to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. and that same man’s serious flaws of character that made him more like a celebrity Christian than a true example of how to live God’s ways [2]. When this book is good, it is very good, but when it is bad, it is very bad. As a result, one can say about this book and its author that they have a zeal, but not according to knowledge. Even as the lack of knowledge this book demonstrates is worthy of comment, the book is not without value, especially as a passionate appeal for prayer and for a life that shows Christian conduct and involvement in all walks of life. This appeal is of worth even for those readers who lack an intimate knowledge of the black church, an interest in this book’s many mystical elements, and are a bit disappointed by the author’s astonishing lack of interest in fundamental aspects of God’s ways (like the difference between Judah and Israel and between holidays and Holy Days). At the very least, this book is passionate, honest, and almost embarrassingly open (especially about an abortion he urged upon a girlfriend in his youth, and the regrets he had about it), and in my book, that counts as being worthy of considerable praise and a fair amount of tolerance for its faults, assuming that the author wishes to improve upon them.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/influenza/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/03/20/the-soft-power-of-influence/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/an-eternal-flame/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/02/yacht-rock-or-the-incestuousness-of-cultural-elites/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/keep-your-feet-on-the-ground-but-keep-reaching-for-the-stars/

[2] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/01/21/hope-is-our-four-letter-word/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/borrowed-feathers/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/somewhere-to-run-somewhere-to-hide/

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Cui Bono?

The Latin phrase cui bono is a common phrase in dealing with argumentation, especially of a political sort, in its meaning if not exactly in its usage. The phrase means “who benefits,” and is often asked as a question in political discourse when examining the result of choosing a particular course of action, especially if they are making decisions based on self-interest. When one is asking the question cui bono, one is asking who is supposed to derive some sort of improvement or some sort of blessing from a particular course of action. The identity of winners and losers can often sway a substantial base of opinion about the desirability of a course of action, if someone is acting on self-interest (or a desire not to help the interests of certain people) rather than on the grounds of principle. To the extent that we are able to ask and answer who benefits from a particular behavior, we are led to examine the often strange coalitions that can exist in our world between people whose interests may temporarily coincide even if their worldviews are diametrically opposed.

When I was reading a book yesterday [1], I was struck by the fact that the book made such a strident claim that hierarchy was necessary for there to be order. My agreement with this claim, as is often the case, depends widely on the question of definitions. If a hierarchy is defined as an authoritarian structure based on different levels and orders, I would disagree. If, however, it is meant in a more neutral sense to refer to the orderly placement of people in a chain of command where people are accountable to and report to others, then I would agree that any organization of any size, in order to function on a minimally acceptable level, would require some sort of hierarchy, so long as one means by this order and structure at all. However complicated my feelings about chains of being and structure are [2], I am certainly not an anarchical person by any means.

In fact, in my own personal habits I tend to be a person of rather strong tendencies towards order, for all of my creativity and desire for continual improvement. I stack my books on the bookshelf by source, for example. I collect statistics about my blog and order nations in both absolute number of blogs and in something I call the view ratio, which is the ratio of number of views over the population of the nation or dependency in question [3]. After being surprised a few times at the arrival of books months after I had requested them, when I had forgotten that I had asked for them at all, I decided to create a spreadsheet for me to organize those books that I have requested from various publishers or scholarly journals to show the author and source as well as the date the books were requested, read, and when the review was posted. This gives me at least a quick way to glance at which books are at which stage of the process of reading and reviewing that does not rely on my memory.

In all of these cases, though, the person who these orderly tendencies benefit is me. This is true, as well, for other areas of being orderly in organizing files and other information. I am in no way opposed to that order and structure and hierarchy that serves for my benefit in saving me time and allowing my life to be easier to handle and more successful. Whether we are fond of order because it gives us power, or because it can give us pleasure or provide a space of the world where things are as they ought to be in a world where this is not often the case, the pleasure that derives from order to us is a reason to prefer order to chaos in our lives. The ability to have some sort of solid ground provides a great deal of comfort to those of us who tend to be more than a little bit anxious by nature.

Yet, at the same time, order is easily corrupted. We have to be very careful to examine who benefits from a particular order or structure that we encounter in society or in businesses or in our institutions. To the extent that such order and structure serves us as citizens or employees or customers or members of a congregation or community, we ought to celebrate and defend such order. Likewise, we may even choose to put up with or support order and structure that does not serve our pleasure or personal benefit, but which has just moral claims to our support. We ought to expect in this case that while we may not at present derive a benefit from this order, that we have reason to expect (see, for example, Hebrews 11:6) that there will be some benefit to us thirty-fold or a hundredfold later on, which will repay us for our present lack of benefit from a just social order. There are a great deal of hierarchies and structures that neither serve to our benefit nor have a just purpose for claiming our support and allegiance. And it is entirely just that we should question such structures, criticize and critique such structures, and seek better alternatives to these structures.

Yet, we should also remain aware that even when such structures exist that do not benefit us, and that may instead be very detrimental to our best interests (however defined), such structures exist because they benefit someone. Knowing who is benefited by structures, whether materially or psychologically, helps us to know what sort of people are likely to be hostile to any attempts to change or reform that structure to something that is more just. Knowing who benefits from a given action and who does not helps us to know who is likely to oppose or favor such actions, and that gives us an edge when it comes to building coalitions, as it provides us with people who can be convinced on fairly easy grounds, so long as we are trustworthy and honorable and honest in our discourse. Likewise, knowing who is likely to be harmed by an action or proposal is likely to give a good picture at those who are likely or potential strong opponents of it. This knowledge can be useful, as it helps make sense of why people act the way they do. Our interests, while not all-powerful, are powerful enough to deeply shape the way we live our lives, and the way we respond to the proposals and ideas and behavior of others.

[1] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/18/book-review-the-e-myth-revisited/

[2] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/09/17/1-corinthians-113-the-biblical-doctrine-of-the-chain-of-being/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/pray-pay-stay-and-obey/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/king-and-lionheart/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/12/15/a-leadership-false-dilemma/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/a-passion-for-order/

[3] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/a-salute-to-freedom-loving-british-settler-colonists/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/11/28/good-catalog-value/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/if-only-all-tests-could-be-this-easy/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/each-and-every-one/

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Book Review: The E-Myth Revisited

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work And What To Do About It, by Michael E Gerber

This particular book was loaned to me by my boss, and I am the sort of person who (perhaps understandably) takes very seriously the reading recommendations of my boss, although to be fair as long as someone has a modicum of similar taste in reading to me I am likely to respect the sort of books they enjoy even if I am not always familiar with the material. This is, in fact, the second book I have read by this author [1], and in it he does a very good job of explaining the two key components of the entrepreneurial myth as it is practiced in contemporary business: that most people who own their own companies are entrepreneurs by nature and that the task of a successful small business is doing the sort of activities that often led one to strike out on their own. Having read one other book by the author, I am able at least to see some of the similarities between the two books and at least extrapolate what his other material would be like.

The two books, at their core, share a lot of similarities. One of them is a rigorous focus on systems and strategies for everything from sales to quantification to dealing with employees. Included in this systemic worldview is a division of the tasks of a business and the different personalities of people into three different roles: the entrepreneur, who is the ideas and systems sort of fellow who has a vision of the future, the manager, who looks back at tradition and seeks order, and the technician who works in the present and seeks freedom. Likewise, this book is based around a dialogue that serves to illustrate the story while providing a useful foil to the author in such a way that is easy to relate to but at the same time less challenging than a real person would be, being a fictionalized composite that serves as an ideal foil for the wisdom of the author in expressing how it is that small business can succeed.

This book, though, manages to be a little better than “The E-Myth Manager” for at least a couple of reasons. For one, the author is much more candid about his own life and its turmoil. The author discusses his story briefly around the middle of the work, when discussing how it is never too late for someone to be successful, and it is a surprising tale full of broken relationships, grinding poverty, and a will that refused to be shaken despite the difficulties of life. This personal touch elevates this particular volume from being a book about responsibilization (as one of my professors would say in his Marxist fashion) to becoming a genuine effort at encouraging others to bridge between the inner and outer chaos of our worlds. Rather than seek the comfort of a paternalistic government or a company, the author seeks to give the tools that allow people to be successful leaders. The assumption, of course, is that the people reading this book are (by and large) entrepreneurs themselves, and this book does not in any way sugar coat the difficulties of that task.

What it does provide, and provide well, is a way for entrepreneurs to avoid the traps of doing work or abdicating responsibility to others, in seeking to turn one’s knowledge into a system to make it less dependent on the skill of individuals. The real key to building success is in service and in giving to others. To the extent that we wish to make ourselves indispensable, we will sabotage any chances of passing on a successful legacy, because we will lack the ability to share those things that made us great with others. Likewise, the way that we help others to succeed and catch the vision is to have such a vivid understanding of it ourselves, and to know the processes we wish for others to do so well, that we are able to feed the fires of success in others and to provide opportunities for others to develop and grow and pass along the culture that we have created. Such a work as this is fairly easy to read, and certainly not challenging in terms of its vocabulary, but it is all too little seen in practice. One cannot blame this author, or any other one, for that reality, though.

[1] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/06/04/book-review-the-e-myth-manager/

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