I Didn’t Expect To See You Here

I am thoroughly convinced that people think I live a far more interesting life than I do.  For example, one recent Sabbath I remember listening to some dark comments from a speaker concerning people whose wild and crazy dating life supposedly prevents them from settling down with a nice girl.  Being one of the few single people listening to that particular comment, I wondered if it was directed at me, since it would be singularly inappropriate to consider that part of my life to be particularly wild and crazy in the least.  Even those times I enjoy something approaching a date, which are sadly all too few and far between, they have been with decent and honorable women and nothing particularly wild or crazy has happened.  If I return home late at night, it is not from doing something crazier than reading and/or writing at a restaurant for a while [1].  One time, as a teenager, I got grounded for six weeks as a result of spending a couple of hours chatting with a few other young people at a Denny’s after a church dance and then driving home after a curfiew, and that particular evening stands as one of the most conspicuous examples of teenage “rebellion” during my youth.  A private investigator tailing me in order to gather information about my goings and doings would be bored out of his or her mind before very long.

Nevertheless, there are times where I find people where I do not particularly expect to.  For example, I once ran into a fellow member of my church while I was doing a bit of writing on a Friday afternoon at the library.  Truth be told, she seemed a bit more surprised than should have been the case.  If there is any place you should expect to find me, it is a library.  No one should be surprised to see me in a place where there are books, and yet that would appear to be the case.  I have also been seen in unexpected places at restaurants, which is another place where you should expect to see me.  My love of social reading, where even when I am alone, which is a vast majority of the time I go out to eat, means that I find myself in restaurants for long hours reading books and occasionally chatting with the people who are around me.  Given that I know many people in the area, and that I tend to be a creature of habit about where I most enjoy eating, it should not be a surprise to find me enjoying some hours of scholarly solitude from time to time, trying to still the grumbles in my stomach after a long day of work and trying to quiet the voices in my head through having a conversation with a (hopefully) good book.

While most of the time my presence seems to surprise other people, I tend to feel an equal sense of surprise in such circumstances.  After all, if I feel people should expect to see me in restaurants and libraries, I am often surprised to see anyone else there.  I know I am a reader and feel that this fact should be fairly obvious to others, if they read anything that I have to say.  Likewise, I write fairly often about my eating habits and love of music and think that few people should be in any doubt as to the fairly tranquil bounds of my wanderings.  Even when I do something unusual, I am driving to a quiet beach to spend time with friends or to a garden or fortress or something equally easy to understand and free of dishonor and shame.  If I am not always easy to put into simple boxes, I do live my life within certain boundaries and tend to find it more than a little off-putting that people seem to think that my life is more dark than it is, as if I had given them any reason to think of me as someone whose behavior would be the sort of thing one would have to be ashamed of.

Yet I know that all too easily I can put other people into boxes as well.  This happens especially when it comes to books and music, where I interact with people more often than in any other context.  For example, this morning at work I was listening to an adult alternative station that focused on singer-songwriters.  I had a certain group of people I expected to see in this particular box of music and for the most part I was not disappointed–Elliott Smith, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, Ashley Monroe, Elvis Costello, and artists of that kind.  Although I was not familiar with all of the songs, or even all of the groups, most of them were at least more or less where I expected them to be.  I was, however, very surprised to listen to Mariah Carey’s “Dreamlover” in that context, though.  This is not a bad thing by any means, I happen to like the song and have a general fondness for her music and singing.  I just did not expect to see it in that context.  I suppose as deeply concerned about being put into the wrong boxes and the wrong categories by others as I am, perhaps I would do well to remember that I have the same tendency to classify people a bit too easily and not always accurately.  Alas, I am all too human after all, complaining of what others do to me when I do the same to others.  The problem of double standards is something we must all struggle with, for none of us is immune from various forms of what we would label in others as hypocrisy.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/11/16/look-left-look-right-to-the-moon-in-the-night/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/05/01/geeks-night-out/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/04/08/fashionably-late/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/04/04/it-was-a-long-night-for-everyone/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/03/01/night-of-the-iguana/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/10/12/you-can-drive-all-night-looking-for-answers-in-the-pouring-rain/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/11/09/dark-night-of-the-soul/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/09/11/summer-night-air/

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Book Review: The Marriage Of Figaro

The Marriage Of Figaro, by Pierre Agustin Caron de Beaumarchais, translated and adapted by Bernard Sahlins

The sequel to Beaumarchais’ excellent The Barber Of Seville [1], this play takes place after Figaro’s efforts to assist Count Almaviva in winning the hand of his wife, where Figaro himself looks to wed the passionate Suzanna.  Yet there are obstacles in the behavior of the Count and in the machinations of others.  Again, as before, Beaumarchais has created a compelling and uproarious drama out of the problems of people in finding suitable wives, a problem I am very familiar with personally, and the delays of what should be a fairly obvious and straightforward process make this play a particularly worthwhile one, even if it hits a bit close to home as Figaro is a particularly Nathanish character in his wit, impecunious state, and general fondness for trouble, a quality shared with the turbulent playwright.  As is the case in many plays [2], one’s enjoyment of this play depends a lot on how one sympathizes with the characters, as the plot is fairly madcap and a great deal of stress is placed on the nature of the different characters involved in this romantic comedy.

Like its predecessor, this play is a five act comedy that fulfills the expectation among cultured audiences for unity, as the action takes place in the same place over the course of a day.  The action of the play consists on various interactions where there are people pretending to be others for bed tricks, where there is a joke about the custom of droit de seigneur, which was abolished as part of the promises made to the Countess (Rosine from the previous play) by the previously besotted count, who is now an unfaithful husband who has lost any interest in his wife now that they are married.  In the end, as expected, true love prevails, but as one might also expect, there is a lot of unsettling business that is dealt with here, and the play thoughtfully explores the problems of double standards and the use of wit and subterfuge as the means of resistance on the part of those who lack formal power, such as Figaro, the entertaining and longsuffering page Cherubin, and the females of the plot.  There are some unexpected twists, which is not too surprising, and as long as you don’t think too hard about the play you are likely to find it an enjoyable farce.

For those who do take the time to think a bit about the action of the play, there is a disturbingly relevant set of thorny issues that make this play less enjoyable than it ought to be.  For one, there is a strong tension in the play between the way that marriage is viewed in a strongly negative fashion while also being something that is sought after by the characters involved.  The tendency to hope against hope that the marriage of Figaro will be different from the many unhappy marriages and potential marriages portrayed is undercut by the consistency of the misery of so many characters.  Likewise, the play deals with the reality of the crushing burdens of debt as well as the injustice of the justice system in ways that would likely not comfort many contemporary audiences with similar concerns.  This is the sort of play that one laughs at, but if one thinks about it even a little bit deeper from the surface level, one feels a great sense of unease about the level of trouble and difficulty and unhappiness at all levels of a society.  Just as this play was a subtle warning about coming trouble to ancien regime France, so too this play portends the sort of trouble our own society is in.  Will we be able to avoid the flood that swept over France not long after this play premiered?

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/05/26/book-review-the-barber-of-seville/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/09/book-review-the-playwrights-handbook/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/12/01/book-review-creative-writing-masterclass-writing-plays/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/12/01/book-review-fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them-the-original-screenplay/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/03/20/book-review-eight-plays/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/02/06/book-review-the-new-art-of-writing-plays/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/11/book-review-no-exit-the-flies/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/11/book-review-blood-wedding/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/11/book-review-present-laughter/

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Book Review: The Barber Of Seville

The Barber Of Seville, by Pierre Agustin Caron de Beaumarchais, translated and adapted by Bernard Sahlins

Although before today I had never read any material by Beaumarchais, it is perhaps a bit predictable that I would find him and his chief character, Figaro, to be more than a little bit Nathanish.  It ought not to be a surprise at this point that such a worthwhile farce, with acting directions that include playing the farcical elements with a straight face and with a maximum amount of irony, would be written by someone who enjoyed fantastic swings of reputation in his own life and who was almost impossibly interested in a wide variety of fields.  Among the more remarkable achievements of this remarkable play [1] is the way that it manages to transcend its origins in late ancien regime French drama and be the sort of work that can be enjoyed and appreciated by contemporary audiences with minimal changes.  The same things that made this play alarming to aristocratic and royal French audiences make this play refreshing and enjoyable to more egalitarian but still cultured contemporary audiences, and the play has long been a part of the established canon of plays.

In terms of its materials, this book is pretty short at about 80 pages or so of dramatic material.  The translator has included some material about how the play was received originally, with a long period of being banned and a disastrous first impression that was changed by a quick rewrite after its premiere.  Whatever had to be rewritten, the play has stood the test of time.  In terms of its action, this is a romantic comedy in five acts, where Figaro, the titular barber, uses his wits and cleverness to help the count court a young lady who is about to be pressured into marriage with the vastly older physician who holds her wardship.  The action is somewhat madcap but manages to preserve the expected unities, taking place over the course of a single day in a single location, in and around the house that Figaro rents from the aged Bartholo.  The plot is not a particularly unique one, but all the same it works here in large part thanks to the appealing nature of Figaro as a clever and irreverent mastermind overcoming the strength of his social superiors through his wiles.  Figaro is a worthwhile underdog, and as such has managed to amass a great deal of sympathy since this play’s creation, even given the unoriginality of the plot.

The extent to which you appreciate this play will depend largely on how sympathetic of a character you find Figaro to be.  There are a few other characters who make a large impression–Rosine is an appealing young woman striving to escape the threat of an intolerable marriage, and Count Almaviva is a suitably passionate lover.  The cast is small and the action is pretty madcap and there is some humorous dialogue, including one painful and lengthy discourse on the efficacy of slander.  This is a play that rewards both those who will laugh at the wit of the dialogue and enjoy the frenzied activity of the action, but at the same time it is one that rewards diligent study on a deeper level, although the pleasures of deeper study are mixed as well with a bit of gloomy reflection on the cynicism of the play’s moral universe.  The audiences who viewed this play with some sense of alarm were right to be concerned, but this play can be enjoyed even if one has some questions about the decency of the playwright.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/09/book-review-the-playwrights-handbook/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/12/01/book-review-creative-writing-masterclass-writing-plays/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/12/01/book-review-fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them-the-original-screenplay/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/03/20/book-review-eight-plays/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/02/06/book-review-the-new-art-of-writing-plays/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/11/book-review-no-exit-the-flies/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/11/book-review-blood-wedding/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/11/book-review-present-laughter/

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We’ll Leave The Light On For You

I remember that night well.  Responsibilities at church in both St. Pete and Tampa had kept me in town during the Sabbath, and I had to work Monday morning early, but family is family and I wanted to see the wedding of one of my cousins slightly north of Macon, Georgia.  Being a person of great persistence but limited imagination, I only saw one solution, and that was to give some relatively quick farewells and drive up on Saturday night to Georgia, which took about eight hours to do including a stop to eat dinner and fill the gas tank near Lake City.  By the time I arrived at my destination, it was past midnight.  I slept on the couch, went to the morning rehearsal and the afternoon wedding the next day, and then I returned home to arrive around midnight to sleep a few hours of fitful sleep and then go to work on Monday morning.  Strictly speaking, it may not have been the most sane thing to do–driving sixteen hours on a weekend is not something most people would find particularly enjoyable, but it did remind me that the willingness to make sacrifices of time for family can influence someone to leave the light on for you even where that may not otherwise be assumed to be the case.

As someone who has traveled a fair amount in my life, it should make sense that I think of inns and hotels a fair bit [1].  I have had many experiences staying in hotels, visiting hostels for conferences or church services, or taking advantage of the restaurants within them or attached to them.  I have even, on one occasion, gone to a concert in a hotel.  To be sure, hotels are places where one can sleep away from home, but they are also a great deal more than that.  Hotels are a sign of civilization, as their existence means that there are enough people who congregate at a point that they need lodging, and usually means that there is something worth seeing.  Perhaps the quirkiest place I can remember staying over the course of my travels is the area known affectionate as South of the Border, just on the South Carolina boundary of the state line with North Carolina.  Once my father and brother and I failed to stop here and were unable to find another hotel until Raleigh after a long trip, and our stays at South of the Border were full of odd vibrating beds and a delightfully kitsch atmosphere, which is quite fine by me.

It is not only hotels that leave the light on but also houses.  As I mentioned earlier, it was a pleasing sight for me to see the light on at the home of my aunt and uncle as I arrived particularly bleary-eyed that Saturday night as I arrived for the wedding of my cousin.  I have even left the light on for others.  Just last night, for example, I arrived home to see that my roommate was away somewhere, who knows where, and being at least a bit concerned about his well-being I left the light on for him.  When I woke up bleary-eyed this morning, I found that the light was still on and his car was still gone, and so I turned the light off and got ready for work.  Sometimes just like a lonely hotel with a vacancy sign, we leave the light on and no one bothers to come.  Having a light on is merely a sign that one is waiting and hoping for someone to arrive.  Whether or not they do is not always a matter that is in our hands.  We have to do the best we can without certainty, at times.

How do we deal with that uncertainty?  Do we only leave the light on when we are certain that someone will come?  Do we never leave the light on at all for fear that at some times we may appear to be somewhat foolish or wasteful leaving the light on all night, as happens when we may fall asleep with the light on, as happens to many of us who are insomniacs from time to time who simply do not know well when we will fall asleep at last and seek to take advantage of as much waking time as possible?  Or do we simply try to make the best of it, knowing at times that the light we leave on will be a welcome sight for some people sometimes, and knowing that at sometimes we will shine our light for ourselves alone because there will not be anyone else around who cares about it?  That choice is ours to make, and we bear responsibility alone for it.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/10/16/hotel-review-oldhouse-hostel-tallinn-estonia/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/02/08/you-look-so-triumphant-lying-there-in-your-hotel-king-sized-bed/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/12/30/book-review-tropical-family-vacations/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/11/17/book-review-a-short-time-to-stay-here/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/10/27/back-in-the-u-s-s-r/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/10/26/a-review-of-the-2016-feast-of-tabernacles-in-kuressaare-estonia/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/10/15/the-calf-who-didnt-want-to-be-born/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/07/23/night-drive-across-the-cascades/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/07/04/a-trip-to-crater-lake/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/01/06/dont-mess-with-the-crazy/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/09/12/no-room-at-the-inn-the-economies-of-scale-of-travel-housing/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/04/08/fashionably-late/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/06/09/you-get-what-you-pay-for/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2012/04/01/a-naturalistic-observation-of-chiang-rai/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/12/08/into-the-refugee-camps/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/10/22/reflections-on-the-feast-of-tabernacles-2011-in-khun-yuam-thailand/

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Book Review: Devotions For A Sacred Marriage

Devotions For A Sacred Marriage:  A Year Of Weekly Devotions For Couples, by Gary L. Thomas

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

It is frequently my lot to read devotionals [1], and frequently it is the case that the devotional genre encourages superficial bromides with scriptures taken out of context.  That is not a problem for this book, which manages to follow a fairly conventional 52-chapter structure but that hits hard even with its conventional structure.  Like many devotionals, it begins with scripture and includes a great deal of personal discussion, but it rises above its peers in presenting its target audience of readers–Christian spouses struggling with their own and their spouse’s flawed and fallen human natures–with a forthright and uncompromising challenge.  To be sure, as an unmarried gentleman I am not the ideal audience for this book, but all the same, this book crystallizes many of my own concerns with spiritual growth that inform my own thoughts about marriage as a whole as well as the particular marriages and their ruins I observe on a regular basis in my own complicated life.

Over and over again the author uses his own personal experience and his own struggles to love and appreciate his wife and to be a godly husband as a way to encourage the reader to use their marital struggles as a mirror with which to examine their own personal shortcomings and areas for growth, and as reminders that their motivation to love and honor and encourage their spouses has fallen to unacceptable levels.  Consistently, the discussion of the author is evenhanded, showing how it is our tendency to be hypocritical and excuse ourselves of our own failings while condemning others for theirs.  To be sure, this is not a tendency known only by married people–I recognize and struggle against this same tendency within myself–but marriage is a particularly fruitful field for painful and unpleasant spiritual development.  The author manages the difficult task of both pointing out the extreme seriousness and immense difficulty of marriage as well as the expectation that it will generally be the state of adult believers who are being sculpted and refined into the image and likeness of God, a process that comes with a great deal of pain and unpleasant reminders of how far we have to go along in that process.

Whether or not the reader appreciates this book and its approach will depend on the extent to which he or she is willing to engage in the painful but profitable task of self-reflection and repentance.  This book is a hard sell, a mirror into the dark and corrupt heart of people who regularly engage in justification and selectively harsh condemnation, namely ourselves.  Yet the best books, and the most worthwhile books, to Christian audiences are not those books that pander to our nature but those which challenge us to engage in the reflection that leads us to repent of our corrupt ways and seek to follow God’s ways, not only in terms of our moral conduct towards God but also our graciousness and mercy towards those sinners we happen to be married to, if we are fortunate enough to be in that challenging state.  I found this book to be a profitable if painful read that cost me a fair bit of sleep after finishing it, and that will likely be the experience for many others.  Even so, as the author points out consistently, holiness is a higher goal than happiness, and ultimate happiness can only be found in holiness, a reminder that all of us would do well to remember and apply in our own lives, as difficult as that may be.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/04/10/book-review-a-spoonful-of-grace/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/10/19/book-review-jesus-a-365-day-devotional/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/12/28/book-review-leadership-promises-for-every-day/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/12/20/book-review-a-spectacle-of-glory/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/12/15/book-review-take-time-to-be-holy/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/09/04/book-review-with-all-due-respect/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/09/03/book-review-25000-mornings/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/08/28/book-review-gratitude/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/08/10/book-review-grieving-the-loss-of-a-loved-one/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/06/08/book-review-henri-nouwen-a-book-of-hours/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/book-review-imitation-of-christ/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/27/book-review-living-a-mighty-faith/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/01/31/book-review-if-my-people/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/01/22/book-review-grieving-the-child-i-never-knew/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/12/17/book-review-the-james-code/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/11/22/book-review-the-christmas-story-in-40-days/

Posted in Bible, Book Reviews, Christianity, Love & Marriage | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Collateral Damage

Collateral Damage:  Guiding And Protecting Your Child Through The Minefield Of Divorce, by Dr. John T. Chirban

I did not participate in Dr. Chirban’s divorce survey promoted through the Dr. Phil show, but in reading this book I found the findings of that survey (which are discussed at least generally in the book’s appendix) closely mirrored my own experiences.  As the child of parents who engaged in a particularly disastrous divorce, a lot of this book painfully rang true for me.  As someone who has been the friend to many people who have either been in divorces themselves or who come from homes as broken as my own, reading this book was a somewhat painful and unpleasant experience for me, and likely will be for others as well.  That said, this is a very worthwhile book, and sometimes there are painful and unpleasant experiences that one goes through in order to gain insight into the truths of one’s existence [1], and that was certainly the case for me here.  The goal of this book is to encourage parents to actually think and act in the best interests of their children during divorce, whether they have sought the divorce themselves or whether it has been forced on them despite their desire to preserve their marriage.  Most parents don’t actually think very much about their children when getting divorces–I know mine didn’t do a very good job at it–and this book makes it clear that there are consequences for this failure.  Divorce itself is an admission of failure of the most painful kind; the least one can do is try to fail as well as one can.

In about 200 pages, the author, himself a divorced parent of three children whom he praises often in these pages, discusses some unpleasant but important truths when it comes to divorce and children.  The book begins with introductory material that includes a foreword from Dr. Phil.  The first part of the book consists on four chapters that discuss protecting children through being attuned to them, managing one’s own emotions, sustaining your parental role, and providing stability through nurturing.  The second part of the book shows the author counseling parents on how to navigate through divorce, instructing them on how to regain control and reclaim themselves, how to realign relationships, how to redefine parenting, how to retain parenthood in a blended family, and how to preserve loving relationships.  A closing chapter discusses the importance of having a healthy spiritual life as well as notes about the divorce study.  I would have liked to have participated in it, but my results would have been pretty much in line with other children of divorce.

It is worthwhile to take a look at some of those grim statistics, so that we are aware of what we are dealing with when we examine a problem like divorce.  There is a wide disconnect between the way parents and children look at divorces.  Divorced parents, by and large, feel that they were equipped to deal with children’s needs during divorce (55% yes to 45% no), but admitted that the children themselves did not have a voice in the decision to divorce (88% no to 12% yes), and even felt that they adequately discussed children’s feelings during divorce by a narrow margin (51% yes to 49% no).  Children, not surprisingly, were far less complementary to the sensitivity of their parents, claiming often to have been caught in the middle of the parents’ divorce (57% yes to 43% no), that parents did a particularly poor job of managing the impact of divorce for them (72% no to 28% yes), and that parents were not particularly helpful (with 57% parent claiming that parents did “nothing much” to help children).  These results are pretty scathing and match with my own observation and my own experiences.  This will likely not be a pleasant book for anyone to read, but it tells a story that needs to be told and encourages those people responsible for breaking up their families and homes to act the best towards their children.  If people thought of others and considered others a little more, many of the mistakes made in marriages would likely be far easier to avoid and overcome.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/06/27/on-the-applicability-of-divorce-law-to-the-recognition-of-new-sovereign-states/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/10/02/oh-the-divorces/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/30/an-act-of-moral-imagination/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/06/if-such-is-the-case-of-a-man-with-his-wife-it-is-better-not-to-marry/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/05/i-wish-that-i-could-get-my-things-and-just-let-go/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/02/26/book-review-his-needs-her-needs/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/02/06/in-harmonious-conflict/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/10/20/growing-up-in-the-millennium/

Posted in Book Reviews, Christianity, Love & Marriage | Tagged , | Leave a comment

That’s News To Me

Having retrieved my headphones from my previous computer at work, I was able yesterday at last to find an acceptable source of free and unblocked music for me to listen to at work.  Given my tendency to be highly anxious and easily distracted, I find listening to music to be a good way to keep my stress levels low as I plow through various data-intensive tasks.  Yesterday I decided to listen to a couple of Adult Contemporary stations and today I listened to an Adult Alternative station that had the annoying tendency of teasing songs for a second that I wanted to listen to and then moving on to other songs.  My fondness for listening to music while I work is not a new phenomenon [1], and I comment on it here as a way of helping to elucidate how my mind works, as the way my mind works is interesting to me even if it not always very interesting to others.

One thing I have found out in listening to music is that I knew a lot more music implicitly than I knew explicitly.  This ought not to be a surprise given how long I have been listening to music and how poor many radio stations are at giving information on the songs that they are playing to listeners.  A few examples should suffice.  This afternoon I listened to a song, “Bros” by Wolf Alice, and realized that its quirky lyrics about being raised by wolves [2] had inspired the title to a previous blog entry.  Yesterday, I realized I liked more songs by the Jets than I had thought, as YouTube is always trying to get me to listen to “You’ve Got It All” when I really like “Make It Real” far better, as it suits my own melancholy sort of romanticism.  Also, I realized that I was more familiar with the Kenny G discography than I had realized.  One of the funnier bits in the Todd In The Shadows video about the worst songs of 1987 is his horror at the fact that Kenny G had a hit.  In fact, he had quite a few hits, and was a successful enough musician that I think I will add him fairly soon to my list of posts in the pipeline about acts unfairly excluded from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  Let it never be said that I tired of tilting at windmills in unpopular causes.

Not all news about music is as entertaining, though, as realizing you love a nearly entirely forgotten top 10 hit from a nearly entirely forgotten Mormon family R&B group (!).  Sadly, my news feed and e-mail inbox has been filled since last night with rather alarming news about a recent terror attack on an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, Great Britain.  As someone who makes terror attacks and the larger context of terrorism part of my beat as a writer [3], I pondered quite a few questions.  Why does it appear as if concerts are so heavily at risk for this sort of attack?  Why would this particular concert be targeted?  Was there something about the music of Miss Grande that was viewed as particularly offensive, or something about the fans of this particular singer that were viewed as particularly suitable as targets, or was it essentially a random target of convenience?  I wonder this, and I am sure the singer is wondering this as well, as there is nothing in her own body of work that would suggest that she has a broader cultural interest in her music than representing fairly conventional contemporary views on cultural politics that are in the West.  If she is not a particularly morally upright person in terms of her personal views, neither does she seem particularly ahead of the curve when it comes to being a model of decadence.  She’s not particularly behind the curve, no traditionalist for sure, but she is no Lady Gaga or anyone along those lines in being particularly interested in supporting artistic decadence.

It is a bit ironic, to be sure, that a young woman whose last album called her a Dangerous Woman even if it presented her rather cutely in bunny ears, is at least in danger as she is a danger to others.  She has postponed her Dangerous Woman tour, which was supposed to work its way through cities in Europe, Central and South America, East and Southeast Asia, and Oceania, until further notice.  It is one thing to be a dangerous woman, or to view oneself as a dangerous woman, and it is entirely a less pleasant matter to be a woman in danger.  One wants to be setting the tone and receiving a certain sort of attention, not putting one’s life on the line to sing pop music.  It is unclear what exactly the purpose of this terror attack was.  It has certainly made Ariana Grande a figure in the history of contemporary terrorism, which she certainly never had any desire to be.  It has postponed her tour, likely costing her many hours of sleep and a struggle with PTSD as she recovers from the horror of seeing death and destruction brought to her concert experience, and possibly costing her a great deal of money as a result of cancelled tickets and rainchecks and the like.  To fully understand terror understands that we crawl into the mind of those who like to inflict horror and suffering upon others for their own dark purposes, and for us to understand that sort of evil we must be that evil ourselves.  How to eliminate such evil to the best of our abilities, and how to cope with the anxieties and uncertainties of contemporary life, is the sort of task we turn to.  For truly we are dangerous people in dangerous times.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/04/20/just-stop-your-crying-its-a-sign-of-the-times/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/18/i-like-my-chicken-fried/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/10/29/if-you-need-to-crash-then-crash-and-burn-youre-not-alone/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/10/11/but-if-youre-willing-to-play-the-game-it-will-be-coming-around-again/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/09/20/just-another-world-thats-falling-down/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/09/07/on-my-way-to-your-apartment-i-write-for-fear-of-silence/

[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/03/02/are-you-wild-like-me-raised-by-wolves-and-other-beasts/

[3] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2012/01/20/bangkok-and-the-logistics-of-terrorism/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/05/11/the-story-of-a-box/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/04/07/its-fire-in-the-streets-now-but-its-quiet-in-your-head/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/11/30/a-somali-on-the-margins/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/08/17/a-simple-man-with-simple-thoughts-will-turn-to-force-as-a-last-recourse/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/03/23/book-review-answering-jihad/

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Book Review: You Are Free

You Are Free:  Be Who You Already Are, by Rebekah Lyons

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

Part of the occupational hazard of being who suffers openly and conspicuously from mental health issues [1] as well as being a prolific reader and reviewer of Christian books is that one reads a lot of books that deal with becoming free from problems like depression and anxiety.  Like this particular book, these books in general are nearly always books being written by women, for women, and about women.  Among the most important aspects of these works is the credibility the author gains through discussing her own struggles, showing how she has been able to deal successfully with them, and being open about her background and the background of others she has worked with.  This particular book purports to show the author dealing successfully with anxiety and depression, issues I am extremely familiar with personally, but there are at least a few areas where the book just does not entirely work, where I cannot buy what the author is claiming.  The chronology of this book is extremely disordered, and shows that the author has had a far more continual struggle with her mental health issues than she lets on.  Additionally, the author is awfully coy about how these symptoms developed.  Given my own harrowing personal background, I would guess that her own is at least in the same general ballpark as my own, but there is no such admission here of her background, as is common in such books.

The structure of this book is rather simple.  It has the feel of a book about 200 pages or a bit more (I read it via ebook, which makes this more difficult to know for sure), and contains various chapters that state that the reader can be free in a particular area of life.  As I mentioned earlier, the chronology jumps around to the point where one wonders if this was done intentionally in order to present the author as having a more positive trajectory of mental health than was actually the case.  Included among the chapters is the freedom to grieve, which the author chooses to discuss by referencing her grief over her eldest child’s diagnosis of Down Syndrome.  Throughout the book the author seems to pit her background against a belief in grace.  This is a fairly common false dilemma among professed Christians in that those who wish to be free of the burdens they feel often claim a freedom from the laws and ways of God that place heavy responsibilities on us.  This gives the author the unfortunate whiff of being an antinomian who blames God’s laws and their application for the struggles she has faced.  The book as a whole contains a great deal of personal memoir material and each chapter also contains discussion questions for the reader that attempt to get the reader to feel for the author.

Again, this was a book I wanted to like far more than I actually did.  In reading this book I got the feeling that there was more to the story:  the author appears likely to continue to struggle to feel free despite intellectually believing that God has set her free through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and the author’s serious struggles with anxiety and depression are likely to continue throughout the rest of her life, despite temporary periods of relief and remission.  Like many people, myself included, she is likely to know a great many dark nights of the soul, and this book would have been a lot better if she had been candid about the origin of those troubles, as it would have made her a much more sympathetic writer.  As it is, she comes off as being a bit dishonest, and in a book like this it is a fatal flaw for an author to not feel as if she is putting all of her cards on the table and opening herself transparently.  Those readers who find the author credible and candid are likely to feel far better about this book.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/08/28/on-the-implications-of-causality-in-mental-trauma/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/02/24/like-no-ones-watching-you/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/01/21/book-review-childhood-disrupted/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/06/17/there-but-for-the-grace-of-god-go-i/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/05/06/worse-than-useless/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/04/27/sleeping-it-away/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/07/07/a-modest-proposal-for-a-medical-experiment-to-test-relationship-between-toxicity-and-depression/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/07/21/a-week-to-remember-a-week-to-forget/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/04/27/the-miseducation-of-nathan-albright/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2012/11/09/insomnias-silver-lining/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/12/23/better-now/

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Book Review: Women Who Move Mountains

Women Who Move Mountains:  Praying With Confidence, Boldness, And Grace, by Sue Detweiler

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

This book, for better or worse, is yet another book that I was able to relate to a great deal despite not being part of its target audience, an experience I find greatly frustrating and alienating.  The author herself comes from a conservative Mennonite background but felt compelled to seek a ministry alongside that of her husband, putting her odds with many who do not believe women can and should be ordained into the preaching ministry.  The book itself is one that is written by a woman about women for women [1], and specifically its target audience are women who struggle with pasts that include sexual abuse or who struggle with anxiety, a native sense of timidity, and perfectionist tendencies.  There was, needless to say, plenty I was able to relate to despite being a gentleman, and I find books like this somewhat irritating in that they assume that only women struggle with these sorts of issues.  It would be good, especially as these books are marketed to a wide range of reviewers, for publishers and authors to be more sensitive to the fact that these books are read by at least a few men who dislike having their own perspective marginalized and ignored on a consistent basis when it comes to reading books like this.

In terms of its structure, this book is highly unconventional, but at the same time very well organized.  The book consists of two disparate but related parts.  The first part of the book consists of alternating chapters that discuss a truth about the spiritual relationship between believers and Jesus Christ on odd chapters and on even chapters provide questions and biblical passages for thought and reflection and group study.  And so we have an opening chapter on belief followed by a chapter on learning how to pray with faith, a chapter on being chosen followed by one on learning how to pray with conviction, a chapter on being healed followed by one on learning how to pray with healing prayers, and so on and so forth.  Throughout the book the author uses her own experience as well as some very painful experiences from other women.  The second part of the book, in contrast, consists of a short outline for a 21-day spiritual breakthrough as well as notes that give guidance to spiritual retreats as well as the sorts of fasting that one can do over the course of a three-week period.

Despite my own irritation with the framing of the book, I find this book very worthy of recommending to women in particular, whether they are reading this book alone or in groups with others.  I can see this book being the source of a great deal of cathartic weeping as the readers examine passages, read the personal and biblical stories included here, and wrestle with their own burdens and struggles over the course of life.  There are a great many men (and at least a few men) who struggle to feel loved by God in the face of the horrors this world has inflicted, and the author does not shy away from the ugly details of such stories, nor with the redemptive scope of how such struggles can make us into more compassionate and understanding people.  There is clearly a very large niche for books like this encouraging healing and growth for those who consider themselves, and may be considered by others, to be somewhat damaged people as a result of their backgrounds and experiences.  The book combines stories and narratives with reflection and practical aims at adopting spiritual disciplines to help with personal spiritual growth, and as such is a book I can warmly recommend to the distaff side of my readers.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/29/book-review-lost-women-of-the-bible/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/01/17/book-review-all-the-women-of-the-bible/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/10/30/book-review-wicked-women-of-the-bible/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/09/17/book-review-7-women/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/book-review-fierce-convictions/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/03/26/book-review-the-secret-place-of-the-most-high-for-women/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/09/14/book-review-wounded-women-of-the-bible/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/08/03/book-review-what-about-women/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/01/07/book-review-the-women-of-afghanistan-under-the-taliban/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/02/20/book-review-control-girl/

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If There Is Still Some Fight In You

Throughout most of my athletic activities I have not covered myself in a great deal of personal glory.  One year, for example, I played on the second string Pittsburgh Posse basketball team, for which I was a backup point guard who spent most of the game riding the pine.  During six games at a particular Winter Family Weekend, our team lost all six games, the first four of them by more than 50 points apiece.  Only the last game was competitive, and we still managed to lose that game by six points or so.  Thankfully, most of my athletic endeavors in volleyball, a sport I prefer and play far more often, have not been close to that embarrassing, but even here I tend to be a competent team player with occasional flashes of brilliance and occasional lapses of concentration befitting someone as absent-minded and easily distracted as I am [1].  As someone who is greatly interested in sports without being the most athletically talented person, I make the following observations of someone who as a great deal of compassion for those I am writing about, as I have definitely been in the same situation myself.

Having been born just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I make it a point to keep up and support my “hometown” teams in various athletic endeavors.  This means that I keep up with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the defending Stanley Cup champions, and their struggle to defend their crown.  As I write this, they are well into the best-of-seven Conference Championships, where they have a 3-2 series lead and home-ice advantage should it come down to a deciding seventh game.  Their current series with the Ottawa Senators has been decidedly uneven, to say the least.  After being surprised in a Game 1 loss at home and a lopsided 5-1 loss in Game 3, the Penguins evened the series with a narrow Game 4 win and then stormed to a 7-0 win in Game 5.  Clearly, this is a series with a great deal of oscillation between two teams that can be either very good or very bad on any given night.  Most people may not care very much about hockey, but anyone with any knowledge of hockey will readily understand that it is difficult to imagine the same two teams only a few nights apart going from a 5-1 win for one team to a 7-0 win for the other team.  One would expect there to be a greater balance in the way the games went.

In following the sports journalism about this immensely exciting series, at least for those who enjoy hockey, I have noticed the effort that people have made in contrasting the Game 3 beatdown with the Game 5 beatdown, and attempting to draw a contrast between the two.  In Game 3, for example, Pittsburgh went down 3-0 in a disastrous first period but managed to claw a goal back to 5-1 in the third period.  This was seen as evidence that Pittsburgh, even on an off night, still had some fight left in them.  In contrast, after Pittsburgh went up 4-0 in the first period in Game 5, the flattened Senators seemed not to be able to offer up any serious efforts at narrowing the gap and ended up losing in a rare runaway shutout.  Given the two teams involved, it is impossible to tell beforehand how the series will end, given that either of the teams could score half a dozen goals or be shut out.  We will see, once the rest of the games play out, whether Pittsburgh is the more resilient of these evenly matched teams or whether yesterday was just a very rare off-night for a successful Senators team.  There is still at least one more game in Ottawa, and perhaps another in Pittsburgh, before a winner is crowned in glory to play for the Stanley Cup.

How may we apply this sort of situation to ourselves?  Athletics is not the only human endeavor where there are days in which we are everything is going on our ways and days where we feel like flattened armadillos or squished possums on the road.  There are going to be days that simply do not go well for us, days where every conversation appears to go awry, where we get stuck behind slow traffic and get every light red, and where we do not even have the comfort of a good night’s sleep after an immensely stressful day.  On such days, can we show that we have some fight in ourselves, and that we can struggle to do the good thing and the gritty thing even after the point where it is no longer to turn a terrible day into even a mediocre one, much less a good one?  After all, there is still another day tomorrow, and the fight we show on days that seem hopeless can make a difference in allowing us to do better in the future.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/12/26/a-little-slumber-a-little-sleep/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/12/28/the-thrill-of-victory-and-the-agony-of-the-feet/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/11/15/leave-a-tender-moment-alone/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/03/22/i-cant-understand-what-im-after/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/01/01/raccoon-eyes/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/12/29/everything-is-square/

Posted in History, Musings, Sports | Tagged , | Leave a comment