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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God Put You In My Way

Today, although the hour is late and I should be sleeping, I have too much on my mind. Today, the first split sermon was given by a man whom I deeply respect and who has taken it upon himself to be gracious and observant of my ways, which is not always an easy task. Included in that message was a commentary about the movie “The Four Feathers,” which is set in late Victorian England where a man seeks to redeem his honor and courage after having shown cowardice and received the customary four white feathers from his friends as a result. Along his way to rescue some friends from the trouble that he should have been involved in, he is himself rescued by a black mercenary whose reply to the query as to why he rescued the distressed Englishman was that “God put you in my way, I had no choice.” The speaker used the story as a way of describing how we should be willing to help those people whom God has placed in our way precisely for that purpose.

The subject of divine providence is one I often ponder from a variety of perspectives. As someone with a mind that is given to planning and organizing and a certain amount of structure, within the limitations of my resources and my competence, I wonder what God is planning, because it is clear that God does have a plan that He is working out, even though it is not often clear exactly why He should go about it in the way that He does. We wrack our brains over and over again to try to see some glimpse of what God is working out, to make sure that God is not taunting us but rather preparing us for greater happiness than we could ever obtain on our own with our rather limited foresight and ability [1]. When we are stuck in lengthy and complicated situations that never seem to end, we wonder if we’re really as foolish or as unwise as would appear to be the case, and whether anything good will come of all we endure. We may see God act in miraculous ways to save us from some trouble, only to find that the salvation was through another crisis and another difficulty that is meant to refine our character and, God willing, to provide us with some sort of worthy reward for a job well done.

There is another element of this that I ponder, and that is what divine providence looks like from the person experiencing it. It is seldom clear, until one is near the end, exactly the sort of good news that God has planned for us. Let us take, for example, the story of Ruth. Briefly summarized, let us look at the elements of divine providence that led Ruth to her happy ending, one I take comfort in in my solitude. First, God causes a famine that sends a family to the country of Moab. While there, the father dies, and then the two sons marry local girls (one of whom is Ruth). Then the sons die, leaving three lonely and heartbroken widows, but where God has ended the famine in Bethlehem, which leads the mother to return home. She does not want the company of her daughters-in-law but Ruth makes a bold profession of faith, follows her bitter mother-in-law back to Judah, and even does difficult labor as a gleaner (by divine providence in the field of the honorable bachelor Boaz) to feed the two of them. Boaz, of course, is immediately smitten and proves himself generous in deed and spirit, and after a few weeks of labor, Naomi tells Ruth how to propose marriage to Boaz in the most successful way possible. Boaz accepts, deals with a last-minute complication of a closer relative who wants the land but does not want to marry Ruth and raise up an heir to inherit that land, and Boaz and Ruth marry and have a son, who is an ancestor of David and Jesus Christ.

As might be gathered, there is a lot of divine providence in this story, but at first it does not seem as if this is necessarily of a benign sort. After all, the early parts of the story deal with famine, death, loneliness, poverty, and other unpleasant issues that some of us have to deal with in our lives but that none of us enjoy. Yet is precisely these elements that bring together two honorable people in marriage and encourage an older woman as to God’s kindness in her life by providing her with the blessing of both Ruth and Boaz as comforters in her old age. At every step of the way the happiness of the people involved depends on seemingly puzzling coincidences. Ruth’s eventual happiness (and that of Boaz as well) depends on meeting the precisely right family, itself no easy task. Then it depends on a variety of circumstances that require the honorable character of both of them, as well as Ruth’s bold profession of faith. At any step of the way, a misstep could have diverted the desired fate from taking place. God put lots of people in the way of both Boaz and Ruth and arranged events in such a way as to ensure their happiness in an immensely complicated way that neither could have managed in a calculating way and that blessed a lot of other people along the way as they displayed their noble character in the meantime. How is our own behavior in what look like adverse circumstances, and our own friendliness and tenderhearted concern for others helping to write our own ultimately happy stories? It may be hard to see sometimes, but we have to keep working at it.

At times, though, we are in the way of other people. One of the things I stress over the most in life is being a stumbling block to someone else. I work very hard to restrain myself from evil, to avoid the opportunity for it to mug me and leave me bleeding in a dark alley, and given how hard I work at living an honorable and upstanding life, I abhor the thought that I could be making life more difficult for others. I hate causing stress or difficulty for others, even though I know (all too painfully well) that such matters are seemingly inevitable in our lives in massive amounts. At its simplest, though, we are in the way of others in that our presence in a given situation or context is a way to reveal the heart of others as well as ourselves. How will others act towards us when they see the rough edges of our lives, of our container ships full of excess personal baggage and sensitivities and issues, of our deep and difficult struggles? How will they respond when, like the Levite or priest or Good Samaritan, they see us bleeding and broken on the side of the road? How will they respond when they see us in distress, lonely, or even (God forbid) in prison? Will we have compassion on the people God puts in our way? Will we be tender with them, understanding with them, in the knowledge that we may be a part of God’s beautiful and happy plans for these people, regardless of whether we have any idea what part of the plan that may be? Will others be merciful to us seeing our scars, seeing our vulnerabilities and weaknesses and struggles displayed in the most painfully obvious ways? Our eternal life, and our place in the massive multi-generational plans of God may very well depend on our sensitivity to the people whom God has put in our way. Are we doing it well enough, and in a godly fashion, despite all the difficulties we may face as a result? It is hard for us to judge ourselves fairly in this matter, and it is a matter that has caused many days filled with anxiety and many sleepless nights. May God have a fate that richly repays all of my own anxious concern, and that of others as well. I still long for my own happy ending.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/05/26/divine-providence-in-the-book-of-ruth-part-one/

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

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/05/17/an-ode-to-new-lfie/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/08/30/the-miseducation-of-elizabeth-bennet/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/08/25/the-difference-between-mocking-and-preparation/

Posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, History, Love & Marriage, Musings | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Out Of The Abundance Of The Heart The Mouth Speaks

One of the scriptures that I think about the most in terms of my life, especially as a blogger, is Luke 6:45: “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” What is true about the heart speaking is also true about the heart blogging. Sometimes what the heart has to say is good treasure, but sometimes it is full of anxieties and concerns. As someone who happens to wear my heart on my sleeve to some extent, to share my struggles and my burdens with the world. Sometimes this can be a cathartic sort of experience that greatly helps me out. At other times it is not helpful, because as much as I would like to unburden my own soul, I do not wish to cause any sort of trouble for anyone else, and that is a very frequent occurrence to speech as well as writing. When we are wrestling with our own struggles, we have to remember that we are connected with other people, and that in sharing our own lives that we are connected with others as well.

Beyond those concerns, though, we must examine what is in our hearts in the first place. When I began this blog, I had in mind a particular direction that it would go. I thought that it would be a blog a lot like my first one [1], with ironic and humorous bits about my life along with commentary on world affairs and history. I had a separate book review blog [2] that quickly got subsumed into this blog because I had a hard time separating out my direct book reviews from the posts of mine that were inspired by books, and because I have a hard time keeping different parts of my brain and different parts of my life safely compartmentalized. Everything in my life tends to bleed together into one rather complicated set of conditions. At times this can be the cause of a great deal of insight, but at times it tends to make it hard to figure out how to resolve the many interconnected problems of my life, and so I write over and over again about different manifestations of the same basic topics of fear and courage, trust and suspicion, love and anxiety.

Out of the abundance of my heart I blog. As I have commented before, this blog serves several very strong purposes. Among the chief purposes is to keep me sane enough to function. As the sort of person who has rather intense and sometimes even debilitating anxieties and stress in my life, I really need to get that sort of material out of my head and heart and put it somewhere where it can be openly dealt with [3]. To be sure, it leads to some strange looks on occasion, and more than a little stress about how other people will judge me for what is in my heart. Yet at the same time, it is better outside than inside, because the sorts of problems I wrestle with are far too intractable for me to solve on my own, and often require the involvement of other people to work out successfully. To be sure, there are a lot of intellectual blog entries I write, and the language of my writing is certainly not always simple or straightforward. Yet the driving impulses of my writing, as they have been since I started writing when I was very young, was simply that I had too much inside of me that simply had to let out. And that has never ceased. For if my heart were not so burdened, I would not feel the compulsion to share so much. My vanity is not so great that I simply must show off what I think to the rest of the world.

And yet there is some good that comes from my writing. I celebrate the people who are inspired to share of themselves upon them reading what I write. I know of at least four people who have publicly expressed that I inspired them to blog. Two of those blogs were meant to rebuke me in some fashion for writing in such a way that caused them some consternation, with the implied need to correct what they viewed as an unpleasant bias of mine. Despite the rebuke that was meant by their efforts, I celebrated their being inspired to write because I make no pretenses at omniscience, rather openly admitting frequently that although I do the best that I can in every area of life, sometimes the best that I can do, or the best guesses (especially of the motives and intents of others) is often not very good. On the other hand, two people have been inspired to write because they feel the need to share of themselves in the same way that I do. By and large, the blog entries from these people have not been many, since it takes a particularly fertile life or troubled mind to write as often as I do, especially given the sort of material I have to work with. That said, I appreciate it when others are inspired to share of themselves, for even if their perspective is different to my own, and even at times hostile to it, as long as it presents an open and honest view of where others stand, at least it lets me know that I am not alone in lighting my candle against the darkness of this present evil age. We live our lives with a powerful enemy who wishes us harm, but I am no one’s enemy in that way, and God willing, no one is mine.

[1] http://nathanalbright.blogspot.com/

[2] http://nathanalbright.wordpress.com/

[3] See, for example:

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

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/were-like-you-a-little-different/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/09/28/no-food-is-worth-that-kind-of-trouble/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/why-i-write/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/01/07/this-is-why-why-we-write/

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Book Review: The Presence

The Presence: Experiencing More Of God, by Alec Rowlands

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

The author of this book, a native-born South African who is the senior pastor of a Seattle megachurch I am unfamiliar with, took on a difficult challenge in writing about the subject of the legitimacy and role of the Holy Spirit in the church. For the most part, the author handles the subject ably, avoiding the excesses of such follies as the “Toronto Movement” (a hysterical fit of laughing that masquerades as spirit-induced joy) while also pointing out the very real role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of genuine Christians. The author seems more intent on comparing contemporary Christians with Ephesus rather than the more usual Laodicea, but remains consistently critical of the cerebral and intellectual way by which the presence of God is often kept away from the lives of those who profess themselves believers. Even for those of us who spring from very different backgrounds from the author are likely to think of how political processes can get in the way of a genuine desire for God to demonstrate His will in the behavior of churches.

One of the more intriguing and (to this reviewer) unfamiliar aspects of the book is the fact that the author is focused on aspects of revival, by which subtle whispers from a still small voice at the right time have a massive emotional effect on others without deliberate showmanship or a desire to draw attention to oneself. The author has commented a great deal on various revivals, some of which lasted for years, but none of which had lasting societal influences beyond a generation or so. The author comments that pride about having been a part of a revival was part of what prevented the effects from lasting a long time. This particular thought might have been buttressed by some further references to various short-lived biblical “revivals” of faith like that of Joshua, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, Josiah, and Ezra/Nehemiah, none of which were lasting either. Yet these examples are not discussed, quite possibly because they represent an implicit biblical critique of the reliance on revival as a means of social regeneration for a long period of time, when biblical history suggests that each generation has to renew spirituality for themselves, or not [1].

Although the author has the noble and laudatory goal of letting the Bible be the way in which the spirits are discerned, and shows admirable tastes in congregational discipline in dealing with those who are hostile to authority, pointing out that God’s Spirit is not a spirit of rebellion, but rather an orderly if sometimes eccentric element in our lives, not all aspects of this book succeed. For example, the author falls into a lamentably common but apparently unavoidable trap in both seeking to explain the Trinity as an open circle involving believers while trying to avoid a full belief in the Family of God while also conceding the mysterious nature of God [2], which apparently is necessary in almost any book written by a Christian author, no matter the topic, as a way of trying to prove one’s orthodoxy. Thankfully, the book only spends a couple of chapters on that perfunctory task before heading to more interesting biographical materials. Those readers looking for information about divine providence in the life of the author and his family, including encouragement to be hospitable to itinerant believers, will find much to appreciate here. Despite some flaws, including a lack of emphasis on scriptural commentary on revival, this is a fine book written by someone who has striven very hard and largely successfully to navigate a difficult balance between a sterile intellectual faith that lacks the presence of God and a desire for mystical connection that makes oneself vulnerable to demonic influence, a difficult balance to maintain but one that is worthy of the utmost respect.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/15/good-morning-revival/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/passover-and-the-pattern-of-religious-revival/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/pm-dawn-and-the-gnostic-revival/

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

[2] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/09/18/why-have-a-trinity-anyway/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/on-the-trinity-and-logic/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/book-review-the-reluctant-journey/

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

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/09/11/book-review-walls-fall-down/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/08/06/book-review-making-sense-of-the-bible/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/08/04/book-review-the-family-project/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/26/book-review-the-tabernacle/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/book-review-know-the-heretics/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/05/31/book-review-know-the-creeds-and-councils/

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Birds Of Prey

One of my first nightmares, at least one that I remember, was a dream I had as a child of about eight or nine or so about various birds of prey. I don’t remember what the birds were doing, but they seemed to be all attacking each other, and I was just sort of haplessly involved as often has tended to be the case. I do not have any favorite animals among the birds of prey, but my dad named a red-tailed hawk after me that showed up within a year after I was taken from my Western Pennsylvania birthplace. I once saw that bird in action as a young teenager visiting the family farm, where the hawk was sitting on a fence post and a kitten was trying to taunt it and torment it, to which the hawk kept very restrained, everyone else (except that cat) knowing that if the hawk made a move that there would be a clear winner and it wouldn’t be the cat. Fortunately for everyone involved, the hawk was able to keep restrained despite the provocation.

Many nations have as their emblems birds of prey. The United States has a bald eagle, while many empires in Europe had some sort of hawk or eagle as well. This makes sense in many ways. For one, hawks are associated with nobility and royalty, as being a fowler was a task limited to the higher orders of society, where there was an intricate hierarchy as to which orders of society were allowed to have which birds (if any) to use for hunting. The most noble birds, judged by the culture at the time, went to the most noble people, as might be expected. The other reason, a much less praiseworthy one, is that many nations are predatory in nature, and so it would make sense that predatory nations would want to have as their images animals of the same kind of nature. We see this not only with birds but in other ways like the dragon of China or the wolf of Rome or the bear of Persia or Russia.

So, what animals would someone like me like? As many people know (even more people now that it was announced to hundreds at the Feast of Tabernacles this year, even to those who had not heard it or read it before), my favorite animal is the skunk [1]. The picture for my blog is one of Sonic the Hedgehog, another animal of the kind that I am fond of. What all of the animals I really like share in common is that none of them are particularly large or hostile. They are all fairly small animals that tend to enjoy the forest, shun direct sunlight, and be curious animals not inclined to bother others but capable of self-defense. All too often in this world even those beings that have no aggressive instincts still find it necessary to be alert and vigilant in a hostile and threatening world. God willing, that aspect of this present evil age can be changed, for we all have scars and wounds from our time here. And unlike the birds, we simply cannot fly away from it all, for it follows us wherever we go.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/02/25/my-head-is-an-animal/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/04/29/the-norweigian-snow-kitty/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/understanding-the-reasons-why-i-am-such-a-porcupine/

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Such A Rollercoaster: A Review Of The 2014 Feast Of Tabernacles In Redmond-Bend

It is a difficult matter to judge a feast such as this one was. I will try not to give an overall grade or rating to this feast, because I am not sure how to weight the various components, because they were across the board. Instead, what I will do is take some important factors of the Feast of Tabernacles and assign them a letter grade and give a short explanation of how that letter grade was earned. The particular factors come in no particular order, except as they come to mind, unless there is an obvious link between one factor and the next one, and that I put the most important factor (spiritual) first. With that said, let us begin:

Spiritual: A+

This was a fantastic feast as far as the spiritual elements were concerned. To be sure, the theme of the messages (see below) was unconventional, but the messages were all powerful and all particularly relevant to where I was during the feast, and it seemed that many others were in agreement with me there. Not only were the messages good, but there were a lot of practical lessons in spiritual matters to be learned at the feast. It was pretty obvious to me that I was exactly where God wanted me to be, and that so was everyone else, even if I felt a little bit like Job sometimes, in feeling the sentiment expressed in Job 13:15: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him.” While I’m not sure it is necessary to defend my ways before God, this was a feast whose ultimate verdict will be in the realm of trust, to find out exactly what God is doing, because the messages made it pretty clear to me that there is a plan involved, and that I really have no idea what I’m doing.

Theme: C

The grade for this component is an average of the two themes of the feast. The first theme, the theme of the messages of this feast, is an A+, although it was an unconventional theme. Over and over again, messages dealt with the present suffering that believers as well as the world at large have to endure in this world (and there was plenty of that this year for me [1]). While this is a bit unconventional for the event, which usually seeks to focus on the wonderful world tomorrow and forgetting the problems of day-to-day life, this was the sort of feast where I could not escape the problems and anxieties of my existence, and therefore it was very good for me that the messages acknowledged those difficulties and at least posed difficult questions that will allow me to continue to wrestle with such matters. The second theme, the theme of the feast in terms of my personal experience, though, gets an F, because that theme was anxiety and stress. Words cannot express how stressful this feast was for me. Every day something happened, and usually multiple things happened, that made me feel particularly alarmed, whether it was being followed around or stared at by someone, or having people circle me or ask me awkward questions (see “Romance” below). I am aware that because of my difficult life history that I am prone to high degrees of anxiety and nervousness, and there is not much I can do about that, but when it is less stressful to play an offertory on less than a week’s notice and perform a capella in front of audiences of a couple hundred (at least) with less than a day’s notice than it is to simply go to services or sit down and watch the fun show or spend time at a family dance, then something has gone horribly wrong. And indeed, something did.

Music: N/A

I don’t feel it would be fair for me to give a grade for the music, because I was involved in so much of it, and am a bit concerned that others would consider me a bit of a showoff for doing so much. The choir performed four times, singing “classics” all four times, and I did a solo viola for offertory as well as a reprise of two special music numbers from my local congregational repertoire, one for the seventh day of the feast and the other for the family fun show. That said, I would like to give praise to various other acts. The music at the family fun show was, for the most part, very well done even if somewhat at the last minute (as usual). Today there was an excellent piano solo offertory and two excellent special music performances (one of them a Ukrainian male quartet that sang in Ukrainian, English, and Moldovan). Yesterday there was also a really great performance of “On Eagle’s Wings” by a young lady as well. Still, I don’t feel very comfortable grading myself, although the choir director and pianist get an A+, for what it’s worth.

Romance: F- (at least for me)

Alright, so I wish this was not a factor that had to be taken into consideration, but as a single young man whose feast was greatly impacted in several ways by that status, I feel it necessary to point out how a feast site gets this grade. First of all, when half a dozen people ask you if you are dating the married woman you are friends with whose three adorable children spent so much time around you, that is going to cause some stress. When you add to that people coming out of the woodwork and telling you that they are praying for you to find a wife, when one is already rather understandably concerned about such a matter, that will not help matters either. I happened to see a fair amount of flirtation as well as romance around me, and I encouraged and celebrated it. At heart, I’m a romantic and I like to see a little bit of love and happiness in love in this world. I just wish I could find it for myself.

Friendship: A+

Alright, I don’t want to embarrass anyone by name, since a lot of people are a bit chary about being mentioned in my blog (for understandable reasons), but I wanted to give a shoutout to my friends for helping to keep me sane this feast. Whether it was in providing me with occasional distractions from my obvious distress, or listening to me in daily (or sometimes several times daily) efforts at encouragement, or in sitting with me during services to make things a little less lonely, or in dragging me out on a dance floor when I’m feeling more than a bit down, you all know who you are, and consider yourselves appreciated. This is the sort of feast that would have been miserable without so many good deeds done by friends. I was even able to meet a few new people I didn’t know who also deserve to be recognized and appreciated for having made the feast a better experience.

Service: A+

When one is having a feast where one’s emotions and moods are definitely not in the right place, sometimes it is better to focus on what one can give to others if one is not feeling well. This was definitely a feast where I got a lot of enjoyment at the appreciation of others for service. Quite honestly, I needed to feel appreciated, and just about every day I found service to be a way to spend time where I was focused on something outside of myself (which helped a lot), as well as providing an often necessary distraction from some of the more unwelcome aspects of this feast. Whether it was serving in music, being an alternate usher, or helping out for Family Day in volleyball, I got a lot of enjoyment out of serving others. This is generally the case, but this feast in particular I needed the focus on others.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/every-tear-an-ocean-of-pain/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/10/15/a-cinderella-story-2/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/10/13/conversations-in-the-setting-of-the-future/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/10/12/sometimes-it-is-about-you/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/10/12/you-can-drive-all-night-looking-for-answers-in-the-pouring-rain/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/10/11/what-son-is-there-whom-a-father-does-not-chasten/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/in-need-of-comfort/

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Argumentative Reflection: Thoughts On The Stranger

[Note: This blog is part of a series [1].]

It is all too tempting in this age of fear over immigrants and strangers to desire to protect a culture that is seen as under threat by outsiders. When there are major problems in a particular culture, it is easy to see that culture, whether it is a culture of a family or institution or nation, to see itself as vulnerable and to harshly resist any sort of friendliness towards strangers and outsiders. Few people, in such an environment, would have the magnanimity of Abraham Lincoln when dealing with the issue of immigration, even in contemporary society [2]. To be sure, there are legitimate concerns about the presence of illegal immigrants and over the free rider problem, but of even greater concern is the exploitation of immigrants by elites, whether that is for political partisanship from a corrupt and paternalistic government or from the desire of wealthy businesses to skirt laws protecting workers or requiring fair market wages. The vulnerability of immigrants in general makes them subject to abuses from others.

How then, do we justly deal with the stranger? There are a few useful principles we can keep in mind. First, is to remember that all of us are strangers [3]. Everyone, for example, who came to the United States did so as an immigrant, whether over slave ships or in steerage compartments or over a Bering Strait land bridge or in a kayak or by plane or by crossing over the Rio Grande or down the St. Lawrence Seaway. Since we have all been strangers here dependent on the kindness of those who came before, or the richness of the surroundings that we have found, it behooves us to act in a reciprocal manner towards those who depend on our kindness. By having one law for the native-born and the citizen, we ensure that strangers are subject to the same laws as the culture they wish to join, while also giving them the same protections under law so as to avoid exploitation. Full participation in civic rituals would then require a full acceptance of the native culture, while also providing the immigrant with a new status that itself is in no way diminished from that of a native born citizen. In such a realm, open borders are far less problematic because immigrants will be living under the laws of the native culture and will immigrate only if they find those laws congenial for themselves and their progeny.

[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/

[2] See, for example, his August 1855 letter to Joshua Speed, in which he said:

“I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor or degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic].”

Source: http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/speed.htm

[3] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/05/11/what-to-do-when-youre-a-stranger-in-town/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/the-kindness-of-a-stranger/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/book-review-strangers-at-my-door/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/strangers-in-the-night/

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

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/almost-every-stranger-is-a-potential-friend/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/stranger-in-a-strange-land/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/10/14/no-more-a-stranger-or-a-guest/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/05/27/you-shall-leave-them-for-the-poor-and-for-the-stranger/

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