Monday, December 17, 2012

Trees, Hieroglyphs, Paul & Jesus, the Middle East & Mormons!

As I typed the title for this blog - I realized how the first five books I've read for Christmas break capture my continued interests - 

  1. Nature & Creation, 
  2. the-Bible-books-and-Academics, 
  3. Christianity and interpreting the Christian proclamation, and
  4. peacemaking and history of the Middle East and studies of persons in and among various religions!
    I've got psychology (personhood) books in my stacks already checked out for the break -  and a batch of leadership books on my agenda - plus a handful of novels - so that about frames my routine interests!   Delightful!

I grew up in the Northwest – and where I live in middle-America now (Oklahoma) – I feel in many ways “out of place” with the forest, streams, trees, hills and “outdoors” where I grew up.  This story – where I learned about individual persons work with the redwoods, - their passion, their dilemas, their work as scholars – and where I learned about trees – captivated me.  I read it from cover to cover in a portion of a single day!  

This quote from page 12 drew me in “Time has a different quality in a forest, a different kind of flow.  Time moves in a circle and events are linked, even if it’s not obvious that thy are linked.  Events in a forest occur with precision in the flow of tree time, like the motions of an endless dance.” 

I learned that humans are the only primates that do not spend time in trees (p. 50).  An interesting reflection on becoming what we’re genetically encoded to be, on page 122.  Interesting reflection on how hunting wolves to extinction in Scotland, led to the death of the forest, since the wolves could not eat the deer who eat the seedlings!  Reflections on how trees can teach us to live – pages 276-278.

I’m not a Tree Hugger – but as an Oregonian – well, maybe I’m a tree hugger!  There is something existentially rooted in me that makes me want to be among trees, in the forest, on the trail.  

Cracking the Egyptian Code: The Revolutionary Life of Jean-Francois Champollion.  As I am getting more opportunity to work among ancient texts with the Green Collection and the Green Scholars Initiatives, I decided I’d enjoy reading about how the Rosetta Stone was used to ‘crack’ the key for reading Egyptian Hieroglyphics.  This book was a great read.  I gleaned much in the way of the character of the time, the history of Egypt, the framework of persons engaged in early study of Egypt – it’s ancient language and it’s important history!  

I appreciated reading where the young Champollion was admitted into the Grenoble Society of Arts and Sciences with these words:  “In naming you one of its members, despite your youth [17], the Society has counted what you have done; she counts still  more on what you are able to do.  She likes to believe that you will justify her hopes and that if one day your works make you a name, you will remember that you received from her the earliest encouragement.’  I like to hope I do this for young people –and think more academics should do this for young people!

It was nice to read that Champollion had his own mis-givings and doubts as an emerging scholar.  (72-75).  It was nice to read that years passed where it appeared he accomplished nothing – busy as he was as a teacher.(89-90, 127)  It was nice to read that Champollion “blundered” and wished he not stated and published certain findings – too early and thereby wrong. (124)  It was nice to know that over 6 years his understanding of things – and published discernment of things, had to change (130).  I loved reading how, when he cracked the code, he passed out and lay unconscious for five days!  (142)!  I learned the “real” name of Ozymandias – page 206 – “User-maat-ra” – part of the throne name of Ramesses the Great.  

I learned that the same glyph for “to plough” - - a striking man! – is used for “education” and “taxes” and laugh that the work of striking  a man to the plow is akin to how ancient people viewed the work of education!  And finally, two new delightful words for my vocabulary – mellifluous and gallimaufry!  Words to use this week!  

Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity   I don’t buy into the content of all that Tabor says – both about his view of the (non)resurrection of Jesus (as traditionally interpreted) – nor do I buy into his stark notion that Paul radically reshaped (and nearly presented an entirely different version) of the Christian message than Jesus – but the book proved interesting and stirred my thinking in many ways.  For that I’m thankful. 

Tabor may be correct that Paul has shaped Christian tradition and Christian civilization, more than Christ himself (21).  While I don’t spend much time in the Gospels, I do not think I had read before that James may have been the ‘beloved’ disciple of John’s Gospel, nor had I noted connections between the book of James, Q, and the Sermon on the Mount.  And, related to the former, I’ll have to do some more reading on Didache, now, since Tabor points out the comparison in it, with the Sermon on the Mount/Q/The Book of James.  

Tabor seems free to label some of what Mark’s Gospel does as “myth-making” – but he hardly offers solid evidence on what and why he selects as myth from history.  (69-71ff)  For Tabor, Christians are, in fact, “also ‘Christs,’ in that they participate fully in all that Jesus had been given.” (117)  For Tabor, Baptism and Eucharist or essentially Pauline inventions (see 130ff) – which he actually calls “innovations” but then describes in ways so dis-similar from how they have been interpreted in Orthodox faith as to be nothing at all like what Jesus ever did – noting (151) that, “I think we can conclude that it is inconceivable that Jesus would have had his followers drink a cup of wine as a representation of his blood, even symbolically, or break bread to represent his flesh, sacrificed for their sins.”

Tabor is clearly not among Creedal Confessing – Orthodox Christians – but his ideas were invigorating to consider.  There does seem to be an idea that I had not noticed – that Paul developed his theology – as it were, in Arabia, like Moses or Elijah alone in the wilderness.  I had not considered this.  And, there does seem to be much (clearly present) in Paul’s idea of apostleship and mission being different from those in Jerusalem, and Tabor has inspired me to re-consider what I might know about Paul – even while I am not prepared to accept all that Tabor has to suggest.  A great read.

Best of Enemies: A History of US and Middle East Relations, Part One: 1783-1953  Since I follow issues of religious, political and peace-making issues in various countries in the “Middle East” – this book caught my eye.  It, like Maus by Art Spiegleman, is a Graphic Novel which made for easy reading – where the images helped capture ideas as well.  While the book is accurate – and while I learned details from it that I did not otherwise know – I did not like the graphic novel approach here, as much as I have liked it in books like Maus.  Enjoyable.  Learned some new data.  Not compelling.

The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith   I picked this up for my bride, but ended up enjoying reading it.  The author, Joanna Brooks, chronicles her story, growing up Mormon in California.  What struck me in the story was how much of her life experience - were similar to my own life experiences, even as she was raised in a different faith tradition.  The framework of trying to find herself and her moral identity as a teen - - and her exact age and therefore same period of life experiences (a teenager in the 1980s) were similar to my own.  Nothing remarkable – but it gave me perspectives on how a particular person grew up Mormon, and had to (and has to still) come to terms with her mature faith – still Mormon but willing to challenge the traditions of her faith, as well.

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