The Love Is All Around Me

In 1994, when I was a young teenager towards the beginning of my thus far uneven and eventful career as a tragicomic romantic hero, a movie came out called “Four Weddings And A Funeral” which featured strong performances from Andie McDowell and Hugh Grant.  At the time, Hugh Grant had made a profitable string of movies as a romantic hero before his own tragicomic moral failings came to the surface.  At any rate, what I remember most and still enjoy the most about this movie was its theme song, a classic cover of the Trogg’s hit “Love Is All Around Me” by the British band Wet Wet Wet.  The song is a perfect example of what a cover should be, made the band’s own with a passionate performance that clearly demonstrates how much the band enjoyed performing it, and a video that mixes the familiar footage from the film and from the band performing the music in an inventive fashion that looks like it was fun to make as well.

So far, it might seem like Wet Wet Wet was following a classic pattern for a one-hit wonder [1].  They release a hit cover for a soundtrack and are never seen again on American radio.  Of course, their big hit only managed to hit #41, and so despite the fact that it is widely considered a stellar example of a soundtrack hit (VH1 once named it as the #1 soundtrack song of all time), there are many who would not consider the band to have had any hits stateside at all.  I happen to love the song and play it on heavy rotation in terms of my own personal playlist, and the song deservedly managed a top 10 status on the Adult Contemporary chart.  Yet that narrative of being a stereotypical one-hit wonder whose only hit was a cover breaks down when one looks at their career in the United Kingdom, which was far more successful.  There “Love Is All Around Me” was #1 for fifteen weeks before the single was deleted in order not to draw attention away from the band’s upcoming album, becoming one of the biggest UK hits of all time.  Nor was it the band’s only hit, with two previous #1 hits (“With A Little Help From My Friends” and “Goodbye Girl”) and several other top ten singles before and afterward.  Their album success was also notable, with four multi-platinum albums and three platinum albums, and albums certified in the EU as a whole as well as Australia.  Admittedly, their UK hits are unfamiliar to me.

Now, it would be easy for me to look up music videos of Wet Wet Wet and watch them, but I know that even if I enjoy the songs themselves and their videos, they will not have the same impact on me as their hit cover because of the context in which they came.  Why is that?  Well, the reason why is that I first heard “Love Is All Around Me” on the radio, and hearing a song on the radio tends to color my impression of a song.  I was once a radio deejay myself [2], and I made it my mission to play obscure songs from popular artists that deserved a hearing on the radio.  That is to say, I had to engage in an act of imagination in thinking of a song as a single that had not been a single, or at least had not been a hit, and then to play the song on the radio and turn that imagination into a reality.  There is a certain quality a song gains simply by being on the radio, at least subjectively to me, and it is impossible to replicate that act unless I can visualize a song being played on the radio, thus elevating it in my mind from mere album filler to something that was a forgotten gem.  This is not an easy thing to do, not least because the charts of other countries do not necessarily hear a song as a hit in the same way that we do in the United States.

How much does the context of a song matter?  Would the song have been nearly as lovely had it not come in a romantic film, or had I not been such a frustrated romantic from my youth?  Would I have appreciated the song differently had I heard it at a different time of life, or would I have liked the song as much had I never heard it on the radio?  The objective nature of the song itself would not have been changed in any of those circumstances, yet my own subjective impression and feelings about the song depend on a wide variety of factors.  And if that is true of me, someone who pays a great deal to logic and rationality and who seeks to understand the context in which I live, how much is that true of others as well?  If objective truth for someone who at least makes some sort of claim for objectivity is so difficult to untangle from its subjective context, how much is it so for someone who makes no claim for objectivity or who does not have any conscious knowledge of the role of context in their decisions?  How are we to judge fairly and act reasonably in the face of our unreason?  Let us note that this difficulty does not in any way undercut the existence of objective truth beyond our subjective impressions of it.  The song “Love Is All Around Me” exists, and it has certain lyrics and music that can be objectively noted.  It has a clear history in terms of its release and its reception, all of which is sound as music history.  Yet our ability to get at the song is entangled with all kinds of subjective questions–like how much we enjoy romantic comedies with Andie McDowell or Hugh Grant, or how much we enjoy accoustic love ballads, or covers of 60’s hits that become hits in a slightly different genre themselves, and so on.  The love may be all around us, but how do we get at it and make sense of it?

[1] See, for example:

Dog Police, Nobody Knows Who You Are

Come On, Come On, It’s There At Your Feet

Like The Deserts Miss The Rain

Book Review: So You Wanna Be A Rock & Roll Star

Are You Calling Me Darling?

[2] See, for example:

Book Review: How To DJ

You Can’t Hear It But I Do

Book Review: What They’ll Never Tell You About The Music Business

Notes From The Underground

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Book Review: Crafting The Personal Essay

Crafting The Personal Essay:  A Guide For Writing And Publishing Creative Nonfiction, by Dinty W. Moore

When a writer has been given or has chosen for himself the name of a tasty can of beef stew, there is little choice that he has other than to engage in the craft of creative nonfiction.  Having read a book by the author before [1], I had a good idea of what to expect in that I did note expect the author to be completely serious.  To be sure, he was not serious here, although he proved himself more serious than he has been on other occasions, and as a fellow author of personal essays I found much to appreciate in this work.  Besides the fact that the author has a certain sense of humor that many readers will know about going into it, there is also some serious advice and counsel here that is worthwhile and enjoyable.  This is an author whose struggle to find his own voice as an essayist informs his help of other writers seeking to find their own voice in the various different types of personal essay [2].  The result is a book that is likely to be of practical benefit to the reader, and one at about 250 pages that proves to be a reasonably quick and enjoyable read.

The structure of this book means that readers who are not interested in writing all of the kinds of personal essays could pick and choose among different topics if they wanted, but as there is a uniform thread of the author working on his own entertaining personal essay on the hazards of being a pedestrian in Boca Raton, Florida, the reader is best served by reading this book as a whole.  The first and larger section of the book consists of eighteen chapters on writing the personal essay.  Here the author discusses the exploratory assaying that takes place in a personal essay, reminds us that it is personal and not private, and gives examples of many types of personal essays from the memoir essay to the contemplative one, from the lyric essay to the spiritual essay, from the gastronomical essay to the humorous essay and then the nature and travel essays.  Additionally, besides discussing the subgenres of personal essays, there are many other inset chapters added that provide discussions of notable personal essays written by such important figures as Montaigne, Woolf, Agnes Repplier, and a couple of the author’s own efforts.  Rather than writing what we know, the author urges people to write what they wish they knew, and so expand themselves in the process of researching and writing their essays.  In the shorter second part of the book the author gives advice on how writers can better reach their readers through establishing a regular writing routine, honing their essay writing skills in blogs, conquering writer’s block through sheer persistence, ruthlessly lopping and cropping their writing in the rewriting process, and dealing with the inevitable rejection that comes in attempts to have one’s works published.

In writing this book the author makes a strong case for the legitimacy of the personal essay while also acknowledging that many people view the personal essay as often naval-gazing and self-indulgent.  Throughout the whole book there is a great deal of tension in the advice between being true to our own voice and our own perspective as well as seeking to reach a connection with those who read our writings.  In this tension between being ourselves and writing so that we may be understood, the author locates a great deal of the conflict and interest of personal essays and helps to rescue them from being merely diary entries posted online.  In filling together the context that we might understand but that would have to be explained for a reader to make sense of what we are saying, we better understand ourselves and what we are about.  In that way, being a writer of personal essays can help us to become better people, more thoughtful, and with a great deal of self-knowledge that we would not have gained in any other way.  And, since most of those who are good writers are also good readers, the author helpfully provides his readers with a list of thoughtful essays and collections of essays and books about writing to help those who wish to improve their craft even further.

[1] See, for example:

Book Review: Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy

[2] See, for example:

Back In The U.S.S.R.

Exploring Kuressaare (Arensburg) Castle

Exploring Saaremaa

Book Review: Bittersweet: A Savage Memoir

Book Review: Jesus, My Father, the CIA, And Me: A Memoir Of Sorts

Essays on Modern Life: The Training of a Future Blogger

A Task Greater Than Washington’s: A President’s Day Essay

Try Me, And Know My Anxieties

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Book Review: Creative Nonfiction

Creative Nonfiction:  Researching And Crafting Stories Of Real Life, by Philip Gerard


The writer of this book is gives a great deal of thoughtful and personal advice about writing creative nonfiction.  This is the term that has been more or less settled upon at the present time (and, since this book was published twenty years ago, for quite some time) for those writers whose work sits at the boundary between fiction and nonfiction.  Since the time this book was published, the writing of personal essays and other creative nonfiction on blogs has become much more popular, and although this book does not discuss blogging at all, it does discuss the mindframe and attitude one should have towards writing nonfiction that has strong artistic and literary style, and as that category of writing happens to include travel writing [1], memoir/autobiography [2], personal essays [3], book and movie reviews [4], and similar writings, namely almost all of the writing I do and a large amount of the reading I do, I may be the precise sort of person that would best appreciate this book.  I loved it.  To be sure, not everyone else will love this book, but if you are a writer and you appreciate good writing about good writing, the odds are significant that you will love this book as well, not only for its content but for the fact that the author writes so well, providing an example of creative nonfiction and not merely a discussion of it.

In just over 200 pages the author manages to cover an impressive scope of material concerning the writing of literary nonfiction that aims to convey a commitment to truth while also showing an admirable attention to a storytelling approach and artistic form.  Part of this book is a how-to guide from an instructor of creative nonfiction at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, showing how to experience the first-hand reality of a story that gives one’s writing a sense of authenticity, writing a grabbing opening, crafting an engaging story using dialogue, plot, and conflict, finding a voice that readers can trust and a style that sings with lyrical beauty, writing other people’s stories in an ethical fashion that avoids lawsuits, and revising a work to bring out its essential core.  However, this book rises above the workmanlike effort a mere how-to guide by being itself an example of excellent and moving and lyrical prose itself.  The book itself is divided into eleven chapters as the author covers such matters as defining creative nonfiction, finding an original subject that corresponds to one’s passions and knowledge, researching, interviewing, working on assignment, deciding the form of one’s creative nonfiction based on how much material it is and what genre it seems to fall into, telling a true story, putting yourself on the line to build interest on the part of the reader, dealing with mystery and structure, style and attitude, revising, and dealing with legal and ethical questions.  The author then closes with a bibliography for readers that includes a selected research list for readers interested in a deeper look at the subject.

Part of what makes this book such an excellent read is that the author knows what he is talking about on several levels.  For one, he is an excellent reader of creative nonfiction, with insightful comments such as the following:  “We realize, all at once, that they’ve been making art the only way art can be fashioned, out of the imperfect things of this world (15).”  The author speaks as a knowledgeable writer of creative fiction, giving voice to the anxieties writers often face in our work:  “But in fact most writers I know are just as timid around strangers as the average nonwriter–some even more so.  After all, we writers are used to spending long stretches of solitary time in small, isolated rooms, with only the company of our word machines.  We hate to bother people.  If the person in question is famous, we feel a bit like imposters and are reluctant, even apologetic, about taking up that person’s valuable time.  You would think that practice would make it easier to approach complete strangers and ask questions, but in my experience, at least, it never gets easier (56-57).”  And the author has also thought long and hard about the tradeoffs made by writers who are under compulsion to write despite its immense costs on their personal happiness and well-being:  “In some sense, the writer is always the interloper, the eavesdropper, standing just outside the conversation, on the edge of the memory, participating in it but also already using it, and not always comfortable in the dual role.  We feel like spies in the family circle, looters of the family album, under cover agents recording the most intimate conversations of our friends.  Informers on ourselves.  We give up our lives to make words, telling as many of our secrets as we dare.  We give up something–privacy, the freedom of anonymity, the freedom to forget and be forgotten about (146).”  It is not only that the author knows how to read and how to write, but pours out of the agony of his soul the struggles faced by a writer who wants to be true to themselves and to the shabbiness of the reality that we often write about, and also to turn that shabby reality into something beautiful and artistic.  For those of us who struggle in this task, this is an excellent book to read and reflect upon and apply.

[1] See, for example:

Back In The U.S.S.R.

Exploring Kuressaare (Arensburg) Castle

Exploring Saaremaa

[2] See, for example:

Book Review: Bittersweet: A Savage Memoir

Book Review: Personal Memoirs Of Ulysses Grant, Volume One

Book Review: Personal Memoirs Of Ulysses Grant, Volume Two

Book Review: Jesus, My Father, the CIA, And Me: A Memoir Of Sorts

[3] See, for example:

Essays on Modern Life: The Training of a Future Blogger

A Task Greater Than Washington’s: A President’s Day Essay

Try Me, And Know My Anxieties

[4] See, for example:

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Who Does It Belong To, Anyway?

This past weekend, a friend of mine whose political beliefs are far more on the “progressive” side than my own posted a bill being proposed by a Democratic representative from Wisconsin who had formerly been on welfare before downgrading her career to a politician who had the idea of drug testing those wealthy people who sought government money in the same fashion that the indigent are drug tested when they seek the same sort of government benefits.  For the record, I agreed with this idea, as I believe that there ought to be no distinction between the standards applied to rich or poor who wish to take from the common resources set aside in government.  Be that as it may, someone decided to pipe up and claim that the wealth that government possesses through taxes belong to the wealthy anyway, so when they seek government largess, they are simply getting back what belongs to them.  Certainly, if one looks at the people whose taxes enter the storehouse of tax monies to be distributed in various fashions as our government sees fit, there is a greatly disproportionate payment of taxes from those who have more than those many who receive less.  But does what the wealthy receive actually belong to them?  Who does the proceeds and profits of productivity belong to anyway?

Let me state my assumptions and methodology openly at the outset, so that there is no confusion about where I am going with this.  I do not assume that the way that wealth and income are currently distributed are just or godly, but I have no hostility to the just claims of either labor or capital to the contributions they bring to goods and services that are provided.  Nevertheless, I think we are often ignorant of just whose skill and expertise provides for such productivity, and I think that before we can look at the just claims of anyone we need to lay out the facts of the matter.  In addition, as is customary in this sort of investigation [1], I will be judging the habits and behaviors by people from the perspective of biblical law and precept, to see what grounds the Bible lays for declaring ownership of goods and resources.  Given that these biblical laws and precepts are not always well known, I will lay out the relevant and applicable biblical law first so that we may deduce and apply these laws within the context of contemporary business practice and public policy relating to the distribution of goods collected through taxation.

So, what sort of biblical laws and precepts would govern the ownership of property related to labor and business practices.  To remove any hint of accusation of cherry picking or proof texting, let us pick from a broad set of scriptures including laws and New Testament parables and discussions, and after quoting each one there will be a short commentary on what the specific quoted principle adds to our understanding.  That said, let us begin:

2 Timothy 2:6:   “The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops.”  This principle, part of a passage dealing with the duties and responsibilities of Christian life, is a clear statement of the priority of those who labor for the resources that are gained.  It is the hard work of the farmer in laboring for the harvest that he gathers in that gives him a prior claim to the enjoyment of the crops before monies are paid for tithing and taxation.  To the extent that any system of wealth does not give the first claim on the harvest to those who have labored for it, such a system is unjust and illegitimate.

Matthew 20:1-17:  “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.  Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.  And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,  and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went.  Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise.  And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’  They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’  “So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’  And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius.  But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius.  And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’  But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?  Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.  Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’  So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”  As a denarius was a fair daily wage for an agricultural laborer, let us note what this passage says about a generous landowner–we may give better wages than are deserved, depending on the extent of our generosity.  It is no sin or lack of wisdom in providing generously even for those whose labor does not require full payment.

James 5:1-6:  “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you!  Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten.  Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days.  Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.  You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter.  You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.”  This passage tells us that the wealthy are not the owners of the wealth they have, but rather the stewards of that wealth, and accountable to God for what they possess.  To the extent that the wealthy are exploiting others and withholding wages due to others, they are heaping up judgment from the Eternal for their injustices.

Luke 19:11-27:  “Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately.  Therefore He said: “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return. So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Do business till I come.’  But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us.’  “And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.  Then came the first, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned ten minas.’  And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.’ And the second came, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned five minas.’  Likewise he said to him, ‘You also be over five cities.’  “Then another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief.  For I feared you, because you are an austere man. You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’  And he said to him, ‘Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant. You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow.  Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’  “And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.’  (But they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas.’)  ‘For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.  But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.’””  Here we see that it was not the minas that were given to them by Jesus Christ that belong to believers, but the business that they do with them.  It is the proceeds that result from our own labor, in whatever sphere of life, that belong to us, not what has been given to us by God. We are not the owners of our talents or inheritance, but rather what we do with it.  Likewise, this passage reminds us that God is our ruler, and that those who do not accept the authority of God over them in their lives and behavior are destined for a severe judgment, a point that our corrupt age certainly needs to be reminded of.

Deuteronomy 15:1-6:  ““At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts. And this is the form of the release: Every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not require it of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the Lord’s release.  Of a foreigner you may require it; but you shall give up your claim to what is owed by your brother, except when there may be no poor among you; for the Lord will greatly bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance— only if you carefully obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe with care all these commandments which I command you today.  For the Lord your God will bless you just as He promised you; you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow; you shall reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over you.”  This passage reminds us that debts are not to be held against the poor, but rather are to be forgiven.  To the extent that businesses profit off of the debts of the poor–student loans and credit cards come readily to mind here, as do sovereign debts for poor nations–such debts are to be periodically forgiven every seven years to reduce the burden on others and to allow a fresh start as part of God’s Sabbath laws.

Deuteronomy 15:7-11:  “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother,  but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs.  Beware lest there be a wicked thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand,’ and your eye be evil against your poor brother and you give him nothing, and he cry out to the Lord against you, and it become sin among you.  You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand. For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.’”  This passage reminds us that the periodic forgiveness of debt is not to harden our hearts in ungenerosity against others, but rather we are to be open-hearted and generous to the poor and downtrodden of our community–this is a command from God.

Deuteronomy 15:12-18:  “If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you.  And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed; you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the Lord your God has blessed you with, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today.  And if it happens that he says to you, ‘I will not go away from you,’ because he loves you and your house, since he prospers with you, then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his ear to the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also to your female servant you shall do likewise.  It shall not seem hard to you when you send him away free from you; for he has been worth a double hired servant in serving you six years. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all that you do.”  Those who are indentured servants or apprentices are to be generously treated when their term of service is done because the worth of their labor has been great and their wages have not been–this would also apply to interns and other sorts of unpaid labor, a reminder that those who labor deserve the proceeds of their labor even in the face of adverse and unequal social relations between classes.

Leviticus 23:22:  “ ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God.’”  This law, part of the Sabbath law relating to Pentecost/Shavuot/The Feast of Weeks, commanded landowners to provide part of their fields, which they would consider their own property, to be left for the poor who were provided a means to work in order to earn the food necessary for survival.  Here we see that even that which the bible considers to be our property is not assigned for our own profit alone, but is regulated in such a way to provide for the well-being of those who are the most poor and vulnerable.  There are some obvious applications of this law related to contemporary business practice that should come to mind for most people.

Leviticus 19:13:  “You shall not cheat your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning.”  This law makes it theft for any employer to leave the wages of any of their hourly employees in arrears for any length of time.  Any company that does not pay its hourly workers at the end of each day so that the expenses of living may be paid for from those wages is committing theft against those employees.  Obviously, this would affect just about every business, since very few businesses obey biblical law in this manner, which often influences the decisions that workers have to make to pay their bills on a regular basis because their own wages are in arrears for two or three weeks at a time, if not more.

1 Kings 21:1-16:  “And it came to pass after these things that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard which was in Jezreel, next to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria.  So Ahab spoke to Naboth, saying, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near, next to my house; and for it I will give you a vineyard better than it. Or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its worth in money.”  But Naboth said to Ahab, “The Lord forbid that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you!”  So Ahab went into his house sullen and displeased because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him; for he had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And he lay down on his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no food.  But Jezebel his wife came to him, and said to him, “Why is your spirit so sullen that you eat no food?”  He said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite, and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if it pleases you, I will give you another vineyard for it.’ And he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’”  Then Jezebel his wife said to him, “You now exercise authority over Israel! Arise, eat food, and let your heart be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”  And she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, sealed them with his seal, and sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who were dwelling in the city with Naboth.  She wrote in the letters, saying, “Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth with high honor among the people; and seat two men, scoundrels, before him to bear witness against him, saying, “You have blasphemed God and the king.” Then take him out, and stone him, that he may die.”  So the men of his city, the elders and nobles who were inhabitants of his city, did as Jezebel had sent to them, as it was written in the letters which she had sent to them.  They proclaimed a fast, and seated Naboth with high honor among the people.  And two men, scoundrels, came in and sat before him; and the scoundrels witnessed against him, against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, “Naboth has blasphemed God and the king!” Then they took him outside the city and stoned him with stones, so that he died.  Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, “Naboth has been stoned and is dead.”  And it came to pass, when Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, that Jezebel said to Ahab, “Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.”  So it was, when Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, that Ahab got up and went down to take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”  This passage reminds us that property was to pass within families and it was not within the jurisdiction of government to seize that property for eminent domain.  If a person refused to sell their family inheritance for any price, they were within their rights to do so, and any attempt by the government to take that property leads to divine judgment.

Having given a broad sample of biblical discussion on the nature of property rights within the Bible, there are a few broad conclusions that it is possible to draw.  For one, we can see that property rights were secure but also regulated, so that people were not entirely free to dispose of their possessions but also were required to give as they were able to those who were without.  A social net was provided for those who were indigent where their survival was assured and where there was a periodic release of debts and (if one looks at Leviticus 25) a restoration of ancestral property so that there was a periodic reset on the spread of inequality within Israelite society.  On the other hand, government was not considered to be the ultimate owner of property–rather, God was, and the limitations on property rights were designed to protect that which was more important than property, namely people.  Likewise, the property rights of workers to prompt and fair payment was defended in both the Old Testament law as well as the writings of Paul and James, as noted above.

So, judging from the relevant and applicable biblical corpus, do contemporary businesses and those who claim property rights in the resources of government follow biblical law?  Absolutely not.  There is no contemporary granting of the gleaning rights that people had guaranteed in biblical times, nor are the hardworking farmers and laborers the first two partake of the crops earned, nor are wages paid promptly at the end of the day, nor are debts periodically forgiven, all of which contravenes biblical law and principle.  This suggests that those who claim expansive property rights regarding the money that is taken via taxation have some work to do on their own end when it comes to living up to the divine standard by which one can claim sort of divine right of property.  Divine rights, after all, come with divine responsibilities and clearly the managerial and executive elite of our society have not lived according to either the Old or the New Covenant principles that would lead to divine favor for their own desires to obtain greater largess from the government on their own behalf.  At this point in time they are not the proper owners of such proceeds but rather thieves who have agreed to pay a share of the loot to a third party with the responsibility to share enough of the stolen proceeds to those who are being exploited to keep down the real and ugly threat of social unrest.

If we view the proper owner of proceeds based on biblical standards, we are faced with a rather tricky bit of accounting.  I do not propose here to determine the share that belongs to any particular party, but rather to lay down the principles by which fair negotiation and allotment may take place.  A share of proceeds belongs to all whose labor provides value to a given good or service.  This need not be physical labor.  Does someone’s expertise in dealing with computer programs or interpersonal communication lead to some kind of sale or some kind of insight?  If so, that person has contributed to proceeds.  So to with the people involved in the logistical chain that connects those who make products with those who buy at every step along the way.  And even so, there is also a place for those who are managers or owners of businesses to claim some share of the proceeds for their behavior.  Those, after all, who provide the means by which people may be productive deserve some share of the proceeds as well as those who enable work to be done.  Those whose connections and communication aid in sales are likewise worthy of some share.  Those who profitably direct the labor of others for positive ends deserve credit, but those whose systems require heroic efforts on the part of others or who misdirect labor for unproductive and socially undesirable ends may have a negative share in proceeds rather than the positive one they expect and now enjoy.  Likewise, those communities who are stewards of resources deserve a share for the maintenance of those resources, and those whose activities lead to undesirable externalities like pollution or low wages or a lack of benefits that require subsidization by governments may also have a negative share of proceeds for their chicanery and injustice.  Obviously, to calculate these shares and what each party actually owns in the whole is a difficult matter to calculate, but fortunately our society offers at least some calculation of this through the calculation of value-adding.  Wherever value is added along the process, that share belongs to those providing the additional value.  If the raw materials of a meal are worth such-and-such, and a cooked meal is worthy of some amount greater than this, the additional value of having those materials cooked and served to one’s specifications belong to those who added that value, with a modest amount deducted for those who provided the means by which that value was added.

So, what does this mean?  It is difficult to know exactly what share each person deserves for their contribution of expertise and value to the process.  There are some whose value is obvious but whose reward, at least for now, is limited, and others whose value is somewhat shadowy and vague and ambivalent but whose current capture of the proceeds is great.  What to do about that is a matter that would likely require divine rule and a process of soul-searching and deep examination and a great deal of thorny and difficult negotiation and consensus building.  It would be good if we could learn to appreciate others, and do a better job of designing and revising systems so that they are just and so that the legitimate property rights of everyone from the lowest to highest can be honored and respected.  The property of the wealthy and powerful will not long be secure if the property of others is not secure, after all, so let us be just to all even as we demand justice for ourselves and the recognition of our own proper and legitimate interests.

[1] See, for example:

Deuteronomy 24:14-15: The Wages You Have Withheld By Fraud

A Modest Proposal Concerning Business Counseling and the Application of God’s Laws

Have You Not Read In The Law That On The Sabbath The Priests Profane The Sabbath, And Are Blameless?

You Shall Not Eat: An Examination Of The Biblical Food Laws

Leviticus 19:26, 31, 20:6-8, 27: Laws Against Mediums

The Price of Honor: An Application of Exodus 22:16-17

Deuteronomy 23:15-16: The Biblical Fugitive Slave Clause

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Book Review: The Death Of Christian Thought

The Death Of Christian Thought:  The Deception Of Humanism And How To Protect Yourself, by Michael D. Lemay

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Aneko Press.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

Sometimes a book’s title gives a bigger clue to the mindset of an author than originally seems to be the case, and depending on the expectations a reader has about this book, their thoughts and opinions about it are likely to be somewhat distinct.  The author’s title, as well as the material in nearly 300 pages of material, makes it very clear that this author has more than a small problem with the contemporary worldview of secular humanism (it should be noted that he does not deal at all with classical humanism or Christian humanism, except in passing).  Additionally, the author’s title gives an unintentional clue that the author’s approach will be cerebral in nature and that this book tackles the problems of the head and not the heart.  This hint, if one takes it from the title, is amply demonstrated by the book’s contents.  For starters, this book was written from the point of view of an American particularly displeased with both of the viable choices in the 2016 US Election and also someone who sees in America’s moral decline a cause for widespread mourning in sackcloth and ashes.  This is not an original perspective [1], but it is certainly a sincere one and eloquently expressed.

This book is focused on the need for believers, seen in opposition to an increasingly corrupt populace, to have a rigorous intellectual rigor in their faith.  Over and over again, the author points to the need for a biblical worldview and right thinking processes.  Starting with a discussion of the enemy within concerning the internecine struggles with socially liberal social gospel believers who are particularly prolific authors, the author gives as the starting point a need to know the gospel of salvation rather than its false alternatives in either works-based or ragamuffin theology.  After this the author spends a couple of chapters talking about the pursuit of happiness in this life and our eternal roadmap to happiness that requires a focus on and understanding of God’s truths as expressed in scripture.  The author then spends a couple of chapters discussing how secular humanism corrupts our thought processes and how these processes of understanding causality and using both our conscious and unconscious brain can be improved.  The last few chapters focus on the need for believers to be a part of a Christian fellowship, to guard our thought processes, to focus on eternity, and to live as Christians in a dying world clearly heading towards God’s judgment.

While reading this book I was struck by a nagging feeling that something was missing in its approach.  The book seemed to have all the right answers from an intellectual point of view, but in a way that alienated this reader instead of leading to warm enjoyment and appreciation.  In many ways, the book struck me as being all head and no heart.  Although the author, quite correctly, speaks out against a great deal of contemporary sin and the wicked thought processes and mindset of many people, the perspective is of someone who expects for God to rapture him and like-minded believers so that the rest of unrepentant humanity can face God’s judgment, rather than from the point of view of an Old Testament prophet like Ezekiel, Daniel, or Jeremiah who shared in the suffering and judgment that fell upon their sinful people.  The author knows the words for humility, but does not act in a humble manner, continually referring to himself and his supposed insight in the first person to a distressing degree [2].  Likewise, the author has an intellectual understanding of the struggles faced by many believers, as in the following example taken not at random, but lacks the heart of compassion for such believers:  “People who are verbally, physically, or sexually abused by their fathers often develop a wrong definition of father in their unconscious brain.  This can severely impede their ability to trust God when He is called our heavenly Father.  They aren’t even aware of this because this wrong definition is in the unconscious brain.  The virus affects them without consciously realizing it (197).”  Someone with a heart for those suffering from abuse would not view this tragic state of affairs in such a cold and cerebral fashion.

How is one to deal with this book, then?  To the extent that one is looking for the right head knowledge about the current state of our society, this book is an excellent resource.  If one wants to know the mistaken and misguided thought processes and the ways that facts are perverted and twisted into mistruths in our contemporary world, this book offers considerable insight into those matters.  If one has an expectation of understanding and shares the author’s somewhat detached perspective about the nature of God’s suffering, and if one wants to comfort oneself in one’s accurate knowledge and close relationship with God and the promise of protection from the times of tribulation and judgment that are inevitable unless there is widespread societal repentance, this is a book that will likely bring one a great deal of material with which to fulminate against the darkness of our present evil age.  However, those readers expecting the author to weep like Jeremiah at the suffering for a people whom he loves, even if they rebel against God, or like Jesus Christ when he movingly told the people of Jerusalem that he wanted to gather them under his wings like a mother hen but they were not willing will not find such a compassionate and loving heart in the words of this author.  Those wishing for prophetic judgment and biblical instruction from someone with such a heart will have to look elsewhere.

[1] See, for example:

Book Review: The Cost Of Our Silence

Book Review: Can God Bless America?

Book Review: If My People

Book Review: You Will Be Made To Care

Book Review: Going Red

Book Review: America The Strong

Book Review: Mother, Should I Trust The Government

Book Review: The Conservatrian Manifesto

[2] See, for example, the following lines, which resemble nothing so much as the prayer of the Pharisee with himself in the Gospels:

“I am blessed to belong to a church fellowship that is serious about knowing, understanding, and applying the Bible to our lives.  We study the what, why, and how of the Scriptures.  My typical week within the fellowship includes two hours early Sunday morning where a group of men study the Word related to a particular topic such as grace, sin, humility, and prayer.  These intense studies each last three or four months.  Right after our Sunday morning study, we attend group fellowship, where the service usually lasts at least two hours.  Our time includes a sermon, corporate worship, and prayer, communion, and more study of the Scriptures, led by one of our elders.  We then conclude with a time of food and fellowship where we build a culture of family with one another (174).”

Or take this example:

“Too many Christians act with a self-righteous attitude towards less mature believers, expecting them to acquire instantly the wisdom and discernment it took us years to grasp.  This often happens when certain teachers and preachers are discussed.  When I was a new Christian, after forty-five years of disobedience to God, I was hungry to learn all I could about Him.  I attended every Christian conference I could to hear from whoever was willing to share the Word of God.  I wanted to trust everything they taught, figuring they knew what they were talking about, because thousands of Christians attended their conferences.

Now, after seventeen years of seasoning, I realize some of these teachers were either wrong or flat out deceivers, but I lacked the wisdom and discernment to understand that at the time.  But I was blessed to be in fellowships with solid, seasoned believers who were smarter and wiser than I was.  They helped me to determine truth from deception by studying and understanding the Word of God.  When I talk with young believers now who are caught up following a teacher who preaches incorrect doctrine, I am patient with them.  I do not come out and blast them for following deceived teachers, because I once did the same thing.  Instead, I listen and ask questions and use their answers to point us to the Word of God for wisdom and clarity (230).”

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Book Review: I Can With I AM

I Can With I AM:  Be Somebody, by Sheila M. Luck

[Note:  This book was given free of charge by Aneko Press.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

A few years ago I heard a minister give a message about the subject of this book, with the title “Be Somebody,” if I remember it correctly.  The gentleman talked about how he had been offered a time share in Cabo San Lucas (obviously as a minister his salary was a bit higher than mine) with the hook that it would allow him to “be someone.”  His comment was, of course that as a believer and as a loving husband and father he was already someone.  This author comes off as somewhere very similar to that, as she is the sort of middle aged woman many people are likely to know well:  she comments often about being busy with activities, her adult daughters being upset about her attempts to mother them and her self-justification in response to these concerns, and her focus is unsurprisingly here on the relational aspects of our walk with God, and encouraging the realization that if we are to make a better world we must do what we can with what we have where we are [1].  This is not an original point, it should be noted, but it is expressed well here, it should be noted.

In twenty chapters that take up a slim 150 pages, the author discusses the plans of God, how we live in Christ, in God’s love, demonstrate our love for others like Christ through our actions, and how we do what we can where we are physically, relationally, emotionally, spiritually, and financially.  The author then spends the last few chapters closing the book by encouraging the reader to join with other believers and say yes to the stirring of the passions to assist in some areas that God stirs inside of us and gives some advice on how to get started.  This is, in general, a moving call for believers to overcome the tendency to slackness that results from seeing the broken state of the world with a feeling that our own feeble efforts will be entirely hopeless in making any difference to the world around us.  It is the sort of book written by someone who was once a more idealistic and less aware person who is painful aware of the mistakes she has made and the need to be gracious and understanding to others.  As a result of the author’s graciousness and vulnerability, this book goes down a lot easier than it would have at the hands of someone more harsh.

That said, there are a few aspects of this book that are likely to trouble some readers.  The author discusses her own flaws in ways that some readers are likely to find uncomfortable but that others are likely to find encouraging–her story about her abortion in her youth, which apparently has been the subject of one of the author’s previous books, is an example of this.  Possibly more intriguing are the ways that the author appears not to be fully aware of her mistakes and errors and her attempts to justify a certain bossiness with regards to her adult children which I found a bit cringeworthy.  This is a book that is likely to be a hit with middle aged women who are looking to know what they can do with their children moved up and a longing to be active and involved in the larger outworking of God’s grace and mercy on a broken world.  That is a pretty substantial market of potential readers, and they will likely be gentle in listening to the author’s discussions of her struggles and difficulties and likely be able to understand her concerns all too well.

[1] See, for example:

Do What You Can, With What You Have, Where You Are

Book Review: ReCreatable

Book Review: This Beautiful Mess

Book Review: Surprise The World!

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Moabite Women

Yesterday for his sermon, our pastor gave a thoughtful examination of the relevance and importance of Balaam for believers, a matter that has gotten little discussion at least in my memory [1].  Balaam has what amounts to a cameo role in the Bible where he enters the story as a prophet-for-hire from Mesopotamia who is given significant inducement to curse Israel, who ends up comically blessing them instead, and whose subtle advice on how the blessing can be taken away through encouraging sexual immorality with Moabite and Midianite women ends his privileged relationship with God and earns him an ignominious death.  Indeed, there are few more poignant ironies than the juxtaposition of his death with his unfilled wish expressed in Numbers 23:10:  “Who can count the dust of Jacob, Or number one-fourth of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, And let my end be like his!”  Alas, it was not, and a big part of the reason why was his connection with sexual immorality.

It is for his greed and connection with immorality that has made Balaam one of the emblematic figures in the Bible for these sins, as it is written in Jude :11:  “Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.”  2 Peter 2:12-16 expresses the same point but with a bit more detail:  “But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption, and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime. They are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you, having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children.  They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he was rebuked for his iniquity: a dumb donkey speaking with a man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet.

While none of us wishes to be labeled as having followed after the sins of Balaam, it is easy to see that the type of sin he represents is alive and well in our day and age.  Indeed, the corruption and greed of Balaam, the desire to receive the wages of unrighteousness, can be found as a major temptation for us.  Likewise, our age is certainly one where sexual immorality abounds, to the point where something is thought to be wrong with someone if they are not involved in the carousing and casual adultery and fornication that go on.  We know what God thought about this in the book of Numbers, as the Bible is unambiguous on the matter, as it is written in Numbers 25:1-9:  “Now Israel remained in Acacia Grove, and the people began to commit harlotry with the women of Moab.  They invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.  So Israel was joined to Baal of Peor, and the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel.  Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people and hang the offenders before the Lord, out in the sun, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.”  So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Every one of you kill his men who were joined to Baal of Peor.”  And indeed, one of the children of Israel came and presented to his brethren a Midianite woman in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.  Now when Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose from among the congregation and took a javelin in his hand; and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her body. So the plague was stopped among the children of Israel.  And those who died in the plague were twenty-four thousand.

Nor has the opinion of God changed since then, as it is written in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:  “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”  Whatever changes there have been in the general level of morality within God’s church or within the world at large, God’s standards for personal behavior have never changed.  He expects believers to live godly lives, and where this is not done there is the expectation of judgment for that lack of godliness.  To be sure, it is not easy to restrain ourselves from immorality given our own frustrated longings for love and intimacy and the corrupt state of the world around us, but that is the fight some of us are called to engage in at this time.

It is helpful and encouraging in this light to realize that one of the most notable examples of godliness in this regard comes from a Moabite woman, namely Ruth.  Ruth 2:5-10 gives a touching record of her own gentleness of spirit and her own absence of the immorality that plagued many of her forebears:  “ Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?”  So the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered and said, “It is the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab.  And she said, ‘Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ So she came and has continued from morning until now, though she rested a little in the house.”  Then Boaz said to Ruth, “You will listen, my daughter, will you not? Do not go to glean in another field, nor go from here, but stay close by my young women.  Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. Have I not commanded the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.”  So she fell on her face, bowed down to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”

When we reflect on being outsiders and strangers ourselves, in being forsaken and lonely, it is worthwhile to think about the story of Ruth.  Here was a Moabite woman who forsook the sins of her country and became an adopted citizen of the people of Israel, and of the tribe of Judah in particular.  Despite her origin, she married a godly man, who had himself long remained a bachelor despite being the sort of gentleman who deserves happiness in love, perhaps remaining single because of his own complicated family background (he was the son, after all, of that famous prostitute/innkeeper from Jericho, Rahab), and was counted worthy of being part of the family line of David and Jesus Christ.  Here was an exception to the rule, demonstrating that the problem with Moabite women was not their ethnicity but rather their mindset and their culture.  If we happen to meet up with any Moabite women in our lives, let us hope we end up with Ruth, and not with those who led the children of Israel astray.  There ought to be some reward, after all, for striving to do what is right in a wicked age.

[1] See, for example:

Book Review: Shocked By The Bible

Reflections On The Haggadah

A Donkey Tale

Book Review: Primitive Christianity In Crisis

Divine Providence In The Book Of Ruth: Part One

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Book Review: Beautiful Oops

Beautiful Oops, by Barney Saltzberg

I happened to read this book somewhat by accident.  In early October, when I was visiting my CASA kiddo, this happened to be one of the books in the toy chest, and so I read it aloud to the adorable but easily distracted baby, who found certain sheets of the book, especially the transparency but also the accordion box, of particular interest and found the book as a whole at least interesting enough to idly flip the pages as we read, which speaks well of her future should she decide that books are of interest to her to read and not only to play with.  Still, liking books at such a young age in any way is a good start, and as is often the case with good children’s literature [1], the book has a lot of depth and meaning well beyond its rather simple words and pictures, and the point is one that is sufficiently worthwhile that the book should be seriously examined and not taken for granted simply because small children are so wonderful at making mistakes and so proficient at learning through trial and error, mostly error.

The contents of this book are both simple and beautiful.  Each page shows through some dynamic means, like folds or cutouts, a way that a mistake is turned into something beautiful.  Spills are transformed into beautiful animal shapes, marks on paper are turned into a drawing of a penguin, holes in a paper are turned into an accordion box, and on and on it goes.  It is little wonder why even small children would appreciate such a book, given the way that the book is composed of many layers that fold or pull apart, all of which are things that fascinate children more than, say, the more mundane textual material of most books.  My CASA kiddo, for example, loves my notebook that I use to record our monthly meetings and my other CASA business so she can rip up and tear up the pages, so when I allow her to do this I make sure she does not mess up any pages that I am actually writing on.  Nevertheless, this is an intensely practical book, and not only for dealing with small children.  We are all prone to making mistakes, and it is a worthwhile survival skill in general to know how to turn mistakes into something beautiful, so that we do not despair of happiness or beauty coming out of messy lives.

And when we think of the task that God has in forming beauty from ashes, in redeeming the years of the locust, and in making all things work together for the good, a great deal of his task in our lives is precisely making beautiful oops as the title so charmingly says.  Indeed, much of what we consider divine providence is precisely that task, in making sure that no matter what happens in our lives turns into something beautiful and worthwhile, even if it is often painful and messy.  Yet it takes work, and a good deal of patience, and an eye for beauty.  Not all of us have these or use these particular tendencies in our own lives, and seeing a mess in our lives, we are often at a loss as to how this mess will ever be redeemed.  Fortunately, in our own lives we have someone like the author of this book, who delights in turning errors and blunders into beauty, if we will only let Him.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: When There Is No Miracle

When There Is No Miracle:  Finding Hope In Pain And Suffering, by Robert L. Wise

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Kregel Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.]

In an unexpected way, this book managed to fill a nice niche in my frighteningly lengthy collection on the problem of evil [1], a problem I dwell on at considerable length as a reader and writer.  This particular book is a classic, speaks from a Pentecostal or Holiness perspective, which mars only the last chapter with its speculations on the workings of the Holy Spirit, and deals thoughtfully and seriously with the doubts and questions that people have about whether God listens, or what God is doing when there is no miracle, when God appears silent in the face of our pain, without blaming the people involved themselves.  Most of this book’s insights come in reframing the questions that we would have towards God, in avoiding cliches for those who are struggling through difficult times while also changing the question of why to what for in terms of what is going on in our lives.  In a way, this book is a Christian version of the approach of Victor Frankl’s logotherapy, in that the author urges readers to find meaning and purpose in suffering to make it possible to endure what would otherwise be earth-shattering.

The book consists of twelve chapters, most of which deal in one way or another with the problem of pain.  The author begins with the sensible question:  where one begins, and then points out the assurance of things hoped for, which is not always what we would most like or wish in the face of trouble.  The author encourages readers to play it straight and be open and honest about their struggles, not something that is often done well in our contemporary culture, and then spends several chapters talking about the paradox of pain, the profit from pain, the power in pain, the instigator of pain (Satan), and the inevitability of pain.  After this the author winds down his point, talking about the ways that God speaks through the apparent silence in our lives, what we do while waiting for a miracle, what a miracle looks like, containing a few too many convenient examples from the author’s own personal life, and a final discussion on death being less than an enemy because of the power of life that comes from Jesus Christ, something which could have been explained a bit better given the fact that 1 Corinthians 15:26 tells us that the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death, which makes it clear that death is an enemy and not a friend of believers.

Nevertheless, even if this author is a bit clumsy in his statements and even if he is clearly biased by an incorrect viewpoint with regards to the supposed spiritual revival that the author sees in vain as happening in the 1970’s, there is much to gain from this book for the careful reader who manages to avoid the author’s missteps and stick to the biblical core of what is discussed.  All too many people, including, it should be noted, the author, are a bit too quick to sell a false bill of goods when it comes to the workings of God in various situations.  Nevertheless, it is of great importance to realize that God does still work through miracles, and to understand that a miracle is not a violation of the laws of the universe but a revelation of higher purposes than we can understand on our own human level.  By maintaining a sense of mystery rather than believing that we have to solve and understand everything in our lives, we are given a sense of humility and avoid at least some of the trouble and torment that comes from life.  And, if you have lived the sort of life that some of us have, opportunities to avoid torment should be taken wherever possible, all other things being equal, even though we can learn much through our suffering as God permits.

[1] See, for example:


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Because I Knew You, I Have Been Changed For Good

Some time ago, I read about the phenomenon that what we find changes who we become [1].  This is also true of who we find as well.  It is not hard for me to see where I have been drastically shaped by who I have found and who has found me, or by the fact that people have found me in certain ways and not in others.  Today offered a good opportunity to reflect on the multifarious ways in which we are connected with people and how we have been changed as a result of the way that our lives have crossed with other lives.  Sometimes we may celebrate the connections and hope that they deepen and grow.  At other times we may lament the connection and wish that we could somehow go back and do things differently but we cannot.  What we have done is done, and we can forgive but we cannot go back and do what we should have done or not do what we did and should not have done.

This afternoon in choir practice I found myself, as is often the case, as the only tenor.  In this particular case I had some concern that I had caused some offense to our choir director by having lamented the lack of communication about practices and all.  More than most people, I tend to be rather sensitive to the absence of communication [2], and I am often concerned that when this frustration and irritation reaches such a level that it can no longer be politely ignored that it is not sufficiently politely expressed.  The last thing I would want is to be irritated about a lack of communication only to find that every effort of communicating only made such communication more unwelcome and unappreciated.  Indeed, it might be said that the stress over communication as well as the stress about the song I sang for tonight’s variety show was likely the main reason why I ended up having a nosebleed while driving home from church, which I managed to discreetly deal with until I was able to get home and get to my tissue box and deal with it.  Sometimes I wonder why it is that a fairly humdrum life such as I live has to be so insanely stressful to the point where I cannot go to church, be involved in a few activities, and drive home without spilling out blood from my longsuffering right nostril the way I spill out words on this blog.

I can think of quite a few people whom I interact with on a regular basis who have changed my life in ways that are worthy of profound thanks.  I happen to have interacted with some of them today, and to have missed a few others who were not present for some reason or another.  I also found it somewhat remarkable how much the same subjects were on different people’s minds with regards to our congregation’s annual variety show.  There was our annual puppet show skit, with a husband and wife team, struggling with bad attitudes and feeling bad about having shown generosity without feeling generous minded about it.  There was my song, with its obvious context about wrestling with the legacy of my own tortured relationship with my father and with plenty of other people in my life for whom crumpled bits of paper filled with imperfect thoughts and stilted conversations is all I have from such relationships, and no amount of reflection or self-criticism is going to make any of that better without some sort of kind communication.  There were a couple of lovely piano solos from two of the young people who regularly attend my Sabbath School classes, one of which is technically a teenager according to our age ranges but feels very comfortable around younger children and not very confident at all with her peers, as sweet a child as she happens to be.  There was another skit that made fun of some people for being suckers and some beautiful singing from one of my friends who poked gentle fun at her job as a teacher’s aide.  There was a fairly usual banjo sit dealing with the threat of nuclear destruction as befits someone who spent a lot of time in the cold war, and there was a set of immensely talented sisters who closed our show with a touching duet about how people can be changed for good by knowing each other dedicated to our resident a capella choir director and banjo player, and sometime psychologist.  Life is complicated, and certainly the people I know are as complicated as I am myself, with so many different roles, so many clashing fears and longings, drives and ambitions, and so much heavy freight in my own life.  I can only hope that I am not as much a terror to others as they often are to me.

Of course, now that I am at home, minus a fair amount of blood from my nose, and trying to relax and go to bed reasonably early, what should happen but that there should be sirens of all kinds going on and on near where I live.  Who knows what it is for?  On a night like this nearly eleven years ago my father had a massive stroke while driving home from church at the age of 59.  Six weeks later, he was dead from a massive heart attack.  Whether someone’s death comes suddenly or takes place over a long time, we can only communicate with the living.  When someone is no longer alive, no matter how much we may reflect on our history of interactions with them, they will never be around, at least not this side of the judgment, to clear up the matters that could have been discussed.  Whatever apologies have to be made, whatever reconciliation there is to be made, whatever work is needed to overcome the awkwardness of our lives, we can only do it while we live and draw breath.  That time may not be as long as we might like.

[1] See, for example:

Book Review: Ambient Findability

What We Find Changes Who We Become

[2] See, for example:

To Remain Silent And Indifferent Is The Greatest Sin Of All

You Have The Right To Remain Silent, But Not The Ability

In Mother Russia, You Don’t Write Blogs, The Blogs Write You

Into A Void Of Silence

Beneath That Old Georgia Pine

A Simple Man With Simple Thoughts Will Turn To Force As A Last Recourse

The Ghost Of Conversations Past, Present, And Future

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