Book Review: Adamalui

Adamalui:  A Survivor’s Journey From Civil Wars In Africa To Life In America, by Joseph Kaifala

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Edelweiss/Turner Publishing.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

Despite our obvious differences in backgrounds, there was a lot here that I was able to relate to from this memoir in my own observation and experience:  the ubiquity of Peugeot cars in West Africa, the tension between temporary and permanence for refugees [1], the experience of graduating from an IB school, and the uncertainties of traveling to a new country when things go wrong.  Among the most appealing parts of this book is the author’s resourcefulness as well as his determination to rise out of the circumstances of his birth and childhood through education, as well as his critical and clear-eyed view of those around him, some of whom may not greatly appreciate their appearance in these pages.  That said, for those readers who are interested in a complex tale of a complicated situation about civil wars that affected three nations:  Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, in all of which the author had roots and experience living in, this is definitely a worthwhile and interesting book.

One thing that should be clear to readers of this book is that the author is not interested in telling a straightforward tale.  This is a strikingly personal narrative about education as a ticket out of a hopeless situation, and it does not attempt a sophisticated political analysis of the structural problems of the West African countries in which the author lived as a child whether it was home, a refugee camp, or staying with far-flung relatives in search of elusive security and stability.  The book skips around in its chronology, beginning with a discussion of the context of the author’s youth and the way that his family was scattered and full of complex backgrounds and then moving to a negative experience with the U.S. Embassy in Oslo where his initial attempts at getting a student visa were denied.  After that it jumps back and forth to look at the author’s varied experience as a child “war” prisoner, as a refugee, as an able student at one of Freetown’s elite public schools, and as a resourceful young man with a great deal of critical commentary to make about political leaders, family members who did not uphold their responsibilities or meet social expectations, as well as the trauma of war.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the author uses his own narrative as an appeal for the nations of the west to be more compassionate to other refugees and ends on a cliffhanger that leaves the door open for his memoir about life in the United States as a sequel.

How much you like this book will depend on a variety of factors.  For one, this book expresses a complex reality of life on the ground in West Africa and presents a remarkably human view of the horrors of the civil wars of the time.  The author is clear to differentiate between children caught up in circumstances beyond their control and ordinary people driven to arm themselves and defend themselves in the face of destruction and treachery among their armed forces and the leaders whose egos and petty rivalries were more blameworthy.  He also has a lot to say about the importance of social norms of hospitality as well as the resourcefulness of the ordinary people of West Africa in coping with their situation and the hopelessness of their situation that leads many people to despair of having any worthwhile life in their homelands, which leads the best and brightest among them, including the author, to seek a better life abroad so as to be able to support their families and fulfill their own aspirations of a better life.  The author’s complicated religious background combining Christianity and Islam as well as an awareness of the indigenous heathen religious traditions also adds some interest here.  Readers who are irritated by post-colonial approaches will probably find the author’s asides about African music and literature and the approach of negritude to be a bit tedious and tiresome, though, it should be noted.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: American Notes

American Notes, by Charles Dickens

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Net Gallery/Dover Publications.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

I must admit that I did not come to this book without some sort of expectation.  I have heard before that Charles Dickens [1] had written a fierce and harsh travel book about his time in the United States, but I did not find this book to deserve its fierce reputation.  To be sure, the author had some criticisms to make about the United States, especially concerning the horrors of slavery, the immense seriousness of our national character, and the low state of our press, and much of these remain problems to the present day, as race, our seriousness in partisan conflict and the sorry state of our press are still major issues in our republic.  The author, though, strikes me as a clear eyed observer whose thoughts on his travels are not too far from my own, and being a critical person myself I feel that it would be wrong to view someone whose approach to traveling and commenting on what he sees is so similar to my own approach [2].  Would I be less generous to the author if I was not a witty and experienced world traveler myself?  Probably, but this is the sort of book I would have written in his shoes, and I liked it a lot, unsurprisingly.

This volume of about 250 pages consists of the author’s exploration of the United States and Canada during the 1840’s.  His writing about his trip from the United Kingdom to the Halifax and then Boston sounds like it could have been written by a late-period Evelyn Waugh for its comic description of an ill person trying to pretend that they are not ill while on a boat.  His visit to Boston and Lowell expresses a lot of what interests him–discussions about religion, class (he is especially approving of the accomplishments of the young women of the Lowell factories), the care of prisoners and the disabled, as well as politics and the people he happens to meet.  His visits to Hartford, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Richmond and Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis, Kingston, Montreal, and Quebec are of the same note.  Throughout these pages we see the author make some trenchant comments against slavery, point out the horrible sameness of so many of the people he met, and comment on the poverty of the arts of conversation in what he witnessed.  He also had some critical things to say about the love of Americans even in the 19th century for long prison sentences that tended to prevent former criminals from ever coming to grips with society on the outside, something that remains no less relevant nowadays.

While the author did not find in America what he hoped or expected to see, he wrote as an honest and witty and observant traveler, and this book remains worthwhile because it still has something to say to Americans about ourselves, even if we may not be inclined to want to hear its message.  Far from dismissing this book as a libelous and abusive attack on the United States from someone who didn’t know what they were talking about, this is a book from someone who was insightful as well as critical.  He was a friend of what was then considered liberal sentiment, with a desire that ordinary working people would acquire high culture, a longing for an honest press that rose above the libelous–which sadly has not yet happened here–and a keen observation of the hypocrisies of slave owners and others who professed the right sentiments but had the wrong sort of behavior.  Above all Dickens, who himself had some experiences of the workhouse and of growing up in poverty, had a strong allergy to cant and to the bromides that he witnessed around him so much, the excuses that people make for not valuing the more noble arts of humanity or the better angels of our nature, and it is entirely understandable if his book on America was less positive than he or his readers hoped.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

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Why Aren’t They In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame: The Youngbloods

“Come on people now, smile on me brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now,” said the lyrics on the computer screen in St. Lucia as a gentleman spoke at the Feast of Tabernacles about different conceptions of love.  At the end of the song, I had misattributed the song to someone else and had to look up who actually did the song.  I knew that the band was really only famous for this song, but there was much more to the band than their hippie paean to universal love and brotherhood that hit the top 5 during the late 1960’s.  Are they worthy of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as an obvious one-hit wonder?  Much of that depends on how much you view the importance of their status as critical darlings and the way in which their work was clearly a part of its time and strongly embraced the hippie aesthetic.  Not everyone may be fond of that aesthetic [1], but it remains one that is culturally important and influential.  And it is that standard that we must judge a band by.  Why was there such a disconnect between the popularity of this band and their critical appeal as well as their understanding of influential cultural trends, which they happened to be a part of as musicians?

The Influence Of The Youngbloods

In discussing the influence of The Youngbloods, it is worthwhile to begin with their only hit, “Get Together,” which became popular as a theme of brotherhood between Jews and Christians in the late 1960’s.  The song itself, which had previously been released and not been a successful single (not even hitting the top 50 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart), struct a chord with an ecumenical group and then that sentiment struck a chord with the general public.  None of their other songs managed to strike the same chord with the general public, but that doesn’t mean they are lacking in influence either.  Let us discuss the case of “Darkness, Darkness,” a song released twice that never hit higher than #86 on the Billboard Hot 100 and yet has been covered more than a dozen times, one of which it became a hit single for Robert Plant (formerly of Led Zeppelin fame) on the Rock charts [2] and was reputedly a song that touched a nerve with soldiers in Vietnam for the way it captured how the nights in that horrible war felt.  Is this not influence, even if it is not exactly popularity?

Why The Youngbloods Deserve To Be In The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

The Youngbloods present an interesting and complicated case for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and a case for influence that is multi-faceted.  One of their producers, Charlie Daniels, went on to be a country superstar best known for his classic “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” and toured as part of a duo with one of the members of the Youngbloods early in his musical career [3].  The band itself released seven albums of original material and only one of them ever hit the top half of the Billboard Top 200 albums, and yet the band’s music has endured.  “Get Together” remains a classic of the hippie era, and the band even managed to make a hippie answer song to Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Musgokee” with “Hippie From Olema,” a song that didn’t chart but which demonstrates their awareness of the cultural war of which they were a part.  Besides their own originals, the band had great taste in gospel and blues songs which they covered as the b-sides to their generally unpopular but critically acclaimed singles.  Does inspiring other musicians and having the favor of tastemakers and critics overcome immense unpopularity?

Why The Youngbloods Aren’t In The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame

It’s fairly obvious why The Youngbloods aren’t yet in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  They were too popular to be liked by hipsters, because they had a hit and one that remains important, even if it was their only hit.  Yet they are far too unpopular to have a large and vocal group of people demanding their induction.  Yet their music–and not only their biggest hit–have had a massive cultural importance that continues to this day, the band was a major element of the hippie cultural war in their music and if Buffalo Springfield are worthy of induction for “For What It’s Worth,” then surely The Youngbloods deserve entry for their own career.

Verdict:  Put them in.  It’s not very often the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has an opportunity to put in another important late 60’s group.  These opportunities should be taken advantage of.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:,_Darkness


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Book Review: So Great A Love

So Great A Love, by Kristie Wilde

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

From time to time I review children’s books, although it is probably some of the more unusual writing I engage in [1], and it never ceases to amaze me the sort of effort that goes into providing education through texts to children.  Because one tends to associate children with people who need to be taught, just about any writing that is directed to youth is assumed to contain some kind of pedagogical purpose, whether it is intentional or not.  This book at least manages to makes its purpose plain and it serves as an effort in reminding or informing children of the love that their Father in heaven has for them.  As might be imagined, this is a subject of some poignancy for us, as it is easiest for children to understand our Father’s love for us if we have the love and affection of our earthly fathers, something that is far too often not the case for young children in our contemporary society.  In fact, this is the sort of book that would be best read by a father to his child who is sitting on his lap.

The contents of the book are, as one might expect, very straightforward but no less worthwhile for that.  Most of the pages of the book consist of short and simple sentences that express the breadth and depth of God’s love by making some sort of use of a metaphor related to creation.  This makes sense given that the book is part of the author’s “Joyful Creation Series,” which from this book at least looks like an immensely enjoyable collection of books with biblical quotations and gorgeous photos.  Most of the expressions of God’s love in this book are taken directly from scripture, like Jesus’ statement that he wished to gather the people of Jerusalem up like little chickens in His wings, but they were not willing, and the artwork here is really superb, whether the illustrations are of a mother and baby koala bear or of camels frolicking in the desert, or of young birds being shielded from the crashing waves and fierce storms in a high aerie.  The end of the book contains the author making direct reference to a variety of scriptures that express God’s love in its various dimensions, likely as a way of informing the reader that the words of the book are not merely her own words but God’s words.

To be sure, this book is not the last word of God’s love.  The issue of theodicy, and the need for us to justify God’s love in the face of the storms and trials of life, require books far longer and far more complex than this one to deal with the subject in its totality.  That said, this certainly does make an excellent first book on God’s love, one that is best read in the context of a loving and intact family.  It is one thing to teach the truths of God in writing, but we humans are best suited to learn when the context reinforces the message that is being sent.  Being a part of a loving and whole family is what is implied by the references to so many loving animal families which serve as metaphors for the love of God for us.  The clear and distinct message of this book is best served by the animal families being reinforced by loving human families which all serve to educate and encourage a child about the love of the family of God.  This book certainly encourages the reader to look into this series more for both the quality of the artwork as well as the quality of the message of the book.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: How To Tame Dragons And Hush Hyenas

How To Tame Dragons And Hush Hyenas, by Kerry Orchard, illustrated by Roberto Gonzalez

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Author’s Den/Burroughs Manor Press.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

Although I have no children (yet) of my own, from time to time I review children’s books and have often found the books to be very enjoyable [1].  This book is a rare case where a book is of more personal relevance to me, especially because the publisher of these books focuses on books relating to mental health issues for children.  Given that I was diagnosed with PTSD as a small child myself, mental health issues as they relate to children is a cause I feel particularly passionate about, and it was nice to know that this was an interest of the publisher’s and the author’s after having requested the book.  As this is one of three books by the author that I see available so far, I expect to read my way through the other two as soon as I am able to do so.  This is not a book that should be challenging to most readers, although its vivid vocabulary and striking visuals should make it a favorite for children who may not fully understand the point it is making.

That said, this is a book whose content has a definite purpose.  The story is one of an elementary school child who is having a very bad day.  His bad day manifests itself in two breakdowns that are described with immensely vivid descriptions.  His first meltdown causes a half a dozen hyenas to rampage in the classroom, after which he is able to calm down, and the second meltdown leads to nine fiery dragons causing havoc everywhere.  The wise reader, of course, will know that young Jeremy of the uncontrollable volcanic rage is responsible for the damage caused by the hyenas and dragons, but children who are learning how to control their anger will likely appreciate the personification of that anger as a wild beast and not themselves.  Even the little details of the book, like the four zones shown on a chalkboard in the classroom, provide worthwhile food for thought for those reading the book, encouraging readers to monitor their own emotional state and to take action accordingly, depending on whether they are feeling sad or angry, or various other emotions.

Ultimately, this book has a clear goal in mind in encouraging children to take responsibility for controlling their emotions.  Developing empathy and having some useful tactics to managing irritation and frustration are certainly worthwhile and beneficial, and this book manages to instruct while also entertaining.  This is educational literature that definitely goes down easily.  Some children wear trouble like a t-shirt, it seems, and this is a book that is written for such children.  It is all the more remarkable for its restraint in not blaming the uncontrollable rage on outside factors or allowing for a victim mentality–perhaps a victim of genes or environment–but rather encouraging the reader to take responsibility for their own anger and to learn impulse control as a part of growth and maturity.  This sort of approach is a winning one, and is done in such a way that it serves morally and educationally worthwhile ends while also being written and illustrated in such a winsome and enjoyable way as to entertain the very people who are being educated by it.  This book certainly has a lot to offer as a model for an educational approach that understands that teaching personal responsibility need not seem boring or off-putting.

[1] See, for example:

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He And All His Family Were Baptized

In my previous discussion [1] to answer the complicated set of questions I received recently from a reader [2], I discussed how it was that men served as representatives of their families during ancient Israel, and how this responsibility included instructing their wives and families about God’s laws if the family was unable to travel to the pilgrimage feasts in toto.  I commented as that entry was closed that there was a New Testament equivalent to this representation by heads of household, and noted as well that this applied to both men and women, although we read of it happening more often to men.  With that in mind, I wish to place the following verses and passages before your eyes as our texts for this current discussion in order to provide the fitting parallel to the circumcision of all of the males in the household that served as the way that people became a part of the covenant people during the times of ancient Israel:

Acts 11:44-48:  “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.  And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.  For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.  Then Peter answered, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”  And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.

Acts 16:14-15:  “Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.  And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.”

Acts 16:27-34:  “And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself.  But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”  Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.  And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.  And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized.  Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.”

Acts 18:8:  “Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.”

While more scriptures could be found, these demonstrate that when the head of the household was baptized during biblical times, this statement of belief meant that their entire family came under the authority of the Church of God.  In contrast, when those who were not heads of household were converted, they were converted for themselves and for their children, but not for the unconverted spouse, as we see in 1 Corinthians 7:13-15:  “And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him.  For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.  But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace.”  In contrast to the way that the Old Testament view of representation, the New Testament view appears more egalitarian, as the passages discussed would indicate.  While circumcision was a sign for the men of the household, both men and women are baptized, and the language of Paul and Luke cited above is far more egalitarian in nature.

Yet we note that there is still representation here.  The influence of God on a family still depends on the first person having contact with godly people who bring the message of salvation, and acceptance of that invitation then leads to God having a role in the lives of their households and their families.  It is not my intention at this time to note the implications of these passages when viewed together on such questions as to who was included in the whole households that were baptized in terms of their ages, but at least some of the writers I have encountered, especially in the Calvinist tradition, have noted that this belief in representation has meant that it is acceptable both for children to take a part of the bread and wine as well as the elderly with dementia who have lost their sense of reason because they are represented by believers who are of sound mind.  I leave that question for others to wrangle over at this time.  Nevertheless, it is clear that the pattern of whole household baptisms when the head of household, whether male or female, is converted is an indication that the Church of God just like the Old Testament laws had a belief in representation where the head of the household was responsible for the spiritual state of the whole household, and when that person submitted to God, their authority over the household meant that the whole household was subject to the authority of God as a little pocket of His Kingdom on earth.  How many people live according to this practice today within the Church of God?



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Book Review: Armada

Armada, by Ernest Cline

After reading the author’s first book [1], one of my coworkers loaned this book to me and has been bugging me since then just about every day if I have read it yet until I finally got around to reading it.  I thought it was a good book, and wouldn’t be surprised if a movie is made out of it someday, assuming that the author’s previous adaptation is a success.  When I was in high school I wrote one of my college essays based on a book about alien encounters that is similar to this, where the plot boils around the ability of humankind to successfully pass a test in order to avoid total annihilation, with the test itself not being one that is military in nature but rather one that is based on maturity and the capacity for unity and moral restraint.  As someone who reads way more than my fair share of books relating to aliens [2], I find that there are a great deal of similarities between them and I think that it would be worthwhile explaining them in some detail, even if it makes this a somewhat unusual review.

For the second straight time, this atheistic writer whose protagonists are not necessarily god fearing people either has constructed a novel that points unmistakably at intelligent design.  A lot of this is because of the author’s abiding interest in early video games, which are a hallmark of intelligent design.  The author’s interest in worldbuilding unsurprisingly leads him to imitate God, even though he claims not to believe.  This is all the more relevant because alien stories are themselves a way that a rebellious humankind attempts to deal with the unpleasant reality of God’s rule over earth and the fact that He may come to reclaim His territory at any time He chooses.  Alien stories sometimes show the powerful invaders to have some sort of hidden vulnerability that allows an embattled humanity to prevail, and sometimes the plot is based around the powerful aliens merely testing humanity, thus being capable of emotional or diplomatic appeals.  Of course, the response of God to the efforts of humankind to resist His rule will not be according to either of these plans.  Only unconditional surrender will be accepted.  Unfortunately, writers of alien stories do not seem to view this as an acceptable plot.

The book itself is, as you might have guessed, a novel about an alien encounter.  In particular, the novel has the premise that certain video games were training by the world’s militaries for an upcoming war with aliens.  The main character, a young man with an anger management issue and a high degree of skill in a game known as Armada, is invited as part of an elite team to save the world from alien invasion, but the patterns he notices and his meeting up with his long-lost father convince him that the war is a setup and that another way is possible.  Without spoiling the ending or too many of the twists, this novel is an example of a writer working within a comfort zone–lots of 80’s video game and music references, a focus on areas the author is familiar with like the Portland area, specifically Beaverton here, and a praise of cleverness over brute force, an acceptable romantic subplot, and a certain degree of hostility towards authority and the chain of command.  To be sure, this novel is not as good as the author’s previous work, but it’s still a solid novel and there is much to enjoy here.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

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Book Review: The High Climber Of Dark Water Bay

The High Climber Of Dark Water Bay, by Caroline Arden

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Edelweiss/Ingram Publisher Services.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

How far would you be willing to go to be wanted and needed?  Would you be willing to travel to the remote wilderness of British Columbia where the boss is a corrupt man who plans on holding you for ransom or subjecting you to death or serious injury as part of the accidents of the job?  Would you be willing to take on death-defying jobs like climbing to the top of tall trees to recover logging equipment?  How far would you go and what would you be willing to do?  This book, a modest sized literary novel aimed at young women, is set in the time of the Great Depression with a spirited orphan [1] named Lizzie at its center, asks that question insistently and the answers it provides are more than a little bit disturbing.  Those who have sensitivities about vulnerable children being left in the company of loggers will likely find plenty to keep one up late.

The story itself is told well, setting the stage where the main character struggles with poverty and feeling unwanted by her relatives after the death of parents, her father by suicide.  While struggling to find a place in the world she receives an invitation to serve as the governess to her nephews in the forests north of Vancouver, and finds herself a bit out of place, struggling to be safe and to be respected by others.  Through her bravery and tenacity and a certain degree of skill in climbing trees she manages to earn the respect of her fellow loggers and a certain degree of safety in an unsafe place because of the protective instincts of the better sort of man there.  This is historical fiction of a kind that presents a heroic but dangerous life of adventure as possible for young women and will likely be a popular one for those girls who want to find in history plausible inspiration from girls who bucked tradition and were able to make a path for themselves in a world that was often cruel and unkind–and Lizzie’s life certainly qualifies as that.

There are at least a few deeper areas of this book that are worthy of thought and reflection.  Lizzie is a sharp enough girl whose wits and pluck and native charisma earn her a lot of goodwill.  Her duel of wits with the corrupt boss of the logging camp has all of the markings of the battles between predators and prey throughout history, where predators seek to use their power to get their way while those who are weak form alliances with others, are hypervigilant while appearing to be harmless and inoffensive, and are resourceful and frequently dishonest.  This is a book about adults who put children in harm’s way in order to earn some money or to be seen as a patron, and of children willing to go into harm’s way in order to feel themselves necessary to someone, anyone at all.  The book has some overtones of a certain mutual fondness between Lizzie and one of the loggers there named Freddie which has romantic overtones, and is something which could be viewed as troubling, although the author handles it very gently and while avoiding any hint of physical intimacy.  Still, this is a novel about a vulnerable and somewhat superfluous girl in danger who manages to cope and come up with some savvy survival strategies and ends up appreciating and enjoying the danger and finding the more conventional life others want for her to be a bit boring.  There is both promise and matters of concern to be found here for contemporary young women and their parents.

[1] The history of lovable and spirited orphans in children’s literature is a long and noble one.  See, for example:

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Exodus 23:17: Three Times A Year All Your Males Shall Appear Before The Lord God

In trying to untangle the lengthy questions I received a few days ago from a reader [1], I would like to tackle one of the verses she alluded to, which happens to have been given first in Exodus 23:17 and then expanded on in a much more familiar verse, Deuteronomy 16:16.  As is my custom in cases like this, I will post the verses and then comment on them at some length.  The expression of interest here in this present discussion, of course, is “all your males.”  It should be noted at the outset that this is not usually the context of these verses when they are discussed, but given that it is the gendered question of what God was doing here that is important, we will begin here as a way of introducing the larger topic of representation in the Bible, which we will examine in the near future if time permits.  With that introduction, let us proceed to the verses in question.

Exodus 23:14-17 reads:  “Three times you shall keep a feast to Me in the year:  You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt; none shall appear before Me empty); and the Feast of Harvest, the firstfruits of your labors which you have sown in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you have gathered in the fruit of your labors from the field.  Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God.”  We see this command repeated in Deuteronomy 16:16:  “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles; and they shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed.”  It should be noted that these two verses are the only times where the expression “all your males” is used.  It would be more convenient, of course, if the expression were more common, but as it is there are enough common elements to see a context.

If we expand the expression to include the expression for “every male,” we will see that there were two contexts in addition to this.  Several verses (starting with Genesis 17:10) discuss the obligation that every male among the Israelites was to be circumcised.  Later, starting with Numbers 1:2, we see that censuses were to be taken of every male above the age of 20, or at military age according to the view of the Bible.  Moreover, each of these citizens was assessed an equal tax as a way of demonstrating their equality before God [2].  In looking at the passages that deal with every male, there are a few connections that jump out.  For one, these factors are all related to the responsibilities of men in ancient Israel:  mandatory attendance at the pilgrimage feasts, payment of taxation and being potentially part of the armed forces.  The absence of women from these concerns does not appear to have been viewed as a way that men were superior, but rather appear as a way in which men served as the representatives of their families in the business of church and state at the time.  We will later show how this view of representation by heads of household continued in the New Testament with baptism instead of circumcision as the mark of the covenant, and we will see that women who were heads of household were considered as equal with men in this regard, even if the Bible considers female heads of household to be a rarer phenomenon.

Even so, the command for all the males to be represented was not a slight against women as it was a concession to poverty.  While it is to be expected that if possible, all people would be able to assemble before God together, it was absolutely essential for there to be at least one representative from the family, namely the head of household, who was to instruct the rest of the family upon his return if they were unable to join him.  In practice, in those few times we have a record of holy days being observed we have families showing up, such as the family of the Korahite Elkanah to Shiloh during the  days of Eli the high priest.  While there might be some reason why it would be a burden, especially for a family from a far flung area of Israel, for everyone in the family to go to where the Lord had put His name, there was no excuse for the entire family to be absent.

It should be noted that like taxation and military service, this too presented the men with a responsibility rather than necessarily authority.  In cases where only the male head of household went to a pilgrimage feast, it would be his responsibility to convey the instruction gained there to his whole family so that they would all be in obedience to God’s ways as revealed through priests and prophets.  This might seem to be a jarring task to men who might seldom speak two words that were not grunting or some sort of request to their womenfolk in contemporary times, but this same expectation that men would be able to inform their wives and children about messages is certainly relevant in our own time, especially if women have to miss messages because they are taking care of small children.  Making sure that at least one member of the family is paying attention to what is said in church and takes their responsibilities as a representative of the family before God seriously in communicating what is heard and learned to the rest of the family is a responsibility that remains even if our society is structured differently than ancient Israel was.  While we may see this law and its application as something that is in the past, the principle of representation still applies in the Bible and it has an important part in the way that conversion and baptism are to take place, and it is to that issue that we will turn next.


[2] See, for example:

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Book Review: The Dark Night Of The Soul

The Dark Night Of The Soul, by St. John of The Cross

In reading this book I find myself of somewhat mixed emotions.  On the one hand, I found a great deal in this book that represented defective Hellenistic Christianity, from unbiblical beliefs in Purgatory and a hostility to the physical world that comes from the authoritarian gnosticism of which he was a part to a love of praising the traditions and ways of the Catholic Church.  On the other hand, even given these flaws this book had much to offer it, not least because it offers a decisive rejection of the lassiez faire ways of contemporary ragamuffins concerning the role of trials.  All too often contemporary gnostics who call themselves believers are of the belief that the difficulties of life are a sign that God has rejected them rather than a sign that their character needs to be refined.  And this book, thankfully, makes that distinction clear, that times of absence and barrenness in life are a sign of God’s working with us to purify us and are not a sign of God’s rejection of us, which is a worthwhile thing to those of us who are all too familiar with our own dark nights of the soul [1].

In general, this book is a short commentary on a poem from the author himself that seek to convince and encourage those whom the author instructed during his time as a priest and a leader within a religious Order in 16th century Spain.  His own life, from his childhood poverty to the political disputes that troubled his adult life within his religious order which included a painfully unpleasant experience in prison, was sufficiently dramatic and sufficiently full of trouble to make it easy to understand his interest in the refining aspect of trials.  The author provides homilies on his own poetic text as if it was the sort of text that one could sermonize from, and occasionally (although sometimes erroneously or speculatively) makes reference to the Bible to support his points.  His book begins with a discussion of the various imperfections of the soul and then discusses the lengthy process of the purification of the soul, going into detail about the sort of pain that one suffers in the dark night of the soul, which he only begins talking about at the beginning of book two.  Included in this are a discussion of the secretive and personal nature of mysticism and the superiority of the spirit to the flesh, which at times moves from the biblical position to the position of the philosophical Greeks.  At one point a discussion of angelology appears to represent a belief that the angelic realm tends to act as a sort of pleroma between God and mankind of descending virtue and spirituality.

Despite the book’s flaws, though, it is easy to understand why this book remains appreciated by so many and remains a worthwhile encouragement during difficult times of spiritual refining, which, as the author maintains, can last for years.  As someone who has known lengthy dark nights of my own soul, from which I emerged a different person than I was before, the author’s experience speaks to my own.  In our contemporary age, as well as the age in which the author lived and wrote, there have been many false ministers preaching doctrines of prosperity which flattered the wealthy and corrupt of the time, and made it seem as if enduring difficult times was a sign of God’s particular disfavor rather than the natural process of God refining and purifying imperfect human beings to be a part of his family.  This denigration of that refining process in popular religious culture has often led those for whom life is difficult and unpleasant to despair, and has been accordingly a tool of Satan.  This book gives thoughtful encouragement to those whose spiritual lives are filled with a great deal of longing and not nearly the amount of pleasure that most people seem to find in existence and that is sufficient to make this a worthwhile book to read and appreciate even today.

[1] See, for example:

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