Lord Of The Data

It is days like this that remind me of my complex relationship with data. I spent my entire work day wrestling with data, and some of my time at home doing the same thing in a different way. None of this is unusual. To be sure, there were aspects about my day that were unusual by my standards, but the general patterns are consistent based on my life and the ends to which I turn my complicated mind. I would like to discuss some of the twists and turns of that mind as they relate to data, and while I am aware that the subject is not one that probably interests many people, I hope that it will at least make my own ways a bit more plain, and hopefully provide at least some food for thought for others whose relationship with data is far more distant than my own.

After a little more than two hours of my usual morning data project, I spent an hour as the lead speaker on our side of a conference call with a company. I must say, being a presenter on a conference call when there are executives listening (mostly silently) can be quite heady. Having to speak about company matters, including the statistics that the executives wanted, and where the information for it could be found, was quite a delicate task for someone as plainspoken as myself. As is often the case in my life, the fact that all of the other people on the call were silent was something I did not know how to fully interpret, whether it was a sign of confidence that I knew what I was talking about and didn’t need any correction or help and didn’t say anything out of bounds, or whether it was as more ominous silence. Since I got no hostile or corrective visits or e-mails afterwards, I assume (in the absence of any evidence to the contrary), that my occasionally witty comments were not bothersome.

After this lengthy and successful chat, I went back to my reports, and had a lot of of requests for data of one kind or another, as tends to happen during the course of a day. I timed my lunch in such a way that I was able to spend a couple hours watching a course on how to handle the new data management program we are working with, the first of three classes I am supposed to take. When it comes to tools that make my task of presenting data more easily and accurately, I am definitely interested in helping make my life easier and help provide others with the sort of information they are looking for. I even managed to solve a data problem that has been vexing me for a while, using a key field in one report to draw information I was looking for from another report to fill a gap in data that I was concerned about, and that could help inform others about the reasons for some of the consistent patterns I see and puzzle over in my data.

I like to use data to solve problems. I see if people are doing what they are supposed to be doing, I like to see what patterns reveal themselves in the data. Yet sometimes it is easy to draw conclusions about people one does not know from the data one sees and to be dismissive about them. How to use data as a way to make life easier on others, how to solve problems, and how to see areas of need where encouragement and assistance is beneficial is a less straightforward task. I suppose like any other useful tool, data itself is not good or evil, but it can be used for good or evil ends. People can use their knowledge of and access to data to hunt actresses who happen to be gamers, and to make them live in fear that their privacy will be exposed. Such monstrous behavior ought not to be considered, as it is these fears which tend to make people suspicious of data collection to begin with. On the other hand, let us use data as a way of finding out areas that need improvement in our lives and in the lives of others, to give us the information we need to act in service and love towards others, so that data can be a tool for making the corners of the world we live in a better place, which in turn would cause the numbers we see to improve. At least, that is what we ought to hope for and desire.

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Book Review: Misfits Welcome

Misfits Welcome: Find Yourself In Jesus And Bring The World Along For The Ride, by Matthew Barnett

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

Being someone who has always, and with good reason, considered myself a misfit, this is the sort of book I read knowing that I will see people who are like myself. Yet in some ways this book was both very easy and very difficult to read. It was easy to read because it was written in a well-polished prose style with straightforward language and very well organized structure, everything in the book relating to the theme of God (and Jesus Christ’s) concern for the outcast and misfit and broke and how we should all care for them as well in our actions. On the other hand, some aspects of this book were not easy to read, as the testimonials of those who had rough lives dealing with abuse and degradation, of which there were many, was most difficult to read. I find it hard to read about people in distress, being someone who tends to feel distress rather acutely as well and identify readily with other souls in torment. Suffice it to say, this book has a lot of such souls, being about the life and mission of a preacher who has devoted his career to working with the most reviled and downtrodden people in Los Angeles–gangbangers, prostitutes, homeless, drug addicts, abandoned children and the like. Ultimately, this is a book about hope, with an optimistic vision about how God takes the broken and makes them whole, but it does not whitewash the ugliness of life in this broken world.

One of the key strengths of this book, and something that distinguishes it from a lot of other books written in contemporary Christianity, is the fact that this book largely avoids discussion of contentious and unnecessary theological matters and focuses on the core of practical Christian duties which reveal the character and nature of God and of His love for us. It manages to avoid the extremes of others who wallow in brokenness [1], pointing to the fact that obedience is necessary and that restoration and wholeness are possible even for the most broken among us [2]. Ultimately, this world has been broken by thousands of years of sin and folly, in which all of us have played a part (some of us particularly inglorious ones), and as God wants to raise up sons and daughters for His family, that means putting broken pieces back together again, and using those broken pieces, infused with life and build anew, to help build the world into something worthy of His name.

And though this book does not discuss theology except in a practical sense, there is one element of God’s law it unintentionally highlights over and over again. The book speaks about Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath as a way of countering the self-righteous expectations of those who thought themselves pious but looked down on others. Yet the Sabbath commandments have always been about showing graciousness and generosity to the poor, the downtrodden, those who are heavily burdened, something that the Jews of Jesus’ day were largely ignorant to. Although the author of this book is certainly not a Sabbatarian as God commands [3], this book is something that should encourage those who wish to live as Jesus lived, and love as Jesus lived, even if the consequences are sometimes difficult and awkward. Even better, this book has a lot of great quotes [4] that are worthy of deep thought and reflection as we seek to model God’s ways in our lives, even if they are sometimes a mess.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/book-review-the-ragamuffin-gospel/

[2] See, for example:

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

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/beauty-in-the-breakdown/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/08/01/book-review-speak/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/book-review-uncovered/

[3] See, for example:

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

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

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/2012/06/16/exodus-31-12-18-the-sabbath-covenant/

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/

[4] See, for example:

p. 6: “Now I pastor a church of misfits: girls who are victims of human trafficking, homeless families, people in rehab who have had lifelong drug addictions. It’s a beautiful collection of people who are realizing day by day that God doesn’t throw over left-over pieces. He redeems them. He collects them to reuse.”

p. 23: “Misfit thinkers always seem to live life aggressively rather than passively. They choose to live life and not let life live them. They are the kind of people who will drive home a different way just to see life from a different perspective; the kind of people who will see the meaning behind the mundane; the kind of people who strategize ways they can make a difference before they even arrive where they are going; the kind of people who decide the attitude they will have before they even get to where they are going. They are addicted to life–addicted to making a difference.”

p.32: “But the people got this all wrong. Jesus wasn’t invited to be the guest of a sinner; He invited Himself to be with the sinner. The entire life of Jesus from the womb to the resurrection was about one thing: looking for misfits. Jesus didn’t wait for misfits to find Him; He went after them with incredible intensity and awareness.

p.50: “Every believer ought to pursue a habit of loving people, embracing people. When we do, it becomes contagious. The great thing about being there for people who are misfits is the way we build confidence in them to dream again. Many people who feel life is over feel that way because they can’t see through the walls of mistakes. They need someone to fight for them so that they can rise again, dream again.”

p.54-55: “Embracing misfits is also misunderstood. There are times when it’s not popular to help certain people because a family, or a community, or even a nation feels these people are not worthy of being loved. Embracing misfits means standing by people even when it’s unpopular. The church ought to set world records on how fast we spring to rescue the fallen. It’s so easy to love someone at the top of their game, but it takes real character to love someone at the bottom.”

p.104: “The closer I get to helping others in their brokenness, the more broken I realize I am. I’m not better than the broken parts I try to put back together. I often feel equally battered. The reality is that we all pick each other up along the way.”

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Book Review: Lord, Teach Us To Pray

Lord, Teach Us To Pray, by Andrew Murray

This book is one of the free books I downloaded some time ago [1], and while it was a short book it is definitely worthy of discussion. There are some authors whose personality shines through in the sort of text that they write. Some people, without any sort of intent, bear out their personalities to a such an extent that reading what they write, one gets the feeling that one knows them. Sometimes this can be a good thing and sometimes not, and it must be said that Andrew Murray, at least as he appears in this book, does not appear as if he would be a very friendly person, even if he does strike the reader as both sincere and passionate. His archaic language, even for his time, and his surety about himself in doubtful matters strikes the reader as being a bit less pleasant than a more friendly writer would be. This is not a book that is warm towards others, even if it is about a subject of considerable importance and is an accomplished work in some respects.

The subject matter of this book is very straightforward. The author takes as his text the first part of Matthew 6, including the Lord’s Prayer, and examines the subject of prayer, as well as the role of Jesus Christ as the “only teacher.” From the title itself, there is already a sort of ominous close-mindedness itself at play. The text itself consists of short chapters explaining different aspects of the Lord’s Prayer interspersed with passionate prayers and dogmatic speculation. The end result is a curious amalgam of what look like shorter pamphlets, some of which are very personal and excellent, if written in a very archaic way, while others are pedantic cases where the writer beats sentences fine, looking at the four different ways to accent the title of the book, looking at each one in some detail. Even though the book is short, some of the repetition of the work can be a bit tedious.

That said, this book is a book about prayer, and it has some useful things to say. It comments on the relative importance of prayer to speaking in terms of the need for instruction, points to Jesus Christ (and scripture) as our teacher and instructor, even if it has a characteristically Greek approach to truth in that it fails to see the layers present in the Sermon on the Mount, and tends to pit spiritual faith against the ceremonies of worship rather than seeing them in harmony. These kinds of flaws, along with the dogmatic insistence the author has in his own views, makes this book less pleasurable than it would be were it written by someone whose prayers were more generous minded in nature. That said, it has some worthwhile things to say, reminds us of the fact that the words of the Bible can be taken differently depending on emphasis, and provides a read that is not too long to tax one’s patience.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/06/09/you-get-what-you-pay-for/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/13/fragmented-book-reviews-part-one/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/29/book-review-guide-to-the-collapse-of-yugoslavia-1991-1999/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/fragmented-book-reviews-part-three/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/08/26/fragmented-book-reviews-part-four/

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Argumentative Reflection: The Lot Falls In The Lap

[Note: This essay is part of a series of argumentative reflections on political philosophy [1].]

When we look at the corrupt and unaccountable nature of our political elites, whether in terms of our civil governments, businesses, or other institutions, it is hard to feel optimistic about the state of our civic culture. When we see members of Congress vote rules into place that they never read, pass laws that don’t apply to them, and that in the best of governments, it is hard to feel confident. It is even less easy to feel confident about the success of civil government when we see nations (like Thailand) that cannot seem to hold electoral governments together because their corrupt elites cannot accept even timid democratic governments that represent outsiders. When even church governments seek to manipulate their governance to thwart the will of the majority, and seek to capture even ecclesiastical governments for a small and selfish and corrupt elite, it is hard to be confident about the sort of choices that are available to select people into office, or the behavior of human authorities in general given the widespread and damaging effects of ruthless and corrupt ambition in our lives and in our world.

Is the choosing of leaders by lot a valid alternative? Both the ancient Greeks and Hebrews (and the early New Testament church) used this method in one or another fashion. There are some concerns, of course, about poor leaders being chosen by lots, but given the poor leaders we have at present, random chance could hardly be worse. There are some good theoretical justifications for the use of lots from a religious perspective, including the fact that it is often through random chance undirected by human ambition and gamesmanship, that determines the will of God in important cases where one wants to gain legitimacy and avoid even the appearance of politicking [2]. There are at least a few ways that lots could be used effectively to overcome the sorts of corrupt political problems that we have. There could be, as in Acts 1, a prior set of qualifications that determines who is appropriate as a given leader, with a lot choosing those who qualify to provide them with office. One could easily imagine this process repeating itself every time a leader needed to be chosen, to help ensure for rotation of office and the development of skills at governance for many. Additionally, choosing districts by lot could help avoid some of the gerrymandering problems that are a common issue in districting. Also, contentious decisions could be settled by lot or a series of lots, to avoid logrolling or other kind of political pressure when there was equal division and a lack of consensus. The use of lots for the choice of many offices can help ensure legitimacy for offices, even if it is tempting to think that the use of lots would then drive people to seek to master how to make what appeared to be random to not really be random for their own selfish benefit. Perhaps I am more than a little cynical, however.

[1] See, for example:

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

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/argumentative-reflection-justice/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/10/07/argumentative-reflection-luck-equality-and-freedom/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/argumentative-reflection-thoughts-on-the-stranger/

[2] See, for example, a couple of Bible passages:

Proverbs 16:33: “The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the Lord.”

Numbers 33:54: “And you shall divide the land by lot as an inheritance among your families; to the larger you shall give a larger inheritance, and to the smaller you shall give a smaller inheritance; there everyone’s inheritance shall be whatever falls to him by lot. You shall inherit according to the tribes of your fathers.”

Acts 1:26: “And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.”

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You Will Remember Me For Centuries

In their recent single “Centuries,” the band Fall Out Boy [1] make the following comment in the chorus [2]: “Some legends are told. / Some turn to dust or to gold. / But you will remember me, / Remember me for centuries. / And just one mistake / Is all it will take. / We’ll go down in history. / Remember me for centuries. / Remember me for centuries.” It can be a stressful thing to think that our lives are presented before the entire world in such a way that people could remember us for centuries. Of course, that has been true of at least some people throughout history. Anyone who leaves a historical trail of any kind leaves themselves open to the possibility that their life will be used by someone, somewhere for the purposes of memory long after they are gone. Usually this comes with strings attached, like being remembered for the purposes of being used for political effect, like the female astronomers of the 18th century that I had to write about in my DBQ for European History as a sophomore in high school, and whose names I forget but whose achievements I still remember all these years later.

When I think of a generation, other than our own, that was obsessed with the problem of image management, I think of the generation of the Founding Fathers of the United States (as well as the contemporary philosophes of Europe). This was a generation that knew it was involved in historically significant times, and so its every witty expression, every overheated pamphlet (not too dissimilar from our blogs), every newspaper article or book was written in the knowledge that it was about important things that could very well be remembered. Even obscure villagers in rural Darien Georgia, in writing their grievances about the King of England in 1774, wrote with an eloquence that anticipated Thomas Jefferson, enough to be remembered by historians today. It is not hard to see how our own age, even with all of its anxieties and concerns, is an age where people feel as if their words and deeds (even taking selfies) is worth being remembered by someone, to make some kind of record in this planet’s affairs.

How do we act knowing that we will be remembered by history. The art of crafting an image is a subtle one, and I do not pretend to be greatly skilled at this sort of thing myself. Some people prefer, for reasons of laziness or morality or some combination of the two, to live basically open and honest and authentic lives, with all the complications that follow, like Alexander Hamilton [3]. Others are like George Washington, living a public life carved in marble and keeping their entire private life, from their intense anger to their gentle humanity, hidden away from public sight, lest it mar their image. Some adopted a middle course, showing certain aspects of their lives while subtly neglecting others (like Benjamin Franklin). Some lived successfully in their lifetimes but have been dogged by intense criticism ever since (like Thomas Jefferson), while others were made fun of continually during their lives but respected after they were gone (like John Adams). Much depends on whether our reputations are in the hand of people who are friendly to us, and that is something that few of us can influence in the course of our lives and that none of us have any control of after we are gone.

How will others remember us in the centuries to come? Will we be thought of as vainglorious over selfies or bizarre for our love of memes, or will our writings be remembered as being heavy and ponderous or uncultured? What will survive the erosion of time, so that it will be available to be appropriated in the centuries to come by others who may seek to use the scraps of what remains of our intellectual culture to bolster their own positions in their culture wars, to comment on our virtue or depravity, our sensitivity or hypocrisy, our wit or our ridiculousness? I suppose we ought not worry about such things, but we do indeed worry, or else we would not bother to be remembered at all. Even if we know that we will all perish, we all want to live in some fashion a life that is worth leaving behind, in the fond memories of loved ones, in the record of photos and videos and writings, and in the loving care of our heavenly Father who, God willing, will raise us up into a life eternal where there will be no more suffering or anxiety or anguish or pain, things we know and reflect on all too often in this vale of tears.

[1] See, also:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/05/24/my-songs-know-what-you-did-in-the-dark/

[2] http://www.metrolyrics.com/centuries-lyrics-fall-out-boy.html

[3] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/08/18/book-review-alexander-hamilton/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/10/02/book-review-the-intimate-lives-of-the-founding-fathers/

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Book Review: Visions Of The Last Adam

Visions Of The Last Adam, by Rafael Garcia, Jr.

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

To be honest, when I requested this book originally based on what was written about the book, I had in mind that this would be a light-hearted and humorous sort of novel about the events of Revelation told from a wacky perspective full of incorrect speculations, but largely something that would be a fun read. I thought, given its description, that it would combine an idiosyncratic view of Revelation with the opportunity for some laughter and perhaps some serious insights, as occasionally happens with this contentious book [1]. Very quickly upon beginning to read this book it became clear that this would be a strong candidate for the best worst book ever award [2], and I immediately thought of clever and witty jokes to make about it, but as the book went on and on, it became clear that this was not a book for laughing at or ridicule, but rather a much more serious effort that required a much more cautious treatment.

This book is a challenging one to review. Part of that is because it is incoherent on all levels. On the most basic level, on the level of sentences, it is difficult to understand the meaning of sentences because of basic grammatical errors, the absence of prepositional phrases, and the fact that most of the grammar of the book is at a rudimentary level, something that an intelligent middle schooler could far exceed [2]. On the next level up, many of the paragraphs do not hold together well [3], nor do the contents of the book’s chapters always relate obviously to the chapter of Revelation that they are tied to (this book contains all 22 chapters of Revelation, interspersed with visions and ruminations about a wide range of subjects). On the highest level this book has extreme incoherence, being labeled as a novel while labeling itself as a history, prophecy, religion book (all nonfiction genres). At no point does this work make sense, veering from simple sentences that use over and over again verbs like “is” or “explains” to well-crafted and nuanced sentences taken from material on Greco-Roman or Azetec myths.

In some ways, this book looks like a cry for help. The author states that he has a license to kill (Granted by whom? Hopefully he doesn’t use that license to kill on negative reviewers.) He is very down on the US military, the founding fathers of this country, Jews, blacks, Englishmen, and psychologists. He has an angelology as complicated as the tv series Supernatural, dislikes psychologists, and comments on his own troubled mind and lengthy “friendship” with depression. It may be tempting for someone to read this book and seek to laugh at the author, but in reading this book I am far more inclined to have compassion, as it is clear that only a soul in great distress could write a book like this which combines so many threads of religious thought, so much evidence of disturbed thinking, and such a combination of incoherence and frighteningly intense focus. When one sees lines like this from the introduction (page x), one hopes that the author gets the help he seems to seriously need:

“Holy Ghost sends North Korea to respond to my tsunami by Big Brother with war as I go in and out of high psychotic fevers during a forty-two month period. I am Raphael to vomit out the forty-two months following the sea dragon’s seventh head wound to be healed. I am like Samson having his hair cut.

My diminished spirit prevents me from being a high school football All-American quarterback. Joe Namath gets all my underdog glory. The CIA killed JFK so they can hand me over to the Viet Cong in Vietnam. They soften me up with Agent Orange, and roadside bombs to super size my infantile PTSD with adult size. This is why Jesus said a prophet of God must die in Jerusalem.

Hollywood has me carrying Sodom on my back out of Vietnam in the movie Forrest Gump. I am left with a loss of feelings and memory, making it hard to speak. After that, Sex and the City keep me on this slippery slope. I am left feeling like an angry third-class citizen saddled with immigration reform.

I have no choice but to keep falling down and getting back up, trying to learn something on the way up. I try to hide my crazy ruined life. The whole family is wounded if one member is wounded. American presidents from Lincoln down have been assassinated with a bullet to head as a result. USA youth respond to this wounded environment with mass killings.”

It is tempting to read this book and be completely confused by its incoherence, or to laugh at the inarticulate phrasing of the author. Make no mistake, though, the author is in serious earnest about what he writes, and he needs help. Hopefully, this cry of the heart is answered by someone who can respond with compassion and understanding, and a great deal of skill, as this book is the result of generational patterns and a seriously traumatic life, one worthy of gentleness and understanding and not the ridicule or hostility it is likely to receive from those who read it.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/12/book-review-things-that-must-take-place/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/06/book-review-come-out-of-her-my-people/

[2] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/07/07/book-review-the-adventures-of-hayden-and-nikki-the-meeting/

[3] See, for example, these paragraphs from page 141, taken at random:

“He is the great star landing in the state of Washington creating the Mount Rainier area. The Cascades is his road to the underworld. It measures Israel’s territory from Dan to Beersheba. The man-child is destined to be on the road of gold into New Jerusalem.

The man-child has the rod of iron identifying wormwood leading to the nuclear age. Everyone drinks of this river. The man-child is Zeus confronting the Titans. The man-child does not have the power of Jesus Christ and is called Wormwood.

The hydrogen bomb counters the man-child’s rod of iron explaining weapons of mass destruction. This allows the forces of darkness to claim the power of God with these weapons.

The Egyptians use the power of the man-child to build the pyramids, pointing to Orion the hunter to war with the testimony of Jesus. Satan uses the subconscious to maintain mind control over the masses.

Silent movies prophesied the coming of the man-child with Rudolph Valentino explaining how a great star fell to earth. Man develops this great ego. Man is the only creature with an ego and free will.”

Note: these paragraphs are not edited in any way from the original. No linking paragraphs or references were deleted, no words were changed in any way. Now, imagine 300 pages like that.

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Who’s Gonna Wear My Crown?

A little over a year ago, I received a request to write about a given subject relating to the reign of Solomon [1]. The specific scripture cited is 1 Kings 2:19, which reads:

“Bathsheba therefore went to King Solomon, to speak to him for Adonijah. And the king rose up to meet her and bowed down to her, and sat down on his throne and had a throne set for the king’s mother; so she sat at his right hand.”

The person who read this verse wanted to know if this was a foundational idea for Mary of Joseph being the intercessor and mediatrix and Queen of Heaven. The short answer to this is no. It is the mystery religions of the ancient world [2] that provided the model for Mary being the Queen of Heaven, which gave the world the particular role that the Roman Catholic Church exploited in their characteristically syncretistic way. Bathsheba’s serving as a counselor for her wise young son does not in any way serve as a model for Mary as an intercessor for Jesus, as it is the job of Jesus Christ to intercede on our behalf to God our Father in Heaven. We have no queen mother in heaven, after all, if we are genuine believers. It is the church as a whole that is our mother, the Israel of God. Bathsheba here intercedes on behalf of Adonijah, who appeals to her sense of mercy against Solomon’s somewhat grim realpolitik.

Are there heavenly lessons that we can gain from the example of Solomon’s respect and regard for his mother? First, we can note that there are at least a couple of places in the scriptures where Solomon’s regard for his mother is either stated or implied. The implication occurs at the end of the book of Proverbs, which contains the famous Hebrew acrostic celebration of the virtuous woman, and the less famous advice of the mother of King Lemuel. It is not sure or even likely that Lemuel is Solomon, but the fact that the book of Proverbs closes with wisdom from a mother to her son the king that was compiled into a book written mostly by Solomon suggests that Solomon was sensitive to the wisdom that women were able to provide, and inclined to pay attention to it [3]. No doubt we should all be heartened by the fact that Solomon, for all of his mistakes with regards to women, was at least inclined to respect the wisdom of women at the beginning of his reign.

The other passage is even more suggestive of eternal life in a way that has implications on eternal life, but it is not an often recognized passage. Song of Solomon 3:11 reads: “Go forth, O daughters of Zion, and see King Solomon with the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding, the day of the gladness of his heart.” Solomon, he of 700 wives and 300 concubines, obviously had too many such days of gladness and wore out his head wearing too many of such crowns, and his wives turned him against God and induced him to compromise with sin to keep his harem happy. Yet despite Solomon’s failure, the story itself does have spiritual significance for us. Let us not forget what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:25: “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” Let us not be distracted by the crowns that exist on this earth, seeing as we are living our lives in preparation for eternal life, but all the same, let us celebrate those victories that life does provide as it encourages us to carry onward.

Interestingly enough, the conception of the crown of the Song of Solomon has a connotation in at least one contemporary song. In the chorus to their song “Crown,” Collective Soul sang [4]: “Whos gonna wear my crown? / Whos gonna wear my crown? / I dont know. / I just might, alone.” Here Collective Soul is getting back to the point of Solomon’s wearing a crown to celebrate marriage. We see ourselves as kings, whether we are born into physical royalty or not, because we are children of the Most High. Yet we long for our own houses and dynasties here on this earth. Ideally, in life, we are able to wear the crowns in this life and in the world to come, to build harmonious relationships on earth that are a model of the unity and love that God and Jesus Christ have for each other and for the Church. All of this requires a lot of work, but what we are seeking requires a lot of effort, although it is definitely worth it to do it right.

[1] See:

I was just reading in 1Kings 2:19 where Soloman accords his mother great honor by placing her on a throne at his right hand. Commentaries point out that this was a tradition in monarchies evidently going back this far. Could this be a foundational idea in the Catholic Churches teaching on Mary as the “Queen of Heaven” and as an intercessor, as was Bathsheba to Solomon for Adonijah. As a Protestant I have always wondered about Mary’s elevation by the Church.
Thank You – A first time reader.

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/suggestion-box/

[2] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/book-review-spirit-of-antichrist/

[3] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/proverbs-31-1-9-lemuels-mother-and-the-duties-of-kings/

[4] http://www.metrolyrics.com/crown-lyrics-collective-soul.html

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Book Review: Keepers Of The Covenant

Keepers Of The Covenant, by Lynn Austin

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

Lynn Austin is a well known author of biblical historical novels [1], and it was a pleasure to be able to obtain a copy of her latest novel for free. I did not intend, though, for this novel to speak so painfully and so awkwardly about my own life as this novel does. In a way, this was true with Gods and Kings as well, which I read before beginning this blog, and which dealt with the subject of a woman overcoming her PTSD through love. Yet just as that novel dealt with a struggle I was facing then (and sadly, still face now), this particular novel deals with the particular anxieties of my own present existence in a way that is difficult to describe and somewhat uncomfortable to realize. I have not read enough of her works to know if this is an intent of hers or if she just happens to blindly stumble on a lot of my sensitivities in life.

The plot of this novel (which, at 470 pages of text, is a sizable effort) is fairly straightforward. It begins in Babylon where Ezra and his family members and fellow Jews hear of the edict of Haman that is to lead to their annihilation in the Persian Empire. The first quarter of the book is filled with an immense set of fear and panic and dread as Jews in the Holy Land and in Babylon, a state of emotions I know well. Even once the mood shifts and the people are able to defend themselves, there is a great deal of incident in who lives and who dies, and in the repercussions of the actions of others. Throughout the novel there is the fortuitous finding of laws that have a dramatic effect on the story, mostly involving marriage, which is a central preoccupation of this work. The desire for holiness and remaining faithful to the covenant of God is what drives Ezra and his fellow priests and Levites back to Jerusalem and involves them in a complicated effort that involves both justice and mercy for many people.

The characters of this particular novel are well-drawn. Amina is a delicate but beautiful young lady whose crippled leg makes her unwanted in her Edomite village and gives her the opportunity to be adopted into Israel as an orphan. Reuben is an orphan himself who spends his young adulthood living a dissipated life as a thief before finding his calling as a Levite guard. Ezra is portrayed as being a serious and somewhat intense but gentle-hearted and conscientious person who accepts leadership and struggles with the high demands of being a teacher of God’s law in Babylon and Judah, and his levirate wife Deborah is strong-willed and a courageous woman herself. As might be expected, this novel is rich in powerful women as well as in decent men, and it tells a story that seeks to harmonize the demands of law and grace. It is, strikingly. a Christian novel set in among the most Jewish of times, the restoration of Judah to the promised land after the Babylonian captivity.

At its heart, this novel is an exploration of divine providence, how it works in mysterious ways, and it is altogether fitting that it should close with an examination of the Book of Esther, whose events are at the start of the book. In a way, this book, although it is part of a larger cycle, itself is an organic whole, reflects on the fact that in our lives God seems absent even if He is directing events to accomplish His will. That will is often mysterious, at times it may seem downright perverse or malign, but its end is for good, refining our character even as it gives us the chance to both give and receive unexpected grace to others and come to better understand Him through the twisty courses of our complicated lives. This novel is the right novel at the right time, an encouragement to trust in God and to continue to do the best that one can in the knowledge that He knows what He is doing. That is a lesson we can use at any time, but it seems particularly relevant at this stage of my life.

[1] And she has spawned a lot of imitators:

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

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The Lonely Fly

Today, as I was sitting at work, and pulling reports in a solitary fashion, a fly eventually found its way to bother me since I was the only person in the room. Given that there was a lot of space, it appeared that for whatever reason this little fly wanted company and sought mine, even if I was busy and focused on other tasks. At first I was a bit bothered by the fly, but I figured that it was lonely and as it was not causing me too much trouble or doing anything too disturbing I decided to let it be. And so whatever the fly did after a while, it did not bother me except to remind me that even on a day in which I was as alone as could be, I was not entirely alone because there was something that for reasons only known to itself wanted my company. I’m not sure whether to feel flattered or bothered by that, but it was notable at least.

In the novel A Little Princess [1], Sara Crewe manages to befriend a family of rats in her attic after she is demoted from pampered show pupil to scullery maid in her loneliness. The ability to befriend such wide and diverse beings is generally the result of two qualities that do not go together. One of them is a rather intense sort of identification with other people and even animals, such that we can see in our mind’s eye how others are in a particularly empathetic light, which prevents us from acting in ways that are hostile. After all, what keep us thinking well about others is not their nice deeds towards us but our nice deeds towards us. We tend to think nicely of those people we are polite and gracious to. When we cease being loving towards others, we cease to think well of them, and not much that they can do can change that until we change our own behavior towards them.

The movie Castaway is an example of the other factor that leads people to befriend in unusual ways. After all, the need to befriend often depends a great deal on loneliness. To the extent that one’s social needs are met by a narrow band of people, there is little need to expand one’s radius of concern to a wider level. However, when that is not the case, one may have to extend one’s social network to volleyballs (named Wilson, for example) or to monkeys and birds and rats. Life is not always pleasant, and human beings were not designed to handle being lonely very well, so we ought to expect that in drastic times that people would find it necessary to engage in all kinds of behaviors (creating imaginary friends, as I did as a child) in order to cope with the burdens of the lives we live.

When I ponder little incidents of life like that today with the fly, I find myself wondering whether I should focus on the fact that it is remarkable and a little quirky that even the presence of a little fly would prompt me to think of the subject of solitude and how even humble insects seek to avoid it, or the fact that I would be so lonesome of a person that even the presence of a lonely fly would at least provide some sort of company on a day like today. Or perhaps both are true. Perhaps at times we have the capabilities that we need in order to cope with the circumstances that we face, and the sensitivity to do more than merely act unthinkingly in our circumstances but to reflect on them and understand them, and so view others with more understanding than would normally be the case. What good is our capacity for reflection, after all, if it is not to better understand what God thinks when He looks on us, or to show compassion and understanding to others? Otherwise, we are merely navel gazing, and what is the good in that?

[1] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/a-little-princess-revisited/

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What Do You See When You See Me?

When I lived in Thailand, I would occasionally visit one of the malls in Chiang Mai, which featured a movie theater and some good restaurants [1]. Often, when I would go to the mall, I would be in a fairly pensive mood, because I was going to a local mall as a Westerner who obviously stood out and did not fit in (even less than usual). As someone who does not tend to react well to being watched intensely when there is no interaction (even in the case where no interaction is possible because of language barrier, as they did not speak English and I did not speak Thai), I was driven to ponder what people saw when they saw me. It was obvious that they saw me as a stranger, but whether they saw me and were puzzled that a “rich” Westerner would generally dress so plainly or read and write as often as I did (since this is not a habit among the Thai people) or would be alone in a realm where people tend to be more sociable, it was impossible to say, except that they were curious but not particularly friendly.

One time while I was sitting along in a restaurant watching people watch me, I decided to write a poem about it. I haven’t been able to find it of late, as sometimes my writing tends to be a bit disorganized, but the poem was based on a melody by Keane to a song they wrote on their “Perfect Symmetry” album called “You Don’t See Me.” It was, like many songs that resonate with me, a melancholy synth pop ballad with reflective lyrics. My own lyrics, as I remember them, ask questions about what other people were seeing when they looked at me, and the extent to which that which they saw was based on that which they were, or that which they feared, in the absence of knowing me all that well personally and knowing what I am about. It is, for me, all too easy to imagine that others see me through the fears that I have of them. Such is the life, I suppose.

I even had in mind a music video for the song, one that would resonate with my own experience and also include some interesting (to me) special effects. I had in mind a combination of two video views of the same scene, one with me sitting peacefully on a park bench singing the song while a time-lapsed view of the same scene is shown, with the sun rising and setting and people walking around totally oblivious to my presence. At times I hear songs and think of my own interpretations of the message or how to convey a deeper point of the song to others. As someone who watches a lot of music videos (mostly to listen to the songs that they are about), I suppose I am somewhat sensitive to the ways that video can repackage or shift attention of a song’s material to other elements, or even be totally unrelated to the message of the song to begin with. I tend to prefer videos that enhance some sort of conceptual understanding of the song, though, especially if they have some kind of quirky elements to them.

Of course, my interest in seeing what others see of me is not limited to music videos or poems written while being looked at in public places, but even includes my writing here. I am often, sometimes several times daily, looking at who views my blogs, seeing the patterns of which posts are viewed, and how often, wondering what people are looking for in this particular complicated display of my character and personality, my interests and behavior and life. Some people read everything (or almost everything) I write, which is a challenging task, other people seem to look for material that is at least potentially about them, and others look at book reviews or my posts on certain countries (like Thailand) or my posts on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (which tends to draw more comments than anything else), or my psalm commentaries. I wonder why people look for what they do, what they hope to find, and if they find it, and if they feel it necessary to keep coming back to remind themselves (or others) of what is written, or to seek to grasp some new nuance or layer from it. In many ways, the life of a writer is constant. We create our works in isolation, yet long for connection, and are never sure that what others see is what we have expressed, because it is so rare for that seed we cast on the waters to come back to us in any kind of recognizable form. Such is the life, though.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/thai-massage/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/12/04/theres-always-room-for-one-more/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/09/04/and-then-ill-go-and-spoil-it-all-by-saying-something-stupid/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/07/17/sock-hunting/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/to-the-moat-and-beyond/

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