"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

29 December 2012

Stuff to read

My stocking, like so many of yours no doubt did, included an Amazon gift card this year.  Now, I think gift cards are impersonal and lacking in thoughtful creativity, but when it comes to books, I'm happy enough to receive.   So I'm contentedly mulling over how to spend ye olde gift card, courtesy of my mom.

So I thought to ask you, dear readers, what should I read?  Fun stuff especially, as I've gone through a number of novels this year without finding more than a couple worth finishing.  You're welcome, of course, to post anything from "brain candy" to a healthy mental main course.

And since several of you are no doubt in the same boat, here are a few books I've read in the past year or two that are worth passing along for your consideration:

North of the DMZ: It's a little dated now but a classic text of modern North Korea.  I've been reading one or two brief sections before I go to bed in the evenings, which has occasionally made for some funky dreams that I'm actually IN North Korea (on vacation, in the snow, and they took my passport and kept it.  Seriously.) 

There are several good books out right now on North Korea, but a lot more of what is coming out has a poor signal to noise ratio.  The problem with North Korea being so much in the news these days is that everyone feels the need to publish something, which makes the good books a little harder to find among the rubbish.

New Testament in Antiquity: I have finally found an introductory New Testament textbook that I like.  I'm looking forward to teaching from it next semester.  Again, textbooks are another area with a poor signal to noise ratio.  The average reader is probably not in the market for a textbook, but this one is worth having on the shelves, for those of us who have a geeky side.

I'm frustrated that I can't remember the title of the novel I read while I was in Alaska this summer.  I picked it up at a local bookshop there and read it so intently that I was finished with it in time to pass it along to another book seller once I got to Anchorage.  She was interested in the book, so I gave it to her.  Rats that I can't remember the title because it was good... the life story of a fictional but not far-fetched woman captured in Africa and taken for a slave in the US.  The writer was listed as a "best new writer of 2011" or some simliar award.  Rats and rats that I can't recall it.

**Later addition: I found the book.  It's Someone Knows My Name. I think I'll toddle off to Amazon now and see if the author wrote anything more.**

Trying to google whatever that book was brought up Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl which I read many years ago and still have on my shelves and is a very worthy read indeed.

I've also been reading through Our Little Korean Cousin and if you find the title condesending you should probably avoid it.  If you can mentally file the title as dated and quaint, then its an interesting image not only of Korea at the end of the Choseon Dynasty but also of how western eyes saw anything foreign.  Yes, its condescending.  It is also quaint.  And its free on Amazon for Kindle.

But another interesting portrait in time of Korea is Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles which was written in teh 1980's and Korea's come a long way since.  Still its an image of that time of transition from war-torn third world to the globe's eleventh largest economy. 

So what should I read next?  Fifty dollars, free shipping... how to go about enjoying the bounty?

20 December 2012

Some things you just can't legislate

Okay, let me say at the outset that I don't have a horse in the gun-control race.  I have friends and loved ones on both sides and my personal, individual status with regard to gun ownership has nothing to do with what I think of public policy in regard to the same.

In other words, its not about gun control.

The fact of the matter is, if a crazy man wants to kill you enough that he's willing to die trying, the government will not be able to save you.

What happened last week in Newtown CT would not be reversed by adding new laws on the books.  No criminal thinks to himself "I'd really like to commit murder, but guns are illegal, so maybe I'll just go out for a beer, provided I'm over 21, and rethink it."  Murder is illegal already.  If criminals cared about obeying the law, they wouldn't be criminals.

You can't legislate people into sanity.
And you can't legislate people into compassion.
And you can't legislate away Genesis 3.

We have the same problem with welfare, health care, airport "security"  and social programs of all sorts.  The government tries to help by legislation, and in doing so removes the compassionate individual just a little farther from being able to be part of the solution.

What happened last Friday is horrific and the people involved will carry it for the rest of their lives.  But no legislation can ever stop it. 

The problem is not one of government action or inaction, but one of the heart.
It is a credibility problem when our president says we are failing to care for and protect our nation's children when he has repeatedly gone on record saying that he supports the organized and systematic murder of children in utero.
Its a heart problem. (Abortion won't be legislated away either, not really.... even if we did cover it under our existing murder laws.)
Its a credibility problem when everyone who has a pet issue emerges from the woodwork to use this tragedy to gain attention for their projects before a week is even over.
Again, a heart problem.
Its a wisdom problem when we try to pass laws on the already law abiding gun owners to try to reduce criminal actions by those who have no regard for the law... instead of asking as a community how we can better engage the needs of our local schools, our suffering neighbors, person to person.
A heart problem.
Its a heart problem when we think that brutality can't happen to us, when we hold it with such a deep conviction that when evil does emerge we are shaken, as if the evil had not been part of every era of history all along, as if this horror is something new and unshared across time and space.

Part of the heart problem lies in American "exceptionalism"... this Protestant idea that God has particularly blessed America and protected her.  We shudder because as a culture we believe our nation is special because of its supposed works righteousness, the percentage of the founding fathers that gave some degree of lip service to God, the Pilgims and the Great Awakenings, and almost two centuries of isolationism.  Now when our works fail, we think the works-happy God has removed his exceptionalism, and all sorts of blasphemy and heresy ensues from otherwise respected protestant teachers (and also the wackos out there... yeah, I'm looking at you Westboro Baptist) and suddenly the heart problem is that many otherwise dear Christian people begin to think we somehow deserved this.

And the same dear Christian people turn just as much to legislation as do the gun-controllers, gun encouragers, mental health advocates, and compulsory educationalists... only the drums they beat are different timbres.  Legislate piety, put God back in the schools, say the Pledge with "god" getting the nod.

Same song, different verse.

I'm reminded of God's word to ancient Israel: Egypt won't save you.  Allies won't save you.  Governments won't save you.  You cannot stop sin with an alliance, a law, a government. 

Its a heart problem.


In a related thought, that's the Gospel, isn't it.  That Jesus comes in the midst of our heart problems, our social problems, our brutishness, our sin, our occupying and oppressing governments, our rebellion, our messiness... and puts down the mighty from their seats and exalts the humble and meek.

He comes and turns the world upside down, bringing light in darkness, life out of death, dying for us "while we were yet sinners"... filling the hungry ones with good things and sending the rich away empty.

This is the world to which Jesus came.  A broken, Genesis 3 world, a darkness so deep the human mind cannot fathom it, pierced by a single light.  To show the strength of his arm, and to scatter the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

That not one stone in our own temples of self righteous idolaty be left on another.  That our world be wholly upended.  In order to put things in right order and solve our heart problems.