Monday, March 4, 2019

Placemaker--A Review

Placemaker by Christie Purifoy
A Review

When I first received this book, I was prepared to read something about a place like Annie Dillard’s Tinker Creek, Wendell Berry’s Port William, or Madeleine L’Engle’s Crosswick.  This book is not like those.  Placemaker is a coming of age memoir or journal in the format of 12 stream-of-consciousness chapters based on the author’s observations and readings about homes, trees, and gardens found in places where the author has lived.  These chapters encompass specific homes in which she lived, trees she encountered and identified after reading tree books, and gardens and their noted designers.  As a fellow tree lover, I enjoyed reading of her awakening to the value of specific types of deciduous trees.  As someone who loves houses, I also appreciated her excitement following the purchase of her first home, a condo in Chicago, and final home, Maplehurst, and the challenges she experienced after purchasing that 19th century house.  The author writes of using the places we are in to make a difference in the lives of others, and the changes such places might make in us.  In the book, she intertwines her life at Maplehurst with her life at the earlier places she has lived. 

If I had not promised to review Placemaker, I probably would have stopped reading after the first couple of chapters.  I found it difficult to relate to this woman who can move from place to place with no thought of the financial cost.  A woman who in daily living, is never ready to explode, never ready to tear her hair out, never ready to curl up into a little ball and quit, and whose children never drive her to distraction, never make messes, never interfere.  Had I known what I know now, I would have begun reading at Chapter 8 and skipped the earlier chapters.

The chapters move forward and backward in time from Maplehurst, back to her Texas origins, to Virginia, to Chicago, to Florida, and back to Maplehurst, but not in a linear manner or even a circular manner, but a haphazard manner—at least to this reader.  The author would write about Chicago for instance, then Maplehurst, then Chicago, then Maplehurst, then Chicago and so on, back and forth and perhaps even mentioning another city/state in the same chapter leaving me confused about time and location.  An additional confusion is when the author mentions, merely mentions, burying “acorns in the ground with her son” (acorns that never grew), thus alluding to a death that I assumed I would learn more about.  (Fortunately, the death never occurs).  And like that death or the buried acorns there are thoughts that are either left unformed or based on false premises. These thoughts might be interesting if explored, but they are tossed out and discarded.  Toward the end when someone does die, the imagery (the decedent’s boots standing near the door, his laundered shirts folded in the laundry basket) starts to bring the emotion of loss alive, but then the scene shifts elsewhere.  That episode is confusing because it’s the first time we hear about siblings.  It’s almost as if the author is afraid to do more than mention her family and explore her own emotions, perhaps because she is afraid of hurting herself or others.   (Yes, we don’t want to hurt others, but being too safe forfeits communication and names can always be changed.)  I picked up a book by another author (Rachel Devenish Ford) at about the same time I was writing this review.  The other author’s writing sang to me.  The other author self-published, had much less education,  and no writer’s group.  She didn’t have a PhD, but she had emotion in spades.  Her life, her husband’s life, her children’s lives and how they affected her were spread all over the pages.  Placemaker barely touches on the greatest moments of the author’s life (marriage, childbirth, church life, home ownership) and the greatest people in her life (husband, children, parents, siblings).  In one of the later chapters she mentions Elena’s babysitter.  I thought perhaps Elena was a neighbor, but it bothered me that I did not know.  I skipped back through the pages and discovered that Elena was the author’s daughter.  So little was written about her children that I did not know their names or the name of her husband or even the author’s name.  The names of Rachel Devinish’s three children are cemented in my mind (Kai, Kenya, Alif), along with her name Rachel (Rach) and her husband’s Chinua.  I still cannot remember the names of Christie Purifoy’s children with the exception of Elena.  Or her husband.  For the most part, the carefully composed set of 12 chapters in Placemaker left the author’s feelings buried and never touched my emotions. 

The author has read books about trees and tries out those authors’ ideas on us when she personifies the ground, the land.  For her (and an author she read), the land both dreams and desires like a sentient being. She learns that the land where she lives cannot accept some plants; Some plants won’t thrive there.   But does that mean that the land may “still yearn for the forests that sheltered indigenous tribes and greeted European colonists”?  Perhaps, there is more to the land than its pH, minerals, and constitution (sand, gravel, clay, climate).  But your flowers, vegetables, and trees will do better if you use science to determine varieties and culture.  Palm trees will not survive winters in Pennsylvania and tulips will not bloom in the tropics.  Even while the author thinks the land may yearn for forests, she still admires and discusses cultivated gardens near Maplehurst, Chicago, and elsewhere. 

At Maplehurst, the house needs repairs.  It is falling apart, literally.  Both an insurance examiner and her own observations tell her that.  But what does this author do?   She ignores the imminent destruction of her prized home and focuses on the outdoors.  Hardly a responsible action, but she does make the repairs by the end.

From her Pennsylvanian perch the author writes that “the wilderness is a place without paths.”  This author loves gardens, so maybe she has never hiked in a forest where she would have encountered animal paths, paths left by perennial streams, or short paths delineated by fallen timbers.  The author’s point is that without paths we are doomed to wander aimlessly.  But, are we?  Doesn’t God always direct?  And in the Pennsylvania wilderness, even in the absence of paths, there are streams to follow and streams invariably lead to roads.  Hikers know what to do when lost in the wilderness.  The author does not.  But, in her aimless wandering, she relates how she wandered into a job with a nun who regaled her with stories about dogwood and red bud trees using several pages to relate this information. I’m convinced that the wilderness section is merely a device to explain the job where she learns to put towels at the foot of guest beds, ponders red bud trees, and works in an area unrelated to her degrees in literature.  

Chapter 3 (Saucer Magnolia) brought the most cohesive writing so far.  “The wilderness is not necessarily a desolate place.  It has its own unique beauty, and that beauty is enough.  It does not need us. It does not require our participation. . . [T]ime in the wilderness is a gift. . . This is the place we go to listen.  In the wilderness, we are given the opportunity to lay down the burden of our desire to make and remake so that when some other place invites our participation and our creative efforts, we are ready to offer those things with humility.”  So now the book begins to draw us in.  To take us through a time of waiting. . . waiting for the author to find her home place, waiting for her to find her vocation. 

This is a book that does get better with age.  In Chapter 8 (Crepe Myrtle and Chestnut) the author recognizes the value of things forgotten, things in the past, and becomes excited when she discovers an old chestnut beam in a falling-down shed on their property.  She envisioned it going on to become the beam in a barn, to live on and represent what came before.  And that’s what we all should do.  As we live in a place, we should not just use it, but also respect it. We should respect the work done by the original builder and the others who have preceded us, but do our part to leave it better for those who follow. 

The old and the lost should not always be replaced with new.   The builder of my vacation rental used salvage items, from the matched glass-paneled doors in the loft to the massive basement staircase.  I’ve continued that expression with a turn of the century bathroom door, and 1930’s oak cupboards in a kitchen.  Some things need to be saved lest they be forever lost.  The author highlights the American Chestnut trees which were wiped out in the early 1900’s through a virus brought from Japan.  I love trees, but had never given a thought to the almost extinct American Chestnut.  It was once commonly used for snacking, baking, and building.  The author’s description motivated me to do a little research and I found that one mature tree may still exist in Ohio, but it has no other American Chestnut to pollinate it.  Let’s support the current efforts to save endangered trees and plants from their various predators, and to use salvaged materials in our homes so that the old can be preserved. 

As the book continues, the author speaks of the value of decay as she ferments vegetables.  That’s a quality I’ve seen on spring hikes—spring when the first green shoots appear, yet the trail is splotched with decay from fallen branches and moldy bark where melting snow and ice and massive spring rains swell the creeks leaving more moldy detritus along the way.  I encourage decay in the woods.  When a tree falls, my handyman urges me to let him cut it and use it for firewood.  But fallen trees are a way the forest is nourished.  Lichens grow, beautiful, smooth, and orange.  Small animals use the hollow trunk for shelter. Beetles attack the bark and branches. While the smaller branches and twigs trap fallen leaves creating more hiding places for the forest fauna.  In time, the tree will break down and nourish the soil.  Even standing dead trees are places for owls and other birds and animals.  In our city house, we cut them down so as not to inconvenience our neighbors, but at the forest house we can let nature do its work.  After a tree falls, the author spends an amount equivalent to the price of a good used car to have a long row of silver maples lining her drive pruned to preserve them and prevent their decay.  There are times when decay is desired and times when it must be stopped.

The book concludes by showing that we must not wait until everything is perfect to invite others into our lives through meals and sharing space.  We can help bring healing through our acts of kindness and hospitality.  And finally, the author returns for a visit to her Chicago neighborhood for the 20th anniversary of the church she was part of and which (at the end of the book) we now learn meant so much to her.  We feel the fear that she experienced when she stares up at condo she lived in while pursuing her PhD.  She experiences so much fear that she cannot even step inside to visit an old friend. This was the place where she finished her PhD, had her first two children, and was the first home she and her husband purchased and renovated.  She remembers the cost, the effort, and the reward.  She reconnects with people she knew.  She conquers her fear and is enriched.  The end of the book should have been the model for the beginning.  If only it had been.   

I was provided a free copy of this book for the purposes of review.  I was not required to write a positive review.   

Thursday, December 27, 2018

A Portrait of Loneliness

Silvia trundled home in her little car.  There was a new and unexplained rattle from the engine and the choke didn't seem to be working properly.  Her gate, with the name Roskenwyn painted upon it, stood open.  A pretentious name, she always thought, for such a small and ordinary house, but that was what it had been called when she and Tom bought it, and they had never got around to thinking up anything better.
She parked outside her door, collected her handbag off the seat, and went indoors.  The cramped hallway seemed deathly quiet.  She looked for letters, forgetting that the postman had already passed, leaving none for her.  She dropped her handbag at the foot of the stairs.  The silence pressed upon her, a physical thing.  Silence, stirred only by the slow ticking of the clock on the upstairs landing. 
She went across the hall and into her sitting room, an apartment so small that there was room only for a sofa and a couple of armchairs and desk with bookshelves over it.  In the grate lay the dusty ashes of a fire, although she had not lit one for days.
She found a cigarette and lit it, and stooped to switch on the television, she punched the buttons to change channels, was bored by everything, and switched it off.  After the moment's burst meaningless voices, silence pressed in on her again.  It was only eight o'clock.  She could not, reasonably, go to bed for at least two hours.  She thought of pouring herself a drink, but already had had two with Even and Gerald, and it was best to be careful with alcohol.   Supper, then?  But she felt no healthy pang of hunger, no inclination to eat.
A glass door stood open, leading out into her garden. She threw the half-smoked cigarette into the empty fireplace and went out of doors, stooping to pick up a pair of scissors from a wooden basket. Now, with the sun nearly gone, the lawn lay dark with long shadows. She crossed the grass towards her rosebed, began aimlessly to snip off a few dead heads.
A wayward briar became entangled in the hem of her dress, snagging the material.  Impatient, angry, she jerked it free, but in her clumsiness caught her thumb on on a jagged thorn. 
She gave a little cry of pain, holding up her hand to inspect the damage.  From the tiny agonizing wound blood swelled.  A dot of blood, a bead, a trickle.  She watched its progress, a miniature scarlet river, flowing down into the palm of her hand.
As though in sympathy, tears welled in her eyes, brimmed, overflowed.  She stood there in the gloomy twilight, numbed by the misery of loneliness, bleeding, and weeping for herself.

From Voices in Summer by Rosamunde Pilcher.

Monday, November 5, 2018

14 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Broke My Knee

1.       It’s never wise to go downstairs quickly or run downstairs—you may break a bone and 2 ligaments.
2.       The operating room looks like something out of Star Trek, yes that’s right.  Star Trek, not Star Wars.
3.       When the doctor asks if you want physical therapy, you might want to say “no” and simply google the exercises associated with the injury.
4.       Muscle strength may decline after age 40 and alsowhen you are inactive, find a way to exercise both your upper and lower body—maybe a gym.
5.       When your physical therapist tells you that you can walk over grassy fields and packed earth paths, ask if he’s consulted the doctor.
6.       When your physical therapist tells you that you don’t need a brace, get one anyway.
7.       Stretching like a cat may be better than the stretches prescribed by the physical therapist.
8.       When something other than your knee hurts, you need a massage therapist, not a physical therapist.
9.       When your physical therapist tells you that you cannot quit, quit anyway.
10.   You should not exercise after seeing the massage therapist—it is too painful.
11.   You must not exercise before seeing the massage therapist—the massage becomes useless and the muscles ache for days (instead of removing lactic acid and increasing blood flow, the lactic acid remains and blood flow diminishes with the massage after exercise).
12.   If the massage causes excruciating pain, you should find another massage therapist.
13.   It will take a long time to get back to easy hiking.  Keep working at it, persevere, keep moving. 
14.   Find friends and therapists who are encouragers.  Find them and hold on to their words of encouragement.  Forget the discouraging words in your brain.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Three-Part Invention: a review of A Light So Lovely

Madeleine L’Engle made an impression on me when I read A Wrinkle in Time and the Austin novels as a child and young adult.  The books showed a loving family and gave me hope for the future.  As I grew older, I read her Crosswicks Journals, her adult novels, her other books, and the remainder of the later published Time series.  In all of them I found a hope that included neither the stringent boundaries, the black and white world, or the rigid structure of church.  Nor did it include the lack of structure present in my home with an alcoholic parent.  L’Engle brought me hope and freedom and was someone I went back to time and again to regain my perspective and maintain my faith.

As you can discern, I have been a long‐time admirer of L’Engle: the woman who had a lonely childhood, who lost her father while she was still a teenager, who had an alcoholic son, and a less than satisfying marriage.  But L’Engle was more than the sum of her life experiences.   She became to me an icon: an open door through which I could glimpse a wider world, breathe a breath of fresh air, and walk back into communion with Christ.  Like a gentle masseuse she took my twisted thoughts and stroked and pulled  them into a place where I could experience real life and love.  She taught me to appreciate both my strengths and my weaknesses.

A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle by Sarah Arthur is a work of one part biography, one part anecdotes, and one part analysis.  The author has themed and divided the book into chapters based on the life and works of Madeleine L’Engle.  In each chapter the author shares some of her own life (as a writer, a book judge, a mother, a former youth pastor), gives us a brief partial biography of L’Engle, and relates interviews with writers who have met L’Engle (either in person or through her writings) and have been influenced and motivated by her, and traces L’Engle’s developing faith.  The book focuses on L’Engle’s appreciation of paradox in the areas of icon and iconoclast, creation and evolution, faith and science, fact and fiction, sacred and secular, and scripture or nothing.  Each paradox is a chapter and there is much here to stimulate thought and discussion.  Indeed, A Light So Lovely stimulated me to reread some of L’Engle’s works.

The book’s title comes from  L’Engle’s book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art where she wrote: “We draw people to Christ, not by loudly discrediting what they believe, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”

L’Engle strove to be an icon, to show us that light so lovely, to draw us into a wider world and new ways of thinking much as the children in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis left a dark world at war and were drawn through a wardrobe into the wider and brighter world of Narnia.  Icons are a means to an end, but idols are the end.  Icons can come and go and be imperfect with strengths and weaknesses.  Idols must be kept at a distance because we don’t want our knowledge of their weaknesses to tarnish our vision. Icons open our view. Idols diminish it.  L’Engle was no idol.  Rather, she was an icon from whose books I could always return with a renewed and enlarged vision.  She was both an icon and a mentor to me and the others who benefitted from her works.

For those of us who have loved L’Engle and her works, this book renews our acquaintance.  For those who have never met her or who have read none or few of her works, A Light So Lovely is an introduction to L’Engle’s ways of thinking, her life, and the body of her work.  As it has done for me, I hope it encourages others to dig into L’Engle’s work and hopefully keep it in print for generations to come.

 I received this book free through a book review 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.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Ordering Your Private World: A Review

I had never desired to read Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald when I first saw its title in 1984.  Perhaps that was because I don’t like taking orders.  Or maybe because I have little order in my life. You might think I live in chaos if you surveyed my desk or any other flat surface in my home.  Or it may have been because I believed that my private world was in order or, even if it wasn’t, I had no ability to bring such order.  Or perhaps I likened this book to another book on organization I had purchased which I could not bring myself to read past the first chapter, and finally discarded.  In 2017, however, I noted the words “Revised and Updated” above the title and decided to give Ordering Your Private World a chance, harboring the faint hope that perhaps even I could have order in my life or at least in my life’s private world.

From the beginning, the Authors Note encouraged me with these words: “I am still challenged—every day!—by the notion of ordering my private world.”  So, Gordon MacDonald who wrote about bringing order to our private world did not even have his own private world in order many years later.  It’s both encouraging to know that organization is a problem for a successful person, but also discouraging to realize that after all these time, he is still challenged by the effort. 
The Preface provides additional discouragement.  The author is married, has children, and one day suddenly realizes that his professional life, family life, and spiritual life are in shambles and he has no ready answers.  His natural talents and gifts enabled him to do well in his profession, but they had masked the reality that his spiritual life was weak and shallow. He suffered a complete breakdown.  And then Jesus said to him, “Now you know what it’s like to live out of an empty soul.”  To live.  Out of an empty soul.  Isn’t that a bit like kicking someone when they’re down?  But we must remember that Jesus didn’t say “Yay, Peter!” when Peter walked on the water.  Instead, when Peter feared he would drown, Jesus reached out a hand and said “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  Is Jesus reaching out a hand to you in this book?  Maybe.

I plowed ahead into the first chapters because having order in our private world is important.  What do we do with our souls?  How do we exercise soul care?  Body care is relatively simple.  We eat right, exercise, and sleep an appropriate number of hours.  But what about our soulish part?  What about that undefined space where God’s Spirit resides?  What do we do about that?  As I listen to acorns drop and the squirrels rustling aside the fallen leaves to search for them and plant them, I wonder how we find and nourish our souls during our own dark nights and cold days.   Here’s what the author found:  If our private world is weak, we become empty shells, rotten nuts.  Like the squirrels in autumn, we must formulate a plan to find the best nuts and secure those in a cache for leaner times.  It requires work in advance of the need, and quality rather than quantity.
Our plan must be wide.  No squirrel concentrates only on one tree.  We must take direction from those wiser than us: from the Bible and Biblical mentors.  We must maintain control of our passions and gifts or we will become self-centered in an uncontrolled pursuit of more, more adulation, more high-level connections, more, more, more.  We will rush after the goal rather than paying attention to the process and see people only as a means to our end.  We will discover disloyalty everywhere and nurture our anger rather than giving it to God.  Indeed, we may become so busy hurrying after what is of little worth, that we have no time or desire to play and or to exercise spiritual activities.   Sound like anyone you know?  A prime example from the Bible is King Saul. 

Saul begins as a warrior king who spirals downward.  Like Saul, when we pursue our passions above all else, we forget that we are called out ones, people with a purpose that is larger than ourselves and which supersedes our passions.  We know the One who called us and do not assume ownership of either our work or the people we work with.   Called people know when to move forward and when to fall back and release. 

According to the author, how do we implement our called-out purpose? Control our time—like Jesus we must know when to pray, when to act, when to sleep (yes, even sleep can be a soulish activity, for in that sleep, what dreams may come!), and to understand our limits.  Like John the Baptist we cannot hold onto a position forever.  At some point we will be called to release our activity, our calling, just as John released his crowds, his disciples, and his reputation to Jesus.

How do we control time?  According to the author, if we do not control our time, we become disorganized, feel poorly about our work, and lack intimacy with God.  How did Jesus do it?  He understood his purpose, his mission.  Jesus understood his limits as a human being, and a man, and a Jew in a time of Roman occupation.  He listened and observed.  He worked within His limits and within His culture.  And he made time to be with a few important people (his disciples).  Who are the people who are important to you?  Do you make time for them?  Listen to them?  Who are you spending the most time with?  Maybe it’s time for a change.

How do we change? Recognize that unmanaged time flows toward our weaknesses and we spend time doing thing that are not helpful.  And because we are not managing our time, someone else may mange it for us—we may be unduly influenced by dominant people.  When we fail to manage time, we end up putting out fires and neglecting what we really need to do. Our unmanaged time is used to bring us immediate gratification and not for what is most important.  Time is best managed when it is budgeted far in advance.  If an activity is set for a certain date, all that precedes that activity can be accomplished in the most effective manner.  But, if we try to be consistently spontaneous, we will invariably forget something important.

However, even if we do everything right, there may come that dark night of the soul, that desert experience that leaves us adrift in a lake of sand.  Jesus made a point of spending time in deserted places.  What happens there?  Our senses are heightened.  Away from noise and the call of the ordinary, we can experience the extraordinary.  We may be able to hear God more clearly.  We may view life from a different perspective.  We learn dependence.  And in the bleakest of desert times, we are accorded freedom to hear thoughts that lead us in a new direction, that give us a different plan, that help us prepare.

And here’s my main quibble with Ordering Your Private World: the book is disorganized.  I don’t know if it’s because new material was added without rewriting the old material, but it is most evident in my outline as I search back and forth for topics that fit together.  This was one difficult book to follow.  So far, this review has taken you through the first seven of 15 chapters.  The final eight chapters deal with spiritual disciplines such as endurance, mindfulness, silence, solitude, reflection, meditation, prayer, friendship, and rest.  Only Chapter 13 on prayer was one into which I could sink my teeth. 

Prayer is difficult.  Gordon MacDonald asks “Why do we have trouble praying?”  Yes, why?  It should be second nature for those of us who carry God’s spirit within us, but it’s not.   Gordon MacDonald has the answers and if we absorb these and let them work in us, we will realize that prayer is a vital necessity for ordering our private world.  Yes, worship and intercession feel unnatural.  They are not part of everyday life in America.  Nor is it normal to worship what we cannot see and to intercede with One we cannot physically encounter.   When we pray, we act contrary to our culture and it creates a dissonance within us—a dissonance that may keep us from prayer.

Praying exposes our weaknesses.  Even as we proclaim our dependence on God, we tacitly declare our independence and self-sufficiency.  We are Americans, after all.  We overcome, we endure, we succeed.  We are DIYers.  At some point, however, we have to learn that we cannot do everything, that we are not as strong as we think we are, and that we lose relationship with others when we do not ask them to help us and with God when we don’t depend on Him.  

And perhaps, prayer seems irrelevant when no matter how much we pray, or how little, the results or don’t happen anyway.  We have become fatalists.  We see prayer as only a means to an end result.  But prayer is not about getting results.   Prayer is aligning our thoughts, motives, and desires, indeed our whole selves, with God so that we may participate in his work in the world.  We pray to seek His will, not to impose our own on Him.  But just as we struggle for independence wouldn’t we like a world fashioned after our own passions?  Indeed, this is the very struggle we have in prayer.  Not my will, but Thine. 

And once we have, but how feebly, prayed to the point where we are aligned with God’s will, then, and only then, notes Gordon MacDonald can we effectively intercede for another in prayer. 

Ordering Your Private World was a useful book to read for time management and an overview of spiritual disciplines.  For an in-depth ordered view of the disciplines, I recommend Celebration of Discipline: The Path To Spiritual Growth by Richard J. Foster.  Ordering Your Private World also made me more mindful about how I use time.  Recognizing that unmanaged time flows toward my passions causes me think twice before I perform any activity.  Is it useful?  Will it bring improvement?  Or am I just doing what I like doing to the excess?  And what about you?  You must recognize your own times of maximum effectiveness and have criteria for time usage.  Ask yourself, does it advance a cause, is it useful for others, is it helpful to your Christian life?  Will it bring you closer to God?  Will it allow you to rest, relax, or play?  Take the best from multiple good choices. And, when you are able, budget time far in advance so you can effectively use the intervening time to efficiently prepare for the future event.  

A wise presenter once told me that if his audience took only one new idea, tool, or perspective from his talk, he felt that he had done a good job with his topic.  Ordering Your Private World is a tool to use to step out and begin your exploration of time management and spiritual disciplines.  Anyone can take away at least one new idea, tool, or perspective from this book. Or your time may be better spent reading the Bible and paying attention to how Jesus lived, reading a good business book (perhaps the classic 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven R. Covey), finding a good personal time management book, and reading Celebration of Discipline provides keen insight into the spiritual disciplines and why they are important.

 I received this book free through a book review 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, February 23, 2017

Leaving Room for Revelation

Some time ago, a friend explained that she didn’t agree with a particular interpretation of the book of Genesis in the Bible because “it’s”  And for her that concluded it.  “It’s history,” means that what we have is a set of linear facts, nothing more.  And though I love my friend, in this she is wrong, wrong because for the Christian (which she is) the Bible is far more than history, or poetry, or songs, or letters; the Bible is revelation, and not just any revelation but the revelation of the living God and as such, it is living and active and sharper than a double-edged sword.

When we say one thing is nothing more, i.e. a woman is nothing more than a sexual object; an immigrant is only drain on society; a person on welfare simply lazy; then we set the worth of that person and we become no more than slave masters putting a value on something, someone, who is priceless.  We want to think we are civilized, but underneath we all wish to enslave that we might have the greater power.

But, I don’t really think that was my friend’s intent.  No, her desire was to protect, to keep close what she feels is eroding, to hold onto something good and decent.  But, in doing so, she is falling into the camp of the atheist.  As the great atheist Thomas Paine stated:

As to the bible, whether true or fabulous, it is a history, and history is not revelation.  If Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, and if Samson slept in Delilah’s lap, and she cut his hair off, the relation of those things is mere history, that needed no revelation from heaven to tell it; neither does it need any revelation to tell us that Samson was a fool for his pains, and Solomon too.

Yes, in diminishing the scope of the Bible, we also diminish its revelator and without the Revelator the Bible really is nothing more than a book of ancient history, poetry, and letters.

But what if we say that the Bible is more than history.  What if we say that there are multiple ways to read the first couple of books of Genesis.  What if the book of Genesis is both a history and a book showing God’s original temple on earth.  What would it mean if God actually took the stuff of earth, molded it and shaped it to make it fit for Himself and for the crown of his creation: human beings?  What would it mean if that original pattern was God vision casting, creating His theocracy?  What if both this interpretation and the factual (historical) creation and something else beside are all true?  What if we looked at the words with all the creativity imbued by God?  What if we looked at them with all our academic prowess?  What if we looked at the Bible as a complete book (yet, more than a book) where the first and last books echoed across time?

If we think about the Bible in the way that ancient cultures did (and some current cultures that are not so westernized) we would have a decidedly more exciting and accurate experience.  They did not believe that you must settle for just one thing (history) but could hold various interpretations in thoughtful ambiguity. 

So what do we settle for.  Will we allow revelation to color our reading?  Or do we settle for black and white. thus taking the Bible prisoner for our own intents? 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Temple Policeman! Temple Policeman!

I recently read a novel and its sequels (Finding Nouf, City of Veil, Kingdom of Strangers, by Zoe Ferraris). The location is Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and its desert environs. What fascinated me was the Morality Police who could arrest a woman for driving a car, not walking behind the man she was with, not wearing appropriate covering clothing, and various other offenses by both menGold_and_Silver_Jewelry_in_Downtown_Jeddah_(3343317802) and women who would be publicly shamed (and worse)for such actions. [Zoe Ferraris was told to cover her hands with gloves and wear socks because she was so white.]

This differs little from the 1st Century Pharisees in Israel who sometimes went around looking for “sins” to uncover.  (unwashed hands before eating, working on the Sabbath, and the like). 

I recently discovered a certain Christian denomination (and I’m sure there are others) that refuses to allow into membership people who drink alcoholic beverages or smoke. For those who, as it says in Colossians 2, still "submit to regulations, do not handle, do not taste, do not touch" and I would add: do not drink, do not smoke, do not dance, do not, do not, do not. . . Colossians reminds us that these are only human commands and only appear to promote piety, "but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence." Christians should certainly remind their alcoholic friends not to drink, their drug-addicted friends drug to stay away from drugs, and their technology addicted friends to leave their cell phones behind.  But, to exclude people from the congregation on the basis of personal habits is not something that Jesus ever practiced.  He was highly inclusive, making the best wine for a neighbor’s wedding at Cana, socializing with the enemy, the thief (tax collector), and sharing life with both the religious and irreligious, the wealthy and the poor, the educated and the uneducated.  So, instead of being Temple Policemen,  Colossians 3 says Christians are to get rid of slander, abusive language, and lies, and not practice greed, fornication, and impurity, but instead to practice "compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience" and, not the least, forgiveness and love.

Once we start being Temple Policeman, we are just like the Taliban, the Morality Police in Saudi Arabia, or any other repressive society.  So let's get rid of any inclination we have to be Temple Policemen or Morality Police. As Christians, we are to walk in love and forgiveness, humility (there, but for the grace of God, go I) and kindness. 






Picture of Saudi Woman trying on jewelry by Nouf Kinani (Gold and Silver Jewelry in Downtown Jeddah) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons