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A Good Excuse to Read

For the last two weeks I’ve had the flu!  What fun.

Actually, it was kinda. Last year when we got the flu after our Christmas trip, I read a Vince Flynn book that I’d had on my shelf for ages: Transfer of Power. I enjoyed it a great deal.

Tranfer of Power

I’d read his first novel, Term Limits, years ago and thought it was really lame and juvenile, so I never tried another. But he went on to become a very popular, best-selling author, so I decided, in the hopes that he had improved his skills over time, I would try his second book, mentioned above. Surprise!  I liked it.

Of course I did have the flu, and it was a welcome diversion from the wretchedness of being ill, but really, I thought it was pretty good. Transfer of Power is the first one where his series hero, Mitch Rapp is the main character, and it is about terrorists taking control of the White House, killing dozens and taking hundreds hostage. Rapp, the CIA’s “top counterterrorism operative” is sent in to take care of the problem.

With this most recent bout of the flu, I turned to Flynn again, seeing as I had found at the used bookstore the next two of his novels in the series: The Third Option and Separation of Power.

Third Option

I read both, back to back, all the while going through boxes of Kleenex almost as if I were some sort of Kleenex soiling machine. (I couldn’t believe how fast I went through them, nor how much “stuff” I had to soil them with!)

The verdict? I enjoyed both books, though I struggled at bit with The Third Option at the beginning because I kept getting lost. Finally about a quarter of the way through, when I realized I had no idea what was going on, I wondered if I was no longer capable of reading books as complex as these with my aging brain… Or was the problem really Flynn simply not being clear? After all, the characters in The Third Option had been presented as if I should know who they were, but I couldn’t remember any of them and there were no reminders for those who might be in my position.

Finally I went back and dug up my old reviews of Term Limits, his first book, and made my first discovery — the characters I was puzzling over In Transfer of Power were indeed the main characters in Term Limits. A book I’d read 11 years ago!  No wonder I couldn’t remember them nor the operations they’d taken part in!

I also went back to the beginning of The Third Option and started going through the writing itself, just to see if it really wasn’t very clear.  (This is the kind of thing a writer does. Normal people probably don’t. If you are an aspiring writer, however, I recommend you do this… It can be very enlightening and help you avoid similar mistakes)

And what was the result of my investigation of technique? The writing was, indeed, unclear.

For one thing, Flynn writes from the omniscient point of view, which means he jumps into any characters’ viewpoint whenever he wishes all within the same scene. The problem with this type of point of view (pov) is that if you’re not careful you can lose your reader along the way, and that’s exactly what happened. You have to be very clear you’re making a pov jump and to whose point of view you are jumping, which Flynn didn’t always do.

For example, the first chapter starts in Rapp’s point of view where he’s walking alone through the woods in Germany, reconnoitering the estate he is about to “invade,” then returns to a cabin where his two teammates have set up.  He enters. There’s some description of the man and woman already there,  the interior, and some equipment. Then it says

“Rapp had never met the man and woman before. He knew them only as Tom and Jane Hoffman. They were in their mid-forties, and as far as Rapp could tell, they were married. The Hoffmans had stopped in two countries before arriving in Frankfurt. Their tickets had been purchased under assumed names with matching credit cards and passports provided by their contact. They were also given their standard fee of ten thousand dollars for a week’s work, paid up-front in cash. They were told someone would be joining them and, as always not to ask any questions.”

All of that is consistent with Rapp’s point of view, which we were clearly in. In the next paragraph, there’s no reason to think it’s not Rapp’s as well, recalling things the Hoffman’s have told him about their journey to this point (or perhaps that he knew from other sources since he’s running this operation):

“All of their equipment was waiting for them at the cottage when they arrived. They started right in on surveillance of the estate and its owner. Several days later they were paid a visit by a man known only to them as the professor. They were given an additional twenty-five thousand dollars and were told they would receive another twenty-five thousand dollars when they completed the mission. He had given them a quick briefing on the man who would be joining them…”

The problem is that this second paragraph is all from the Hoffman’s pov and includes information Rapp does not have. But there’s nothing in the text to give you even a hint of that. In fact, in paragraph one they’re told by their contact that someone will be joining them and in paragraph two that this “professor” has joined them… so… it seemed logical to put those two together, all of it stuff that Rapp knows about.

Except that he doesn’t, as I said, the viewpoint having shifted out of Rapp’s specific awareness at the end of paragraph one and into a general omniscient.  And since that’s not remotely clear, the result is confusion on the reader’s part. At least on this reader’s part.

You could say this was the fault of the reader not reading carefully enough, but I disagree. As an author, you want the reader to rip through your story, especially if it’s a thriller. They aren’t going to be reading carefully, they’re reading to find out what happens and “How is he going to get out of this?!”

 No, it’s up to the author to make it all clear and smooth so the reader always knows through whose eyes he’s experiencing the story.  C.S. Lewis once said something to the effect of (I’m paraphrasing) “Readers are like sheep going down a path. If there’s any way for them to go besides the way you want them to, that’s where they’ll go. Hence, you have to make sure that every gate is closed to them except the ones you want them to go through.”

I don’t think Flynn did such a great job of that in The Third Option, at least not in the beginning. Once I had figured it all out, though, I enjoyed the book quite a bit. And it was especially  good to know I wasn’t all washed up as a reader of complicated political/military thrillers, which I love! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Baby Elephant is Born!

Keepers and supporters of our local zoo have been waiting eagerly for the birth of a baby African elephant, the first ever at the zoo, and in fact, in all of Arizona. Mother, Semba, brought over from San Diego a couple of years ago, was due anytime between mid-July through mid-August, and mid-August has just about passed us by.

Last night she went into labor around 10:35 pm and gave birth 20 minutes later to a baby girl elephant. Isn’t she just the cutest thing, ever:

RPZ Baby Elephant

Reid Park Zoo’s baby elephant, at less than a day old. Click to enlarge

 

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Growing An Amaryllis Bulb: Day 1

An Amaryllis Bulb

An Amaryllis Bulb

 

Growing medium

Growing medium

Plant bulb with moistened growing medium in supplied pot

Plant bulb with moistened growing medium in supplied pot

Wait.

Watch.

Take Pictures.

Lots of potential in the bulb. But unless it’s combined with the moistened (but not wet) growing medium in the supplied pot, nothing will happen… Still, beyond planting it and watering it, there’s little I can do to “help” it.

 

Daniel Pipes: Islam’s Inadvertant Patterns

Daniel Pipes is President of the Middle East Forum. His bi-weekly column appears regularly in the Washington Times and in newspapers around the globe, including the Israel Hayom (Israel), La Razón (Spain), Liberal (Italy), National Post (Canada), and the Australian. He has a PhD from Harvard in History and has been an authority on Middle East affairs for years.

I  recently subscribed to his mailing list and am really enjoying his writings. This post came in the other day, having originally appeared in the Washington Times under the title:

Islam’s inadvertent adverse effects on adherents: Strict traditional laws impact modern life”

How does Islam shape the way Muslims live? The religion’s formal requirements are the narrow base for a far wider structure of patterns that extend the formal rules of Islam, stretching them in unexpected and unplanned ways. A few examples:

The Koran strictly bans the consumption of pork, leading to the virtual disappearance of domesticated pigs in Muslim-majority areas, then their replacement by sheep and goats. These latter overgrazed the land which led, as the geographer Xavier de Planhol observes, to “a catastrophic deforestation” that in turn “is one of the basic reasons for the sparse landscape particularly evident in the Mediterranean districts of Islamic countries.” Note the progression from Koranic dietary injunction to the desertification of vast tracts of land. The scriptural command was not intended to cause ecological damage, but it did.

Islam’s unattainably high standards for governmental behavior meant historically that existing leaders, with their many faults, alienated Muslim subjects, who responded by refusing to serve those leaders in administrative and military service, thereby compelling rulers to seek personnel elsewhere. This led to their systematically deploying slaves as soldiers and administrators, thereby creating a key institution that lasted a millennium from the eighth century.

The Ottoman Janissaries were the longest lasting and most important corps of slave soldiers.

Islamic doctrine ingrains a sense of Muslim superiority, a disdain for the faith and civilization of others, which has had two vast implications in modern times: making Muslims the most rebellious subjects against colonial rule and obstructing Muslims from learning from the West to modernize.

Those scriptures also imbue a hostility toward non-Muslims which in turn generates an assumption about non-Muslims harboring a like hostility toward Muslims. In modern times, this projection has created a susceptibility to conspiracy theories which have had many practical consequences: for example, because only Muslims worry that anti-polio vaccinations secretly render their children infertile, polio has effectively become a Muslim-only scourge in 26 countries.

The annual pilgrimage to Mecca, the Islamic hajj, began in the seventh century as a local custom that then became an international meeting that facilitated the transfer of everything from Islamist ideas and political movements (the Idrisis of Libya) to luxury goods (ivory) plants (rubber to Southeast Asia, rice to Europe), and diseases (meningococci, skin infections, infectious diarrheal and blood-borne diseases, and respiratory tract infections, including perhaps the brand-new MERS-CoV).

The hajj grew from a local ceremony into an international event at which many important exchanges took place.

Other Islamic injunctions also have unintended, negative health implications. The imperative for modesty has led some Muslim women to wear full head and body coverings (niqabs and burqas) which cause Vitamin D deficiency, discourage exercise, and are implicated in a host of medical problems, including rashes, respiratory disease, rickets, osteomalacia, and multiple sclerosis.

The daytime fast during Ramadan often leads observant Muslims to exercise less and to “tend to overeat upon breaking their fast, and usually the meal involves heavy, fatty foods that are high in calories,” notes the head of the Emirates Diabetes Society. One survey in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, found 60 percent of respondents reporting excessive weight gain after Ramadan.

Ramadan, ironically, is both a month of fasting and of overeating.

A preference for first-cousin marriages, which harks back to pre-Islamic tribal practices (to keep wealth in the family and to benefit from daughters’ fertility) over approximately fifty generations has led to widespread inbreeding with negative consequences, including about twice the incidence rate of such genetic disorders as thalassemia, sickle-cell anemia, spinal muscular atrophy, diabetes, deafness, muteness, and autism.

With regard to women, injunctions about mahram protection by male relatives, and a vastly lower social and legal status combined to create such inadvertent patterns as physical seclusion, obsession with virginity, honor killings, female genital mutilation, and (Saudi-style) gender apartheid. Polygamy creates permanent anxiety in wives.

Although orphans enjoy an honored status in Islamic law (kafala), that honor is tied to a tribal structure incompatible with modern society, resulting in Muslim orphans today persistently discriminated against, even by Muslims in the West.

Islam’s scriptures have provided the base from which many other patterns evolved, including: the establishment of dynasties through conquest, not by internal overthrow; recurrent problems with dynastic succession; power leading to wealth, not the reverse; the near absence of municipal governments; inadequate regulation of cities; laws arising from ad hoc decisions, not formal legislation, reliance on hawalas for money transfers, and the practice of suicide terrorism.

Inadvertent patterns, sometimes called Islamicate, change over time, with some (slave soldiers) becoming defunct and others (polio) starting only recently. These patterns remain as powerful today as in premodern times and are key to understanding Islam and Muslim life.

Mr. Pipes (DanielPipes.org) is president of the Middle East Forum. © 2014 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.

Related Topics:  Islam, Middle East patterns This text may be reposted or forwarded so long as it is presented as an integral whole with complete and accurate information provided about its author, date, place of publication, and original URL.

Remember Your Calling

Today I got into the office at 10am (a miracle in itself) and spent an hour clearing my desk of all the miscellany left over from the last month — the annual Christmas letter, photo albums I was making, stuff from the blog migration, notes on the new website design, stuff from doctors (my long time primary care physician resigned Dec 31, so I must find a new one) as well as changing insurance and all that goes with my hubby’s retirement.

Finally, though, it was cleared and time at last to get back to work. One of the first things I do in my writing routine is write in my writing log.

Today I found myself reflecting on how God has been taking me through the confusion of what exactly does “it doesn’t depend on me” mean? Ditto, “I’m not the one battling my flesh, the Holy Spirit is.” And “It’s futile to get on a works program of trying to control whatever your area of weakness is because you are destined to fail.”

What sort of things does one do in adhering to those concepts? How exactly does the Spirit work against the flesh in the lives of born again Christians? Is it a sort of magical process behind the scenes? Is it let go and let God, where you stop trying to do whatever it is (or trying not do whatever it is) and just let Him “take over?”

Honestly, I’m still not clear on it. Do I just trust Him to move me to write and if I’m moved to do other things, then it’s “Oh well. That must have been His plan for me today”?

Except it’s very clear that His plan for me is to write The Other Side of the Sky. He wouldn’t have given me a contract for it, if that wasn’t His plan. He wouldn’t have given me the gracious and long-suffering publishers He did, if that wasn’t His plan. He wouldn’t have given me the files and notebooks full of notes and plans and character sketches, along with seven completed chapters, if that wasn’t His plan…

And frankly, the ‘wait for Him to move me and oh well if He doesn’t’ method has not worked out very well. Granted I have been inundated with intrusions over the last month(s), as related in my previous blog post. But I’m thinking now, that at some point, that has to stop. I just have to start saying no to other things and yes to going into the office and concentrating on the work.

Not surprisingly, the lessons I’ve been receiving, both from Lighthouse Bible Church and elsewhere (Elisabeth Elliot’s Daily Devotional site for one) are moving me back from the extreme edge of the aforementioned position to something maybe in the middle.

Because the one thing I am clear on is that I haven’t done ANY writing really for far too long and I’m thinking I cannot continue in the current vein of thinking and its resultant “schedule”… where I do my adapted Flylady routine related to housekeeping then Bible reading and prayer and by the time I get to writing, I’m out of gas, or something else has come up, or I get distracted and caught up in something that in the big picture doesn’t matter so much, but whose insignificance I can’t seem to see that when I’m in it…

Recent lessons and readings have been emphasizing the fact that we don’t just float along like jellyfish waiting for whatever comes, trusting that God is moving both us and the currents we float in, but  rather that there have to be some decisions made on our part.

We are given commands as Christians, after all:  do not worry, do not be dismayed, stop lying, stop stealing, stop using your tongues to tear others down, but instead use them to build others up… Be kind, tenderhearted… do your work heartily as to the Lord…work with your hands…

God would not give us commands intending that we ignore them. Nor would He give us commands that we, as Church age believers, are incapable of executing. In fact, one of the hallmarks of being Church age believers is that we receive at salvation the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit to aid us in doing things we could never do in our flesh.

Ephesians 4:22ff gives us the outline of how we are to do it: lay aside the old man/way, be renewed in the spirit of your minds (through the Word of God), “and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”

Only the second step is passive — something that’s done to us (we don’t renew our minds, they are renewed by the Spirit and the Word) — but the other two involve our will to desire to do what we’ve been told to do and to choose at the very least to attempt to carry it out.

To be obedient. Not because of the Law, which we are no longer under, but because of who we’ve become in Christ, and what that really means. It seems simplistic, but if the all-loving, all-wise, all-powerful God of the Universe, who has made us His very own children in Christ, with all the attendant perks and privileges of that station, tells us to do something (which by definition would have to be something good and right and just) why in the world would we balk at doing it?

It was with all this on my mind that I sat down at my desk this morning and my eye fell in a suddenly observant way on this bit of advice that I have posted on my bulletin board, advice dispensed by my agent to all his clients:

Remember your CALLING to be a WRITER and keep it HOLY.

You have been given the privilege of communicating His Word, His Truth to a world that desperately needs it.

Everything else is secondary.

I realized then that I had forgotten that… forgotten that I really have been called to be a writer, and really have forgotten to keep it holy, set apart… important!

It matters, and it is obedience on my part to make every effort to carry out what I’ve been called to do. Consciously, deliberately, obediently. Not because of the Law, but because of who I am in Christ, because it’s the gift He’s given me by which He wants me to serve the Body. Yes, He will enable me to do the work, but at the same time I have to put myself in a position and mindset to be able to actually do it.

Shift From Grace to Legalism

Christian Theology

Note: In yesterday’s post I may have given some the impression that Col Thieme taught that we have to feel sorry for our sins in order to be forgiven. He did not. In fact he taught the exact opposite (which was what I was trying to communicate.) I’ve since revised the murky paragraph to reflect this:

Updated paragraph: Col Thieme and others taught that this need to feel sorrow was yet one more means of inserting human effort into the equation… The feeling bad or sorry or broken-hearted becomes the currency by which one tries to earn or buy forgiveness, and is not commensurate with grace.

Now, on to today’s post.

In the process of all the thinking and researching I’ve been doing on the matter of confession of sins, I came across this quote by Roger E. Olsen in his book The Story of Christian Theology:

“Occasionally these fathers of the generation after the apostles gave the gospel their own unique interpretations that began to turn it away from the great themes of grace and faith so strongly emphasized by Paul and  other apostles and more toward the gospel as a “new law” of God-pleasing conduct and behavior… one senses a distance between the Christianity of the New Testament — especially that of Paul — and that of the apostolic fathers (2nd century). References to Paul and the other apostles frequent (in their works); but in spite of this the new faith becomes more and more a new law, and the doctrine of God’s gracious justification becomes a doctrine of grace that helps us act justly.”*

“Of course this shift was subtle and not absolute. It was a barely but definitely perceptible turn in these second-century Christian writings toward legalism, or what may be better termed “Christian moralism.” Although the apostolic fathers such as Ignatius and Polycarp quoted Paul more than James, it was the latter’s spirit that breathed through them. Perhaps due to a perceived moral and spiritual laziness and decline among Christians, they emphasized the need to avoid sinning, obey leaders and work hard to please God more than the need for liberation from bondage to the law.”

*Roger E. Olsen quoting Justo Gonzalez.

So What Do We DO About Personal Sins?

Rageboy

As I said in my last post, I do not believe that we as believers in Christ can ever reach sinless perfection so long as we’re on this earth in these fallen bodies.  We’re going to sin. The question raised was, what are we to do about it?

Well, first have to recognize that we are sinning, but after that, then what? Well, I am convinced the Bible does not tell us we must go through the ritual of “naming the sin privately to God,”  or “rebound” as I’d been taught for years.

Instead, we simply stop doing the bad and start doing the good. Which is what “repent” means: we “change our mind” with regard to that particular thought process/activity — and then stop doing it. And not just stop, but do something else, instead.

In Ephesians 4 Paul lays it all out… Lay aside the old… put on the new…

Stop walking like the Unbelievers walk, in their old way of thinking…
But renew your mind (Ro 12) with the word of God and think on the truth you’ve learned instead of that old human viewpoint stuff.

Be angry, yet do not sin — that is, sin by holding onto it and replaying it in your mind and getting more and more worked up about it; or even worse becoming bitter… Do not let the sun go down on your anger. That is,

Let it Go!

Stop stealing, and set your hands to productive work so you may have an abundance to share with those in need.

Let all wrath and malice and clamor be put away from you and (instead) be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other because Christ has forgiven you.

Because He’s forgiven us of everything, we should gratefully forgive others of their transgressions against us.  And in fact, it helps me to remember while I’m gnashing my teeth over what someone has done to me, that whatever their sin was against me,  Christ died for it, every bit as much as  He died for my judging or outrage. How can I hold anything against the other person, when my Lord has already paid for that failing and forgiven them? Who am I, to think I can’t?

This shifts the focus of our attention off what we’re doing wrong, and what others are doing wrong, and back to what Christ has done about it. And that brings glory to Him, rather than to ourselves and our little rituals performed to “earn” forgiveness…

For By One Offering…

picture courtesy of La Vista Church of Christ

picture courtesy of La Vista Church of Christ

So I did my word search of “confess” (yadah) in the Old Testament, and as I mentioned in the last post, I did not find what I expected to find. Even when I included “acknowledge” in my search, I still came up with only 20 verses in the entire Old Testament using these words.

Of those 20 verses, less than half (8) referred to confession of sin, and the rest related to making a public declaration of something or someone (eg, a man’s firstborn and heir).

(In contrast “know” is found in 534 verses, “knowledge” in 104, “wisdom” in 154, “truth” in 91 verses,  “sins” 101…)

Since the usage is more or less evenly split between the verbal, public declaration of something, an heir for example,  and the verbal declaration of sins, I don’t see it helping to support the notion that  “confession of personal sins” is the meaning the Apostle John intended to communicate in his letter. If anything, I think it supports the other interpretation, ie, it’s a public declaration of having acknowledged oneself a sinner and believing in Christ.

So ultimately, I don’t think my word search of the OT contributed all that much to answering my question. In fact, it’s reinforced my thought that trying to use Old Testament Hebrew words to understand New Testament Greek words is probably not all that edifying, especially given the fact that as Church Age believers, we live in a new age, with a completely different operating system from what Old Testament did. In fact in some cases Paul had to coin entirely new words, because he lacked the appropriate terms to express what was being revealed to him.

Old Testament saints lived before Jesus came to die for us. For them everything was physical. The Jews saw God in the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud and in the appearances on Mt. Sinai. They had the physical temple where He lived behind  with the veil in the Holy of Holies. They had the overt and distinct physical, specialized priesthood. They had physical sacrifices and physical cleansing rituals and had to physically confess their sins aloud to the priest to be transferred to the physical animals which they then either watched be slain, or slew themselves. And they had to keep doing that over and over, every year, at least, if not more, as they looked forward to the coming of their king.

Moreover, Heb 10 tells us that

“For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which [the priests] offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year.

For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”*

The physical blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins. It merely covered them until such time as the One Perfect Sacrifice would arrive. Until that time the Jews had to keep confessing and being cleansed…

“Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “SACRIFICES AND OFFERINGS AND WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, NOR HAVE YOU TAKEN PLEASURE in them” (which are offered according to the Law),  then He said, “BEHOLD, I HAVE COME TO DO YOUR WILL.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second.**

He takes away the first – the LAW —  in order to establish the second – GRACE.

Christ is our sacrifice and He did it once for all. He doesn’t have to keep going back to the Cross. It’s done. And if He doesn’t have to keep going back to the Cross, why would we have to keep on confessing? Confession in the OT was tied to the sacrifice; the Jewish believer confessed his sin to the Priest who transferred it to the animal which was then slain to cover the sin.

“By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins;  but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD…

For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.***

That is, US! Believers in the Church age. When we believed in Him, we acknowledged (confessed?) that all our sins were transferred to Him as the sacrificial lamb and paid for by His death, once and for all time on Golgotha…

AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE.”  Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus,  by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,

and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.****

“Having” our hearts sprinkled clean, not “sprinkling our hearts clean” – He did it, not us. There is no talk here of confessing sins, only…

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering [ELPIS – confident expectation], for He who promised is faithful*****

And look! Here’s another place that shows confession to be a public profession of faith in Christ, of salvation through Christ, NOT confession of sin.

In fact the preceding verses communicate very clearly that we don’t need to do anything related to the OT sacrifices any more, neither confess, nor cleanse ourselves, because we’ve already been forgiven and cleansed when we believed in Christ.

And in light of all this, when I look at 1 John 1:9 now …

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness…”

…it’s become very clear that it has nothing to do with confessing personal sins and everything to do with the confession of salvation, the confession of being a sinner and believing in Christ.

__

* Hebrews 10:1 – 4

**Heb 10:5a; 10:8,9

***Heb 10:10-14

****Heb 10:17-22

*****Heb 10:23