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My Thoughts On You

"It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations . . . . There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.  This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of the kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously--no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinners--no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses."

-The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis

But I must note- I find you people much more blessed than any sacrament!  Jesus, Himself, is one thing.  Bread and wine symbolic of God's organic make-up is another...

His Peace,
Jake

Such Friends

Within the last few days, two of my closest friends (who happen to be married to one another), each gave me one of the best compliments I've ever received.  In anticipation of my soon-coming reassignment to Fort Knox (which is very close to Louisville, where most of my friends live), one of them told me that I will help restore sanity in our circle of friends.  Note that ours is a very sane circle of friends... I am blown away that I should be known as particularly reasonable among such solid company, even if I should only be known as such for a short, troubled time.

Then my other friend (the first friend's wife) told me that I inspire her because I have passionately kept faith in Christ despite my disastrous reenlistment in the army.  I'm so much more used to defending my decisions there than receiving praise...

I always assumed these close friends were troubled or even annoyed by my whole ordeal, but were simply too loyal to me as friends to give words to private complaint.  I sensed that- was sure of it- and counted the blessing that, even if we disagree on some pivotal issues in my life, they are dedicated to my well-being and our relationship (which is such a freeing thing to me).  That is to say, they've always been kind and inviting, but generally not affectionate and affirming with particulars in such an invested way, as I feel them to be now.

Oh journal, am I doing this feeling of acceptance and elation justice?  I'm afraid I do not know how to let you express me with near enough force of truth...  What would we do without our friends?

Books I Read in 2010 (Pt. 4)

 And here's the last of 'em...

*bold and asterisked books are ones that I recommend

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Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (1811) - I enjoyed the book.  Elinor, Marianne, and their mother are truly interesting characters.  Nonetheless, the plot is pretty trying... a bunch of rich people who contribute no labor to society sit around and wonder about each other... a few of them get themselves into some relational trouble...

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813) - My experience with this book was not so different... Elizabeth and Jane manage to be as likable as Elinor and Marianne were, and Darcy is okay too.  But it's still just a bunch of privileged people being privileged... It's not like they are actively self-absorbed, rather, they seem to literally know nothing else... they seem so preoccupied in their own little world that they don't even realize they are actually victims of their wealth.

*The Revelation of John, Volume 1 (Revised Edition) by William Barclay (1976) (183 pages) - Barclay was (and is) a very influential Scottish commentator, and it's easy to see why, once you get a taste of his charismatic writing.  His works (as I've read them so far) are not directed and organized by a presented, reasonably systematic hermeneutic- that hermeneutic being something I look for in a serious commentary.  Nonetheless, the man demonstrates heroic empathy, and it makes his devotional-styled moral exhortations fairly appealing.  And, even on the academic side, he does offer quite a bit of background information on the culture and history of the cities of the churches to whom the seven letters in Revelation are written.  It's this first volume's particular attention to representing the original audience of Revelation in its city-by-city context that makes me recommend it.

The Revelation of John, Volume 2 (Revised Edition) by William Barclay (1976) (232 pages) - Not to drone on about Barclay's commentary on Revelation, I did not find this latter volume as illuminating as the first.

*The Game:  Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss (2005) (452 pages) - Wow, what to say about this book? My friend Randy wanted me to read it a few years ago, but, after hearing a little bit about it, I utterly rejected the idea of reading it.  It sounded like your typical alpha-male frat-boy douchebaggery.  And then I found the book in Iraq, in a different frame of mind (and not recognizing it as the book Randy recommended earlier), and was immediately enthralled.  I quickly realized it was what I had rejected earlier, but didn't care, and read it in two sittings (which is significant because I'm a slow reader).  Without a doubt, the book is repulsing, morally and culturally.  And yet it taps into some very neglected masculine concerns (for me, and apparently lots of other guys, anyway).  Furthermore, some of it is just outrageously entertaining... the format of the book is one that enjoys mixing between narrative, correspondence, and technical styles.  But at the very least, reading this book will bring up some very important concerns, and discussing them with someone else will make for a very important conversation.  I would love to exchange thoughts and insights concerning this book with most anyone.

*Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein (1959) (263 pages) - This is classic science fiction... it's incredible how many later sci-fi works stand on the shoulders of this imaginative original.  But besides giving roots to much of the modern sci-fi backdrop, this book truly stakes its territory in the philosophy department.  The characters are adamant thinkers and speakers, exchanging unrealistically long and serious discourses on principles, motivations, and systems.  Although the book is itself a campaign for a more militarized society and world, it gives the concern for violence a dignity that the militant tend to neglect.  The arguments in this book invite me to meet them with whatever objective arguments I may find... there is no impossibly high wall of emotionally-blinded patriotism to kill the discussion.  And further, the book presents a case for militarism that is not just pensive but hands-on, rough and ready, without entitlement, leading from the frontline.  Jesus may not have been militaristic, but he shared, and exemplified, that sort of cross-bearing leadership.  So, although the book tragically makes a case for being pro-military, it does it very well (much better than virtually all cases for militancy I've heard from people in my life, with much more consistency and integrity), and that goes a long way.  I guess I'm taking what I can get...

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Long Live the Written Word,
Jake

Books I Read in 2010 (Pt. 3)

More glances at my 2010 reading...

*bold and asterisked books are ones that I recommend

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*The Physician by Noah Gordon (1986) (627 pages) - This is a novel that follows the entire lifecycle of a character.  It tells the tale of an English orphan of medieval times, who gradually finds himself pursuing his world's highest medical training, in Persia.  It's a dramatic story that indulges the dangerous complications of mixing differing religions, languages, and cultures in times of intolerance.  Apparently it is only the first volume of a loose trilogy.  Some of the sexual interaction is somewhat descriptive, if that bothers anyone.

*Understanding Iraq
by William R. Polk (2003) (221 pages) - Polk has apparently been studying and lecturing on Iraqi history for all of his professional career (and the guy is really old).   This super brief survey flies by... you certainly don't feel the author has wasted any of your time.  I am grateful for that sort of writing style, when the subject is one I don't particularly know much about, anyway.

The Nonviolent Atonement
by J. Denny Weaver (2001) (246 pages) - I found this theology book to be pretty inconsistent and otherwise unsatisfying.  I may have Christian pacifist conclusions, but they are quite different than those settled on in this work.  However, the book provides some exposure to feminist and black theology, which I'm in need of.

*An Inquiry into the Accordancy of War With the Principles of Reasoning by Which It is Defended.  With Observations On Some of the Causes of War and On Some of Its Effects
by Jonathan Dymond (1858) (124 pages) - So, this year I read several books on pacifism, but this is one of only two I recommend without hesitation  (the other being The Original Revolution).  I felt like Dymond was giving voice to many particular conclusions I had privately reached and had yet to share with anyone else- at least in literature as I have experienced it.  It's also interesting to see how he approached his own civilization:  the British Empire.  One of my favorite lines from this book went something like, "While we Christians may deny that our religion demands pacifism, the Jews and Muslims see it evidenced clearly enough.  So while we are trying to convert them, they remain unconvinced, saying 'First, convert yourself.'"

The Red Tent
by Anita Diamant (1997) (321 pages) - Another novel that follows the lifecycle of a character (a technique I find myself liking, the more I see it), this one reveals an alternative take on Dinah, the sole daughter of the patriarch Jacob's wives.  It is a hard and sad story... sometimes downright miserable.  I enjoyed the beginning section the most, by far.  It involves Dinah's growing up with all four of Jacob's wives, who pour into Dinah as the sole heir to their feminine ways.  After the slaughtering of Shechem event, the story got pretty grim without much consolation.  I guess I appreciate the realism in that though... to an extent.

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Long Live the Written Word,
Jake

Books I Read in 2010 (Pt. 2)

So, here's a breakdown of how many of the books I've been reading have been novels...

- 2008:  4 novels out of 13 books read
- 2009:  4 novels out of 15 books read
- 2010:  5 novels out of 21 books read

I'd like to read more novels, like I used to... I read at least four Magic:  The Gathering novels in just the summer of '07 and six of the Harry Potter series all in the Fall of '06.  What I need to do is get back into a good series.... maybe this will be the year for Wheel of Time or A Game of Thrones?

Anyway, here's five more book reviews...

*Bold and asterisked titles are those I recommend

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*NIV Application Commentary Series:  Genesis by John H. Walton (2001) (759 pages) - I have used two other Genesis commentaries for extensive reference (Brueggemann and Henry Morris), but this is the first one I've read cover to cover.  As I recall, virtually all of my major disagreements with the author dealt with modern application, in several different sections.  Regardless, he spends adequate time encountering the text in its own, specific, original context, so that his hit-or-miss "contemporary significance" sections do not compromise the integrity of the historical commentary (which really the only thing I am looking for in commentaries... many, many good teachers can come up with a good modern application, once it's more clear what the historic account meant in its own time and place). 

*NIV Application Commentary Series:  Mark by David E. Garland (1996) (653 pages) - Now this is the best commentary I've read yet (although I haven't read very many yet!)  The author excites you... in fact, before I was done with the first chapter I was seriously concerned that the author might just be an emotionally driven joke-of-an-academic.   But he is just excited about the text, and culture, and history, and is comfortable with making that clear in his academic work.  For the most part, I was impressed with his willingness to break from (as I understand) oversimplified and popular understandings of the text... to concede uncertainties for lack of hard information and for consistency of hermeneutic.  I felt like I was reading the manifesto of a world-changing spiritual revolutionary... which is how I should feel when I'm reading about the Gospel of Mark.

*The Qur'an, translated by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem (2004, 2005) (464 pages) - Essentially, the only noteworthy thing I knew about Islam I had learned just recently by reading that "Idiot's Guide to Islam."  The Qur'an is a fascinating read... but honestly it would be regardless of what it said, by merit of its sheer historical global influence.  There is something overwhelming about reading a book that is sacred to one billion of my living world neighbors (and who knows how many who have already passed?), and yet of which I knew nothing previously.  I will not much compare the book to the Christian Bible... they are utterly different objects.  While the Qur'an is a library of sorts, it is only a library of one man's lifetime of revelations.   The Bible, on the other hand, is a library of far greater cultural, linguistic, literary, and historical scope, such that it is almost laughable that someone would suppose they know how to read one book of it just because he knows a bit about another book somewhere else in it.  These are neutral statements, not statements of superiority on the part of the Bible, or of inferiority on the part of the Qur'an.  Again, they are such different kinds of books that such comparisons are nearly nonsensical.  There is so much to say about the Qur'an, and long before value judgements begin to come into play... but the most important thing to say, of course, is that I recommend anyone read it for him or herself.

Jesus and Nonviolence:  A Third Way by Walter Wink (2003) (117 pages) - I'll be quick on this one:  the author focuses mostly on the importance of organizing peace movements and rehearsing pacifism in the face of conflict.  If I recall correctly, his theological attempts were a bit trying, but they were not much the main idea of the book, anyway.  It is a quick read (the pages are very small) and is certainly interesting, if not agreeable.

*The Original Revolution by John Howard Yoder (1971) (190 pages) - In all honestly, I can't remember much about the specifics of this book's contents.  Yet I have felt compelled, since reading it, to recommend it more highly than any other history book I've read... at least for Christians.  It attacks the norms of historical and modern government, and demonstrates the fatal incompatibility of Christianity and rulership.

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Long Live the Written Word,
Jake

Books I Read in 2010

In 2008 I read 13 books (about 5,121 pages); in 2009 I read 15 books (about 5,683 pages)... last year I continued this upward trend and got through 21 books (about 6,615 pages).  Although reading is something I often have to be quite intentional about doing (when it's not fiction), I'm finding the task to be more and more satisfying.  Here's the short on the first five volumes I read....

*Bold and asterisked titles are those I recommend

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*The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne (2006) (367 pages) - I've already written a review of this one.  But that review was rather negative, and I feel the need to say that this is nonetheless an important and compelling book.  Despite important disagreements with some of Shane's conclusions, the man deserves admiration for his follow-through... and what he does get right he does so above reproach.  If all else, the book helps me realize that I am not putting as much action behind my words as I could be, in a tangibly comparative light.  A girl I met at Eric's wedding, Amanda, mailed this book to me while I was in Iraq.

*The Politics of Jesus, 2nd Edition by John Howard Yoder (1972, 1994) (257 pages) - This is really a collection of separate pursuits toward the policy of the historical Jesus (and it is neatly organized as such).  I don't know how much stock I would put in the latter portion of the work, but nearly the whole first half is an excellent commentary on the Gospel of Luke, which I recommend to the fullest.  Yoder demonstrates that audiences Jesus dealt with were not as obsessed with private salvation as our modern Church is, but instead were primarily concerned with a sort of social deliverance.  Accordingly, Christ's most severe temptation and potential obstacle was then the general messianic expectation for him to become a militant deliverer.  This thesis makes a lot more sense of the synoptic texts than our typical modern cultural projections.  I concede that Yoder overcompensates in the right direction, and because of that I'm sure he's lost the attention of many.  But the patient person will see through to the pure intent of correcting a deep-steated imbalance.  I found out about Yoder by the constant references to his works in The Irresistible Revolution.

*The Trinity and the Kingdom by Jürgen Moltmann (1981) (256 pages) - This book took a lot of effort to push through, but it is the best theology book I've read so far.  Within lies the best explanations of suffering, selflessness, and the trinitarian identity of God that I've ever heard.  That's a lot for one book.  I only know of Moltmann through Sarah, and since reading this book, I've been trying to spread his good name through my own circles.  I need to read more by him this year.

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer ch (1937) (316 pages) - This book was also difficult to read because of the way it forces you to strictly examine yourself.  There's a lot of great stuff in here for sure, and so far as I understand him, Bonhoeffer is a certain hero whose life deserves particular study.  Nonetheless, it seems to often be overdramatic and on unnecessarily ultimate terms, which wears on me as a reader and makes it difficult for me trust the author, as he ascends his layered progressions.  Bonhoeffer is another guy Sarah got me interested in.  I'm looking forward to reading more... something biographical perhaps...

Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard, translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (1843, 1983) (about 210 pages) - If I feel that Bonhoeffer was overdramatic in The Cost of Discipleship, then I feel Kierkegaard was downright full of himself in Fear and Trembling.  Kierkegaard's treatment of Abraham's moral infallibility is almost laughable.  However there were some romantic illustrations and conclusions, used as a sort of tangential support, that I found utterly fascinating, even if not convincing.  My understanding of the man and his work is now complicated by my friend Eric's insistence that Kierkegaard is difficult to interpret because he not only used a diversity of pseudonyms, but got into character with each one.  I concede that that would be a very artistic thing to do, but, at the same time, it probably will now require far more effort for me to accurately appreciate the works than I am willing to invest here.  I'll have to settle with accepting the authority of the Kierkegaard specialists.  By the way, that Eric I mentioned before is the one who gave me the book (and had been wanting me to read it since late high school, I believe).

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Long Live the Written Word,
Jake

(Late) Happy New Year!

Here's a late happy New Year to everyone out there on LiveJournal. I didn't post much in 2010, but it was an amazing year, just the same. Maybe I'll post more this year... at the very least, I hope to soon add another addition to my end-of-year book lists.

The Deployment Is Almost Over!

I have less than a month left before I take another big ride on a radio bird and cross the great blue expanse!  Many great things have happened out here.

As I said earlier, I've arrived at a role I can be at peace with (noncombatant medical worker), and attained such peace.

Secondly, I've gotten to know and love my co-workers much more.

Thirdly, I've gotten to actually practice medicine at length (which my unit does not do when it is not deployed).  On a daily basis I've worked with 2 doctors and 3 physician's assistants.  I've asked these folks what my medic role at our clinic has been representative of, in the mainstream medical community.  I expected to be told that I have acted as a nursing aid or as an Licensed Practical Nurse, but I was wrong.  I'm told my responsibilities have been much closer to those of a Registered Nurse.  Can you believe that?!  These military medical circumstances have allowed me to forgo the lengthy formal training, normally required for this kind of work.  I've gotten to learn things as I do them, while knowing irresponsibly little about them!  It's been quite a ride!  At this point, I want to pursue a formal RN certification (which will involve taking some good ole gen. education courses!)  I've grown to become extremely satisfied with the work of a nurse.  Besides, what better occupation befits a soldier-turned-pacifist?  I could even work for a veteran's hospital, and anchor my war protests in relief work for those who unfortunately work as soldiers (because everyone needs medical care).

Fourthly, my guilt required me to become extremely frugal.  Now I am much more at peace with my salary (though still very wary), yet the frugality is remaining.  This is excellent for my discipleship!

Fifthly, I've become more resolved than ever to live very near my friends forever (once I'm out of the army and can dictate my own movements again).

Sixthly, I've read more than I did last year, already (and I read more last year than the year before).

Seventhly, I've gained more musculature in my upper body than I've ever had before.

Grace Abounds,
Jake
It has been a while since I've blogged, but, as this entry title indicates, I bear great news!  My Division General approved my noncombatant status, and the paperwork is now in the hands of Department of the Army Headquarters.  The official bestowal of noncombatant status upon myself is eminent.  But in the meantime, while waiting for the administrative particulars to come into effect, my unit leadership has agreed to relieve me of my weapon.  So, I've actually been without a weapon for... I'm not sure exactly... a few months, now?  It required some persistence to be rewarded with such practical noncombatant status from the people I work with, but I had the backing of the official army regulations as well as the highest levels of the Theater's legal team.  It's interesting how much this process has involved extremely high ranking personnel.

But why did I not share this earlier?  To be sure, it has since been a season of skepticism.  I allowed myself to share celebratory joy with those from my unit who were happy to see me released of my rifle.  But in private, I checked my initial emotional response.  In doing so, it began to seem to me that continuing to wear this uniform (officially called the Army Combat Uniform) was now as condemning as carrying an unused rifle had been.  It seemed that I had not entirely repented, and thus had not repented, of my variation of true Christian discipleship.  What to do, then?  Accepting that I was not a Christian, and more fully that I had not been a Christian for years, was miserable, but true to my conscience.  Having admitted that, I was desperate to become a Christian again.  Such a thing could be done the very day it is considered, but I was tortured by the hole I had dug myself in.  I had asked much of my unit and the greater Army, in enlisting, in re-enlisting, in deciding I need to be disarmed, in allowing myself to become part of the deployment team, and now, to frustrate it all, to decide that disarming is not enough, but only an immediate refusal to participate at all.  So, I concluded that, out of basic decency to my unit and the Army, I should not outright quit my services until my unit had returned from the deployment.  This would at least make their administrations easier, besides demonstrating that my latest decision is at least not a fit unable to outlast the deployment mission.

This was a miserable time.  I had little hope for myself, should I die and be returned to my Lord before I had reached the time when I was willing to fully repent.  But I had grown so disgusted with the accumulative disregard for others that I had gained over my lifetime.  I refused the cost of repentance on others until I could reasonably and substantially reduce it (by allowing the deployment some months to finish).  My prayers to God were confused, unsure of their own sincerity or motivations, desperate but resolute in disregarding self, even personal salvation, should it cause others to righteously bemoan the burden of survival-centric Christianity.  Looking, back, I can only admire God for his patience and affection throughout this whole ordeal, besides my greater lifetime.

Things began to improve only after I opened up to those around me.  My chaplain and social worker served as sounding boards as I voiced my intent to respectfully refuse to work, once we had all returned from the deployment, come what may.  After that (although I should have done it long before) I shared an e-mail exchange with D-Rock, which also seemed to serve foremost as merely a sounding board.  It was my own blundering through the issues that confronted me with the latest satisfying truth:  Jesus paid taxes.

The implications were mind-blowing.  Jesus paid taxes to the Roman empire.  The Roman empire slew Jesus and countless of his followers in the Preconstantinian Church.  The Roman empire slew countless gentiles within and without its citizenship.  And yet Jesus, who knew best, dutifully paid taxes without incurring guilt.  By God's standard then, one can generally fund whatever government and not need to be identified with and condemned with its specific policies and executions.  I could resist this incredible compromise on God's part
no longer.  And with this submission to the wisdom and courage of God (though they confound me), I find the strong implication that being a noncombatant in an army, offering the medical services that anyone needs, while being an open enemy to the cause of war, and being recognized and defended as such, is quite acceptable.

As a measure to safeguard my motives, and also to keep faith with statements I have made in the past, I will continue my recent commitment (it came in full strength in January of this year) to give away the great majority of my military salary (after bills) to charities.  Further, I won't use my GI Bill, among other benefits (though I wouldn't mind transferring them a stranger, if I had the opportunity), will refuse promotion (as I had been doing thus far for professional reasons), and will not acknowledge any decorations or awards earned.

So, it's pretty great to be a Christian again- and to know it!

Yours,
Jake

Help Us, Lord (The Hypocrite's Song)

I had posted this song on my facebook page, but not on my livejournal.  I noticed this as I went through all of my poetry entries in both, which I did because I have made a site solely for my best poetry (and not for lyrics that rely on the notation of music to give them rhythm).  My new, minimalist site is withspirit.wordpress.com/

Here are the lyrics of Help Us, Lord (The Hypocrite's Song) (which is not on the site).  I wrote this song no later than the ninth month of o-five.


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Help us, Lord, not to be hypocrites
Believing one thing, and doing the other
Help us, Lord, not to be hypocrites
Embracing a Father, but rejecting a brother

We look down on one another
While we pray on bended knees
As we hold onto our grudges
Unconditionally
We pray the Lord’s prayer
But forgiveness is not there
We bless each other, “Peace in Christ”
But we really mean, “If you pay the price”

So help us, Lord, not to be hypocrites
Believing in a grace that’s not for the worst
Help us, Lord, not to be hypocrites
Believing I’m a better part of this Church

We know you love us, Lord
We know we love you too
And we know we even love this family
Because we know Your hopes for us are coming true

So help us, Lord, not to be hypocrites
Leashing our faith onto our eyes
Help us, Lord, not to be hypocrites
Treating Your promises as if they were lies

We ask You to bless this world
As we cry “God damn it!”
We ask You’d remember us
While You we forget
But, Lord, we press on in Your name
So to steal Your fame
And we explain to You how You could better love us
We, the bride of Jesus

We know you love us, Lord
We know somehow we love You too
And someday we’ll be glad we gave You this trust
For such are the plans You have for us

That you’ll help us, Lord, to be sons and daughters
Sons and daughters of the Lord Most High
Make us, Lord, sons and daughters
Children leaving hypocrisy behind

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