Saturday, October 29, 2011

Reading about Dark Matter, the Universe and Sex in the Bible

I had opportunity this past weekend to get several books read.  One of the nice things about traveling is that I am very good at tuning-out other people out as I stick my nose in a book.  Thankfully I had a few good books to read, and a couple that were less exciting.

The first book I read, Paradise Lust : Searching for the Garden of Eden .  The book was interesting because the author traces the journeys of several different persons in their exploration of a finding the historical Eden.  The book reads more like a biography of the explorers themselves, then an exploration of Eden as a place.  In those ways, the book explores as much as anything the unique personalities and persona of the people who have tried to find Eden.  There were several persons reviewed in the book that I had heard of, or had some real year to us because of their association with Biblical studies.  But there were several characters detailed in the book and presented numerous eccentricities in terms of their reasons for searching for Eden in various places of the world.  I should not have been surprised, but I was surprised to discover that people have claimed that Eden is in places as far as China, Sri Lanka, Zambia, Venezuela and even Ohio.  Of course these are very different places then the region of the Fertile Crescent or the region of Mesopotamia which is what I have always been more familiar with.  The book was interesting, not one that I would recommend or reread , but intriguing and fun to explore all the same. 

My lovely bride picked up this book for me while she was at the library, How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness:  Simple Daily Mindfulness Practices for Living Life More Fully and Joyfully.  When I was in Thailand and this summer, I had opportunity to interact with Buddhism and Buddhists people on a daily basis.  I was intrigued by the calmness and serenity of most of the people that I met and my wife knew that.  This simple book, does precisely what it claims in its title, it presents several different ways by which people can use different practices to be mindful about every day of their lives.   I did not read the book from cover to cover – as the mindful practices are designed to be practiced, one week at a time – hence the 52 chapters.  But I did read nearly all of the chapters and found that, if a person were to do these simple things, there is no doubt that they would be more thoughtful and aware and attuned of their daily life – sights, smells, sound and presence around them.

Unprotected Texts: The Bible's Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire by ennifer Wright Knust.  This book was recommended to me by a friend and I certainly thought the title sounded intriguing.  The book was interesting – and there were many, many things that persons would learn about the Bible by reading it.  But, in truth, many of the issues were not new to me – and several of them I disagreed with – both in terms of presuppositions and in terms of the hermeneutic used by the author.  But, that would be no surprise to the author as she says in her own conclusion, “Whatever we wish for . . . probably can be found somewhere in the Bible . . . .  We are not passive recipients of what the Bible says, but active interpreters who make decisions about what we will believe and what we will affirm.”  The next paragraph begins, “Once upon a time, the followers of Jesus knew that they were interpreting the Bible, not simply extracting truth from a set of divinely inspired texts.”  Her use of “once upon a time” – to make it sound like a common fairy tale, and her use that “they” were “not simply extracting truth” is a bit problematic for me as it does seem the followers of Jesus (she cites Paul) did think they were engaging inspired texts!  More to the point, while the author does well to point out that the Bible has no simple solutions – and in fact, quite a myriad of solutions/responses – to issues of sexuality – she comes away with no sustaining ethic for framing any moral basis for any sexual code/principles based on the collection of stories found in the Bible.  Here review of the Bible is important, as her reading portrays the deep complexity of myriad issues involving all manner of sexual practice in the Bible!  But, to come away from these texts and conclude only with a reader-oriented-uninspired-open-ended-the-Bible-doesn’t-really-say-anything-because-the-Bible-says-so-many-varied things, seems to leave us with no sense – and nonsense all together.  Issues of sexuality are complex, indeed!  But even in her review of Song of Songs (Solomon) – the author demonstrates her agenda for interpretation as being one that has a political (w)edge against religious groups that use the Bible to isolate views that espouse “family values.”  Anyone who reads Song of Songs (Solomon), though, should see plainly that the poems are not about “marriage” but about the passion of lovers.  The book, I am sure, will score many points with those who want to “argue” against narrow minded and small-visioned fundamentalist interpretations of erroneous stereotypes for family values from the Bible!  But, a full reading of the Bible demonstrates this plainly enough, without needing the bias and ambiguity that Knust adds to the already complicated issues.

It’s a good thing I read this book as an audio book, because it was so good, with so many fascinating issues that if I had read it in paper form – I would have found myself dog-earing pages, highlighting issues, and, in general, it would have taken me 2 or 3 times as long to read with all the notes I would have made.  The 4 Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality by Richard Panek.  Fascinating and brilliant.  It takes the reader through a gamut of facts, figures, numbers, persons, and stories that narrate the complexities of what we know – and don’t know about the Universe – and life and the worlds and stars and planets.  With fascinating mathematical figures and curious events taking place – the author weaves together a wonderful picture of how much we do not know!  What a great book.

As I was nearing the end of my audio-reading of 4% Universe, I picked up and read, 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense:  The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time by Michael Brooks.  The opening chapter in this text, happened to cover the same issue – so I thought the rest of the book would prove intriguing.  It did not.  Essentially the authors takes issues that seem quite settled in the scientific community but for which there may be an outlier or anomaly that exists – and this author tracks that outlier/anomaly as though *it* were the real truth to be found.  Because, for example, a single bandwidth of reception came in through “the Big Ear” at 1420 Mhz in August of 1977, “we can conclude that it was a single from an alien civilization.”  And later he writes that the “best we can suggest is that it was a signal from an alien spacecraft . . . aimed momentarily and erroneously in our direction as a civilization migrated through our cosmos.”  The author will do well to join in with those who, he claims, have succeeded in making ColdFusion work in the past. 

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