Monthly Archives: July 2013

Answering the Ultimate Paradox

Book Review ~ God’s Problem by Bart D. Ehrman, Available for under $15.00

problemAlthough I write because I have read, I also read in order to write better.  Consequently, even with pages and pages of notes collected through the years regarding my own developing interpretation of the Book of Job, I still seek more information.  Some of that is technical.  Meaning I seek out the people who are working on the language of the Old Testament.  People who know something about the structure of the oldest version of the text before us.  People who know something about the archaeology and anthropology of the time periods involved.  This is where I start.

After I have the “setting” of my project I move on to what other people think the lessons might be, or if there is one at all.  This is my method in my current work, Why Me? Come let us Reason with Job.  As I move through my draft I have researched the history of theological and philosophical thought regarding this passage of the Hebrew canon.  Now, I have reached a stage in that research that is leading me through the more modern thinkers, some very well known, some rather obscure.  One of the writers I chose to read is a rather popular author and a James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Caroline, Chapel Hill.   He is Professor Bart Ehrman and this is not my first experience with his writing. I have always found him informative, easy to read and challenging.  He makes me think and I happen to enjoy thinking.

As mentioned, I have read a number of Professor Ehrman’s books and watched several of his lectures.  As a scholar he is passionate about his subject matter.  Whenever I read or listen to his work I feel like he is taking me on an exploratory journey that will challenge the way I think.  I always learn something, even if I disagree.  And, sometimes I do.

I sincerely believe that a book such as God’s Problem should be read, and studied.  I believe that the questions that Ehrman raises should be confronted and addressed.  In fact, some of the questions he raises are the very reasons I am writing my own rendition of just what went on all those centuries ago when in fact or in literature a man stood and demanded an audience with his Maker.  Let’s talk a bit about what Ehrman has to say.

Beginning with the prophets of the Hebrew bible, we are reintroduced to the things that we don’t really pay much attention to when we are preparing Sunday School lessons.  The Old Testament is a violent and bloody book.  The “bad” guys are not always the ones causing murder and mayhem.  There are many passages that, unless you choose to bend things in uncomfortable angles, the God of Israel takes direct responsibility for the devastation of people, creatures of all sorts, ecologies and whole countries, if not the entire globe.  Too often we write this off as justice (since it came from God) without really considering the innocent lives involved.  Many modern day “prophets” use this scenario as an excuse to blame every disaster on someone’s sin – rarely, if ever their own.

Another answer to suffering analyzed in the book is the apocalyptic view.  This is the view that here on earth there is suffering and travail because evil powers are being allowed to rule the earth for now.  Someday, however, God’s judgment will fall and all evil with be done away with, all suffering will end, and a new world will take form where there is no suffering. In the meantime, it will be hell on earth.

A third interpretation brought out in scripture, and discussed by Ehrman, is that there really isn’t any answer to suffering.  In this case we just have to make the best of what is here because there really is no logical, theological or philosophical reason to support why we should suffer.  At least not for all suffering.  It is certainly reasonable to understand that when we do certain things there is a piper to pay.  If we drink and drive, we can injure ourselves and others.  If we smoke, we may get cancer.  If we choose not to care for our bodies, we will get sick.  This is a cause and effect we can understand.  But in the case of much of the suffering in the world, well, we’re still searching.

Last, but certainly not least, Ehrman explores the answer called redemptive suffering.  This teaching looks at suffering as a temporary evil that prepares us for a greater good.  Or that through one person’s suffering another person finds a greater truth.  This point of view could cause nightmares.  I actually find the author’s journey rather compelling.  He tells how he first became challenged by the simple act of thanking God for his food.  Why, he thought, should I be so special that God would feed me and let millions more die of starvation?  What right do I have to such a special dispensation?  What right do I have to be thankful for something that 850 million people in this world do not have?  Especially when I live in a world where that is not necessary?  In case you’re wondering, he actually does try to do something about it.  If you are interested, his support foundation can be found here.  I think, though, you get the point. A sensitive person may look at his or her relative comfort and feel something more deeply than a simple, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”

Now the thing I find interesting is that the interpretation of these teachings of scripture, and they are indeed, what scripture has to say about the matter, are all predicated on one assumption.  That we understand what it is that God “is.”  We base all of our assumptions on an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-loving Sovereign of the universe and then attempt to figure out how such a being could know everything, and love each and every one of us – and allow suffering.  Therein we find the paradox.  A paradox which arises from our own reasoning.  A paradox that Job faced and just might have solved.

I recently read a book entitled God and the Philosophers.  In an article by David Shatz, an orthodox Jew, there is a quote that goes something like this, God does not follow us around looking at each and every action in order to pass out spankings and lollipops according to our daily performance.  A kindred spirit.  Although I may see this somewhat out of context, I interpret some of Ehrman’s point of view as casting God in a domestic violence case.  Someone who beats up his children for every infraction and sometimes not bothering to tell them what the infraction was or because someone else needed to learn a lesson.  This, of course, is not how I view a Sovereign deity at all.

I firmly believe that at the heart of the matter is our interpretation, our “assumption,” of what God is or does.  I believe if we spend a little time with Job, if we “gird” ourselves and prepare to answer the questions put to us, we just might find some answers.  They may not be the ones we want.  They may, however, give us a better sense of what our place in this vast universe really is.  I can tell you that I don’t believe it is crushed and groveling in the dirt.

I am always open to feedback and love to see your comments.  I will not approve attacks, rude commentary or baseless profanity.   Other than that, I am on a journey, just like you, and I don’t mind being challenged.  Thanks for stopping by.

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf (and a movie or two), My Bookshelf ~ Current Era, My Journey with Job

The Songs of Kiguli Return

The countdown begins. In one week, August 3, 2013, we will launch a fundraiser to help us publish and market The Songs of Kiguli – 2013. We will also be reissuing the first volume and adding a DVD. This DVD will be something special as it includes footage from the school and of the students reading their poetry. As a special treat, the DVD will include three pieces for Qwela, a jazz and traditional band from Kampala, Uganda. The campaign will be hosted on Indiegogo – stay tuned for the link. And just to tease you? Here is the trailer.

This will be the second year PDMI Publishing has produced a book of poetry written by the students of the Ugandan Kiguli Army School under the direction of their volunteer teacher, Philip Matogo. Last year we sent each student a copy and spread the word through newspapers and Amazon. This year we are organizing a much larger effort. We are adding a DVD with footage of the students reading their poetry backed by the Kampala band, Qwela. We are also developing a marketing campaign to turn their hard work into dollars for their school. Help fund the future by supporting these talented young people.

By going to the public (including our friends and acquaintances) for funding, we will be able to expand the marketing reach of both last year’s and this year’s publication. We will also be sending extra copies to the school so they can add them to their new library and to sell them locally to raise funds for other needed books. We have developed personal relationships with the teacher and his charges and we want to accomplish something financially effective for them. We also want to support the students that work so hard to pour out their hearts and give voice to their lives. We’d love to have you on board!

The school has a number of items on their wish list and proceeds from the sale of these publications could help in a very real way. They need reliable transportation, renovation of current buildings and additional class rooms. Sales of the books and DVDs will help them reach these goals and does so in a way that involves the students themselves.

You can help by spreading the word of this fund raiser, the books, and the DVDs. You can also help by contacting Africa heritage museums, cultural centers and art centers to see if they would be willing to stock the books in their gift shops.

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Filed under Giving Back

Book Review ~ Life at the Turn of the Century (no, the previous one)

Some time ago I posted a blog about my friend Connie’s book, Wild hay, Wild Hairs and Shell Shock.  She wrote the piece as a part of a series I was running about research for historical writing.  The book intrigued me and I wanted to return one day to give it a read.  I’m very glad I did.

CraigieCoverSmOne of the things that history books cannot give us a real feel for is what it was like to be an every day, ordinary citizen, traveling this life at any particular point in time.  Most of our history is written after the fact by scholars or during the event by journalists, reporters, kings and leaders, the folks that get attention.  Every now and then, stored in an attic, left in some forgotten storage unit we stumble upon a gem.  Some small window into the past told in the words of the “every day guy” that lived it.  Charles Henry Craigie is probably NOT what some people would consider an “every day guy” but he is an excellent guide into a world now gone.

Craigie was born at a time when America really was wide open for opportunity.  His father was the type of person that wanted his children educated, but if they could find a job where they could learn a new skill or learn to live and work with different people, then school could wait.  Craigie took that opportunity and ran with it.  As he tells us his story he invites us on his mental journey as well.  Talking to his future reader in a conversational tone about the things he sees and what he thinks should be done about it all.

Craigie travels to the Philippines during the Spanish American War.  This is a time before an organized military and things were a bit “every man for himself.”  Having had quite a bit of experience in the National Guard and in management before entering the war, Craigie soon gets involved in all sorts of special activities.  The US government didn’t always deliver on promises to get fellows home in a hurry, so Craigie took a leisurely route through Japan.  Rather than pursuing the usual shore leave pastimes, he took the opportunity to learn about a people and a culture much different from his own.

Timing puts him in Europe during the WWI, as well.  He keeps us by his side as he maneuvers through a military that still isn’t all that organized.  This time he was told he couldn’t go home because he might be needed; so he organized an education program for any service man that wanted it in English and Scottish universities.  By now you know him well enough that you know he has plan in mind.  He spends the remainder of his overseas service attending university and absorbing all he can of the culture of the British Isles.  By now he is becoming quite a connoisseur of foreign cultures.

The book is a delightful rendition of Craigie’s own words, carefully edited to keep his spirit and his times and to bring the period alive for the reader.  There are notes about historical events that fit within the story (duly researched by Mrs. Pierce).  The best part, though, is the flavor of Craigie’s opinions on life, economics, war, production, the way of the world and the love of his country.  It is a quick read that, for a moment, transports you to a parlor in a sprawling farm house sometime in the late 30s early 40s to hear your favorite Grandpa tell you stories.  He was a perceptive fellow and I think you will enjoy getting to know him.  In his own words:

“It’s been a good life, an extremely interesting one.  This is the life story of an American working man; not fiction, but the facts of life as ay honest man can find, if he is interested enough in his own affairs to run his life as a free man.  As the old recipe for cooking a rabbit says: First, catch your rabbit!”

Craigie can be found on Amazon.com and on Facebook

 

 

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf ~ Current Era