Tuesday, November 30

Seeds of Turmoil - The Biblical Story Behind Conflict in the Middle East

The story of the conflict in the Middle East is a troubled one. Today that conflict seems to reach headlines nearly every day. Whether a terrorist bombing, the current US military operations, or Islamic leaders decrying Israel. The story behind this is also a long one. For many people, the issue is thought to have arisen in the late 1940’s (1948 to be exact) when Israel officially became a recognized state in our world. And while that event certainly has led to much conflict in the Middle East, author and pastor Bryant Wright suggests in his book, Seeds of Turmoil: The Biblical Roots of the Inevitable Crisis of the Middle East, that the issue is much deeper, dating back to the time of Abraham.

What’s that? Wasn’t Abraham the father of Israel? Yes. However, Wright also explains how Abraham was also the father of Islam (even though that was not his intent). If you want to know the whole explanation, I’ll let you read the book.

I’ll give you the short version here: Sarah could have children. Abraham had a kid through the maid, Hagar. Abraham then had a kid with Sarah a bit later. Hagar gave birth to Ishmael and Sarah to Isaac. Ishmael’s descendents include Mohammed, the ‘founder’ of Islam and Isaac is one of the father’s of Israel.

Wright then goes on to explain the relationship between the descendents of Isaac and Ishmael through many biblical periods and then leads up with today. In fact over half the book is the biblical history. The rest is mostly comprised of Israel’s, Islam’s, and Christianity’s views on the conflict.

As far as the book itself, I found Wright to be repetitive when explaining the biblical history. Often he would mention one event multiple times and explain it. One such example is the reference to Abraham sleeping with Hagar. While that might’ve been important to reference in various chapters, Wright then goes on to explain that it would’ve been sinful. And that was fine the first time. But the second, third, fourth, etc. time, we don’t need the extra explanation. We already understand his view.

And while the Biblical view is interesting, valid, and important, I wish Bryan would’ve spent some more time deconstructing current events and relating them a bit more. Though, I think perhaps he tried to avoid this to differentiate this book from others about the Middle East. Still, the Biblical history perspective was interesting and fresh, a view I haven’t engaged before and one that deserves thought. This is a quick read and an easy one.

3/5 stars

Read more about this book on Thomas Nelson's product page here.
I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Thursday, November 25

Another Obsessive Holiday Disorder

What do you do for Thanksgiving? Or maybe that’s not the best question. Maybe I should ask, “Why do you do Thanksgiving?” Or, “What does Thanksgiving mean to you?” I’d bet most people would say the thing they love about Thanksgiving is getting together with friends and family. An occasional person may say ‘turkey,’ but then they try to make it obvious they were kidding, especially when they weren’t. Most people will also say that it makes them slow down and be thankful for what life has brought them.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I think of thankfulness, contentment is a word that also pops up in my head. When I am thankful for something I am perfectly content with it, I’m happy with it. I don’t need more. And on Thanksgiving, when we declare what we are thankful for, don’t we often mean that we’re happy with it and content with it? There may be something flashier and more exciting, but I don’t need it. And so, every Thanksgiving we count our blessings and take time to be thankful….

….only to turn around and become enthralled with our consumerism-based society on a day affectionately called “Black Friday.” And I know many of you spend days gearing up for Black Friday. You scope out all the deals and go to bed early so you can be at the store front before doors open so that you can be one of the first in. If you’re really ambitious, you pitch a tent the night before so that you are guaranteed your spot in line. And this is all for what? That 42” TV screen? Oh yeah, because the 36” one you bought last Black Friday just doesn’t make the cut anymore. Plus that TV is on sale for hundreds of dollars less than the starting price. It’s practically begging you to buy it. And while you’re at it, you might as well buy that cheap blu-ray player and some of those $10 blu-ray movies so you can make use of all 42” of high definition heaven (which would make 36” something less then heaven?).

What happened to the contentment? What happened to the thankfulness for what you had? It was the promise of saving money on something you probably wouldn’t get otherwise. Even worse, it becomes a battle with every other shopper turning into your enemy. Thanksgiving day we applaud and may even volunteer for organizations like Mel Trotter, who serve dinner on Thanksgiving for under privileged families and individuals, but on Friday may God have mercy on the one who buys the store's last of the item you wanted five minutes before you arrived.

To make it better, stores even started instituting Thanksgiving day sales! Hurry up and eat that turkey and pumpkin pie, otherwise you won’t make it to Wal-Mart in time. Let’s all wait and share what we’re thankful for while we’re waiting in the mile long lines that develop.

What would happen if you didn’t go Black Friday shopping for once? Maybe you won’t get that pair of shoes you wanted. Or maybe you could take that money and save it, putting it towards repaying your school loans. Or maybe you spend it on Christmas gifts for others (unless you use Black Friday as your Christmas shopping day, in which case you might be granted some leniency in your craziness). Or maybe you take the money set aside for the day and donate it. You’ll also be a lot calmer. Getting up at 2 a.m. can’t be good for your health or your attitude.

Wait, I know what you can. You can put in that Christmas album you’ve been dying to hear because you know that Christmas music isn’t supposed to played until after Thanksgiving. Now unless I’m mistaken you’ve got some pumpkin pie leftovers calling your names.

Wednesday, November 17

The Paradise War - a review

The Paradise War by Stephen R. Lawhead
The Paradise War is the first book in Lawhead’s Song of Albion trilogy. Lawhead is best known for writing stories infused with Celtic mythology and history. The Song of Albion Trilogy and his King Arthur series are two of his most well known series, though his retelling of Robin Hood has garnered many fans as well.

There may be minor spoilers throughout.

In the books I’ve read, Lawhead tends to write two types of stories. One type is the retelling of a famous myth, such as King Arthur or King Raven. These stories usually chronicle their early days and work in many of the popular elements of the myth while using his knowledge of history to add realism. His second type of story is that of an apathetic person suddenly thrust into a strange new world. The Paradise War is one of the later types.

Lewis Gilles is an unassuming Oxford scholar with an adventure seeking roommate/best friend, Simon. When Simon begins investigating the supposed appearance of mythological beasts, Lewis rolls his eyes at Simon’s eagerness to believe everything. While investing these appearances, Simon enters a Cairn and doesn’t come back out. This obviously unsettles Lewis. He teams up with a man named Nettles, who is an older scholar with a deep knowledge of Celtic history. Lewis ends up entering the same Cairn and it transports him to an ancient Celtic land called Albion.

The first person Lewis meets is a battle crazed warrior who tries to kill him. The second person Lewis encounters is Simon, who slays the warrior but has Lewis pretend to have done it. Lewis quickly discovers that Simon has been in Albion for 5 years, even though in our world much less than a year has passed.

Lewis is accepted into the kingdom and is sent to a training school where he will learn to be a warrior. A bard named Tegid is sent to bring Lewis back after the training is complete. They take a brief detour as Tegid attends a gathering of the bards, a gathering that proves fateful. An ancient evil creature attempts to escape bondage and is held at bay by the chief bard. Though the creature is repelled, it kills the chief bard. Before dying, the chief bard breathes into Lewis his ‘awen’ or spirit. Held within the spirit is the key to locating the Song of Albion.

Tegid and Lewis continue back to their king, to give him the fateful news. Upon their return they find the castle destroyed, though the king and his war band are gone. They discover that a demon named Lord Nudd managed to escape the pits of hell while the chief bard held off the greater evil and this demon is ravaging the land.

Tegid and Lewis are able to rejoin the king and they hold up in another fortress where they are repeatedly attacked by Lord Nuffen and his horde of demons that cannot be killed by mortal weapons. Lewis’s only hope is in retrieving the hidden Song of Albion. For his part in saving Albion, Lewis is renamed Llew (renaming is a common tradition in the book).

One of the things that immediately strikes me about this story is much of the realism that is present. When Lewis is trained, he doesn’t become a sword master overnight. Rather he goes to a training school and is there for years. He also doesn’t master the language immediately. At the end of the book he still needs to ask for clarification for words. While the way it is done is used more to cue the reader into certain Celtic phrases/words, it helps create a realistic setting for Lewis to be learning in.

Another great thing is that the story is largely self contained. Though there are scenes that hint at a larger story (as well as a huge cliffhanger I won’t reveal here), the primary narrative here isn’t ‘part one’ of a larger one. Rather the narrative has a beginning/middle/end contained in this book as well as containing the ‘beginning’ of the larger narrative. One thing that often bugs me in trilogies is when the end of the first (or second) book offers no true conclusion but rather a cliffhanger with no satisfaction. At least the cliffhanger here comes with

I also tend to be picky about my first person narratives, but Lawhead handles it well, creating a great environment of an Oxford student thrust into an ancient/mythological Celtic world.

My biggest complaint is that the beginning dragged on too long. After Simon disappeared, it seemed to take forever for Lewis to eventually follow. I get that Lewis is supposed to be an apathetic type of person at first, but this was too apathetic. Your roommate just DISAPPEARED into a pile of rocks. I wouldn’t go home and tell his girlfriend that he made an impromptu vacation thus missing a dinner date. Even if I thought it was a joke, I would call the police when he wasn’t back after 24 hours, not seek the help of an old professor much, much later!


Friday, November 5

Jesus Had HIV

Jesus was HIV-positive.

This is a metaphor recently used by a South African pastor in a three part sermon series. He is quick to acknowledge that there is no proof of Jesus actually having HIV, nor is it truly important whether or not he did. Pastor Xola Skosana says, “the best gift we can give to people who are HIV-positive is to...create an environment where they know God is...not ashamed of them."”

His choice, however, seems to have sparked an intense debate across religious circles. Some see this as scandalous whereas others see it as a chance to reach out to those who are HIV-positive and gives people better means to reach across cultures for mission work.

My first reaction to this article was one of shock and disagreement. Jesus having HIV? Living in the culture of the United States of America HIV is often associated with sexual promiscuity. Therefore I was quite angry that this preacher would insinuate that Jesus was sexually promiscuous for the purpose of making him seem more human.

But then I took into account the culture of Africa, where HIV is not necessarily a product directly from sexual promiscuity (though of course it would have roots there), but rather from the HI-virus being genetically passed down from parent to children. According to avert.org, in 2008 over 2 million children have HIV across the globe with ninety percent inheriting it from their mothers. And then those children grow up and are adults with HIV aids, and in many cultures they are looked down on.

Pastor Skosana goes on to say, “The message to the church is that it is not enough for us to give people food privately and give them groceries, we must create an environment that's empowering because most people who are HIV-positive will not necessarily die of Aids-related sickness but more of a broken heart, out of rejection.” It is when I considered this that I began to appreciate what Pastor Skosana is doing. The last thing a church should be doing is to create environments of hostility. And this is the point of the sermon. Christians are called to reach out to the hurting and the poor. Sadly, there are Christians who view those suffering with HIV/AIDS as having received punishment for their sins. But we need to remember a few things. 1) HIV can be inherited and may not have resulted from anything done by the person suffering with it. 2) If HIV was contracted as a result of sexual promiscuity, it does not prevent anyone from God’s grace. All have fallen short of the glory of God – people with HIV, people without, Pastors, political leaders, CEO’s, regular everyday people.

In his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller writes about in living life we are creating our own story. So let us help those with struggling stories. Let us lift them up in prayer. Let us learn about their situation so that we can speak truthfully and knowledgeably about it for ourselves and to others. Let us not vilify those who are victims. When believers can band together in this, then I believe Pastor Skosana’s wish of HIV being de-stigmatized will finally come about.

It is an interesting way of getting his point across, but I hope Pastor Skosana is successful in the message he hopes to spread.
If you wish to read news articles concerning this event they are here and here.

And here are two great posts I found about the topic.
One (by someone currently suffering with HIV)

Monday, November 1

Christmas Overdose

Let’s play a word association game.

First word: November. Write down the words that first come to mind. Here is what I got.
Turkey. Fall. Leaf piles. Apple cider. Fresh apple sauce. Thanksgiving. Pilgrims. Pumpkin pie. Gravy.

Please notice, I did not mention snow. Nor did I mention three wise men, or baby Jesus, or Santa Claus. For this game these are important things to take note of.

Next word: December: Write down what you think of.
Snow. Cold. Pine tree. Christmas. Presents. Family. Candy. Caroling.
Hhhm. There’s my Christmas reference. And my references to Christmas songs.

I for one, am not a fan of Christmas songs in November. I get sick of them in a month’s time. Why would I want two months? Perhaps if there were more original (and good) Christmas songs out there, I would like them better. But each December I hear the exact same songs. Radio stations play each song at least once every hour. And hearing The Twelve Days of Christmas ever hour for 25 days is probably the most painful mental experience ever. Wait, I take that back. The Hippopotamus song is worse.

Don’t agree with me? Let me see if I can persuade you.
Usually the day after July 4th is when stores start putting up Christmas decorations and sales. They use fear tactics to make you buy everything early so that you won’t forget anything. Christmas candy seems to go on sale as soon as school starts and Christmas lights are up by Halloween. This is the consumerist society we live in.

I would argue that by voluntarily playing Christmas songs early, you are aiding this consumerist society. You are telling the world that you want more Christmas earlier. This results in Alvin and the Chipmunks singing every possible Christmas song and, heaven forbid, will prompt Justin Bieber to release a Christmas album which your thirteen year old sister will blast at full volume. And I know you don’t want that.