2020 Reading List (only read if you love books)

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Philosophy

The Art of Living — Just got this for Christmas, and have already started it, so technically this is a 2019–2020 reading list, but who ever only starts books on the first of the year?

On the Nature of Things — I have already started this as well, but this will make me feel more productive if I can put it on another list.

Art of War — My husband got this for me at Costco actually, because he noticed how much I was staring at it. Sun Tzu is delightfully commonsensical and concise so far. I wish politicians would read him. It would save so much time on C-span.

Democracy in America — Seems a good time to read, now that democracy appears to be on its deathbed.

Common Sense — Also need a reminder of what this is. I have not seen any examples for approximately 3.7 months.

Creators — Rereading for the history and the thoughtfulness Boorstin puts into all his work, although I disagree with him sometimes.

Happiness is a Serious Problem — Because I will not be considered a true American citizen unless I read at least one self-help book in my lifetime.

Amusing Ourselves to Death — Rereading again. I hope my time on Facebook wouldn’t be viewed disparagingly by Postman.

Presence of the Past — Another Christmas present, no pun intended. Should I start this in the future or the present? I will probably also read the Structure of Scientific Revolutions, as Sheldrake appears to be the new scientific revolutionary, and it would be interesting to contrast them.

Language

Inferno in Italian — I found this at a delightful used bookstore a year or so ago, and have not had time to read it since. The left page is in Italian and the right page is in English, so I can read the left page and then check it with the right.

Don Quijote in Spanish — A friend gave this to me for Christmas, and I was so happy! I had been waiting to read Don Quijote til I could find it in Spanish and had had no luck so far.

Harry Potter #3 in French — Of course I have already read Harry, but it will be fun in French. Plus I should be reading the third Harry with my kids sometime this year, so that will be fun. (In English with them, though.)

Conciencia Intelectual — Another find at a used bookstore. This one is an anthology of essays written by Central and South American authors. I have read some of the essays already, and they are mostly on the growth of education and the history of politics in the region. Mostly reading to broaden my higher-level Spanish vocabulary, as this is written by professors, etc.. as I may be doing some written translating later this year and would like to be prepared.

Ministry

When Helping Hurts — I am hoping this will be especially useful, as I am on the ministry team at my church that reaches out to the local community.

Ministering Cross-Culturally — Reading this for similar reasons, as our community is culturally extremely varied. Learning Arabic for that reason.

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Fiction

Hunchback of Notre Dame — Because I need to read something depressing.

Les Mis — Just in case the Hunchback isn’t depressing enough.

Legend of Sigurd — This is a story of Tolkien’s, published posthumously by his son Christopher. I read the Children of Hurin, and it was horrifically depressing. Hoping this is better.

House of the Dead — I was going to read The Brothers Karamazov again, but this was another present! Haven’t read this Dostoyevsky yet.

The Dean’s Watch — Rereading because in this book Elizabeth Goudge is able to capture light with words.

The Citadel — I rarely see A.J. Cronin’s work anymore, but it should be more widely read. He is a great author.

Persuasion — All right, I already started this, but if I put it on this list, I can cross it off.

Plays

Man for all Seasons — I can’t remember how many times I have read it, but I never get tired of it. Bolt has so many layers through this book, but it is so concise.

Much Ado About Nothing — Because it never hurt anyone to read Much Ado About Nothing.

Merchant of Venice — Same.

Works of Moliere — So far, I’ve just read the Misanthrope and it was one of the best plays I’ve read in a while! Will now read all of them.

Culture

Koran — This will be a dull read. Have you ever started Thus Spoke Zarathustra or the Book of Mormon? Then you know what I’m talking about. You seriously get the sense that the author is insane. There is no coherency or logical flow; in fact, there have been multiple contradictions so far in the first five pages. But I guess I should suck it up and read it.

Bookseller of Kabul — Reading because I am interested in the cultural background of the region the book was written in. I may pick up some other books along the same lines if I find them throughout the year as well.

To-do

Developing Story Ideas — Because I just really need to read something else and I am obsessive-compulsive about books?

How to Write a Play (Raymond Hull) — Not like I’m actually going to or like I have enough time.

Normally I won’t bore you with my personal life, but I figured that everyone is going to be posting New Year’s resolutions, and I definitely won’t be doing that, so this is a substitute, (and a better one, if I do say so myself). Feel free to throw me a line on any questions on the afore-mentioned books, or if you need ideas for next year’s reading list! Happy to oblige! 🙂

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Featured post

Let’s Talk About Alternatives to Socialism (because there actually are some)

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Sometimes it seems as if we’ve forgotten there can be nuanced reasoning to complex issues. Just because there are currently two political parties in the United States doesn’t mean that they hold the only solutions to the problems the nation faces. In fact, more often than not, they will tend to hold a highly simplified, ideological, and radicalized view of a solution. Instead of jumping on the bandwagon of either party, let’s talk about some alternatives to the current problems without involving socialism.

  1. Make hospitals more transparent about their expenditures. Hi there. Yes, I’d like an itemized bill including exactly how much you’re charging me for my food, medicine, how much it cost to run the MRI machine, how much you’re paying each nurse and doctor who attended me according to the time spent or duties performed, include how much you’re charging me to cover your rent, electricity, and water, and how much you’re paying admin. Now that every single person who goes to the ER or in for surgery can see exactly how you’re using the money you extort from us without giving a good reason, you’ll very likely be in trouble. I mean, if you say things like “Is healing patients a viable way to maintain business?” and the President of the United States has to sign a law to order you to “make public all the prices they negotiate with insurers and health plans”, there’s a problem.
  2. Eradicate tax brackets. Yeah, I hope you were sitting down when you read that. More on that in the next section.
  3. Have charities ask those with high incomes to be their patrons. This used to be normal, and it still is. Pros: it avoids the flashy one-time giving that many celebrities do, and ensures a regular supply of income to the charity. It also does away with the egregious amount of donation letters, emails, and calls that everyday citizens receive asking for money. Even better, it avoids the common problem of the average citizen being scammed. Did you donate to the Red Cross recently? I hope not.
  4. Ok, we need higher standards for welfare. Come one, how is that asking a lot? How is it ok to be on drugs and to take money from law-abiding citizens? I mean, seriously. Get a job.
  5. Allow churches to care for the homeless. I don’t even get why the government is interfering. People are hungry, cold, and need clothes, but you’re going to criminalize the ones who help them? Right, that’s just so messed up it’s not even funny.
  6. Hold colleges accountable for tuition. Yeah, yeah, I know, you want free college. Hey, I’d like free art supplies too. Can I have them?….. Think about it. I know everyone’s complaining about student loan debt, but why are we trying to shift our burdens onto others? First of all, that’s pretty whiny and pathetic. Second, it doesn’t even solve the real issue. I went to school online, but I had to pay the same amount of tuition, which included dorm rates, as on-campus students. That was so freaking unfair I’m still not over it. Probably going to have to see a therapist someday. But seriously, that’s not even common sense. Why should I, living in another state, be forced to pay for a room I’ve never even seen? Same thing as hospitals. We need to see itemized bills BEFORE we sign up for a course. I want to see how much you’re paying the professor (who’s also often working remotely), how much you’re paying admin, tech services, web hosting, and library services. And that’s basically all I used as an online student, so online students really shouldn’t pay any more than those costs. If you go on campus, well, that’s your choice. And you should have everything, including electricity, water, wifi, and all personnel bills, itemized as well. Someone tell me why we aren’t starting with this and just jumping straight to yelling for free stuff? Where did common sense go?
  7. To all those howling that you need a livable wage and therefore higher minimum wage. Please use your brain. This is so intimately related to the housing market that no discussion of minimum wage is complete without it. Environmentalists and elitist politicians have driven up the cost of housing for their poorer constituents by instituting building moratoriums. The result is what you see — insanely high rent prices for the people who have to suffer for voting in those idiots, as well as those who suffer for voting against them. So we will need to dismantle these regulations, allowing the construction of more houses and apartment buildings, before we try to force businesses to pay employees a higher wage to match a ridiculously high cost of living.

Let’s start with these ideas. As far as I can tell, they’re not partisan or tied to either party in any way. It’s just common sense. So instead of screaming at people on the opposite side of the political spectrum, why don’t we take a breath and work together against the ones who are really trying to cheat us?

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James Cameron Solves the Problem to All Sexual Pressure Issues in Action Movies

Only nobody realized it til now.

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Twenty-eight years ago, Cameron solved the problem of all the actresses who have been coerced and manipulated into acting sex, such as Jennifer Lawrence in Passengers and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones.Unfortunately, his gem of wisdom lay hidden in plain sight for almost three decades.

Truth is always simple, and the simplicity of this gem is quite easy: if there is one male and one female protagonist, replace the male with a robot. Due to Sarah’s questionable choices in regard to partners, Cameron does insert a very bizarre voice-over in which Sarah compares the Terminator to previous boyfriends, but that’s the only area of failure. Otherwise, the plan works perfectly.

Guns are packed, things are exploded, and car chases are made, all with everyone’s clothes on. What a concept. No after-movie fights between spouses because the husband was watching a little too intently, no pressure on actresses to do nude scenes they have to get drunk to perform, no worry about watching movies on planes and having to check if a four-year- old is sitting behind you and watching over your shoulder. Which they typically are.

It’s incredible that everyone except me had already seen Terminator 2 and no one has figured this out yet. Good heavens, it came out the year I was born, and I have to solve this dilemma for everyone? I mean, you’re welcome, but can I not have this burden for the next film renovation of the century?

And don’t even start with it’ll be a redundant plot. What was the last action movie you saw that didn’t have a chase sequence? Yeah, thought so. Redundant plots are the bread and butter of filmmakers. This’ll just be not quite as satisfying for all the perverts who work behind the scenes at Hollywood, plus all the perverts in the cinema.

Ah well. Somebody has to suck it up, and it might as well be them.

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If you appreciated my dark sense of humor and jabs at sexism, feel free to give me a follow! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic as well!

Originally published in The Haven on Medium.

I Was 16 When the World Ended

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WWIII was long, too long. After the draft, the world seemed emptier. My youngest aunt was gone. My second cousin. They were both in the Army, and they never came back. The Iranian soldiers were…not kind to women prisoners.

They said we won, but victory was no better than war. The UN intervened and ordered peaceful coexistence of Muslims and Americans. Sharia law was instituted to help us become more culturally aware, they told us.

My grandparents immigrated from Dubai. We’ve always been Muslim, nominally, that is. But even my grandparents had forgotten what it was like.

The soldiers barracked in D.C. used the Lincoln Memorial for target practice. All the other statues around D.C. were already torn down. Our neighbor, who was black, tried to stop them. They killed him in front of it. My dad and older brother sneaked out at night to bury him. The Lincoln Memorial was no surprise after what happened to the Louvre, though. They burned it to the ground, not trying to quell the flames even after a curator rushed in to try to save some art. I can never see the Mona Lisa now. I miss his stories. His songs.

We adopted my younger brother. He was in foster care for the second time after his dads were arrested for molesting him and selling the videos. He’s a good kid, quiet. He likes painting. I sing to him before bedtime. His dads were stoned, as is the custom under sharia law, not for molesting him, but for their intercourse with each other. But their absence does not erase his pain.

My best friend’s family is from Venezuela. We used to go to school together until sixth grade. Then she was raped when walking home from school. Everyone knows who the rapists were, but there’s no way to bring charges. It’s the mayor’s son and his friends. And I know they would just say she was not wearing her hijab as we’re all supposed to now. They had the right to rape her. She stays home now. She will never be able to have children now, and her face is scarred from the beating she received. I take her her homework and we help each other just like old times.

A female lawyer my dad knows tried to stop them from making more laws. She was a brilliant orator, they said, and had found a loophole in the UN laws. I guess she was too brilliant of an orator, though. They decided to make an example of her. We were ordered to go watch, but we didn’t. They televised it, though. My dad tried to switch channels, but it was on every one. After two tries, he turned it off, and sat there. I felt like her screams were still reverberating through the room.

If I could turn back time, there is one thing I could wish we had done differently. We would hide the Christians. They did not seem afraid to go, and we told the police they were a good family, a safe family, that they had helped us when my father lost his job and my mother got sick. But the police officer only laughed and spat in my father’s face. I think about them every day. I still have a book they gave me.

There are no more picture books. I am not allowed to draw self-portraits, pictures of my family, or pictures of my favorite princesses. Movies are banned, but we still have books. Some of them, at least. My favorites are the ones from long ago. The world seemed happier, easier. There are stories of women who could choose whom they wanted to marry, stories of people who could travel. I wish I could, too.

My parents wanted to leave the country when they heard the terms of victory, but they deny all visa applications. We are trapped.

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The Difference between Christianity and Socialism

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Socialism follows, or at least claims to follow, the values of Christianity. Is there anything wrong with it then? The main difference between Christianity and socialism is in who is expected to take care of the poor. In Christianity, individuals or groups of individuals minister to the needy. In socialism, the government puts itself in charge of distributing funds to those who qualify for need. 

Others have covered better than I can the difference between socialism and Christianity, but the question remains: If the actions are the same, how does each system affect the people in need? Is either one inherently better?

If God ordered human beings to individually interact with, share, and comfort those in need, is it much different for them to receive a check in the mail every month? Is it better for a single mother to receive an automatic deposit or for her to know that she can rely on a group of people to be there for her, spiritually and emotionally, as well as financially? If the medium is the message, what will it mean to those living below the poverty line that Christians no longer reach out to them because the government is now doing it for them?

In Christianity, bureaucracies, kingdoms, and governments are not the building blocks of our faith. They never have been. Our king refused temporal glory and power and was crucified, but for something greater. 

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Christ came to earth and walked among us. He fed those who followed Him. He ate with them. He healed people by touching them. Just as we endeavor to walk like Him in prayer, obedience, and self-sacrifice, so also we should strive to walk like Him in ministry. 

Christians cannot shoulder off the hard work of reaching out to the needy to a faceless, bodiless, and soulless system who cannot offer real human love to the suffering. The commandment to love our neighbors itself contradicts the workings of socialism. We are to care for the ones in our neighborhoods, our communities, our cities. We are not to allow an inanimate establishment to do it for us.

Christianity is a religion that cannot avoid physical, material, and somatic issues. We are made of flesh and blood. From creation to the promise of the resurrection, it has recognized the importance of the physical body. If we repudiate our duty to give to the poor, to comfort others as Christ has comforted us, and to love our neighbors, we have failed to mirror Christ’s incarnation–His becoming like us in order to connect with us. If we relinquish our obligation to be merciful to a bureaucracy, we have rebelled against the very concept of mercy itself.

Our greatest power is becoming like Christ in his emptying of Himself (Phil. 2:7), and we are to give it up to a soulless government because …it’s easier?  

I don’t think so.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4, NIV).

Prisca Bejjani writes on Medium about theology, gender issues, abusive relationships, and satire. Please feel free to join her there! She has been published in Evie Magazine.

 

Can We Celebrate Assassination?

Eliminating unwanted husbands for the greater good of women.

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Abortion has been around for thousands of years, sometimes in secret, sometimes in the open, but it is nothing new. It is the fruit of a patriarchal society because it mostly benefits men, who neither have to bear the child nor, if it is aborted, have to support it. We are now, however,  coming to the beginning of a new era in which women are more likely to be able to be in power. With this consideration, a new freedom may be open to women. 

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We’ve been conditioned to see it as illegal.

No one will be saying this on Twitter, but I know it has happened in back alleys. 

Eliminating your husband has always been a difficult choice for women, and we should not take it lightly. Currently, it is considered socially unacceptable, but with changing minds, we can effect a better world for women tomorrow with newer and less stringent laws. 

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There are so many considerations to take into account–for example, is the husband (“vir”) becoming emotionally unavailable? If she does not want him anymore,  the wife should have the right to eliminate him. It is unfair to judge women who have had to hire a hitman to remove unwanted virs from the marriage. Life is extraordinarily difficult for women. We should not make it harder for them by assuming that we know their entire situation or can accurately assess her future problems if she continued to be married to him. It could interfere with her education or her career. Women have the right to do what they want with their bodies, and if someone is stopping her from doing what she wants with her body–for example, moving to be closer to her family or getting a job in another state, she should have the right to have them eliminated. 

We are far from the time when women can publicly celebrate their choices, but the time will come if we persevere for women’s rights. It would be best to integrate a time limit at first for women who want to eliminate a vir–perhaps a vir from 40 on could be determined unviable for a marriage and could consequently be legally eliminated.

I have considered myself a staunch supporter of women’s rights ever since I had my ex eliminated. It was a very difficult decision, and I came to the mentality ashamedly. There is such a stigma surrounding the discussion that it was traumatizing making the decision. 

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The way we talk about this has to change.

Society has inculcated a sense of shame whenever this topic is brought up. We have been taught that it is our duty to stay married no matter what. 

We are conditioned to believe that we ought to be a good wife, making money as well as doing the household chores and taking care of the kids.

I know what it’s like being married to a jerk, and having him eliminated was honestly one of the best decisions of my life. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been to either stay married and, or to get a  divorce and try to co-parent with him. My life is so much better now because of the choice I made.

I am truly grateful for my ability to hire a hitman and have him eliminated. 

However, there are women who are not so lucky. I could afford to have him eliminated. There are others who are not so fortunate. We need to fight for the legalization of elimination of virs. Once we have that victory, we need to lobby for government assistance for struggling mothers who need financial help to eliminate their vir. We also need to institute a series of policies that mandate that their workplaces supply women with poison to eliminate a vir.

 

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Elimination saves lives.

Make no mistake. There will be more domestic violence. More spousal rape. More incest. More depression and suicide.

Every time a woman makes the right choice for her body and her future, that’s worth some celebration. For many women, having an elimination even helps make us better moms. The legalization of elimination will decrease suffering.

Should elimination really be such a heart wrenching and difficult decision every time? It shouldn’t be. We have been conditioned to see every marriage as viable, with only two options: together until death, or, at worst, divorce.

Marriages are all very well, but there are more important things. A woman’s life. Her future. Her children’s future.

This article was written in response to Shannon Ashley’s  celebration of her abortion in a an article on Medium.

https://medium.com/honestly-yours/can-we-celebrate-abortion-c4537c9cdd78

 

Why Women Don’t “Just Leave” An Abusive Husband

Women coming from an abusive home are repeatedly asked, “Why didn’t you just leave earlier?”

Those from whom the question is originating, never having been the victims of domestic abuse, do not understand what it could possibly be like to have lived in that woman’s place. Just as we offer others the common courtesy of not pretending to speak for them or to know their thoughts in other areas, so also we ought to extend these women this same courtesy.

Several reasons existed which perpetuated her stay in that abusive home. Following are some of them:

1) One worry, although perhaps the least of them, is that of lack of finances. The term “domestic abuse” rarely, if ever, refers to solely physical abuse. Rather, it refers to systematic control which can include emotional, mental, spiritual, financial, and physical abuse. Financial control appears in situations in which the husband refuses to allow the wife to work, does not allow a joint bank account, gives the wife an allowance, or limits her income in any way. Lack of finances can make it nearly impossible for a wife to leave. A woman with no employment, and especially a woman with children cannot simply pick up and leave. Similarly, a lack of a safe place to go puts immense limitations on her ability to escape. I left only because I could stay with my parents, and I had only the three hundred I managed to pull from my bank account before he withdrew it. And I was one of the lucky ones. There are women who become homeless in their search for freedom, or are forced to stay in shelters, that is, as long as the shelter allows them to.

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Photo: Pixabay

2) A second major concern is what is best for her children. This is indeed a primary consideration for any mother. Not wanting their children to face the trauma of divorce and visitation, they choose to stay, hoping things will get better, hoping it will all turn out right in the end. The fear of the unknown can often be greater than the fear of what one is enduring. This is a huge fear for immigrants, who know that the justice system is incapable of seeing her and her children as victims rather than criminals

3) Third, Christian or Muslim women are much easier to guilt trip into staying. If you know a friend who seems depressed and frightened around her husband, but is a churchgoer or is religious, it is within the realm of possibility that he is using spiritual abuse (as well as other forms) to control her. Women are susceptible to listen to men when told, “The Bible or Koran say you must obey me” or “I think God would want you to forgive me.” Infuriatingly, some professing “Christian” men use this tactic in order to force their wives to stay in a marriage after the husband has been abusive or has committed adultery.

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Photo: Glen Nelson Bristow. Models: Prisca Bejjani, Keith Vowell.

4) Another issue (yes, they keep piling up and please don’t ever ask another woman from an abusive home why she didn’t “just leave”) is that of emotional abuse. Ongoing emotional abuse can actually cause brain damage. The effect caused by emotional and mental abuse is similar to that of PTSD patients. Having been a victim of emotional abuse, I know quite well that one of the abuser’s tactics is to make the victim feel as if the circumstances she is suffering are all her fault. He ensures that she feels guilty for the state of the marriage, for his dissatisfaction, for financial issues, for the ill behavior of the children, and for his cheating on her. With the burden of guilt upon her, the natural response of the wife is to put even more effort into the marriage. Leaving is not an option if she feels that she is at fault and ought to be doing better to fix it. The majority of Christian friends, counselors, and pastors will also add to the woman’s guilt. Just give him sex, they say. Just be submissive. The responsibility of the abuser not to treat her like a sex object and to listen to her needs and feelings is never brought up. The unfair push for the woman to pull the weight of a dead marriage is as widespread as it is incomprehensible.

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Photo: Glen Nelson Bristow. Models: Prisca Bejjani,Keith Vowell

5) Finally, the woman in an abusive situation is afraid of retribution if she leaves. In many cases, the continual threat of violence is the normal undercurrent of the relationship. Even if friends and family believe her, law enforcement and family law courts do little to help these women. Having personally reported my then-husband stalking me, the police officer told me, “There is nothing we can do until he actually does something.”  Quite honestly, my boss at the time was more helpful than the police. He offered to get a security officer to be at the plant while I was working, made notes of my ex’s license plate and car make, alerted all front desk employees of his description, and showed me (I was the first floor employee to be shown) the emergency 911 buttons installed in all buildings of the plant. Now translate the police officer’s casual “does something” into “murders you”, and you have explained the rate of domestic violence homicides in the U.S.  Three women are murdered every day by an ex-boyfriend or ex-husband. More than seventy-five percent of murders happen as the victim tries to leave or is leaving. Again, the issue is one of control. The violent man wants to ensure that she remains under his thumb, alive or dead.

 

Knowing all this, I am sure your question is, “How can I help?” As you read earlier, it was only a kind businessman who took the initiative to make me feel safe. You can do the same. Noticing and recognizing the signs of domestic violence before an outbreak are so hard, though. It does not necessarily involve bruises, at least not at first. You can look for signs such as the following:

 Does your friend’s new partner allow her to see you as much as before? 

Is she still involved with her family as much as before?

Does he ever answer questions for her or not allow her to finish answering?

Does she ever seem nervous around him?

Is her access to finances the same? Does she still work or is she forced to stay at home?

Have you noticed a difference in her dressing style? Either to the extreme of sexualization or the other extreme of hiding any visible body parts?

Do you ever see him checking her phone?

Does he ever make fun of her or belittle her in public?

 

Of course, if you are aware that a friend has left an abusive situation, please try to help her as much as possible. 

 

I’m going to be very honest. I was one of the lucky ones. Lucky because my family had space for me and my sons in the basement. Lucky because my grandmother lent me enough to hire a lawyer. Lucky because the pastor of my parents’ church actually believed my story, although my soon-to-be-ex’s pastor at the time interrogated me and most emphatically did not. I was lucky because I was able to find work with flexible hours close to home, and was able to start a degree online with the grant for mothers going back to school. I am thankful that my ability to write enabled me to dismiss my lawyer when money was running out and make my own defense in court. (The judge thought that my first declaration entered had been written by a lawyer 🙂 

And, finally, I am so thankful to have met a man who is there for me all the time, who encourages me, gives me space, supports me in everything from modeling to writing, and who always takes care of me.

 In all the above instances, it was others who stepped in to help. The judicial system failed me, and failed my children after my ex broke my one-year-old’s leg. He should be in jail, but he’s not. Law enforcement failed me. But regular citizens stepped in and did more than I could have ever asked. Be that kind of person for someone else.

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Photo: Dennis Soans. My husband and I, summer 2019.

 

Christian Disagreements and Church Discipline (part 2)

In my last post, we discussed the necessity of unity among believers. Although division on account of heresies is necessary, there are several issues underlying general disunity that have nothing to do with heresy. These are rampant within churches and all over social media and we ought to know the Biblical answer to these issues.

 

      One is that of “foolish controversies”(Tit. 3:9). This is so serious that Paul only allows Titus to give a divisive person two warnings (Tit. 3:10). Churches nowadays tolerate much more, possibly because church size prevents the elders from knowing or perhaps because they do not take it as seriously as God does. Proverbs says that God hates “a man who stirs up dissension among brothers” (6:19). Paul purposefully contrasts the description of these divisive arguments as “unprofitable” (3:9) to the description of good works as “excellent and profitable” (3:8). “Unprofitable” can certainly describe many debates on social media, which are often rancorous, heated, and unintelligent. Some people look incessantly for fights and dive into arguments on eschatology, Pentecostalism, rock music, and paintings of Christ with unholy zeal. These quarrels detract from the time that could be spent on healthy pursuits.

   Jesus said that His followers would be known for their love (Jn. 13:35) not for their theological victories, however scintillating they might be.

 

           Some concerns about unity are as follows: Some might object to seeking unity because lost friendships after doctrinal squabbles or messy church splits are unavoidable. Others bring up the point that the Bible commands the practice of church discipline (Matt.18:15-20), and is that not incompatible with unity? Finally, a common objection is that you KNOW you are right, and the other person is wrong. Let me answer these one by one.

   The first- the proposal that church splits are inevitable- is based not on faith, but on experience. Simply because something does happen does not mean it must happen. This is not to imply that Christians are perfect and that unity will be easy. As Paul would say, “By no means!” or “Not at all!” (depending on the translation). Well, technically, he would say “μὴ γένοιτο”, but that is beside the point. More important than one’s experience is Christ’s desire for Christians to be unified. Jesus prays no less than three times in a short space that His followers “be brought to complete unity” (Jn. 17:23). It is better to try for unity than to wail that it is impossible. Yes , church splits might happen, does not mean we ought to give up.

      The second worry is a very serious one. Its Biblical basis and the apparent contradiction urge believers to consider the question with gravity. It is necessary to distinguish between essentials, non-essentials, and sin when discussing this. Division over essentials used to be rarely questioned and would be typified by the common understanding that Christians do not worship with Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons. Today, churches struggle more with the insidiousness of division over non-essentials, rather than the Biblical mandate of division over sin. Disagreements over worship music is more common than disciplining the pastor’s son who got his girlfriend pregnant and got her an abortion. Church discipline is a severe separation, and one that is only countenanced if the party is found to be in unrepentant sin. Paul writes, “You must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler”(1 Cor.5:11).

      Furor often rises at this point, and two parties take sides, one claiming that we must extend immediate and unlimited trust to a pastor caught in adultery, and the other side claiming that he is not even a believer because of his gross sin. But Paul does not tumble to either of these extremes. Without falling into other of these ditches of thought, we may treat sin scripturally in the church, which will sometimes have to include “division” from  a sinner. Matthew 18 makes it clear that the church is to act as a unit, and not to divide into factions to either support or defame an exposed sinner. The purpose of church discipline is either to eventually reconcile (2 Cor. 2:5-8) or to enable the other members of the congregation to enjoy uninterrupted unity (Tit. 3:10).

    Finally, in answer to the objection that one’s position is right and others are wrong, Romans 14 comes to the stage. Quite often disagreements over minor issues are phrased as issues of salvific importance, such as questioning another believer’s salvation because he puts up a Christmas tree or because they use a non-hormonal contraceptive. Romans 14 is the perennial answer to such disputes. Paul commands the group who are stronger in their faith not to look down on their weaker brothers (14:3).

     For example, Calvinists have no business being proud of their faith in God’s providence and sovereignty. “What do we have that we did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7) This attitude of pride does not recognize the body of Christ nor show consideration for brothers who have a different  understanding of the Gospel. To give another example, Paul orders those who are shocked by their brothers’ “licentiousness” not to judge them (14:3). In the early church, the issues were of celebrating holy days or eating meat sacrificed to idols. Today the issues are more likely to be whether a divorced person can remarry, whether women must wear skirts, if believers can use barrier methods of contraception, and whether the gift speaking in tongues is still valid. In general, if Scripture does not  condemn a behavior, one ought not to make any rules forbidding it.

 

      For example, Scripture only condemns drunkenness, not drinking wine (1 Tim. 3: 8), which means that weaker brothers are not to make it a condition of fellowship, nor judge their brothers in Christ if they choose to drink a glass with dinner. In conclusion, Paul urges both groups of believers to mutual consideration and honor. Similarly, it is unnecessary to make derogatory comments about a Christian friend who eats at McDonald’s every so often, even if the one commenting believes deeply that Christians should only eat organic food. Similarly, if a family wishes to celebrate Easter, another who is convinced that its origins are doused in paganism should not try to dampen their celebration. “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5) and not try to belabor everyone else with his own opinion.  The key here is realizing that it is your own opinion and not something commanded in Scripture. You may think that the KJV is the best thing since false teeth, but others are not similarly inclined to share your rapture.

 

In conclusion, unity is deeper than surface agreement on the choice to sing hymns or praise songs in the church. Unity is based on one’s vertical relationship with God, which leads to a correct view of one’s horizontal relationship with other believers.

This simple statement sums it up: “In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things, charity.” Let us live by this.

 

For more reading, please see https://corechristianity.com/resource-library/articles/why-we-need-to-rethink-in-essentials-unity-in-nonessentials-liberty

 

What Unity in the Spirit Actually Means (and why you might not like it)

Unity in the Church appears to be an outdated idea. It was easier for New Testament Christians; they didn’t have so many arguments. Now we have denominations to separate us and to categorize different kinds of Christians. Disputes over who gets to pick the worship music, if one’s baby may be baptized, or whether one can read fantasy fiction are obviously essential. Unity means that all Christians can pretend to agree on everything, because that is real unity, isn’t it? Some sort of spiritual blancmange?

  Well, it would be…. if God were Unitarian. But He isn’t. Because the truth is Trinitarian, the unity of believers is consequently not like tofu, but more like an exotic fruit salad. With nuts. Lots of nuts. The flavors of each character complement and enhance the character of the others. We were not saved to live alone, but in community. (“Unfortunately”, some might say).

   Unity does not mean that we all must agree on every single doctrinal issue, nor that we do not, in fact, debate at one time or another. Rather, unity finds its identity in concurrence on the essentials of Biblical faith. Dissension, on the other hand, looks for areas of disagreement by which to define itself: “I am a Presbyterian; you are a Baptist.” “We send our kids to Christian school- you homeschool?” “Tattoos are sinful; why do you have one?” Unity, however, identifies the other as fundamentally as a child of God. Christians “are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal.3:26).

       Throughout the New Testament, Jesus, Paul, and others emphasize the importance of unity in the body of Christ, giving three reasons for that necessity. One is to glorify God (Rom. 15:6).

This is the chief end of every Christian, and even more so when it is for the good of their fellow believers. Paul explains how to keep unity: “Accept one another, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom.15:7). Colossians reflects this thought–“Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (3:13). Those whom Christ has forgiven realize their obligation to forgive others freely, seeing that they themselves have sinned and been forgiven more than anyone could ever sin against them. Likewise, those whom Christ accepts realize the stupidity of refusing to accept brothers in Christ (Rom. 14:1), even if their brothers do drink beer or have tattoos. God is glorified when we put aside our differences and opinions to reflect the love that He showered upon us.

      Another motive for unity is to have a good testimony: Jesus prays “that all of them may be one…to let the world know you sent Me” (John 17:20-21). It is reasonable to ask, “What does it mean to be one?” A Christian’s testimony is not merely verbal, but is demonstrated in actions, for “all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Love in action, therefore, ought to be the defining characteristic of Christ’s followers.

    The third reason for Christians to be unified is “so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding” (Col. 2:2), that is, “that they may know…Christ”(Col. 2:2). This thought echoes in Ephesians, which says that the church must reach “unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God” (Eph. 4:12). The Biblical emphasis on unity makes it plain that Christianity is not an ethereal religion to which one ascribes without any practical ramifications. Nor can one say that he loves God if he does not, in fact, love his neighbor (1 John 4:20). Getting along with other believers is, therefore, actually necessary to knowing Christ Himself. Darn, we say…And I was just getting this Christian thing down pat.

 

           Interestingly, the Bible uses three metaphors for the Church when talking about unity- a body (1 Cor. 12:27), a building (Eph. 2:21), and brothers (James 1:2,19). The coincidence of all three starting with “b” (in English, at least) is extremely helpful. The three demonstrate respectively the humility, wisdom, and love that ought to be evident in the Church’s unity, and together form a picture that enables believers to grasp the vision God has for His Church.

    Body–First of all, Paul does not say that the Church ought to act like a body. He says that the Church is a body- “the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:27), not a pile of separated limbs. Therefore, Christ’s body will either be functioning well or poorly. The parts do not have the option of functioning autonomously. First Corinthians 12 is the longest passage dealing with the Church as the body of Christ, and the chief emphasis is on humility- not saying in pride to another part, “I don’t need you!” (12:21) Paul elaborates in another passage on the same subject: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought” (Rom. 12:3) Humility will be characteristic of those who discern the body of Christ.

    Building— Both Paul and Peter use a building as a figure of speech to describe the Church. Perhaps its meaning has been muddied by the association of a church with a building, not as a building, so it is necessary to clear the waters. In Ephesians, it is a “building with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone…which rises to become a holy temple in the Lord” (2:21). In 1 Peter, he writes that we are “living stones…being built into a spiritual house (2:5). The Bible’s culminating vision is of the Church as a “holy  city…(shining) with the glory of God,” and with a “brilliance like that of a precious jewel” (Rev. 21:11). The succeeding verses parallel Ephesians in affirming the apostles as foundation stones for the building (cf. Rev. 21:14)

Yet the church today tends to be rather near-sighted, always peering up at the most recent famous pastor and discussing the latest theological controversy. Having isolated themselves from centuries of past wisdom and knowledge, Christians find themselves fighting the same battles their ancestors fought, but without the weapons they forged. Understanding the Church as a building means that one will be familiar with the works of the Church fathers, Reformers, Puritans, and other great thinkers of ages past and will be able to develop upon them.

   Christians are called to serve each other with spiritual gifts, which were given “so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Eph. 4:12).  Pastoring, teaching, encouraging, administrating, giving, hospitality, and serving can all help other believers to grow in their faith.

   Brothers–Familiarity has cast a dullness on the vivid metaphor of other believers as brothers. The modern church has largely ignored this figure of speech, to its own detriment. The deterioration of families may have led to the devaluing of family language, but if so, it is even more necessary to recover the fullness of its meaning in the church. Each community of Christians ought to look after each other, checking up on the sick, helping the elderly, mentoring the youth, and providing for the single mothers and widows.

 

There are many directions on how to practically live in unity. Galatians tells us to “carry each other’s burdens” (6:2). If one of the members of the body is hurting, the other parts ought to empathize with it. Perhaps a single mother is having trouble with a threatening ex-husband or an elderly widow is in need of companionship. In both situations, the church should be there as their family. Donations to overseas missions impress very few; even non Christians can do that. Loving one’s neighbor– those close to you–is what counts.

Loving the whole world is easy. Loving your neighbor is hard.

Unity is found in this- the humility, wisdom, and love of a community who knows the worst of each other and believes the best (1 Cor. 13:7). The New Testament is not romantically optimistic that believers will always get along perfectly. Indeed, Ephesians is a composed, yet fervent, treatise on brotherly oneness, the last three chapters building a case for the practical implications of the spiritual reality that chapters 1–3 describe.

 

    By living Biblically, Christians can “keep the unity through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Seeing themselves as brothers, they will grow in wisdom, humility, and love as they fulfill their roles in the Body of Christ. The Biblical understanding of “how good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity” (Ps. 133:1) will be reflected in their words and actions. This unity will glorify God, being both a testimony to the world and the means of His followers growing in the knowledge of His Son. In love, the Church will be able to branch out into even more ministry and service with unity as its center.

 

 

Note: This blog dealt mostly with true believers. The second one on this topic deals with typical debates in the church, church discipline, and heresy.

Memorial Day Reflections

American society has become so politicized that it is impossible to even celebrate a national holiday without the bray of a donkey or the trumpet of an elephant sounding in the background.

Millennials forget the sacrifice of generations past in their rush to debate strangers online about the policy of war. They discuss the propriety of politics while ignoring hurting humanity.
The fact is, yes, America has erred, and erred badly, in many of its decisions to interfere or refrain from interfering in international warfare.

However, this does not change reality, which is that thousands of U.S. soldiers have died. It’s easy to discuss death in the abstract, reducing it to political statistics, but reality is not made up of numbers. Real families are missing real husbands, fathers, friends, and sons. There are real graves filled with real bodies. We do not live in the land of the free without a cost.

Those who see war policy in terms of its failure denigrate the service and bravery of those who fight in those wars. American international policy is indeed broken and flawed, but then, what is not in this world?
Dismissing wars because of the idiocy of the orders of those who sit behind desks is disheartening and crushing to those who obeyed the orders. Do we blame the leader in The Charge of the Light Brigade? Or do we applaud him and his men for their bravery?

We are becoming dangerously close to imitating the generation who could not even welcome home with pride the veterans of the Vietnam War. And with veteran suicide rates regularly higher than the rest of the population, rampant PTSD, and the failure to adequately care for veterans, there is no time for the average citizen to waste speculating on what the Pentagon should do. Instead, perhaps they should befriend a veteran and check in on them. If you really want to change the world, start with yourself. Turn your computer off.

Let me summarize: Stop politicizing everything and be humane.

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