An Exploration of The Moral Topography Of Sin: Part Two

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

Whether we look at the Greek or the Hebrew scriptures we are faced with words like ma’al (Hebrew) or paraptóma (Greek), which are translated as trespasses, unfaithful or treacherous acts, or false steps and falling away. The first aspect of moral topography that we need to be aware of is the fact that this moral and spiritual terrain is full of boundaries. Even a cursory examination of biblical law will demonstrate the sort of boundaries that God sets around different aspects of the world in which we live, and even those of us who believe that everything is permitted unless it is prohibited must still concede that if we place the Word of God as the deciding factor for God’s will in our lives, that a great deal of that which we are drawn to do by our own longings and inclinations are in fact forbidden by God. Even aside from the penalty for violating these prohibitions, it is worth pointing out at the start of our examination of moral topography to note that the boundaries of what is proper and what is improper conduct were among the first laws pointed out by God, and the first ones flagrantly violated by mankind, similar to the way that in order to understand geography we are quick to teach children the physical and political borders of that land, so that we know where we are at any given time, and within whose borders we are.

The importance of the matter of trespass strikes us forcefully along many approaches of understanding biblical material. Let us begin with the first boundary set by God recorded in scripture, in Genesis 2:15-17: “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”” Not surprisingly, if we know anything about humanity, we see mankind violating this boundary, and being thrown out of the garden as a result, with an angel with a flaming sword guarding the tree of life from trespassers. When mankind’s thoughts are directed only on evil continually, in giving Noah his instructions on how to save a very small righteous remnant, clean and unclean animals are distinguished, marking a boundary between them. When Joseph seeks to discourage the inappropriate adulterous longings of Potiphar’s wife, he notes that adultery is a trespass against God, who has put the spouses of other people across a boundary line that we are not to cross. Within the ten commandments, quite a few of them are obvious boundary conditions that set certain areas across boundary lines—we are not to murder, we are not to bear false witness, we are not to steal or even to covet what belongs to others.

Lest we think that the Bible views women as the mere property of their husbands, as is the case in the wicked and backwards areas of our contemporary world, it is useful to read Paul at face value in 1 Corinthians 7:3-4: “Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his body, but the wife does.” We are bluntly reminded here, if the point escaped us elsewhere, that the boundary lines that God has set do not mark people off as the property of other people, to be used however is wished by those who fancy themselves lords and masters, but rather that as beings created in the image and likeness of God, we are to respect other image bearers like ourselves, and to respect and honor the covenants that others have made, so that we may learn through that respect the honor we ought to have towards our covenants with God and the covenant relationship others have. By respecting boundaries we learn self-restraint, and we learn that some behaviors and some areas are off limits, in large part because we live in a world full of minefields, and it is best for our own well-being not to go waltzing around on them heedlessly, at the cost of a limb, or even perhaps of our life.

Trespass was not a matter to be taken lightly. As Solomon writes in Proverbs 7:21-23: “With her enticing speech she caused him to yield, with her flattering lips she seduced him. Immediately he went after her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks, till an arrow struck his liver. As a bird hastens to the snare, he did not know it would cost his life.” One of the five types of sacrifice offered in the Levitical system was the trespass offering, and it was not an offering whose aroma was pleasing to God (see, for example, Leviticus 5:1-6:7). It was required, though, of ancient Israelites in order to demonstrate an awareness that one had crossed a forbidden line and that one desired to be reconciled to God and to others through an admission of the truth and a payment of restitution for the trespass done. This trespass offering, of course, was symbolic of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5).

It is therefore of the utmost importance that we realize that we live in territory full of boundaries to respect, full of lines that we can cross. The laws of God are very strong on this point in every dimension. Deuteronomy 19:14 tells us: “You shall not remove your neighbors landmark [boundary stone], which the men of old have set, in your inheritance which you will inherit in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess.” Even animals were to be restrained to avoid trespassing on the property of others, as it is written in Exodus 22:5: “If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed, and lets loose his animal, and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best of his own field and the best of his own vineyard.” Boundary lines were to be respected in perpetuity, and not only by people but by animals as well. It is for this reason that the Bible speaks often of boundaries even on a physical level, giving a boundary to the land that Israel was to inherit between the brook of Egypt and the Euphrates River (Genesis 15:18-19). A precise marker of boundaries made it possible for all people to understand where they stood, and in whose ground they were, and was intended to lead others to respect what belonged to others, seeing as God was giving an inheritance to all of his people.

This point is worth dwelling upon at some length. Our respect for the boundaries of others springs out of the reality that we all have boundaries of our own that others must respect. It is not that some people have property rights that all others must respect as a point of privilege, but rather that all are holders of property rights that everyone else must respect and honor, even if the precise boundaries of those property rights will differ. Even the Sabbath itself is a reminder of this universality of property rights setting aside dignity and rest and leisure for all people and all animals. As it is written in Deuteronomy 5:12-15: “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do not work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” Here we are reminded that a boundary was placed on the labor we could demand of others, to avoid exploitation. When we look at the debt forgiveness and land Sabbath laws of Leviticus 25, and the periodic restoration of ancestral lands to their original families, we see the same goal of preventing exploitation, whether that was of people, animals, or the land itself.

Let us also note, at least briefly, that the property rights of people had some limits. Leviticus 23:22 reminds us: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God.” We are reminded of this sort of limit as well in Mark 2:23-Mark 3:5, where we see the disciples pluck grain on the Sabbath and then we see Jesus heal a man with a withered hand, reminding us that the purpose of the Sabbath was not to consign some people to hunger because they had no food supplies, nor to let people suffer without aid (we will come to this point again later), but rather was to serve the interests of mankind. The laws of God were not made to be oppressive to others, but were made for the benefit of mankind. Property is to be respected not so that the wicked and corrupt and unscrupulous are to turn everything into their own property, but is designed to allow all people the chance to experience ownership and to have a stake in society, or at least to be able to make a decent and honorable living if one was a resident foreigner, free of exploitation and abuse. The fact that laws have often been perverted by those who enjoy exploiting others does not in any way make the law itself wrong, but merely points out where people have trespassed against God by corrupting His ways.

As we have seen that boundaries include physical boundaries of place and time, boundaries of behavior, boundaries of propriety that respect relationships, that boundaries are mutual rather than one-sided, and that they are designed to serve the best interests of the world and the dwellers in it, let us stop to ponder what this ought to lead us to understand about the moral topography of sin [2]. 1 John 3:4 reminds us that whoever commits sin transgresses the law, and James 2:10 reminds us that whoever stumbles in one point of the law is guilty of all as a lawbreaker. We have been placed in a world that has many boundaries, and we are to learn and respect these boundaries. We also, as a result of being born into a world of sin and corruption, have longings and pulls that lead us to want to cross different lines for different people among us at different times. We try to convince ourselves that the lines we want to cross are not important, that they were drawn in the old days and that those lines are not valid anymore, if they were ever valid in the first place. We try to blame God for putting so many attractive nuisances across those lines that tempt us to cross over those lines, or for giving us longings in the first place that put us in places where we feel a pull to cross lines. We look enviously at those who have territory larger than we ourselves, whose boundaries we are commanded to respect. We live in a world where those who are powerful and wealthy do not respect the boundaries of others even as they demand that others respect their own boundaries, and in a world where those who break some lines look down on those who happen to break different lines. Yet we are all trespassers together, all of us in need of mercy, for the penalty of our trespasses is death, and also in need of practical learning in how to respect boundaries. Fortunately, God has not left us without His word to remind us what lines we are not to cross, and for those who repent and turn to Him, He gives us His Spirit to help us orient our way so that we respect the borders and boundaries and lines that He has placed over creation to protect us from disaster and difficulty, if we will only respect those lines ourselves.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/05/24/an-exploration-of-the-moral-topography-of-sin-part-one/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/09/01/no-line-on-the-horizon/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/book-review-jesus-outside-the-lines/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/12/17/an-ever-shifting-line/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/10/07/right-down-the-line/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/are-you-gonna-cross-that-line/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/05/24/on-the-right-side-of-the-line-for-a-change/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/cross-that-line/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/12/24/the-cut-line/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/blurred-lines/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/01/16/a-thin-line-between-rigidity-and-chaos/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/dont-cross-that-line/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/12/22/a-thin-line-between-libertarian-and-libertine/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/05/26/book-review-boundaries/

Posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, Church of God, History, Love & Marriage, Musings | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Those Who Are Dead Are Not Dead, They’re Just Living In My Head

When I got up this morning, I looked online and saw that my mother had posted a reminder that five years ago today, my maternal grandfather had died. The matter was obviously on her mind—and mine too, especially once Facebook had prompted me to share the obituary I had written for my grandfather while I was living far away in northern Thailand. I was reminded of his immense activity in old age, in his garden or working with cars or grilling up steaks while drinking copious quantities of rum and coke. I remember him turning off his hearing aid so that he could be strategically deaf when he didn’t want to hear the chatter that everyone else was involved in, and the fact that the last few times I saw him, whether in or out of hospital visits [1], he was tired. Seeing him unable to keep awake while his family sat and chatted around him, one could see his life ebbing away. Many other memories come to mind too, some of them that are prompted when I recollect his walking cane, purchased because of his longtime hip problems, something that may become necessary for me at some point because of my own health, or pick out a suitable tie clip for church and am reminded of some family story or another. He indeed died five years ago, but he still lives on in my head.

Tomorrow as I write this, seventy years ago, my father was born on May 25, 1946. It is perhaps superfluous to mention that my father too, who died ten years ago this past February, is still in my head as well, and not only there. I remember traveling up to Pennsylvania to go to the funeral of his mother, my paternal grandmother, only to hear voices being me talking among themselves before the service began that they could see Johnny’s boy in the front row, having scarcely thought of it before given my general absence from Pennsylvania for many years. I think my father would have been happy that I resembled him on the outside; even more than most people, he was keenly sensitive to questions of inheritance, and of the sort of insecure suspicion that it was a comfort to him to see his form replicated so closely in my own. Perhaps he would be less pleased if he realized how melancholy of a thought that was for me. Having known other fathers who were similarly doubtful about the paternity of their children, with the need to be reassured through seeing themselves live on through their little ones, I am struck by the poison of suspicion that mars so many relationships, where people seek physical signs of inheritance because they lack faith in the goodness of those around them. Are we so different from those who sought a sign in the time of our Lord and Savior, and were told that no sign would be given to them except that of the prophet Jonah, who spent three days and three nights in the belly of a great sea creature and was them vomited onto shore to give his subsequent prophetic ministry instant, albeit unpleasant, credibility.

As I drove to work through terrible traffic caused by an accident on the Interstate Bridge, I listened to a book on the hidden history of mankind as expressed through genes, where the author was speaking about her own love of genealogy and its embattled status among many people. I first became familiar with genealogy because of an assignment given to me by my 5th grade teacher, which led to one of the most remarkable cases of good timing in my life, as the assignment encouraged me to talk with my great-grandfather Chauncey, a hulking man of athletic build who had been born in 1900. The assignment was given precisely at the right time, where I had an ironclad reason to ask for family stories from a man who enjoyed drinking root beer and smoking Cuban cigars, watching college football, and making various pronouncements in line with his background as a child growing up in the early 1900’s of limited graciousness towards ethnic and religious minorities, not wishing to acknowledge his own longstanding Jewish ancestry in the face of his family’s longtime Unitarianism. Had the assignment came a year later, I would not have been able to hear what I had, because many of those stories would have been lost because there was no one to spend time listening to a lonely old man who had lived an extraordinary life of activity, excellence, and times of great difficulty as well during the Great Depression. As it was, because I spent time listening to his stories, he too lives on in my head, long after he was gathered to his fathers in the grave.

My interest in genealogy has led me to ponder and reflect upon the ways of my ancestors [2], their gift at naming things, their mostly ordinary lives as farmers or theologians or merchants, their dark personal struggles, the baleful effect of war and politics on their lives, and their ability to cope with the tragedies of life in a fallen world. I have pondered the qualities of my own that came from long-dead ancestors with a similar passion for justice, and a similar scholarly way about them, given that my family is mostly of the blue collar farmer and mechanically inclined fashion, leaving those of us with more bookish inclinations to seek an understanding of scattered kin with the same sort of interests. With other ancestors I have seen their struggles as ordinary soldiers in the face of massive wars. Far from being an aristocratic preserve of elites, my search for my family background has shown that I come from fairly ordinary people who have often lived extraordinary lives. Perhaps the same may be said of me as well. Who needs to be descendent from the illegitimate scions of European royal and ducal houses when one can be from a line of people who were able to live in dignity and a fair bit of success without ever feeling the need for celebrity even as they conspicuously sought excellence in a wide variety of fields.

Nor is it only my own family dead who are in my head. My love of history, the fact that I read biographies and memoirs, study the horrors of war and genocide, and have a strong interest in the traumas of our haunted world, have ensured that many people’s stories and lives are inside my head. Whether one is looking at the poor souls who departed Ireland in the grips of famine to go to exile around the world for the purposes of mere survival, or whether one looks at those who were buried in forgotten mass graves in Eastern European marshes, or those who were dragged from their homes in slavery, or driven from their homes by rapacious settlers looking for virgin lands to destroy through their plantation agriculture, they are in my head as well. We are a haunted world, and it should come as no surprise that we live in a world where many of us are haunted. We may be haunted by the gap in our family histories that others have created by suppressing the truth, leaving fears and gnawing concerns to fill the gap, or we may be haunted by the knowledge of what we or others have done. And once we are haunted, we generally continue to be haunted, because it is much easier to start the process than to reverse it once it is well along.

And yet I wonder if this is the reason why the Bible is so full of genealogies, and takes the pain to remind us that while the curse of those who disobey God extends to the third and fourth generation that the blessing of those who turn to God extends to thousands of generations, essentially eternity. There is an asymmetry in life, in that the curses do not last nearly as long as the blessings, even if both wise and foolish decisions make a mark and lead to a bias in not only our behavior but in the habits that we pass on to others. Perhaps that too is why the Bible records both the good and the bad about the people in it, in stark contrast to the lying chronicles of Chinese emperors who gloss over the loss of tens of thousands of soldiers in forsaken Burmese jungles as glorious victories, or Assyrian rulers who glory in showing the skulls of their vanquished opponents piled up outside of burning cities while naked slaves are dragged out by lines cut through the cheek, but carefully airbrush their history free of any defeats. Perhaps to know both the best and worst of what our ancestors are capable of is to place before us a choice as to which way we will follow, to know that God is merciful to forgive, but that no positive or negative aspect of humanity is foreign to us and to our backgrounds. Will we choose life or death, blessing or cursing? The choice lies before all of us, person by person, family by family, nation by nation, generation by generation. Which will we choose, seeing as we will be haunted either way?

[1] See, for example:

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

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/02/26/les-incompetents-a-hospital-musing/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/07/16/twenty-four-tieclips/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/08/14/today-in-history-on-august-13-1976-left-handed-people-got-a-day-of-their-own/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/05/01/quartermaster-duties/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/04/08/a-family-legacy/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/examining-the-source-material-for-genesis/

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

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Book Review: The Baseball Crows

The Baseball Crows, by Chris Windsor

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

Earlier this week I received a package in the mail from an author who had read one of my harshest reviews [1] and thought that I could be relied upon to give an honest book review of his manuscript. Being the sort of person who tends to look more for reasons to like a book than dislike a book, I must admit my more negative reviews, which seem to have surprisingly intrigued at least one author, are far more rare than positive reviews. At any rate, I received in my mailbox a book of 110 pages and 58,000 words, and with it came a short letter from the author asking if it was good, horrible, between good and horrible, and if it could and should be fixed if so. I must confess that when reading the beginning of the book, my mind was taken back to my childhood memories of watching The Sandlot with witty children and mysterious animal behavior, and that probably tells you at least most of what a reader would like to know, that in some aspects it seems to be just the sort of book that would attract worthy film treatment for the preteen audience.

In terms of the book’s contents, without giving too much away, the book begins with the mystery of some kleptomaniac crows who keep on stealing baseball caps, leading to misery for a boy who is a little late to practice often and lacks confidence. His younger sister is a sensitive softball pitcher who has to deal with mean girls on opposing teams who taunt her and her teammates with ugly and mocking cheers, and he has some suitably quirky friends and neighbors of the kind that show up well on film. The book itself blends an almost magical love of baseball played by people and animals with some educational interest in civil government, from the mouth of a passionate anti-Communist Soviet-era immigrant who happens to hate crows, and the film spends a lot of time dealing with questions of baseball as well as politics in a way that is non-partisan but is thought-provoking and quite intriguing. The manuscript, as written, contains plenty of room for a sequel, given that there is clearly at least some unfinished business, but it ends in a satisfying point nevertheless with a young man imbued with determination, hard work, and skill in sports and life ready to take on the world as a teenager.

It should be obvious from the foregoing that I think that this book is clearly good. There is witty dialogue, a setup of talking plants and animals that is full of magical realism, convincing and complex characters, including that of the protagonist Casey, and memorable set piece incidents told in a compelling narrative involving sports and political intrigue. Of particular interest to this reader and reviewer is the way that the birds of the story are portrayed as responding thoughtfully to resource and environmental limitations and have to deal with the problem of cliques and ethnocentrism, which is thoughtfully examined here. Of course, the book explores plenty of proverbs as well and their assiduous application by the animal characters of the book, and does a good deal to increase the reader’s respect for the humble crows as well as other animals, and even trees. If it is an environmental message, and that seems fairly likely, it is done with a great deal of subtlety and wit, allowing for our native anthropomorphic tendencies to work in the favor of the plant and animal life that is around us. This is a book for roughly late elementary to middle school aged children that provides something to think about for adults as well as entertainment that would be perfect for film adaptation. Perhaps the most melancholy aspect of the film is the way that the protagonist’s parents are nearly invisible in the book’s proceedings.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/06/book-review-the-30-day-faith-detox/

Posted in American History, Book Reviews, History, Sports | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

An Exploration Of The Moral Topography Of Sin: Part One

While having a conversation with a friend of mine about different types of sin, I was struck by the fact that a broad picture understanding of the topography of sin is largely lacking among many people. This is not to say that any topography, or the study of terrain, is very familiar in our world, except perhaps the elevation colors on maps for physical geometry. To be sure, our society and every human society thinks and talks a lot about sin. Christian focus in my own society is largely divided between adherents of the social gospel small in numbers and in adherence to Christian doctrine but prolific as writers in politics and social critiques who point out the failures of Americans with regards to the social laws discussed in the Bible and supporters of what may be uncharitably called the statutes of Omri [1] that focus on the importance of personal morality but have no interest in the larger context of proper behavior towards the poor and stranger who is within our communities. Personal morality is therefore pit against social morality, when both are clear aspects of God’s ways in which our society falls short.

An example of this focus on either social or personal sins in our contemporary society can be seen in the different accounts of the immorality of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the smaller cities around them [2]. Genesis 18 and 19, for example, paint a picture of moral depravity and aggressive homosexuality within Sodom and Gomorrah that has been responsible for enriching the English language thereby. Those who hold to a belief in the importance of personal morality point out, quite sensibly, that the moral degradation of these cities was responsible for the outcry that came up against the city and its consignment to destruction by fire. However, those who hold to a belief in the importance of social justice point to Ezekiel 16:48-50 as evidence that God is concerned about how a society strengthens the hands of the poor and needy when abundance of food and economic resources are malapportioned within a society. Yet we need not view either account as being inaccurate—Ezekiel comments on the abominations that were committed against God, discussed in more vivid detail in Genesis, and Genesis 14 provides evidence of the wealth of Sodom, so that we may view both accounts as complementary—the outcry that arose against Sodom was as a result of both its social sins as well as against its failures in personal morality, and for both types of sins Sodom and Gomorrah and their sister cities were destroyed by divine judgment.

This sort of attitude towards sins, where only certain sins are focused on by some people, and certain sins by others, but where a comprehensive view of sin is lacking, indicates that we have a failure to understand the moral terrain of sin as a whole, which hinders our ability to understand the continuing problems of particular sins. Without an understanding of the big picture, we cannot understand the place of the individual laws and their applications that we may argue over unprofitably for generations. Let us not be mistaken that a big picture view of sin alone is sufficient, for it is not, but it is necessary in order to place discussions of individual sins within their proper context. Perhaps most importantly for believers, an understanding of the big picture of the moral topography of sin helps us to avoid pitting some sins against others, because it is multi-dimensional in scope, and extending far beyond the letter of the law itself to its spirit and application within ourselves. Once we possess this multi-dimensional understanding of sin, we can then place particular laws and their applications within this larger picture and see which elements particular laws deal with.

Since the subject of sin is far too large in scope to be addressed in such a format as this one, let us limit ourselves to painting the larger picture and providing a few instances of scripture that apply to the various dimensions of sin. It is important in this discussion to have a knowledge of the language of sin, as different words for different types of sins deal with different aspects of the moral terrain of sin. By putting these words together, we can examine different areas of behavior in different matters that requires investigation and repentance and growth. Likewise, by examining paradigmatic laws dealing with different aspects of sin, we can understand what it was in particular cases that drew the scrutiny and judgment of God in ways that apply to us and to our world. This examination makes no pretensions of being complete, but it does wish to provide a compass, if you will, and a set of handy clues that will allow the reader to engage the Bible with a bigger picture of sin and righteousness.

This approach will use a great deal of metaphorical language in order to do so, which is unavoidable since sin is an abstract matter and we as human beings deal much more successfully with concrete images. When I was a student in middle school, I went to what was called “Nature’s Classroom” in the wilderness areas of the northern part of Hillsborough County, Florida where I spent my youth, communing with the water moccasins, snapping turtles, and alligators that inhabit that stretch of the Hillsborough River. On the first day of the week of learning, we were given a task in orienteering, where we were given a set of clues and a compass, and were to make our way from where we started to a particular destination to find a particular item. Those who were able to correctly follow the clues and use their compass with skill were rewarded. Part of the problem when we deal with sin is that we lack a skill in dealing with a moral compass, and we lack a map of the larger moral terrain that we are dealing with. It is little wonder, therefore, that our society, and we as individuals, seem hopelessly lost when we try to deal with the larger ramifications of our individual moral decisions, because we lack an understanding of the terrain we are in, like the children of city and town dwellers guiding themselves by compass in the wilderness. Let us therefore prepare ourselves to explore this terrain more successfully.

[1] See, for example:

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

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

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/05/14/book-review-subversive-jesus/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/12/11/book-review-surprise-the-world/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/05/04/book-review-kingdom-come/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/10/04/book-review-godonomics/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/22/book-review-pursuing-justice/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/book-review-hope-rising/

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

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

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

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/09/02/mysteries-of-the-bible-how-come-no-one-remembers-admah-and-zeobiim/

Posted in Bible, Christianity, Church of God, Musings | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Book Review: Dungeon Master’s Guide (Version 5)

Dungeon Master’s Guide (Version 5), by Jeremy Crawford, Christopher Perkins, and James Wyatt

During a recent visit to the home of some friends of mine from church [1] for a night of tabletop gaming, I volunteered to be the DM (Dungeon Master) for our next game in a bit more than a week, and as is my general fashion, I like to be prepared for such matters by reading up on them. The last time I had read up on any of these matters it was for Version 3.5, and so there are a few changes in the latest version that I had not been aware of. Suffice it to say that for the reader who is interested in playing tabletop role playing games, as I enjoy doing from time to time where there are sufficient people to do it with, this book is a thorough guide to those who wish to be skilled DMs over the long haul of an extended campaign, and much of the information included in this book is of use to people who are working with long scenarios. Given this, there is a great deal of information that is not required for those who are starting out, and additionally, this book is a summary and not an exhaustive guide of everything one can do when guiding and creating an adventuresome and compelling fantasy world.

In terms of the contents of this book, the organization is straightforward and detailed. The introduction of the book introduces the role of the DM, how to use this book as a resource and guide, and stresses the importance of knowing one’s players and how to best encourage them to roleplay successfully. The first part of the book contains the first two chapters, the first chapter of which discuss elements of worldbuilding such as religion, geography, settlements, languages, organizations and political factions, the role of magic, campaigns, play style, tiers of play, and different subgenres of fantasy that can describe the world, and the second chapter of which discusses how to build a multiverse including not only the material plane (the physical world and other physical planets) but also a variety of other planes that include travel between different planes and a description of the dangers and features of those planes and what might lead a group of higher-level heroes into such dangerous territory. The second part of the book contains chapters three through seven, which give a detailed look at gameplay. Chapter three involves the creation of adventures, including taking advantage of published adventures (something I plan on doing at the beginning of the campaign I DM) and structuring adventures as well as creating encounters and allowing for random encounters. Chapter four gives advice on how to design NPCs, ranging from NPC party members to contacts, hirelings, extras, and villains. Chapter five discusses adventure environments, mapping dungeons, wildernesses, and settlements where adventures take place, and which root adventures in a firm sense of place where player characters develop a sense of belonging and commitment. The sixth chapter looks at what happens between adventures, including linking adventures and dealing with recurring expenses and downtime activities that set up future activities. The seventh and longest chapter gives a detailed breakdown and explanation of treasure, mostly magic items, that can be found in adventures. The third section of the book examines larger matters of running the game including objects, combat, chases, diseases, siege equipment, mental health, experience points, and a chapter that looks at creating monsters, spells, magic items, and new character options for the particularly seasoned DM. The book then closes with four appendices on random dungeons, monster lists, maps, and inspiration, followed by an index.

It is clear that a book like this has a particular target audience in mind, and forms part of the core literature for those who enjoy and participate in story-based role playing games. As such it is a notable and successful reference guide that can be of use to those who are serving to run and organize such games, giving far more items and statistics than anyone needs to use, and also providing encouragement and resources for people to become proficient and then move beyond it, possibly. The main area of criticism that one can have is that the book is somewhat unbalanced in its contents, as the book is about three hundred pages, more than a hundred of which are devoted to one small part of one chapter. It is possible the book could have given more detail to areas of geography and worldbuilding had so much space been taken up by detailed explanation of magical items. It is pretty clear that this book focuses on the loot, which makes sense as that is likely what many players would like to focus on as well. Such an imbalance makes this book a bit harder to read, though.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/geeks-night-out/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/book-review-fantastic-encounters/

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Book Review: Another World Instead

Another World Instead: The Early Poems of William Stafford 1937-1947, edited with an introduction by Fred Marchant

As someone who is very fond of the poetry of William Stafford [1], this book provides a worthy volume among the many that exist of the late poet’s work. Stafford was well-known for his pacifism during World War II; he ended up serving in a camp for conscientious objectors in California, as well as doing work elsewhere during the course of the war and the immediate postwar period. He was 37 before he had published any works of poetry, and had a long habit of writing early in the morning before the day began, and this book of early poems, most of which languished in obscurity, about half of the known early poems of Stafford’s body of work, provide insight into why Stafford was the kind of poet he was, given that he was preoccupied by the same concerns that he returned to over and over again with a great deal of delicacy [2] and skill, and although many of these poems are quite excellent, they demonstrate later editing and some of them are at least a little bit awkward, as Stafford was trying to set down his thoughts and took some time and plenty of practice to get into his mature form, so that by the time he published his poetry in earnest he was well-practiced after more than a decade of solid effort.

In terms of its contents, this book is short and straightforward. Containing 176 of the roughly 400 poems that William Stafford wrote during this collection, including all of the ones that had been previously published in other collections, as far as could be determined, which have been carefully noted in the endnotes to the book, as well as an introduction that provides the historical context of Stafford’s time in the CO camps and the origin of his idiosyncratic but firm stance against violence, this is a volume that shows a young artist at work reflecting upon life and also musing upon experience, the inner and outer streams of influence combining to make for arresting and deeply reflective poetry. The poetry included is, as near as possible, given in chronological order so that the reader can see Stafford come into form as a major poet from his earlier efforts in college to more mature efforts after World War II. The editor of this work, a conscientious objector during Vietnam and poet of no mean skill himself, has done a great job of attempting to wrestle with the many revisions of Stafford’s complicated body of work, and for making sensible decisions about where to indent a line for effect and where to allow for a lengthy line that in the typeset versions of the early poems were included on more than one line for purposes of space. The result is a pleasing collection that shows obvious care and craft on the part of the poet as well as the editor.

What these poems allow the reader to do, above all, is to see Stafford as a man, as his poetry is deeply personal and reflective, and even though it is restrained in the manner of Emily Dickenson, it exposes the belief system and essential compassion of Stafford for fellow humanity, as well as a certain sense of righteous anger about jingoistic calls for war and retributive violence. This is to be expected given the context of these writings within wartime. It is also somewhat unsurprising that Stafford should dwell so long on themes of home and exile given his life experience during these years as well. Perhaps more surprising is the fact that Stafford’s poems seem to dwell so long on the terrors of the night. Without wishing to speculate on the reasons for the author’s habits, it is noteworthy that Stafford developed the habit of writing early in the morning and that many of his poems dwell on darkness, on night, and on nightmares. Perhaps as a person whose sleep was troubled, and who had reasons to reflect rather gloomily on the night, he chose to write early in the morning as a way of turning that torment into the well-spring of beautiful art, and to allow him to write in such a way that turned the darkness of night into an expression of hope for the early morning instead, a way of making difficult situations the fountain of creative solutions for the betterment of life and art. The poems included are therefore not only the works of a young poet finding his way with words to skillfully write evocative and reflective verse, but are also a demonstration of the concerns of a poet who in many ways is not so unlike myself.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/14/book-review-every-war-has-two-losers/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/book-review-writing-the-australian-crawl/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/04/book-review-crossing-unmarked-snow/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/25/the-wind-rustles-through-the-trees/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/06/27/while-the-world-sleeps-under-lead-gray-skies/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/every-war-has-two-losers/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/the-darkness-around-us-is-deep/

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

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

[2] See, for example:

“The Sound: Summer, 1945”

Not a loud sound, the buzz of the rattlesnake.
But urgent. Making the heart pound a loud drum.
Somewhere in dead weeds by a dry lake
On cracked earth flat in the sun.

The living thing raises the fanged head,
Tormented and nagged by the drouth,
And stares past a planet that’s dead,
With anger and death in its mouth. (82)

“Exile [II]”

The burning city of my sorrow hurts
And blinds the eye turned carelessly on it.
Avert the face; look full on it at night;
Be wary days. Increase the time of gaze
As time goes by, and hate grows strong,
And sight grows dim, and cities burn and die. (25)

“They taught me to be hurt…”

They taught me to be hurt.
I don’t know why.
They held my hand till dark,
Then said goodbye.

And those who held me up
Grew weaker then.
And those I thought were gods
Were frightened men.

Such gods, who told me wise
And left me dumb,
Will have to call me long
Before I’ll come. (65-66)

Posted in American History, Book Reviews, Christianity, History | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Naming Our Abuse: Acknowledgments & Afterword

Afterword

As I lay down my pen, so to speak, I ponder the seemingly endless stream of words that I have written over the past month. At more than 50,000 words, originally written, it is a book longer than the volume that inspired it. Thinking about it leads me to ponder how long I have worked in one form or another on a memoir, and how long I have delayed the practice, so I hope that as you have indulged me in the previous writing that you will let me ponder at least one more time about the process of writing a work such as this. Although in general I consider myself a fluent writer more in the vein of C.S. Lewis than in the labored perfectionistic way of J.R.R. Tolkien, not all of this particular book flowed easily. Setting oneself the task of writing roughly 2,000 words a day is an ambitious task, and having done so for the second time in less than a year is definitely not something I recommend for all writers. Nevertheless, some of the parts of this book flowed together surprisingly well, and given the fact that I have been attempting to write my memoirs for about a quarter of a century at this point, the process went dramatically well for what would make sense as a “volume one” of a memoir that is likely to be several volumes long.

Yet the fact that it took so long to write this one suggests the difficulties of the task. My first attempt at writing a memoir began when I was in elementary school. At the time we were given the task of writing a book (a very short one, I should add) and then having it lightly formatted into book form as a project in class. After writing a few pages of a memoir I was very unsatisfied with the tale, having attempted to write a straightforward chronological tale of my life, and so I decided instead on writing a collection of amusing limericks, perhaps the earliest examples of my poetry. The project lied dormant for a while, but later on while writing plays I found myself returning over and over again to the same scenes of childhood, and so I wrote a play that was designed to make for a set account of certain scenes so that I did not have to try to rewrite the same scenes over and over again in slightly different contexts while I was writing five dozen or so plays, many of which were semi-autobiographical. Even those efforts, though, were not a full memoir although they were certainly part of the story, especially since there were fictionalized elements. They were “based on a true story” plays, but certainly not the full monty, so to speak.

In recent years I have been bombarded with memoirs to read and review for publishers [1] and other memoirs, real and fictional, that I have read for my own enjoyment as a glutton for punishment [2]. Most of them were very unsatisfactory in encouraging me to write a memoir of my own life. This was largely because the memoirs usually had one of two story arcs, neither of which was congenial to any retelling of my own life. Some of the memoirs were written at the end of life, like Ulysses Grant heroically trying to finish his own memoir before death takes him, where a writer sought to take stock of his or her own life as it neared its curtain call. Clearly, as a man in my thirties, however burdened I am with concerns about health, I am not at the point where an end-of-life reflection is appropriate. Neither is the other approach, usually written after a marriage or some sort of relationship with marriage potential, in some cases, has been found, such that the memoir of difficult experiences has its fitting close in the successful achievement of the intimacy that has been desired. Yet sometimes it takes reading the right memoir in order to hit upon the strategy to tackle one’s own life, and once I hit upon a model that did not force a chronological organization and that did not assume a story arc pointed at either death or marriage, I was freed to write. And so I did.

It is my belief that not nearly enough writers show appreciation to their readers for the difficulty of having plowed through material to reach its conclusion. For example, at the end of reading some 1200 pages of a paperback version of War & Peace, one of the Great Books of the Western literary canon, it should be noted, I was subjected as a reader to an immensely dull 100 page essay on free will versus determinism, where Leo Tolstoy comments that the inertia of many millions of Russians made the attempts of Peter the Great, an undoubtedly great man, to modernize Russia hopeless, and so clearly determinism won out over free will. I hope that I will avoid the mistake of Leo Tolstoy in writing a tediously long afterword to a work that already demands a lot of a reader, and though my memoir is not nearly as long or complicated as War & Peace, it is certainly not an easy matter to read or understand, and those who have reached the end deserve my appreciation for having toughed it out. What allowed me to write this book was a conception of trauma as being an accident, one that had certain root causes and patterns in both its occurrence as well as in its aftermath. A book is an effort to take the messiness of life and to make sense of it, to put it on a bookshelf, to find a place for that which causes chaos and disruption, to file it away in a report that is hardly ever read, or to put on a shelf so that someone may pick it up, and turn its pages, and realize that they are not alone in the world, but that their story resonates with others, and that they too can take the trauma and suffering of their own lives and leave it as a gift to others in turn. If anything in the preceding pages has resonated with you, take up the pen yourself, and write your own story, and make sense of your own life, and speak of your own hopes and fears. My bookshelf has room enough for your own account, a burden that is not too heavy to be borne even by shelving that bears many such burdens and will no doubt bear many more ere my life is done.

Acknowledgements

To God, “for who am I, and what is my house, that you have brought me this far?” (2 Samuel 7:18, 1 Chronicles 17:16)
To Andrew J. Schmutzerl, Daniel A. Gorski, and David Carlson, for writing in such a form that inspired me to write about my own life.
To those who read and commented on this project as it was ongoing and encouraged me to reach its conclusion.
To those who read it and understand from their own experiences, you are not alone, nor do you have to keep silent unless you choose silence for yourself.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/book-review-jesus-my-father-the-cia-and-me-a-memoir-of-sorts/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/27/book-review-living-a-mighty-faith/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/12/book-review-cache/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/07/book-review-one-tough-mother/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/02/24/book-review-walk-to-beautiful/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/02/22/book-review-a-widows-might/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/02/16/book-review-my-name-is-mahtob/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/02/07/book-review-hope-and-help-from-a-cancer-survivor/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/01/23/book-review-i-was-blind-dating-but-now-i-see/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/09/20/book-review-no-reserves-no-retreats-no-regrets/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/book-review-anne-of-green-gables-my-daughter-me/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/08/15/book-review-kill-the-silence/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/08/09/book-review-an-amish-boy-and-a-mothers-prayer/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/book-review-life-inside-out/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/book-review-this-is-your-captain-speaking/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/05/07/book-review-the-hiding-place/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/04/27/book-review-all-things-through-christ/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/book-review-my-life-in-middlemarch/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/01/25/book-review-personal-memoirs-of-ulysses-grant-volume-one/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/book-review-personal-memoirs-of-ulysses-grant-volume-two/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/07/11/book-review-the-memoirs-of-mary-queen-of-scots/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/30/book-review-speak-memory/

Posted in Bible, Christianity, History, Musings | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: Journey To Heal

Journey To Heal: Seven Essential Steps Of Recovery For Survivors Of Childhood Sexual Abuse, by Crystal M. Sutherland

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

Although I am admittedly not the target audience of this book in some respects—this is a book written to encourage female survivors of child sexual abuse in their journey to healing, after all—there is still a great deal that I can relate to in this particular book, even if it is not precisely written with me in mind. As is often the case with a book like this, there are only two reasons why someone is going to read this kind of book: either they or a close friend or family member is a survivor of sexual abuse and they either wish for healing for themselves, or wish to encourage others. Like any book written about this subject [1], this book is a tough read. The author spends a great deal of time sharing her own story with its generational patterns of dysfunction, and sharing the stories of other women she has known, all in the sort of friendly way that one would imagine a Southerner in one’s acquaintance chatting about the most intimate matters over coffee, punctuated by comments like “Bless his heart,” in discussions about her husband. This book is written in a conversational style, despite its harrowing subject matter, and if you appreciate the tone and wish to read a book about healing from sexual abuse with God’s help written by a gracious Southern woman, this book offers a great deal of encouragement and biblically-based discussion.

In terms of the content and organization of this book, the book is straightforwardly organized and has just over 160 pages of material, making it a short read. Aside from introductory acknowledgements, a statement to the reader that they are not alone in struggling with the aftermath of child abuse (and surely there are many of us, far too many of us), and a closing encouragement to continue in the journey of faith, the book consists of ten chapters and four very brief appendices. The ten chapters of the book consist of seven steps along the journey to healing: committing to the journey, facing the truth, sharing your story, settling the unsettled, forgiving and letting go, discovering your true identity as a child of God, and establishing your new life in Christ as well as three additional chapters that remind readers that there is no more disgrace for believers in God, God’s providential role in what may often seem like an unpromising story, and encourage readers to believe that there is hope to experience intimacy without the horrors of flashbacks and nightmares and panic attacks for those of us who struggle mightily with PTSD. The appendices of the book include a version of the sinner’s prayer, a prayer for sexual healing, several “I am” statements of worth for readers, and additional books and websites that are resources for recovery, some of which I have found to be useful for myself personally.

In general, I do not believe that the disparity between the numbers of men and women who have suffered from sexual abuse is so great as to justify the immense disparity in the number of books written for men and women. Even so, it is impossible to be upset about a book that is as humane and as deeply personal as this one. The book is written particularly strongly on an emotional level, and the book offers some very sound advice that its readers should appreciate. For one, the author reminds the reader that despite all that has happened to us, and despite all of the screwed up decisions we may have made ourselves, God still loves us, and has not abandoned us in our despair, and that true healing requires God’s help. On a more practical level, the author urges the readers of the book to keep a “truth journal,” and every chapter includes suggestions on what to write down, as well as reminders on how to be grateful. Aside from the general worth in keeping a journal, among the more helpful exercises is to write a burn list of all the things one wants to let go of, and then to actually burn the list. As a book that is written about a common and immensely vexing problem, and as a work written with both emotional sensitivity and practicality, it is a book that should encourage and motivate a great many women who read it, and perhaps a few men as well.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/book-review-when-a-man-you-love-was-abused/

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

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/15/book-review-it-wasnt-your-fault/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/13/book-review-why-are-you-so-scared/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/10/book-review-how-to-live-in-fear/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/02/09/book-review-many-faces-of-ptsd/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/10/07/book-review-struggle-for-intimacy/

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

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

Book Review: Naming Our Abuse

Naming Our Abuse:  God’s Pathways To Healing For Male Sexual Abuse Survivors, by Andrew J. Schmutzerl, Daniel A. Gorski, and David Carlson

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

Kregel Press has established a very worthwhile niche in publishing a suite of books written by male survivors of childhood sexual abuse and their loved ones, and as a survivor of childhood rape and incest, and as someone who is often a bit disheartened that there are so few people who write for the massive amount of people who share my experiences given that rape and sexual abuse is automatically associated with men committing violence against women, I feel that these books help redress the resulting imbalance [1].  This is a book that in its introduction explicitly points out this problem, and also explicitly points out the specific primary (male survivors of child sexual abuse) and secondary (friends and family and loved ones of male survivors) audience of this book as well.  Among the more shocking aspects of this book is that it has a foreword written by Josh McDowell, who is among the foremost apologists in our contemporary age.  It struck me that perhaps my own deep personal interest in the study of apologetics, that is, making a case for the existence and justice of God, springs from the need to justify God’s goodness and existence in my own life as the survivor of horrible abuse, and that perhaps that same situation drove Josh McDowell to his own voluminous writings on the subject as well.  Perhaps there are many of us in the same tribe, as melancholy a thought as that is.

In terms of the contents and structure of this book, there is something deeply intriguing about the framework of this work.  The book has three authors, each of whom give a parallel account of their own experiences, their own struggles, and their own longings.  The book itself is organized in a very particular way, the sort of way that allows for both intellectual distance as well as deep engagement with the struggle with sexual abuse and its repercussions.  The book is organized into several parts:  the first part discusses the wreck of abuse, how it happened and the context of its occurrence.  The second part discusses the accident report of the abuse, namely the areas of life that were profoundly affected in the lives of the authors by the abuse that they suffered.  The third part discusses rehabilitation, or the way that the authors sought healing and wholeness in their lives, and the struggles that they faced along the way.  The fourth section is about driving again, or the vision of healing and wholeness that each author has.  The final section of the book, the epilogue, consists of each author’s letter to their own childhood self, something I had to do once in my own therapy.

As a short book of only about 150 pages or so, written by three authors who have written a powerful and focused “mini-memoir” of their abuse, this is a book that not only is a compellingly written account, but also a book that encourages the reader to seek to write therapeutically.  Indeed, this is the sort of book that includes at the end of every part writing assignments for the reader of the book, specifically a survivor, as a way of finding therapy through writing, something that I have often considered for myself.  In fact, reading this book felt like a particular challenge for me to write such a mini-memoir for myself [2].  There is a lot that is admirable about the book–it is honest, even about uncomfortable material including incest from one’s father as well as from pedophile teachers and priests, but keeps the material to a PG-13 level and not dwelling on lurid tales or titillation, as well as such matters as secondary victimization where the victim becomes a perpetrator as well.  One of the authors writes deeply moving and often sad poetry as part of the writing, viewing the writing of biblically based poetry as a way of coping with the ethical demands of God in light of the broken state of humanity.  The authors are honest about the difficulties that survivors face when it comes to abuse in different aspects of life.  This is a book that is well-written and deeply encouraging, with a sense of both grim honesty as well as hope and encouragement, a book worthy of appreciation, reflection, and emulation, and hopefully it will be of great worth to its intended audiences.

[1] See, for example:

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

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/book-review-when-a-man-you-love-was-abused/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/15/are-we-not-also-veterans-of-a-great-and-terrible-war/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/10/anecdote-the-fuel-for-discovering-patterns/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/02/18/some-write-to-remember-some-write-to-forget/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/02/15/no-direction-home/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/02/09/djavlen-star-i-alt-som-minder/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/the-perfect-paramour-you-were-in-your-letter/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/05/09/vergangenheitsbewaltigung/

Posted in Bible, Book Reviews, Christianity, Love & Marriage | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Letter To My Eighteen Year Old Self

Dear Nathan,

I hope that you have enjoyed the letters that I have sent you on occasion over your childhood [1]. This will be the last such letter, not because I do not mind writing to you, but rather because the next transition in life is one I have not reached yet, and so until I reach that point I have nothing else to share with you in terms of insight into your future growth and development. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the ditch, and as I have no particular insight to share with you in regards to the goals you now possess in terms of your education, profession, and personal goals towards marriage and a family. Indeed, I can tell you that your goals in education will, at least from my vantage point, excel your current expectations, but that the results of that will not be everything you have hoped. In light of that I have some news to share that may not be entirely pleasant, and I hope you will forgive me for writing what will likely not be all that enjoyable to read. I suppose in life one such as myself gets in too much of a habit of writing what needs to be said without paying sufficient attention to what other people are willing or able to read or hear. As you have already committed yourself to becoming a writer, a goal I wholeheartedly support and share, it is important not only to consider your own needs as a writer or speaker but also to consider the needs and abilities of the audience you are addressing. This attention ought not to determine whether you speak or write, but ought to at least encourage you to find matters that can serve as a bridge rather than as a wall to your audience. The point of any creative effort is to engage with other people, after all, not merely to offend them. You are not a contemporary artist, after all, whose goal is to shock and offend, after all, as easy as those goals are to achieve.

About your upcoming education I have quite a bit to say, so I hope you will not be bothered if I write about it at some length. The first matter that needs to be discussed is one of economics. For reasons that are fairly plain and obvious, I am concerned about the long-term costs of the course of education that you are about to undertake [2]. I know that there is a belief that is widely propagated that college will pay for itself; it doesn’t. You in particular will have a rash of very bad timing, in that California, the place where you are going to live for college, will have a prolonged budget crisis that prevents it from hiring civil engineers, and that later on there will be a massive recession that stops construction for years. Your choice of a major is therefore an unfortunate one because the lack of interest in infrastructure improvements means that you will not be working at the wages you expect, and your education will be a drain on your standard of living rather than an improvement of it. Yet at the same time I do not know what other advice to give. Your passions are, in general, not the sort of ones that provide the stable and straightforward economic security you want, and are dependent on external factors beyond your control. The sorts of professions that best suit you, moreover, are ones that have experienced a large degree of education inflation, requiring degrees even if they do not pay wages that will repay the cost of acquiring those degrees. And so I do not know what to tell you; you are not someone who can live well based on your sales ability, and the sorts of jobs that you are best suited for require education, even if their wages are not particularly great. The best I can tell you is to buckle down and hold on and keep your loans as low as possible, and hope that someday you will find an opportunity, whether in writing or in your profession, that will make it payoff. I am still waiting for that day myself, I must confess, so I will give you no illusions on how fast that will happen.

There is yet another matter relating to your education that I wish to discuss. I know that you are tenacious and that your instincts are to gut things out to the end, but I would like you to consider your own well-being. There is enough that you are interested in that you do not have to settle for immense difficulty, and it would be good if you are at least somewhat sensitive of the effect of your striving on your emotional state. The purpose of education is to make your own life better and give you the skills and approach and basic knowledge you need to make the world better as well. It is important never to forget that education should serve you as well. Be kind to yourself, and do not put yourself in unnecessary difficulties. This is a problem I struggle with as well, so I do not speak only as someone who wishes to give you advice, as there are enough of such people around anyway, but as someone who knows the difficulties that result when one is kinder to others than to oneself, and where one’s lack of care for oneself can make it harder to serve others well. My encouragement to you is therefore to think strategically, and also to seek unusual niches for yourself in ways that will help both you and others. I know it is capable of you to think this way, or I would not ask it of you, but given the difficulties of this world and finding a place within it, it is all the more important that you use your God-given intellect, and resourcefulness, to live a better life than would otherwise be possible. Life is hard enough without making it more difficult on yourself, and knowing when to be stubborn and when not to be will aid you a great deal in having a better adulthood.

There are other matters of importance to discuss as well. You are currently in the process of counseling for baptism, and I support that decision and am glad you have decided very early on to commit your life to obeying God as best as possible and to having His help and encouragement and presence in your life. There are some implications of that choice, though, that I would like you to consider, including some of them you may not realize. For one, the fact that you are able to seriously make such a commitment so young is something that ought to give you encouragement, since there are people who will think that you are the sort of person who tends to be afraid of commitment. As much as it might appear that way to others, it is not the case, although when it comes to certain kinds of commitments you are understandably cautious, not least in the light of your own family experience and the fact that you will know people who marry twice before you marry once. I hope you will have some sort of empathy towards them, seeing as such people easier find out people are attracted and also have far less concern about intimacy than you do. I don’t know what advice to give you when it comes to marriage and courtship; it’s not an area where I feel particularly skilled myself. All I can say is that you should practice your empathy, develop your skills at communication, and be patient with the other people you are dealing with and remember that many of them will be as awkward as you are. Understanding that will make you a lot more kind to others, and a lot less likely to take offense when they do things that you will not understand, or when they do not understand what you do, because a lot of people are confused and struggle in these areas. It is an aspect of learning how to live more godly in a world, and be more understanding of others.

Aside from that, much of the advice I would give to you is the sort of advice that you hardly need because you will do it already fairly automatically. I need not tell you to try to live a productive life, or serve others, or focus on personal improvement, or keep aware of what is going on in the world, because all of those things come about as naturally as breathing. There are only a few areas where I would recommend that you study in areas that do not come automatically to you. One of those is psychology. I know you studied Psychology as one of your HL classes, and congratulations on your success in getting your IB diploma and in scoring well above necessary on your IB and AP exams, but it is an area that is worth examining a bit more. As your experiences with people trained in the field will often be less than exemplary, and your issues in this area somewhat serious and life-altering, it would be worthwhile for you to have at least as best an ability to engage in personal study and reflection and self-improvement even despite the fact that you might not find the encouragement you want easily in these matters. In matters of great importance where external help is hard to find, internal efforts are necessary. You will have many friends who have interests in these fields because of their own life experiences over the next fifteen years or so, so it would be worthwhile to encourage them along their own efforts, because even if they would want nothing to do with the complexities of your own mind, the fact that they wish to turn their own life experiences into helping others in these matters is something that is wonderful to encourage.

I hope you understand why this is the last letter that I will write to you, at least as I see it at present. You are about to enter college, and I can encourage you to go to class, and make friends, and enjoy the spirit of fellowship you will have with your brethren in your local congregation, and encourage you in your efforts both to understand and to obey God’s ways as best as possible. I can tell you what your work life will be like, and how the greater world is, but I would not wish to terrify you, as those things can be pretty scary to deal with, and there is really no point in knowing about such natters ahead of time when there is nothing that you can do about them. And besides, what you know already will be sufficient for you to be a good guesser about such trends. For example, in your diary in about a couple of years you will give a title to your journal that will end up happening in the world around you, but it would give you no comfort to know what would be involved in that. At any rate, as far as world events go, it is no use knowing what will happen ahead of time if there is no one to listen to you and no way to avoid it. Likewise, I cannot give you much advice in how to deal with work or women, at least because I do not consider myself the most successful in either such realms, and it is those realms in life that will give you the most trouble over the next few years. So, the best I can do is remind you to be kind with yourself and to those around you, and that you are not alone, for not only am I with you, but God is with you, and so are a lot of other people who you do not even know yet, but will in time.

Your friend, as always,

Nathan Bennett Albright

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/05/20/a-letter-to-my-five-year-old-self/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/05/20/a-letter-to-my-ten-year-old-self/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/05/21/a-letter-to-my-fourteen-year-old-self/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/04/27/the-miseducation-of-nathan-albright/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/04/27/book-review-is-college-worth-it/

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