The “go and preach” paradigm

CoulterConservative columnist Ann Coulter posted an acerbic opinion piece excoriating the two missionary health workers who had been shipped back to the US to be treated for Ebola, which they contracted in Africa.

Her column did not scold them for bringing their disease back to America. She did, however, take issue with the money spent in bringing them back here. But her column spent the most time taking them to task for leaving the US at all in order to bring the Gospel to the people of Africa. “If Dr. Brantly had practiced at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles and turned one single Hollywood power-broker to Christ, he would have done more good for the entire world than anything he could accomplish in a century spent in Liberia. Ebola kills only the body; the virus of spiritual bankruptcy and moral decadence spread by so many Hollywood movies infects the world.”

In one respect Coulter got it right. In another, though, she missed the boat.

Should missionaries leave their home country to take the message of the Gospel to another country? Why leave the US, when there are plenty of unbelievers here?

Answers to the first question can be found in God’s word, where we see a promise and a command. Psalm 96:3 commands, “Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples” (NASV). And Isaiah 12:4 also urges, “And in that day you will say, ‘Give thanks to the LORD, call on His name. Make known His deeds among the peoples; Make them remember that His name is exalted.'”

In the New Testament, Jesus specifically combines the directive with the promise: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). He directed his disciples again in Acts 1, where in the second half of verse 8 he said, “and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

Jerusalem, where those disciples stood at that moment, was the local preaching of the Gospel. Judea and Samaria were the nearer regions, and then, they were directed, take this message to the far points of the earth! Jesus did not equivocate here; he was very clear. Yes, preach the Gospel locally, AND yes, take it to the rest of the world. And we, who have been recipients of the Gospel outside of Jerusalem, can be very thankful that the Gospel did spread! Men and women took that command and promise to heart, and they went forth!

Coulter implies, but perhaps does not mean to say, that people in impoverished third world countries are not “worth” the effort and expense it takes to bring them the Gospel. Truly, not one of us is “worth” it. My sins are no better, nor no worse, than anyone else’s. To rate the value of preaching the Gospel to one people group over another’s devalues the meaning of that Gospel.

The Gospel–the message that Jesus Christ, who is God and Man, lived a perfect, sinless life and died on a cross and was brought to life again so that our sins would be completely forgiven–is not America-centered. No, the Gospel is Christ-centric. God saves sinners to glorify himself, not to glorify any one person, country, or people.

What I believe Ann Coulter did intend in her column was to take American Christians to task for not making their own cities and neighborhoods their mission fields. “Which explains why American Christians go on ‘mission trips’ to disease-ridden cesspools. They’re tired of fighting the culture war in the U.S., tired of being called homophobes, racists, sexists and bigots. So they slink off to Third World countries, away from American culture to do good works, forgetting that the first rule of life on a riverbank is that any good that one attempts downstream is quickly overtaken by what happens upstream.”

She’s partially correct. However, take a look around the US: there are churches everywhere. The people of this land received the benefit of Gospel-preaching for more than three centuries, and now it has chosen to turn away and pursue its own degradation. Yes, America needs missionaries in its own streets. But I’d venture to guess that most of our “cultural leaders” in Hollywood have deliberately chosen to turn aside from the Gospel.

What about the people in other nations? Some have turned aside, yes, but most have never heard the Gospel.

If anything can be taken from Coulter’s column, it is the cry for the American Christian church to wake up. Wake up, she’s shouting, and see the mission field right in front of your eyes! We are happy to say we have gone to Africa on a short-term mission trip to preach to the lost. Can we be as eager to go to our own “Jerusalem,” our own cities and neighborhoods, and preach to the lost and dying here? It certainly doesn’t seem as glamorous or praise-worthy. But it is so very necessary.

samaritans-purse-haiti-cholera-gods-mercyAdditionally, there is something to say about the importance of doctors going where there is disease in order to work on a cure. The history of medicine is rife with stories of men and women who lived among diseased people and developed a cure: polio, smallpox, strep, leprosy, and more. The health workers who lived among Africans in order to minister to the sick and the dying knew what they were doing, and they believed they could not only bring comfort to the sick, but perhaps play a part in discovering a cure.

So while I find some points in Coulter’s column that don’t ring true to the intent of God’s commands to teach and preach, I also find, hidden in her acid tone, the challenge to the church in the US: wake up! Go, teach, preach!

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Talk to me.

Talking with someone who has a chronic health condition

I hurried past the pastor’s office, where I could see him sitting at work. I was there to meet my husband, who was working with the worship minister on a Saturday morning.

“How’re you doing?” the pastor called.

I gave a little wave, hurried past his door, and said what I always say: “Okay!”

He called even more insistently. “Come in here and tell me how you REALLY are.”

I am one of those people with chronic, nearly-unremitting pain. It’s exhausting, grinding, mind-numbing pain. But I don’t often share with other people how I’m feeling. I resist mainly because it’s a long story. I hate seeing the look of sympathy in other people’s eyes. I don’t want to bore anyone, nor do I want to draw attention to myself. So I give a pat answer.

But the pastor was not interested in that. He was genuinely concerned, and I walked in, sat down, and answered his question in more depth. And afterward my day went a little more cheerfully.

A few days later I sat down with a friend over coffee. She has a chronic health condition and is frequently in bed all day with pain. She and I don’t need to talk much about how we feel. We understand that it’s not our favorite topic, and we both hurt a lot of the time, so we talk about other things. The nice part of this friendship is that if one of us cancels on coffee because of pain, the other truly understands!

This brings up a topic I’ve read about here and there, and it bears repeating. How do you talk with someone who has a chronic health condition?

  • Though our illnesses may vary, we still live among healthy people who may or may not really care to hear the full story when they are asking, “How’re you?” Thus the reason we may breeze past you with an easy “I’m okay.” If you honestly do want to hear how I’m feeling today, take the time to look me in the eye and ask, “How are you REALLY doing today?” I appreciate it when you pause to listen. I don’t judge you if you don’t.
  • When you propose some activity and I turn you down–even again and again–it probably isn’t because I dislike your company. It might actually be that the activity will drain me of my last energy reserves for the day or the week. It’s why I don’t commit to regular activities, like weekly Bible studies or book clubs. If I do, I usually end up canceling often, and that comes off as inconsiderate. (I hate letting people down.)
  • This blog contains a great story by a woman with lupus, who found a way to express to a friend how she must carefully consider her energy every time she must do something during the day. I like the analogy she uses, and I believe it’s appropriate for anyone with a chronic condition and with limited energy reserves. A couple of my friends understand the spoon analogy, and all I have to do is tell them I’m out of spoons for the day. They get it.
  • Just because I look okay–meaning I am dressed, have makeup on, my hair is brushed, and I’m walking–doesn’t always mean I am well today. But I am here, and participating in life, and glad to be doing it. (You might not know that I nap when I get home. But at least I was there!) I still carry around a burden of pain, nearly all the time, every day, even though I don’t always show it. (Remember that although we have a chronic health condition, we still love to laugh, shop, go to movies, take an occasional walk. Getting out and about doesn’t mean I am suddenly healed. It may very well mean I have a few spoons left today.)
  • “What can I do for you?” some may ask me. Sometimes I honestly don’t know. You can’t fix me a meal, because I have several dietary restrictions, and I feel like that’s too burdensome for an unsuspecting person to take on. So if you have a good idea, run it by me and I’ll tell you what I think. It might mean you can pick me up for a trip to the store or vacuum my floor. The little things help.
  • I wish I had a dollar for every time some well-meaning person approaches me with a story of a friend or relative who has a chronic condition. They will tell me about a new exercise, treatment, dietary supplement, or doctor. Really, I DO know that your story comes from a very caring place. It’s just that I have probably heard that before, or have already tried it, or have read that the treatment you mentioned is just a bunch of hokum. For the most part, I’m not going to run out and try your theory (I’m not going to run anywhere…), but I might look it up if I haven’t heard it before.
  • Please understand if I don’t want to talk about it. Sometimes I just want to cry, and I’d rather not make such a mess of myself. If I tell you I don’t want to talk about it, I really don’t. Understand that this might be a very bad day, and I’m doing my best just to keep it all together.
  • Sometimes you might see me on a particularly bad day, when it’s hard to keep it all together. Give me a gentle hug if you want–but please make it gentle, since everything hurts. Offer me a smile and mention me in your prayers. If you must, buy me some coffee (decaf, since I also have chronic fatigue) or chocolate (if it works with my diet), or loan me a good movie.
  • Look me in the eye and tell me you care. It lifts my spirits and helps me when I am low.

 

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Filed under Health, Pain and suffering

On dealing with pain

puppyA walk with my dogs gives me a picture of two opposite ways to view the world. Digory, the oldest, a terrier mix, is fearful and neurotic. He’s just a mess. Dobby is our cockapoo puppy, just learning how to walk on a leash. I can read their minds.

Digory: “Your feet are scary. Scary leaf. Scary water in gutter. Yikes–a dead squirrel! Eek–another dog. Scary sticks. Watch out for rocks. Ack–a car!”

Dobby: “Watch how fast I can stay ahead of you! Oh boy–a leaf to chase! Mmm, green water tastes great. Mom! Can I take the furry, stinky chew toy home? Look, look–a new friend! Wait for me! I’m tasting this rock! Oooh–a stick! Can I chase this big car?” He found a tennis ball on one of his walks and wouldn’t let me pass it by. Digory has seen many of those fuzzy round green monsters before, since our walk takes us by two tennis courts, and he makes a wide path around those scary things. Not so for Dobby.

Not to wax philosophical for too long about dogs with very little brains, I can see how their human counterparts can tend toward similar, widely disparate responses. My poor neurotic terrier (he really is a sad case) greets every challenge with fear and worry. And the little puppy finds adventure (and things to chew) around every corner. To him, as with many humans, even dark days have a few bright spots.

I’d like to think I’m like the latter, even though I am far from my puppy days. I don’t like dwelling on the negative for long, I don’t carry grudges (not very many of them, anyway), and I’d rather focus on the positives than reinforce the negatives. And in every situation, no matter how grim, I like to find the bright spots and remind myself of them from time to time.

It’s been two years or more since a huge spike in pain from fibromyalgia sent me on a round of doctors, including the Mayo Clinic, to seek answers. I’ve learned so much about pain and about myself. I rarely like to dwell on the negatives, but if my experiences can help a few people, so much the better. This ongoing “journey” through pain–because it hasn’t ended–might be a helpful bit of instruction for someone else. And it might help you to find the positives dotting a landscape that might be full of dreariness.

Pain does a strange thing to the body. Neurologists can tell you better than I, but my experience showed me that when a person’s physical pain increases, it affects all sorts of other areas. The brain may not be able to process it all. My memory suffered, my vocabulary shrank (I often couldn’t find the words), I didn’t sleep very many hours at a time, and I couldn’t work. I was dizzy from reactions to medicines (the journey to find the right meds is a whole other story); I became anxious and depressed. I couldn’t hold a pen, carry my purse, lift a laundry basket.

So what did we do about it? One doctor after another threw their hands up in the air and sent me on to other doctors. This taught us to be careful in choosing a doctor, asking questions up front about what they know and are prepared to help with. Some, but not all neurologists are prepared to help. Some, but not all rheumatologists are able or willing to help. Some, but not all chiropractors have a holistic view of fibromyalgia. And so forth. Because fibromyalgia exhibits differently in different people, doctors need to help assess the best path for each patient, and it might not look the same for everyone.

So let me give you a list of what helped me through my “journey.” (I really hate that word. Let’s try to find another.)

1. Carefully search for the doctor who is prepared to help. Ask whether they have many fibro patients, and whether they’ve been able to help many of them. Ask whether they are willing to consider natural methods as well as chemical. I found relief from chiropractics and from a method proposed by the Neurologic Relief Centers. (Anything I recommend medically comes to you with no guarantees. I’m just telling you about what has worked for me.)

2. Some fibro is relieved by eliminating certain foods, and you may want to experiment by using an elimination diet. For me, avoiding wheat and corn helps not only with the digestive issues common to fibro (not-so-pleasantly referred to as Irritable Bowel), but with some level of pain control–some of the time. Living gluten- and corn-free is not easy, but it’s definitely doable, especially when the alternative is painful. One doctor told me that most grains and dairy foods are rough on fibro patients. I can handle some dairy, sparingly.

3. Find a good psychiatrist. Fibromyalgia is often closely related to depression. I don’t know if it is a chicken-and-egg situation; did depression come first, or is it an effect of fibro? At any rate, many fibro patients need an anti-depressant to help manage the pain and depression. While a family doctor can help with some ailments, he or she may not know all the ins and outs of medicines related to depression. Interestingly, my psychiatrist experimented with different pain management meds in combination with anti-depressants, to find the right balance for me. I will not go into the meds that caused me more trouble than they helped, because everyone reacts differently. Just keep working to find the right balance, and find someone who will listen and who is willing to work with you.

4. Find a good counselor.  Sometimes fibro sufferers have emotional pain that exacerbates the physical pain, or vice versa. Talk with a counselor who can help you work through whatever has caused you to suffer emotionally.

5. Read up on fibromyalgia. It’s helpful to find other people who can talk to you about how they manage their condition. The Mayo Clinic has some educational information on their web site. Some organizations like the National Fibromyalgia Association have  newsletters with articles by doctors and fibro sufferers, so you won’t feel so alone.

6. Sleep. Chronic fatigue syndrome is also linked with fibromyalgia. (Isn’t it a delightful condition?) A good psychiatrist will help you with that as well. I learned that long naps are not so helpful, because they will mess up my nighttime routine. But a 20-30-minute nap will refresh me if my pain is running a bit too high.

7. Be willing to say no. I have a tendency to take on too much, whether work, or volunteer, or travel/tourist activities. Learn from your mistakes. Don’t plan on too many things at once. Allow yourself to decline invitations or even say no to other people’s expectations of you. Build some resting times in between the activities. I have to admit, this is the hardest one for me right now, because I have always been a pleaser. I hate disappointing people. So I’m preaching to myself right now: stop thinking you have to do everything/be everything. Say no, and be okay with it.

8. Find rest for your soul. This is the most important point, and I probably should have led with it. You can find all sorts of articles relating to “spirituality and pain” on the internet. But I want to go farther and emphasize that it is God alone–God the Father, the creator of the universe–who provides the answers to those suffering from pain. I encourage you to seek Him, run to Him, and find rest. Psychologist Phil Monroe at biblical.edu encourages sufferers in the following manner:

“The chronic pain sufferer who grieves well

  • asks God for relief
  • stays in community with others
  • seeks relief through human means yet has an attitude of waiting on the Lord, and
  • explores and confront[s] hidden sin in self that the pain may reveal.”

I can’t agree enough with this. Find someone who can pray with you, read Psalms to you, take you to church.

Learning how to wait on the Lord is not the easiest thing. For a very long time I tried to figure out what I had done wrong. Surely, I thought, if I pray the right prayer and show God that I have done all He wants me to do, He will find me worthy and heal me. I finally understood that there’s nothing I can do to seem more worthy, or to heal my spiritual self. My broken condition is also the human condition. Nothing I can do or say, no prayer of mine, can save me or heal me. That’s the bad news AND the good news, all at once, because the other side of the coin is that God alone saves; it is He who sets the captives free, and there is nothing I can do to save myself.

What has this got to do with my chronic pain? Everything. When I learned that I cannot save myself, I also began to learn how to wait on the Lord. The process of waiting isn’t yet another thing to do on a list I can check off. It’s a daily walk–praying, meditating on God’s word, and resting. Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29 ESV). It’s discovering God will hold you, hide you from the storm that’s raging: “For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock” (Psalm 27:5). You can read a couple other blogs of mine that address this attitude of waiting on the Lord, here, here, and here.

So there may be something to that earlier analogy of the dogs’ views of the world. Will I choose to focus on the dark and scary side, or will I find the bright and promising side? In all things, even in this long, painful storm, I see promise and hope, and I want you to also.

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Filed under Biblical Worldview, Health, Pain and suffering

Clouds of dust over a Super Bowl ad

whites_onlyWhen I see narrow-minded bigotry, I think of signs like this that presided over a shameful period in US history. I heard some of my own family members who agreed with that sentiment back in the 70s. It embarrassed me deeply. I was ashamed to hear people I love saying such hateful things.

What a surprise to see similar sentiments rise up over something as simple as a Super Bowl Coca-Cola commercial.

The song was “Oh Beautiful,” and it is distinctly American. The words, penned by Katherine Lee Bates as she sat atop Pikes Peak looking over the plains of Colorado, praise the beauty of our country. The song was sung during the Super Bowl commercial in several different languages. The meaning is the same regardless of the language used to sing it: “Oh beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple-mountain majesties above the fruited plain. America, America, God shed His grace on thee! And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!”

We memorized that song in school, at Katherine Lee Bates Elementary in Colorado Springs, at the foot of Pikes Peak. It held special meaning for me then, and it still does today. It is uniquely American and speaks, interestingly, of American exceptionalism. The rest of the verses are included below.

Why are we arguing over the language used to sing those specific thoughts and ideas? The song praises America for its bountiful beauty–and, remember, for God’s grace on such a country! How beautiful can that be? (Don’t go all first-world on me, folks. Just saying, don’t try using your English-only argument about this song. Regardless of the language used, it still praises America!)

Social media is lit up with ugly comments on both sides about this commercial. Let’s take a step back and think. While one person on social media blasted that “The national anthem should be sung in English” (excuse me, but that wasn’t the national anthem anyway), others are taking Coca-Cola to task for injecting race issues into the Super Bowl.

Seriously. Take a breath.

Once you step foot on American soil, it does not mean you must drop your original language and never speak it again. Don’t get me wrong–I am conservative and want strong border enforcement and tough immigration laws. That’s not the issue here. The reactions to that Coca-Cola ad, though, did verge on bigotry, when people protested that the song should only be sung in English.

How petty and simplistic.

I believe the point of the commercial was to celebrate the mix of people and cultures we have in this country. Aren’t we the melting pot? What other country, when its athletes are marching in at the beginning of each Olympics, has such a mix of ethnicity among its team members? Isn’t that great?

And don’t forget that the song, sung during the Super Bowl, dared to sing that “God shed His grace on thee,” America. How bold, to perpetuate the idea that God is actively blessing people. Does He only shed His grace on people who speak English? (Yeah, that sounds ridiculous to me, too.)

So let’s take a deep breath and consider that while we do live in America, we are a rich mixture of ethnic backgrounds and cultures. Consider that we do indeed live in a beautiful country “from sea to shining sea,” and consider that regardless of the language in which we sing it, that truth remains the same.

Reject bigotry of all kinds. Challenge one another to think more deeply about the media messages out there. This little dust-up was misguided and narrow-minded. There are so many other things to get all riled up about. (Like the fact that I just ended that sentence with two dangling prepositions).

Here is the rest of the song. Pay attention to the words; they are distinctly American, and they also boldly honor God.

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine.

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self control,
Thy liberty in law.

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Filed under Biblical Worldview, Government, Rhetoric

Books recommended, books panned for 2013

wisemansfear

Wise Man’s Fear gets my vote for favorite book of the year

This year I read a great deal, since I am still on low energy and need plenty of resting time. I chose many books based on recommendations from friends and family. I also went contrary to my nature and followed the recommendations of Amazon, since I read almost exclusively on a tablet device. Amazon and I have a close, enduring relationship. I pay Amazon lots of money, and it feeds my addiction. There might be something wrong about this relationship, but I can quit anytime I want to.

My taste in novels this year has been quite eclectic, such that you cannot pin me down to any one genre for very long.

This year I returned to some of my favorite contemporary authors, like John Grisham, Jeff Shaara, and David Baldacci. I also picked up a newly discovered novel by the late Pearl S. Buck, who has been a longtime favorite of mine. Loved the Grisham, Shaara, and Baldacci novels; grew very bored with Buck.

John Grisham:  Sycamore Row and The Racketeer. Sycamore Row returns to the same characters as in Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill. Though the new story has nothing to do with the old, I enjoyed revisiting the characters and watching them have a new legal adventure. At times it moved a bit slowly, but the ending was worth it. The Racketeer involves several intriguing characters and weaves a tale that is fun to follow.

David Baldacci: I stopped reading Baldacci a few years ago when he killed nearly everyone I cared about in Last Man Standing. My husband told me that he liked a new series by Baldacci, the King and Maxwell books. We read King and Maxwell on audio during a road trip. The story included many interesting characters and involved a great story of international intrigue.

Jeff Shaara is always good for a wartime history. I have never met a Shaara book I didn’t like, so I read his World War 2 novels and thoroughly enjoyed them. I’ll pick up his newest Civil War books in 2014. His World War 2 series: No Less Than Victory, The Steel Wave, and The Final Storm.

One of my longtime favorite authors has been Pearl S. Buck. In 2013 her heirs announced that a new manuscript of hers had been found and authenticated. Wanting to see if the book would match her earlier excellence, I read Eternal Wonder. I put it back down about half-read. It was boring and did not hold my interest in the least. What a disappointment.

I was eager to finish the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth, so I picked up Allegiant. The novel answered all my questions from the first two books, Divergent and Insurgent, but not well. I was disappointed; it seemed as if the author was in a hurry to finish the novel, and she didn’t wrap things up well.

Patrick Rothfuss has written a fascinating fantasy novel, The Name of the Wind, which I read in 2012 and loved. His next novel, The Wiseman’s Fear, could probably rate as better than the first. The story is brilliant, and its characters are deep and engrossing. With the exception of a strange interlude into a fairy’s lair, the entire story held together extremely well. I can’t wait to read the third, which comes out in 2014.

Brandon Sanderson writes good fantasy novels, such as his Mistborn series. I thoroughly enjoyed Mistborn (book 1) and Well of Ascension (book 2). I thoroughly recommend these to any fantasy fan.

Alan Bradley continues to write an excellent series on the character Flavia De Luce, an 11-year-old prodigy in post-WW2 England. She is delightful, curious, bright, and humorous, and I love how he weaves an excellent mystery into this young girl’s life. His newest novel, Speaking From Among the Bones, did not disappoint.

The novel Sarum by Edward Rutherford has long been on my reading list, but it always looked too long and boring. This was the year to read lots of books, though, and I piled them on. Sarum is the novel of England, from ancient times to the present. Since Rutherford has to leap from one age to the next in his novel, he can understandably only focus on a few characters for a brief time. Just as I got to enjoy a character, Rutherford leaped ahead a couple of centuries and I lost the character. However, the book was well-written enough that I wanted to read more of his books. I picked up Russka, the novel of Russia. I will read his novel of Ireland next year.

My favorite genre is historical fiction, so I tend to gravitate in that direction when I don’t know where else to go. I launched into my continued love of the Plantagenet and Tudor rulers of England, and some of the books were well-written. Please keep in mind that some of these novels contain some salacious moments and may not be appropriate for teens. (Some may not be appropriate for me either!)

Worth reading:

  • The Forgotten Queen by DL Bogdan
  • The White Princess by Philippa Gregory
  • The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir
  • The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory
  • Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir
  • A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir
  • Stolen Crown by Susan Higginbotham
  • Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Not worth reading:

  • A Daughter of Warwick by Julie May Ruddock

Some miscellaneous novels were recommended simply due to my past reading choices:

  • She Wore Only White by Dorthe Binkert (not worth reading)
  • War Brides by Helen Bryan (slow-moving and disjointed)
  • The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley
  • The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley
  • The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley
  • Blood and Beauty: The Borgias by Sarah Dunant (horrid)
  • Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner (boring and predictable)
  • The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro
  • Bristol House by Beverly Swerling
  • The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin (predictable)
  • The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett (great book!)

Finally, a friend challenged me to read something not on any of my lists, namely I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. Though it was never anything like the movie, the book was interesting. Asimov’s science fiction peered into the distant future but used low technology that was available to him at the time, like slide rules and television tubes and paper books.

Our small group Bible study met regularly to discuss the book The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung. I am not, have never been, will never be a fan of the self-help Bible study book or even any topical study book meant for Christians. So getting me to read this book took a lot of effort and coercion on the part of my husband. This book turned out to be pretty good, elaborating on the Reformed view of holiness–sanctification–of the believer.

In all, that looks like 37 books. For a person low on energy, that sounds just about right! Can’t wait to see what I will be reading in 2014! Let me know what you recommend.

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Engage the culture: study the news

9-11On 9/11 all of America watched with a mixture of horror, outrage, and deep sadness the events that unfolded. My husband was stuck in another city on a business trip and could not get home because all flights were cancelled. We were just glad to be able to talk to one another on the phone, all of us safely on the ground on that dreadful day.

That evening I took the children to a restaurant so they could order whatever they wanted and we could talk together. “Are we at war?” “Who would do this to us?” “How many people were in those buildings?” “Are we safe here?” The questions rose up hard and fast, and they looked to me for answers. I had none, and no one else did that evening. We watched with rapt attention as President Bush addressed the nation. As much as we could, we kept up with the events that unfolded.

Suddenly my children were tuned in to world events like never before. We read what we could find, watched the news, and discussed it whenever we could, while driving in the car or sitting at the dinner table. We all became much more conscious of the world around us.

Sadly, I notice how little attention many families pay to what goes on in the world–especially homeschool families.  Some have no TV. Many do not read the paper or news magazines nor surf the web for news. How do I know this? I have talked with many homeschool families over the years and have found that they avoid world news.DADREADINGSON

I will not attempt to argue about the reasons that many families avoid the news–the reasons vary. However, I do take issue with the fact that Christian families–and particularly homeschooling Christian families–do not read about or watch the events that unfold around them.

When the culture begins to shift and ideas start to clash, who wins? When there is a power vacuum, what fills the void? The answers are obvious: the strongest power fills the void and overcomes the weakest. How will Christians react when they do not know what’s going on in the world? Can they afford to continue hiding away from events? Can they ever hope to shape the culture if they are not engaged in it?

The reasons we study history are clear: we need to see what men and ideas have shaped events. We learn what philosophies have impacted the movements and evolutions around the globe. Yet we stop our studies when it comes to what’s going on today?

Perceptive students will read the philosophers and historians who describe the “isms”–the ideas (like communism, socialism, feminism, existentialism, nihilism, etc.) that have shifted and changed events. They study Darwin, Hegel, Nietzsche, Marx, and others whose works declared (or implied) that God is dead. These same students learn about the rise of socialism and the ideas that gave rise to communism.

And yet–contrary to logic–these same students have no idea of what is going on in their world today. Hello! Those astute students and their families could tie a beautiful bow on their biblical worldview studies simply by connecting the philosophies of the past with what they see in the world today! Those issues of ObamaCare, of “spreading the wealth around,” of Common Core implementation, or Progressivism–they all come from ideas promulgated centuries ago.

I have witnessed the effects of the lack of knowledge of current events in the classrooms in which I taught. Students who mixed their study of history and philosophy with the careful observation of current events were much better able to carry on a lively discussion, melding the two beautifully and noting how events of many decades ago have come full circle back into society and government today–just with different labels. Those who do not watch TV or read the news cannot participate so easily.

A part of one verse from the Bible is often quoted by Christians who urge their brothers and sisters to study the world around them: “Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do…” (1 Chronicles 12:32). The greater context of this passage is a listing of men who came over to David’s side to battle and defeat King Saul. Every generation needs men and women such as Issachar: people who know the times, who astutely observe what’s going on around them and who can lend their wisdom to the decision-makers and the leaders in this world.

Charles Martel watched the culture and the events around him, in the early Middle Ages, the 8th century AD. He saw an evil influence marching his way. Islamic invaders were spreading across Western Europe, conquering territories and threatening the Christian world. Martel rallied his forces and stood fast, stopping the invasion and (in a simplistic nutshell) keeping Western Europe from becoming Islamic.

bonhoeffer2Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor in Germany, noted what was going on in his world. He saw the evil of Hitler’s reign, saw Jews being rounded up and sent to concentration camps, saw Hitler’s quest for a master race that would conquer the world. He went to America in 1939 but regretted having left his homeland. He wrote,

“I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people… Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security.” (Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Eine Biographie, p736)

He returned to Germany and sided with those who tried to defeat Hitler. He was imprisoned and hanged just days before Germany was defeated.

Sticking your heads in the sand–not watching current events unfold–leaves you vulnerable. (It also leaves your hind end sticking up to get wallopped.) Christians, start becoming students of history AND of current events!

Does your child need to see everything that goes on in the news? Of course not–that’s not what I am arguing. However, as he gets older, he needs to be able to handle the reality of the world in which he is living. Have you protected him from the world by isolating him from current events? No–you have left him unable to engage the culture.

Christian parents, raise your children to be men and women of Issachar. Teach them (or find people who will teach from their fount of wisdom) how to connect the ideas and movements of history to what goes on today. Talk with them about the truth, and about where truth is sadly lacking. Help them and watch them form opinions about events. Sit with them at dinner, walk with them, pray with them, and show them how they can be shapers and engagers of the culture, rather than ostriches who hide their heads and leave their backsides vulnerable.

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Everyone needs a superhero

If you had told me thirty years ago that I would be following the heroic antics of Marvel superheros in movie form, I would have laughed and walked away. The closest I ever got to comic books while growing up was a stack of Archie and Richie Rich back issues left behind in the mountain cabin we bought when I was little. I read them again and again until I was bored with them, and I never sought out any more comic books.

Superman_by_iGamerBut having raised geeky kids, and lived with a geeky husband, the superhero and his super deeds have become regulars in our lives.  Sitting through the latest Marvel super movie, the literary critic in me noticed once again that these stories usually run along a similar theme, and the characters in these movies (and perhaps in the comic books, though I haven’t opened one) follow similar archetypical patterns. The beauty of these patterns is that they reflect the deepest cries of the human heart. A biblical worldview perspective shows how universally appealing the superhero tale can be.

The story of the superhero follows a similar pattern, even though there are large variations from time to time.

The struggle between good and evil. The moral tale becomes very clear. Good and evil are clearly depicted. Even the colors, the setting, and sometimes the music that accompanies the good and the evil get treated very differently. Evil is dark and brooding; the lair of the evil ones is sinister, ugly, sometimes cold. Evil is depicted in such a way that the audience hates it, rejects it, finds it vile and wants it to lose. Evil, in short, is not pretty.

We identify with that theme, the great struggle of good over evil. It is one of the most universal, and one of the oldest, stories of all time. We want good to win. We recognize that good MUST win in order for us to survive. So good, as depicted in most superhero comics, does ultimately win. Our hearts are satisfied with that kind of an ending. It’s how we were wired.

Genesis lays out the ancient struggle between good and evil–the serpent and the human. Yet not too far into Genesis we learn the promise: evil will be trampled in the end (Gen 3:15). That promise was fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, who dealt the blow to Satan by defeating death itself.  And the promise carries forward to the Second Coming of Jesus and the end of the age, when Satan will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20). This moral victory, etched deeply on the human heart, is satisfying to experience over and over again in the superhero tale.

Bystanders are innocent and get caught up in the moral struggle. We laughed until we hurt when we saw the crowds of people in Superman 1 and 2 (1978 and 1980) get in the way of the epic battle between Superman and General Zod (or whatever villain got in the way). The cheesy bystanders  got tossed around; they cried for help in typical “woe is me” melodramatic fashion.

However, even this is part of the moral tale of good versus evil. The innocents need protecting by a powerful hero, and he does protect them, as promised! He keeps the bus from crashing to the ground; he prevents the mother’s baby carriage from getting crushed, and more. Again and again through superhero literature, we live out the need for someone powerful to save us because we are not strong enough to save ourselves.

The Superhero has incredible powers. He has huge muscles that seem barely contained by the clothes he wears. (In the case of the Incredible Hulk, his clothes cannot contain his overgrown muscles.) He is able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, spin a web to snare an enemy, throw his massive hammer over long distances to defeat a foe, to name a few superhuman skills.

He is a protector. He saves even those cheesy bystanders from the evil plans of the enemy.superheros

The earliest superheroes were found in the Bible, in people like Samson, whose long hair gave him the power to pull an entire building down on his enemies. Some have argued that the gods and goddesses of Greek and Roman tales were also early types of superheroes. Sometimes that works, although those gods and goddesses were pretty petulant and self-serving most of the time. They only saved someone if it made themselves look good, or perhaps ticked off a rival god.

Loki-Thor-2-loki-thor-2011-35584736-500-800The Villain is dark and brooding and pure evil. His world is dark; his demeanor is just as dark and brooding as his lair. Loki, from the Thor movies, is the antithesis of Thor. To Thor’s strapping muscles and long golden locks, Loki has black hair, wears all black, is of normal height and build (scrawny in comparison). Loki is all bad, all the time, even if he pretends to help Thor. In short, you can depend on the stereotypes most of the time: evil is evil, and good is good, all the time.

Batman seems to break the stereotype in several ways, since he is dark and brooding and often skulks in the darkness to hunt down the evil. As we saw in The Dark Knight, however, no matter how dark Batman is, his foe is always darker and more sinister.

Though some of you may find fault with my overt generalizations, you will have to admit that the human longing for good to vanquish evil is nearly universal. We work out our own longing by cheering for the good, urging them on to fight the good fight.

Why do we create a superhero, and why does it appeal to us so much?

We recognize the truth about ourselves–that we are weak and vulnerable, and we need someone greater than us to win on our behalf. Or perhaps we even place ourselves in the position of the superhero and live out that epic battle in our minds. We are still longing for evil to be conquered.

We desperately need to feel as if there is a remedy. We realize, somewhere deep in our hearts, that we are not the superhero. We live in a sick world, and we long for a cure. In fact, if we were to take a careful look inside, we would realize our desperate need for a superhero because we are trapped by our own evil, not strong enough to save ourselves.

We recognize that in our desperate need, mere man cannot overcome the evil out there. On our own we are weaker than the evil one, and like the innocent bystander, we need an advocate, a hero–someone stronger than ourselves. That superhero–that savior–is the only one strong enough to save us.

We need someone with powers that exceed our own meager abilities. The cry for help comes from deep within our hearts, at the mercy of an overwhelming evil.

Human imagination draws upon the universal archetypes of the superhero and villain, and of the war between good and evil, in order to work out the battle that rages inside. The story is as old as time and as universal as all humankind (and the fables of gods and superheros from many cultures around the world speaks to that universal theme). The human imagination replays, again and again, in its vast creativity, the epic struggle and the eventual victory of the superhero. The characters may shift and change, but their types remain essentially the same.

Though the authors may not have intended it to happen, I rejoice when I see these archetypes and themes. I see the universal story that the human heart depicts again and again, and it is overwhelming evidence of the human cry for a savior.

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