Sunday, December 28, 2014

‘Lamaze: An International History’ (Book Review)

If childbirth is known for something, it’s being painful. And many mothers give silent thanks to French obstetrician Fernand Lamaze for inventing a method to ease some of that pain. It’s pretty much a given that, if you’re having a baby, you’re doing “Lamaze.” The method is so engrained in American culture that few are aware that it has been around for less than a century…and that it has Soviet roots! (Cue scary music.)

Curious about the real origins of this popular birthing technique, historian and mother Paula A. Michaels, Senior Lecturer at Australia’s Monash University, combed archival material from four countries and even conducted personal interviews to learn more. In Lamaze: An International History (Oxford, 2014), she presents the stories behind the search for a painless delivery, from the Grantly Dick-Read method to I.Z. Vel’vovskii’s psychoprophylaxis to “Lamaze” as practiced today. There’s also much about the cyclical popularity of anesthesia, on the upswing more recently with the introduction of the epidural. What the reader will quickly discover is that these techniques didn’t materialize out of thin air, but were the products of social forces at work. Michaels’ story is not merely about obstetrics, but about Cold War tensions, political propaganda, psychology’s role in medicine, feminist movements, American consumerism, and the fads of “natural childbirth” with all its shades of meaning.

I don’t have much interest in medicine – my stomach churns when people talk about their operations – but I can honestly say I enjoyed reading Lamaze. It gave me a new understanding of and appreciation for the techniques, drugs, and machines available to new mothers today. I hope the book finds its way to the reading lists of many graduate-level history classes, particularly those in Gender History that want to discuss patriarchy, psychotherapy, and the control of women, and those covering 20th Century United States History that could benefit from an unusual perspective on Soviet-American relations. As for new mothers, I recommend only giving it to those who you know would appreciate a scholarly book. For the rest, they’ll have to wait until a PBS documentary is made.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book as a First Reads giveaway winner on There was no obligation to write a review.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

‘How to Survive in Hollywood and Keep Your Integrity’ (Book Review)

It often seems like everyone’s looking to “make it” as an actor in Hollywood. Not surprisingly, we can find a plethora of how-to books available to show the way. A recent one is How to Survive in Hollywood and Keep Your Integrity (2013) by Toni Covington (IMDb), an actress whose credits include parts in TV’s The Thin Man (1957–1959) and the films The Private Lives of Adam and Eve (1960) and Buster Ladd (1969).

Readers just getting started in their acting careers will probably get the most out of this book. They’ll learn how to outline an appropriate resume and navigate through the often confusing world of actors’ unions. There’s also some good advice about keeping a good attitude, making use of your other talents (like singing, dancing, and playing sports), and accepting unusual roles. The author encourages her readers to not limit themselves to the usual feature film, theater, and television trio but to consider “industrial films, documentaries, religious films, [and] training films” that will provide them with much-needed experience.

While on the surface How to Survive might look like a goldmine of information, I’m skeptical about how far it will really get an aspiring actor. Ms. Covington’s advice can be categorized as basic, outdated, or incomplete. Yes, the reader needs to find a good agent and photographer, but how exactly is that done? And it might make sense to accept unusual and small roles to build experience, but the author doesn’t show how to prevent getting stuck, as many actors do, in bit part and commercial work. Also, while this probably wasn’t intentional on her part, she perpetuates the idea that modeling is the gateway job to acting. Actors come in all ages, shapes, and sizes; models have to be perfect. I would hate to see someone who showed real promise in acting be discouraged because of not being able to infiltrate the cut-throat world of modeling first.

There’s also the matter of keeping one’s integrity, a central point of the book, which I thought needed a more serious treatment. The author tries to discourage her readers from trying to “sleep their way” to success. Ultimately, I think she fails. By her own telling, her acting career stagnated when she turned down a proposition from a TV and film executive (who, by the way, took seconds to find – thanks to Google, IMDb, and the prevalence of online obituaries – despite her attempt to mask his identity). In other words, the moral lesson appears to backfire. While the book might be about surviving, most readers are interested in succeeding. Ms. Covington never landed the big leads that would give her the credibility readers are looking for. Yes, How to Survive can provide acting novices with some things to seriously think about. But since most of the information can be found – better written and in far more detail – on websites, in other books, and directly from industry professionals like an acting coach and talent agent, I’m left unconvinced that she’s the authority to turn to.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book as a First Reads giveaway winner on There was no obligation to write a review.

Friday, December 19, 2014

‘Diary of a Jewish Muslim’ (Book Review)

The best thing a new story has going for it is an unusual character, circumstance, or setting. Diary of a Jewish Muslim: An Egyptian Novel (AUC Press, 2014), written by Kamal Ruhayyim and translated by Sarah Enany, had all three, making it treat to read. I doubt there are many fictional books about Jews in Arab countries, and even fewer readily available in English. Add in an inter-religious marriage, and this is definitely not your typical coming-of-age novel.

I’ll say right off: Don’t believe the inside book cover. The story actually dates from the 1950s to the 1970s, not the 1930s to the 1960s mentioned in the publisher’s description, causing me some unnecessary confusion. The Suez War has ended, and Egypt’s Muslims and Jews live in a world of bigotry, hostility, and antagonism coming from both sides. Because of the worsening political situation, many Jews are immigrating to other countries like France for asylum. This is the world in which Galal is born and raised. The only son of a Muslim father he’s never met and a Jewish mother, he takes us on a journey of laughter and tears through his formative years, as he tries to discover his true identity.

I liked this book straightaway for three reasons. First, it isn’t shy about the religious tensions. The reader has to learn how to like, or at least empathize with, the characters despite their bigotry, rather than being treated with a watered-down version of it. Second, while popular culture likes to focus on the love of the Romeo and Juliet and their right to get together, few people care to talk about what happens to the children of mixed unions, who often grow up confused about who they are, unable to really hold on to anything permanent or confidently pursue love of their own. As the outcome of an inter-racial marriage, I could identify with Galal as he constantly feels out of place in both sides of his family and not fully accepted by his peers. A lot of readers might find this depressing, but it’s arguably realistic.

Third, I thought the diary approach was particularly entertaining for the early years. The reader is told what happens from the baby’s, toddler’s, and child’s perspectives, not from a grown man’s perspective looking back on his past. The reader sees the religious and cultural conflict, not as the adults who perpetuate them see them, but as a child just learning how to navigate through life sees them: confusing, unfair, and often contradictory.

What didn’t I like about Diary of a Jewish Muslim? At times, the book can be a rough read. Some religious and cultural references are explained, while others are sort of left to the reader to figure out. Once or twice, I was confused about who was speaking, possibly a flaw in the author’s writing style, possibly an error in the translation. And I had to reread the last three chapters to make sense of the ending. I think I know where the author was trying to go with it, but I don’t think he was successful in getting his main character there. So while I enjoyed the beginning and middle, I was left unsatisfied with the close. However, I don’t want that to keep you from at least checking it out. The book’s unique elements might be enough to win the hearts of many a reader.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book as a First Reads giveaway winner on There was no obligation to write a review.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Titus 2 Woman Loves Her Husband

“The Oldest Love Poem” (8th Cent. BC)
(İstanbul Archaeological Museums)
How does a “Titus 2 Woman,” as a teacher of good, carry out that mission? First, she can train younger women to love their husbands:

[Π]ρεσβύτιδας ὡσαύτως ἐν καταστήματι ἱεροπρεπεῖς, μὴ διαβόλους μὴ οἴνῳ πολλῷ δεδουλωμένας, καλοδιδασκάλους, ἵνα σωφρονίζωσιν τὰς νέας φιλάνδρους εἶναι, φιλοτέκνους σώφρονας ἁγνὰς οἰκουργοὺς ἀγαθάς, ὑποτασσομένας τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν, ἵνα μὴ ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ βλασφημῆται. – Titus 2:3-5 (NA28)

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. – Titus 2:3-5 (ESV)

The key word here in the Greek is φίλανδρος (“man-loving”), derived from φιλεω (“to love”/“to kiss”) and ἀνήρ (“man”/“husband”). It should be familiar. That’s where we get our modern word “philanderer.” In ancient times, φίλανδρος was used in a number of different ways. It signified the love of men in general, such as for the citizens of one’s country, or friendliness towards the male sex. This is consistent with how we understand and use the words “philanthropy” (“love of people”) and “misogyny” (“hatred of women”) today. Still, the word was also used to indicate the general direction of a person’s sexual attraction or romantic affection. That is, φίλανδρος was used for homosexual men and heterosexual women, in contrast to φιλογύνης (“woman-loving”) for heterosexual men and homosexual women. And specifically, when used for women, φίλανδρος could indicate either fondness for their husbands or lewd behavior.

It is in the sense of loving one’s husband that we normally understand this biblical passage. While it appears to make the most sense considering the immediate context, I wouldn’t necessarily rule out all other definitions, because those could be applied more generally to all women, regardless of marital status. (I would, of course, exclude lewdness regardless, not only because the Bible explicitly condemns it, but also because it is inconsistent with the concern for the reputation of God’s people we’ve seen throughout the Book of Titus.)

Many Christians argue that “love their husbands” is the best interpretation, on the grounds that marriage was the social norm at the time and, therefore, practically every woman had a husband. That argument never made sense to me, even as a child. We know quite well that there were many unmarried Christian women in Early Church, as well as in Jewish and Roman societies in general. Expecting that every woman under Titus’ pastoral oversight would eventually find herself with her own man to love is rather naïve, especially if we consider that they were in a religious subculture that was known at the time for life-long virgins, devoted widows, and divorced women resolved to never remarry. So again, while I would say that “husband-loving” is probably the best choice, I’m not sure that “man-loving” in general can completely be ruled out.

Now, assuming we have the correct interpretation, we can ask, why would the author be concerned about women expressing love towards their husbands? Loving is something that many Christians assume should come easy to women. In fact, noting that two other Pauline letters charge husbands – and not wives – to αγαπατε their spouses (Ephesians 5:22-33, Colossians 3:18-19), many Christians argue that loving comes naturally to women, hence they don’t have to be told to do it. For the record, ἀγαπάω (“to love”) is more commonly used than φιλεω in the Septuagint and Greek New Testament. While not strict synonyms, they both can refer to having feelings or sexual desire for someone. (See my post about Amnon raping Tamar.)

Now, I don’t mean to suggest the command given to women in Titus 2:3-5 is equivalent to the command given to men elsewhere. What concerns me is the false assumption that it’s easy to follow. Despite the loving reputation, it can be difficult for a woman to always be affectionate towards her husband. At times he might be difficult. Disagreeable. Annoying. He might embarrass her. Ignore her. Even hurt her, emotionally or physically. And in ancient times, there was the added problem that she might’ve found herself unwillingly betrothed to someone distasteful, who could often legally cheat on her, but not her on him. Doesn’t sound like she’d always be in the mood to kiss him!

This is the context in which I believe we should interpret the instruction for the older Cretan women. I doubt the author was concerned about women passing down the secrets of an exciting sexual life or hints on how to be a perfect 1950’s “Good Wife,” with homemade dinners, a spotless house, and perfect hair. Instead, I think he was hoping that experienced women could help new brides smoothly navigate through the rockiest parts of marital life. The Christian community’s reputation would’ve improved, as couples would’ve shown each other more affection and learned to be patient and understanding with each other.

Certainly, a little love can go a long way in the home. However, we should acknowledge that women can go overboard with this, with or without urging from the pulpit. Wisdom on that point is found in one of the letters of Basil “the Great,” bishop of Cæsarea (b.329/30-d.379). He uses φιλάνδρους when writing a consolatory letter to the widow of the General Arinthæus, urging her to moderate her feelings for her deceased husband lest she become ruled by them (Epistulae 269: Perseus; CCEL). Those of us who’ve witnessed the blind and unrestrained devotion some women can have towards the men in their lives can appreciate the bishop’s concern.

In addition, we need to beware of turning our husbands into idols. Many Christians like to overstate a woman’s duty to love her husband such that their definition comes into conflict with her duty to God. As the Emperor Julian of Rome (b.331/2-d.363) wrote the priestess Callixeine, “Now who would rank a woman's piety [φιλόθεον] second to her love for her husband [φίλανδρον] without appearing to have drunk a very deep draught of mandragora?” (Epistulae 42: Perseus; Wikisource). That is, literally, who but a drunk would prioritize φίλανδρος (“men-loving”) over φιλόθεος (“god-loving”)? Pagan words, yes, but they echo an overarching theme found in the Bible: God is more important than man, and our relationship with Him is more important than our human relationships. A woman’s devotion to her husband certainly has no business surpassing her devotion to God. Rather, as Titus 2:3-5 implies, it is to reflect this devotion to God.

Translation of “The Oldest Love Poem”
[This poem dates from the Ancient Babylonian Era (8th Cent. BC), reflecting Sumerian beliefs and customs. Especially note the last stanza.]

Bridegroom, dear to my heart,
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet,
Lion, dear to my heart,
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet.

Bridegroom, let me caress you,
My precious caress is more savory than honey,
In the bedchamber, honey-filled,
Let me enjoy your goodly beauty,
Lion, let me caress you,
My precious caress is more savory than honey.
Bridegroom, you have taken your pleasure of me,
Tell my mother, she will give you delicacies,
My father, he will give you gifts.

You, because you love me,
Give me pray of your caresses,
My lord god, my lord protector,
My SHU-SIN, who gladdens ENLIL's heart,
Give my pray of your caresses

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

‘Made in the USA: The Sex Trafficking of America’s Children’ (Book Review)

A social justice issue that for many years has been close to my heart is human trafficking. So I was grateful for the opportunity to review one of the most recent books on the subject, Made in the USA: The Sex Trafficking of America’s Children by Alisa Jordheim (HigherLife, 2014). The author is Founder and Executive Director of the Justice Society. No, not DC Comics’ team of superheroes, but a nonprofit that has taken up the cause against modern day sexual slavery.

While most media tend to focus on these crimes committed outside our country, Made in the USA brings the topic uncomfortably close to home, featuring the dramatized stories of five trafficking survivors. Each serves as an example of how American minors get forced into the pornography and prostitution: the emotionally-controlling boyfriend, the abusive family member, homelessness, recruitment, and kidnapping. Some of the content was expected, such as the common themes of broken homes, drug abuse, physical abuse, and emotional manipulation. Other parts opened my eyes, such as the rape culture of rodeos that apparently doesn’t get publicized often. It’s hard to come away from this book still thinking of prostitution as solely an urban problem.

Because of my concern for this social problem, it’s tempting to just offer praise for Made in the USA, but I need to be honest: I was really disappointed by it’s disorganization. The pages were cluttered with stock photos and the text padded with lengthy quotes, distracting me from the book’s central message. While tear-inducing at times, the testimonials didn’t always read smoothly; often it seemed as though important parts of the stories had gone missing. In addition, it would’ve been nice to begin each chapter with more background information about the featured victim, and to save the commentary about the key themes for afterward. By discussing the themes first, I felt like the stories – the main attraction of the book – were relegated to supporting evidence. I closed the book wondering if it had been a rushed job. Yes, it’s difficult to critique a book like this, when you know the contributors must have relived a lot of pain to share their experiences, experiences that haunt their dreams and continue to cause them to feel shame. I’m extremely grateful that they went for it anyway, taking the chance to help others entrapped and spread the word about these terrible crimes. But because I believe their stories are important, I wish more effort had been put into their presentation.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

‘Heaven Bound’ (Book Review)

It’s probably the wish of every Christian parent and grandparent to leave their descendants a spiritual legacy as well as any material one. I’ve heard of transcribed diaries, handwritten copies of the New Testament, and numerous letters composed in effort to pass on one generation’s wisdom to the next, and I admire the efforts made to do so. However, while these works might be a meaningful blessing for the original intended audience, they don’t necessarily have the same effect on the rest of us. This is what crossed my mind as I was reading Heaven Bound: An Incredible Journey to the Perfect Destination (WestBow Press, 2012) by S. Tucker Yates.

As its name implies, Yates’s book is about our eternal reward. In twelve uneven chapters, he maps out this “journey” Christians make from trusting in the Bible as God’s Word to having faith in Christ to spreading the Good News to others. He emphasizes the need for repentance and the forgiveness of others, while downplaying “water baptism.” Towards the end, he discusses some of the questions that can often haunt Christians, such as whether or not we’re supposed to “feel” something different and what can we do about doubt in our lives.

Despite the best of intentions, the theological content of Heaven Bound is decidedly shallow. Rather than making concise arguments that might actually impact an unbeliever and strengthen the faith of a Christian, the author resorts to statements like “brilliant people in history [have] believed the Bible” (p.12), thinking that should convince us to do so too. And when it comes to controversial topics, such as dead children going to heaven (p.71), it’s as if it never occurs to him to substantiate his claims in any way. Yates is essentially writing for an audience that already agrees with him, even if he’s suggested otherwise by inserting mid-chapter appeals to unbelieving readers.

This goes in hand with his tendency to place a lot of confidence in the testimony and teachings of people he admires or has personally known over the years. He shares what he remembers from this-or-that devotional book or sermon illustration, and pads his work with pithy sayings and random quotes without taking the time to thoughtfully incorporate them into his message. And readers are supposed to blindly accept the wisdom of people like his mother and small group buddies without knowing who these people are. Proof that he made a mistake himself in trusting too readily is his decision to repeat some inane idea that Jesus invented the Greek word “agape” for love. (When I asked my husband how Yates could’ve missed all of the earlier occurrences of the word in Greek and Hellenic Jewish literature, he quipped that the author must have been trying to make a new argument for the pre-existence of Christ!)

The author began writing to his grandchildren, to whom the book is dedicated, expounding on the people whose messages and stories that have inspired him over the years. The end result was a subpar manual about “how to get to heaven.” Sure, Yates might have studied the Bible for sixty-plus years and led a few people to Christ, but that doesn’t mean he’s qualified to write a comprehensive plan of salvation. He needs to get his thoughts better organized and tap into his own reservoir of experiences and unique insights that he can share with others. I still give him points for composing for his kiddies, but if he was honest with himself, I hope he’d agree that they deserved better.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.


Monday, October 20, 2014

‘Class Dismissed – The Movie’ (Film Review)

Last Wednesday I drove out to Laemmle's NoHo 7 Cinema for the premiere screening of the long-awaited Class Dismissed - The Movie (2014). Aided in part by donations through an Indiegogo campaign, filmmakers Jeremy Stuart and Dustin Woodard joined forces to create this independent documentary exploring some of the whys and hows of contemporary homeschooling. They found a family that was on the cusp of giving up the public school system, and started filming.

If you decide to attend one of the upcoming screenings, be forewarned. This is the type of film where the audience’s pre-approval and enthusiasm can make up for whatever is lacking in content and quality. As an indie film, it’s a bit rough around the edges, but I thought that they did a great job overall, including a variety of voices and mentioning some of the problems – as well as the benefits – of independent schooling.

Given the time constraint, the film covers a lot, but someone will always be asking why such-and-such was left out. However, I think it was appropriate to focus primarily on the methods the featured family were trying. What do I wish they’d covered more? Well, while court battles and police visits are largely a thing of the past, it would’ve been nice for them to address the legalities of unschooling in California. I had a more “structure” curriculum, so I’m curious as to how families fare when they don’t.

Also, I would’ve liked some discussion about potential problems with the children’s futures. It might be nice to spend your day crafting and volunteering at the local aquarium, but there’s a lot of things employers expect you to get that generally comes from a classroom. Perhaps unintentionally, the film gives the impression that you can learn everything on the (unpaid) job. This is a major pitfall in the homeschooling mentality, and it’s resulted in too many adults who realized too late that they’d wasted their developmental years on what their parents mistakenly thought would prepare them for good careers. I had to learn the painful lesson that volunteer and “real world” experience are complements – not substitutes – for credentials and degrees. I hope these girls don’t have too.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

‘Wonder Woman Unbound’ (Book Review)

I’m not a comic book fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve enjoyed enough superhero television shows and feature films in my days to appreciate a laidback history of the most famous superheroine of all time, Wonder Woman. My childhood included the occasional coloring book and Lynda Carter rerun, but other than that, I was completely unfamiliar with the character. Despite being an American cultural icon, she doesn’t have a movie that would familiarize the general public with her story. Nor did she really have much of a following after her “Golden Age.” Comic book historian and blogger Tim Hanley explains why in Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine (Chicago Review Press, 2014).

While many people think of DC Comic’s Wonder Woman as just a female Superman – I even called her “Superwoman” the first time I saw her! – the origin story of her comic book series is a lot more complicated than that. Creator William Moulton Marston saw an opportunity to brainwash…er, educate the young male population on his particular views about female superiority, sexual bondage, and submission. Later, under new supervision, the Amazonian morphed in and out of pitiful female stereotypes: emotional, vindictive, shallow, and – ironic of all – someone obsessed with pleasing the man in her life. Despite a short-lived revival as an icon for the 1970s feminist movement, Wonder Woman never regained popularity, and has all but faded from popular memory save the occasional t-shirt.

The author has clearly made a valuable contribution to comic book historical research, yet I found that Wonder Woman Unbound is best enjoyed if it’s not treated like a scholarly tome. While I’ve watched enough old movies to notice on film the trends Hanley mentioned in how women were portrayed and treated, he really needed to document this more carefully. In addition, his discussion about Gloria Steinem, Ms. magazine, and the 1970s feminist movement was seriously lacking. And the graphs were very sloppy. On the plus side though, I thought he made a very good case against the popular belief that Wonder Woman, more so than other female comic book stars, was a vanguard of modern feminism. In addition, he gave a very balanced and insightful presentation on psychologist Fredric Wertham and his infamous Seduction of the Innocent. Hanley shows that many of the psychologist’s criticisms of comic books were well-founded, even if many fans and historians haven’t been accepting of them.

If Wonder Woman Unbound ends up on the required reading list for a college course on gender studies, popular culture, or freshman composition, I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s the kind of book that can get conversations going, and no professor is going to miss this opportunity to push sex into the forefront of the discussion. Yes, the book made me uncomfortable at times, I’d have to concur. It would’ve been nicer to continue with a sanitized imagine of Wonder Woman, as she’s generally know. Yet in the end I thought the enlightenment – and corresponding disillusionment – was probably for the best.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

‘Is That a Fact?’ (Book Review)

What’s attractive about book debunking urban myths and exposing frauds? It’s not just the promise of being well-informed, but very much the satisfaction of laughing at the expense of those we imagine are too stubborn or stupid to see the light. The latest book in this genre of exposé is Joe Schwarcz’s Is That a Fact? Frauds, Quacks, and the Real Science of Everyday Life.

The book starts off promising to entertain with a great introduction, stressing the need to think critically, assessing the problem of popular scientific misinformation, and discussing the limitations and difficulties that plague scientific research. But it quickly goes downhill with a rather boring review of should-be-obviously-wrong beliefs. Unlike similar debunking books that are upbeat in tone and fun to read, Schwarcz is dull. His explanations are bogged down in a lot of scientific lingo, and too often he just resorts to the “Well, it’s obviously stupid to believe this” sort of attitude. As if that’s actually going to help the reader!

When discussing things whose status is verified or yet to be determined, Schwarcz is a lot more balanced and easier to read. However, by then I was disillusioned with the book. Schwarcz just doesn’t deliver. Worse yet, he proves that even he’s not immune to quackery, eagerly taking up the banner of his favorite fad diet. Given his heavy use of science, readers with backgrounds in chemistry might appreciate Is That a Fact. However, the majority who just want to be entertained by a scientist uncovering the truth about Youngevity and Dr. Oz should probably look elsewhere.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Titus 2 Woman Teaches What Is Good

Miniature of poetess Faltonia Betitia Proba (4th Century)
teaching the life of Jesus, De mulieribus claris
by Giovanni Boccaccio (15th Century) (Wikipedia)
If we were to ask the average Christian about what is meant by “Titus 2 Woman,” he or she would probably say with the utmost of confidence, “The older women are to teach the younger women,” and launch into a discussion about the importance of positive role models for today’s girls. Many heads would nod, indicating that that answer is satisfactory, but if we thought about it a little, it really should raise more than a few eyebrows. After all, in what society in all of human history have older women not been expected to impart some sort of knowledge upon the younger members of their sex? What next? “Parents, feed your children”? Pauline doctrine, often thought of as theologically sophisticated, now appears utterly sophomoric. So on that note, let’s take a look at what the text actually says:

[Π]ρεσβύτιδας ὡσαύτως ἐν καταστήματι ἱεροπρεπεῖς, μὴ διαβόλους μὴ οἴνῳ πολλῷ δεδουλωμένας, καλοδιδασκάλους, ἵνα σωφρονίζωσιν τὰς νέας φιλάνδρους εἶναι, φιλοτέκνους σώφρονας ἁγνὰς οἰκουργοὺς ἀγαθάς, ὑποτασσομένας τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν, ἵνα μὴ ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ βλασφημῆται. – Titus 2:3-5 (NA28)

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.Titus 2:3-5 (ESV)

As I mentioned earlier in this Bible study series, the word of interest is καλοδιδασκάλους (“teacher of virtue”/“teaching good”), giving us the second instruction for older women. The first was, as you’ll recall, the charge to be reverent, which was then defined in terms of its opposite behavior, being malicious gossips and drunkards. Now we have the call to be teachers of virtue. Older women are to teach what is good, so that by doing this, others will learn to model godly behavior.

Notice that Paul clearly places the emphasis not on who is being taught (i.e., “young women”) but on what is being taught (i.e., “goodness”). I might appear to be making a mountain out of a mole hill, but a slight difference in how we read a verse can have profound implications on how we live out its doctrine. By emphasizing the “who,” many Christians have exchanged lessons on godliness for courses on Home Economics. It takes the young woman away from Mary, learning at the feet of Jesus, and places her into the kitchen with Martha, learning how to bake whole wheat bread. Cretan women would’ve taught their daughters cooking skills regardless. What Paul was concerned about was them practicing righteousness, something they obviously weren’t doing. We shouldn’t confuse the two.

Another concern I have is the disturbing trend for male church leaders to insist that the verse absolves them of teaching young women anything since that’s a woman’s job. One Bible professor I heard made an argument from silence, showing that since Paul never gave Titus anything to relay to the young women directly, Titus wasn’t to teach them at all. This professor never thought to be consistent, however. He would have to claim also that Titus couldn’t teach slave masters since Paul only gave him instructions for slaves (Titus 2:9-10), but I suppose that would’ve struck him as ridiculous.

Before I close, I’d like you to consider a new interpretation. No, I
’m not trying to rewrite the Bible. The translation “and so to train the young women” is, in my unschooled opinion, both an accurate rendering of the Greek and consistent with the overall context of the passage. However, in the course of studying it for this series, I’ve wondered about possible alternative readings. The two words of interest are σωφρονίζωσιν (“making sensible”/“recalling them to their senses”) and νέας (“new”/“young”).

While words like “training,” “teaching,” and “instructing” suggest imparting something new, σωφρονίζω appears to also carry a sense of restoration or reconciliation. In other words, Paul might have not intended the Cretan women to merely instruct each other, but to also correct each other, bringing wayward souls back into communion with God. And while νέος is known to mean “young” (think “neonatal”), we’re also are familiar with the usage of “new” (think “neoliberalism”). I’m wondering if it is possible that the νέας Paul was referring to were “new women” or recent converts (cf. Colossians 3:9-10), but that might be a stretch. At the very least, I hope that, in your quest to become a “Titus 2 Woman,” you will foremost be a teacher of what is good. Expect that role to include some teaching and perhaps some restoring. And in your quest to meet the needs of those younger than you, don’t forget that new Christians need guidance too.

Monday, July 28, 2014

‘PushBack’ (Book Review)

If dystopian fiction is your kind of thing, consider the second release of PushBack: Deficit Triggers Hyperinflation, Terrorism (2014) by Alfred Wellnitz. In the midst of economic chaos, the United States of America is helpless against secessionist efforts. Atlanta native Jim Reed finds himself living in a tyrannical military state that unapologetically eliminates all opposition, including his longtime girlfriend. Now our hero goes underground as John Renner and joins the Freedom Legion, bent on ending the CAN Party’s tyranny.

Now that I’ve got you interested, let’s lay it all out. While PushBack initially may have had some potential, I have to agree with the hero who thinks the plot sounds like a B movie (p. 25). Wellnitz resurrects the Southern Confederacy, Adolf Hitler, and the Soviet Russia – and puzzlingly has them all in agreement – because he apparently can’t think of anything original. His hero is presumably a rather decent person yet is drawn into a terrorist organization because he’s so wrapped up in his desire for revenge. We don’t see an internal struggle fleshed out as he kills and plots to kill hundreds of people. We’re just expected to accept what he and his fellow freedom fighters do, creepily in clear conscience. And in the end, we have a new military state – albeit run by the good guys – that isn’t any more interested in answering questions than the previous government. Oh, and that’s supposed to be the happy ending.

The citizens of the Federated States aren’t the only ones left with questions. I was left wondering about a few things myself. For example, despite Wellnitz’s penchant for including too much backstory and endless detail, he overlooks some important details on how and why the United States of America fell. In the midst of hyperinflation, economic chaos, and secession, the narration keeps its focus on the Presidency. That’s like a first grader’s impression of the Federal government. Where was Congress during all this? Why wasn’t the Senate exercising any power? And how did the Federal Reserve, which is generally conservative in its policies, allow the money supply to expand out of control? Wellnitz might believe he’s politically savvy, but his lousy setup betrays his ignorance.

Another thing that really irked me is his treatment of race/ethnicity, sex/gender, and sexual persuasion. Wellnitz is stuck in the 1950s and lacks any understanding of how racial identity and racism have changed since then. He creates a fantasy world where all whites are bad guys, unless Jewish or Scandinavian (or married to such), and the only political issues of importance are legislating racial supremacy and segregation. While the author probably was hoping for extra points for being inclusive, his diverse cast of characters, including one lesbian, is so contrived that it’s more likely to irritate his readers than impress them. And if he’s hoping to spark some sort of activism by his book, it’ll probably be from Latina Mothers Against Idiot Authors. It’s bad enough that he belabors us with each person’s age and physical description. We really don’t need to be told a zillion times that every Latina character has a beautiful body.

Speaking of irrelevant detail, we don’t need to know the number of chairs at a particular kitchen table which no one happens to be sitting at. We don’t need to know that the hero has his facial hair styled just like the author’s. And we don’t need to be told the names, physical features, dress habits, and backstories of people who will appear in the movie script as Security Guard 1 and Bureaucrat 2. What is needed is for Wellnitz to learn how to edit, and while he’s at it, hire a professional proofreader. The book is rife with typos, formatting errors, poor wording, endless repetition, over-explanation, and spell-checker casualties (e.g., “resurrection” for “insurrection”). All this makes for a rather painful read.

I could spell out every problem I noticed, but my review would end up as long as Wellnitz’s 417-page book. I’ll cut it short with this: Wellnitz fails primarily because he doesn’t stick to writing about what he knows. Religious, ethnic and regional cultures are poorly portrayed. The hero’s career prior ends up being irrelevant because the author’s not familiar with it enough to have the character utilize those skills or knowledge sets. A lot of this could’ve been easily avoided. Instead of our hero being a black lawyer, why not a white Navy officer or engineer? Instead of setting the story in Georgia, Pennsylvania, and California, why not stick with South Dakota and Minnesota (where a Somali love interest would’ve made a lot more sense, I must add). At his age, Wellnitz should have a lot of life experience to draw from. Unfortunately, he doesn’t utilize it in ways that would make this book a success.

While I still stand by my claim that PushBack shows some real potential, it’s nowhere near ready to hit the bookstore shelves. Give the author a few years to clean up some parts, rework others, and run the manuscript by some trained eyes. Then we’ll see how it does with a re-rerelease.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. I was not required to write a favorable review.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Q&A: Discrimination Against E-Books

Manuscript by  Seth Sawyers (Flickr)
Señora Estrada,
Why did you refuse to review my ebook?

Dear Reader,
Please don’t think I’m singling you out. I refuse all requests to review ebooks. While I’m not against the concept in theory, in practice they’ve proven to be a waste of my time. For sure, many regular books – regardless of publishing format – aren’t worth reading. But authors put a lot more effort into their content, so there’s a far greater likelihood of a traditional book having some quality. In contrast, ebooks are usually just glorified blog posts, and I resent the sensational marketing and the astronomical prices. Put some real effort into your work, and write a real book. Note: I do read book manuscripts, so you may send me those.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Titus 2 Woman Is Reverent

Gossip by deegrafix (Flickr)
When we think of “reverent,” different images may come to mind: Subjects in medieval art with forlorn faces and golden halos around their heads. Present day children sitting in a church pew wearing ill-fitting suits and ties and holding hymnals when they’re too young to read. But what is meant in our passage of interest?

[Π]ρεσβύτιδας ὡσαύτως ἐν καταστήματι ἱεροπρεπεῖς, μὴ διαβόλους μὴ οἴνῳ πολλῷ δεδουλωμένας, καλοδιδασκάλους, ἵνα σωφρονίζωσιν τὰς νέας φιλάνδρους εἶναι, φιλοτέκνους σώφρονας ἁγνὰς οἰκουργοὺς ἀγαθάς, ὑποτασσομένας τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν, ἵνα μὴ ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ βλασφημῆται. – Titus 2:3-5 (NA28)

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.Titus 2:3-5 (ESV)

The Greek word often translated as “reverent” is ἱεροπρεπεῖς. Despite ἱεροπρεπής being poorly attested in biblical literature, we can get a straightforward sense of its meaning from its usage in the Epistle of Titus, the apocryphal 4 Maccabees, and a few other ancient works: “befitting a sacred place/person/matter,” derived from two more common words, πρέπω (“to befit”) and ἱερός (“sacred”). When Paul says the elderly women are to be ἱεροπρεπεῖς, he is saying that they are to live their lives in a saintly way, befitting of servants of the most holy God.

We could develop a lot from just one word study, but we would do better by considering the context. The women weren’t to be “Sunday Christians.” Holiness was to be evident in their everyday lives. Paul contrasts the ideal, not with dressing casually for worship or missing a Bible study as many Christians might focus on today, but with wrongful behavior that can occur both inside and outside of the assembly.

The Cretan women were not to be διαβολους (e.g., “slanderers,” “malicious gossips”). Note that διάβολος is where we get words like “diabolical” from. It indicates corrupting and hurtful behavior of the sort that alienates others from us particularly and possibly even Christianity in general. The Christian woman shouldn’t be out to get others, whether members of the Church or unbelievers. The ideal woman knows to seek counsel and mediation when wrapped up in an ugly dispute to make sure that she doesn’t cross the line. I imagine that she understands forgiveness and the importance of letting things go rather than holding grudges forever (something I’m still trying to master myself). Instead she controls feelings such as envy and pride, which might otherwise cause her to want to hurt others.

Next we see that the ideal Cretan woman also was not someone οινω πολλω δεδουλωμενας (i.e., “having been enslaved to much wine”). Despite what many Christians wish this passage said, it doesn’t mean a holy woman can never consume alcohol. Rather she exercises control over it rather than letting it control her. She knows how much drink is appropriate for the time and place, and how much her body can handle. She doesn’t embarrass herself and others with drunken behavior. She doesn’t drunk dial or drunk text, revealing information that she’ll later wish she’d kept secret. And she doesn’t wake up the next morning wondering what she’s done the night before…and with whom!

While not all of us are alcoholics, habitual gossips, or even “diabolical,” we can still draw some useful instruction from Paul’s words. When we think about being reverent, we should keep in mind that it’s not about how “angelic” we look, sitting up straight and holding our Bibles. It’s about living a life that’s in harmony with our claims to being Christians.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Help Support the MIXIS Campaign

The mixed subculture is growing, and there’s an ever increasing market for products that are relevant to multiracial and multiethnic children. I remember Barbie Dolls of the World that celebrated various nationalities, and some limited edition Barbie dolls that were ethnically ambiguous. However, I’m not aware of anything promoting mixed identities until the Canadian company YNU Group, Inc., started by Debbie Goodland in 2005, introduced the MIXIS brand for dolls.

If Barbie and her friends are too monoethnic for your child to relate to, you might check out the MIXIS collections. Each MIXIS doll is based on a character complete a colorful mixed heritage, unique interests and hobbies, and a trendy outfit. Their faces, complexions, and hair reflect their ethnic and racial backgrounds. The dolls’ bodies are “naturally proportioned,” which means they can’t share Barbie’s clothes. However, e-patterns are available, and the MIXIS line is expanding. And they’re expanding so much that the YNU Group is looking into new markets.

Presenting the IndieGoGo MIXIS Campaign! In the planning stages are a MIXIS interactive website, comic book, and animation series. In return for your generous donations, Debbie Goodland is giving away Limited Edition dolls and “Unity Through Diversity” t-shirts. I encourage you to check it out. You can also learn more about MIXIS on their website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Mixis Campaign Video from Mixis on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

‘Being Audrey Hepburn’ (Book Review)

The story of Cinderella captures the mind of many a young girl even into her teens. Who wouldn’t want to put on a fancy dress and suddenly be accepted into the grand world of the rich and powerful? Author Mitchell Kriegman has a new take on this familiar story in Being Audrey Hepburn (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2014). Snatching a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the heroine Lisbeth tries on her movie icon’s dress right in the museum, but then finds herself accidentally mingling with the guests at a high profile charity event. In an instant, working class, Jersey girl Lisbeth becomes part of New York’s jetset crowd, complete with tempting new friendships, career, and of course love. But she must make sure that her new social circle doesn’t find out who she really is!

As an adult, it can be difficult to judge juvenile fiction, because the plots are so predictable and there’s a lot of over description. However, I think Kriegman did a good job taking a classic storyline and giving it a new twist. Unlike many of the old movies that really do tell girls that all you have to do is put on a designer gown to fit in with high society, the character Lisbeth has to constantly watch what she says and does, fearful that her accent and manners will give herself away. But that’s not to say that at times things weren’t a little too perfect. Stories like this fly in the face of reality when the happy ending is just a little too perfect. Also, it’s bad enough that every guy has to fall in love with the heroine, but even her lesbian friend too? I thought the kissing scene, however innocent the author tried to make it, was a terrible idea. It only serves to propagate a false stereotype about homosexuals - She must be interested in me! - and makes censure by more conservative parents more likely.

Being Audrey Hepburn is a book that many young girls will find entertaining, and while its broader message is suspect, there are a few good points. It shows that things can work out even when you have a really tough family situation. It also shows that a girl doesn’t have to stay stuck with a life plan that she hates, but can pursue new opportunities if she puts her mind to it. While I didn’t necessarily expect to enjoy this book, I was pleasantly surprised by it and would recommend it with a caution to parents about language and sexuality.

Disclaimer: I received an advanced reading copy of this book as a First Reads giveaway winner on There was no obligation to write a review.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Have You Seen Me? (Identifying Lost Art)

St. Paul de Vence by Arnord[?] Fields[?]
Does this picture look familiar? (The lighting is bad. It’s really black on white, not yellow.) The subject is a water fountain in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, apparently a popular destination in France for artists. This drawing was made by an Arnord[?] Fields[?], my best attempt to decipher the signature. It’s numbered 127 out of 200 copies. Any advice about identifying it further would be greatly appreciated.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

‘The Year After’ (Book Review)

Remind yourself right now: Never judge a book by its cover. In the case of The Year After: A Memoir (2013), its looks – like its title – appear rather bland. But inside is a gripping story that might even bring tears to your eyes. You see, the author Ashley Warner was raped. Her book is an almost day-by-day account of what happened starting from the moment a stranger forced himself into her apartment to the first-year anniversary of her survival. It’s a rare look into a victim’s mind during the assault and how she slowly manages to put her shambled life back to together.

When I began reading, one of the first things I noticed was how much Warner did “right.” Her immediately reported the incident, submitted to a medical examination, and sought the comfort of family and friends. In addition, the legal proceedings went rather favorably for her. This is not to say that everything was hunky-dory. Warner was constantly in doubt about her self-worth and her actions. Did she deserve to be raped? Was she wrong in submitting and not physically defending herself? Would she ever be able to have a normal relationship again? She also suffered financially, tolerated sexual harassment from unsympathetic coworkers, and alienated friends and family who didn’t know how to relate to her problem. But she somehow she managed, seeking solace in a support group and empowerment in a self-defense class. And by taking her time, Warner heals. She masters up the courage to try new things, pursue a new career, and eventually take ownership over her sexuality.

I’d recommend The Year After for books clubs and support groups because there’s so many discussion possibilities. Family and friends are both help and hindrance. Rape victims, as shown by the members of Warner’s support group, vary in how they cope, especially when it comes to their sexual relationships.

Readers may also take notice of Warner’s deep-seated “white guilt” issues. She gets defensive when questioned about the racial identity of her attacker. While she’d like to pretend that things like that aren’t important, they clearly are necessary for apprehending criminals. Race comes up again when she’s applying for public assistance. She’s almost apologetic when a government employee makes an insensitive remark to her. It’s sad that, as victim of both a rape and of an inefficient bureaucratic system, she – perhaps subconsciously – takes on the identity of the perpetrator.

The Year After had some loose ends that were left untied, and a lot of content repetition (which is fine for everyday life, but gets a bit tiresome in a book). In addition, the author veered away from her “year after” theme – meaning the initial year after – when she devoted the last few chapters to the second to the twentieth years after. I’m not sure why she chose to do that when she’s obviously guarded about her current career and personal life. These later chapters are disconnected from the rest of the book. If there’s ever a second edition, I hope the author will consolidate those later years into the Afterward, where vague comments about where she’s been since are easily tolerated.

If you pick up this book, be forewarned. Reading The Year After was like watching people get shot at or beaten up in a documentary film. It affected me in profound ways. I’d put it down for days at a time because it was difficult to face the trauma of both the rape and the aftermath. But I don’t regret one minute I spent reading it.

Disclaimer: I received this book as a First Reads giveaway winner on There was no obligation to write a review.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

‘Blessed Assurance’ (Book Review)

“Am I really saved?” Many Christians ask themselves this question at some point in their lives, and sadly, many never get a satisfactory answer. They continue to mull doubts over in their minds, wondering, “Do I hold the right beliefs?” “Have I done the right things?” They might seek out advice from a church leader or read their Bibles fervently for clues, yet never gain assurance of their salvation in Christ. They continue to live in doubt, trying to cope with the possibility that they might be facing eternal torment in the Lake of Fire.

So, can we avoid lying awake at night, worrying over whether God is going to send us to heaven or hell? In other words, is it possible to be absolutely sure of one’s relationship with God? Eric Douglas, pastor at Moreland First Baptist Church (Moreland, KY) and writer for Truth Matters Blog, has some answers. His Blessed Assurance: How to Know That You Are Saved (2014) encourages Christians to confront their doubts head-on. Using the First Epistle of John as a guide, Douglas identifies three “tests” by which we can know how we stand with God: (1) the “upward” test of faith, (2) the “outward” test of change, and (3) the “inward” test of knowledge. Each test is linked to a Person of the Trinitarian Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A passing score on all three means we can have “blessed assurance.”

This approach bothers me on multiple points. While his three tests might make a simple teaching tool, it doesn’t seem theologically sound. Douglas chops up 1 John, obscuring the proper context of each verse, in order to force his three-test model on the text. Digging deep into the author’s intent isn’t as important to him as prooftexting to support his case. I felt as though he did this rich letter a great disservice.

As for the tests themselves, rather than build confidence, I think they open up the possibility for greater doubt. The test of faith is whether or not you truly believe in God’s promises and His ability to keep them. Well, yes, God gave a promise of eternal life…but to whom? The problem may not be whether God keeps his promises, but whether He has made any promises to me! “Us” after all clearly means John and his readers. Douglas personalizes the text without any discussion about how – or why – it should apply beyond the original audience.

The test of change is whether or not your life is one of repentance and service, reflecting the influence of Jesus Christ. Douglas is primarily concerned with people who think they’re saved without showing any fruit, as he once did. Proof of salvation is that Jesus changed your life. This was a bit confusing to sort out. We’re not told how to distinguish between Jesus’ effect on us and change brought about by our own efforts. His view also doesn’t explain why the Bible is filled with instructions to do this and that good thing if righteous people under the influence of Christ will just naturally do them. In other words, why aren’t we automatically good? Is there a limit to the kind of changes that we should expect to see in someone’s life? Douglas’ view makes the salvation of any Christian who does any kind of sin suspect, a ridiculous standard to be sure.

As for the test of knowledge, this one clearly shows Douglas trying to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to reassure doubting Christians, but he argues that knowing that you are saved, through the influence of the Holy Spirit, is a necessary condition for salvation. In the end, his only recommendation for unsettled minds is for them to turn back to God. But surely that can’t resolve the doubts that haunt them at night. How can we seek comfort in God if we’re not sure He’s at all accepting of us? Douglas’ final advice might be summed up as this: ignore the problem.

These are the main issues I had with the book, but there were others. For example, Douglas misinterprets Jesus’ parable of the “Pearl of Great Price,” telling readers to value faith, rather than the kingdom of heaven. And in the introduction, he reveals his naïve expectation for Christians today to have the confidence of Paul, someone who claimed that Jesus appeared and spoke to him. I was left wondering if the real problem was a lack of serious guidance and editing available to the author in the early stages of his writing.

Now, you’re probably thinking I should talk about what did I like about Blessed Assurance? At 66 pages, many non-readers would find it user-friendly. Friends and family members who might shutter at the thought of reading a book on theology or apologetics may actually crack this one open, the first step towards progress. Inside, they’ll find Douglas reassuring them that their doubts are normal and even good, and that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. That said, I still stand behind my statements about the weak theology and sloppy exegesis. Some readers might find the “blessed assurance” they’re looking for. However, I’m afraid that Douglas creates more problems than he solves. I suggest leaving this one on the bookstore shelf.

Disclaimer: I received a free manuscript edition from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, July 11, 2014

‘Girl at the End of the World’ (Book Review)

You might be familiar with the name of Elizabeth Esther. Anyone scouring the internet for information about authoritarian cults, the “quiverfull” movement, courtship and betrothal, modest dressing, and patriarchy in general would likely come across her name, although she was never really part of the homeschooling movement. Elizabeth Esther has spoken out a lot about authoritarian cults and the Pearl method of child abuse…er, discipline. During the brief time I read her blog, I was curious about her personal experience with the things she criticized. Perhaps she was waiting for a better time to share her story, such as now.

Presenting Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future (Convergent Books, 2014): This brief memoir tells of the author’s childhood, marked by brainwashing, humiliation, and physical and emotional abuse disguised as discipline. The Assembly is a cult that demands complete allegiance, and as the granddaughter of its founder George Geftaky, the pressure to be perfect was overwhelming. She found comfort in inflicting severe punishments on her cat, became addicted to masturbation, and developed a case of what appears to be obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Most would agree, that’s one messed up childhood.

However, unlike many a cult member in history, we might say Elizabeth Esther was extremely fortunate. Having the benefit of a somewhat sympathetic mother, she had educational opportunities that might have otherwise been closed off to her as a female in a patriarchal cult. While some girls fear being forced into a marriage to someone they hate, she entered into a parent-approved love-match with a man who later developed his own misgivings about their religion and left with her. And while many ex-cult members remain estranged from their families for the rest of their lives, she has had the joy of forgiving and reuniting with her parents.

While controversial for sure, Girl at the End of the World is likely to become a favorite for many readers. The story is engaging even if the chapters, arranged more by topic than chronology, make for a choppy reading. At the end, there are some questions that may be appropriate for Bible studies and book clubs, and readers will likely find endless possibilities in topics for discussion: children’s roles as missionaries, fathers’ disrespect for teen daughters’ bodies, Roman Catholic Mariology embraced as a reaction against patriarchy, etc. I’m very happy that Elizabeth Esther finally decided to share her story, and I hope that even readers who might disagree with how it has turned out will still appreciate her message.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Five Ways to Celebrate National Hot Dog Month

Oscar Mayer Wienermobile (Wikipedia)
I’m not a real fan of hot dogs, but I can’t always avoid eating them. Someone must really like them though, because July has been officially dubbed “National Hot Dog Month.” Here are five ways to honor this modern delicacy:

1. “Think outside the bun,” but I don’t mean taco. Wrap the wiener up in a chic bolillo, naan, tortilla…Actually, I maybe I do mean taco.

2. Go exotic. Tired beef, pork, and turkey? Try bison, lamb, or – dare I even suggest it – vegan.

3. Go all natural. That is, sheep intestine casing. Just don’t consume it around me.

4. Learn CPR. Medical research has shown that hot dogs are the number one cause of food-related choking for children. Remember, kids: Don’t inhale!

5. Join us at Alhambra Church of Christ (Alhambra, CA) this Saturday evening at 5:30 PM for our monthly fellowship meal. The theme is – you guessed it – “Build Your Own Hot Dog.”

Have a happy doggie month!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Titus 2 Woman Likewise

Sated woman holding a mirror, Attic red-figure
lekythos, c. 5th century BC (Wikipedia)
The word I’ve decided to highlight first in this study is ὡσαύτως (“likewise”), found in Titus 2:3, 6. Its importance is often minimized or overlooked entirely. Consider the usual outline of Titus 2:1-6:

     1. Old men are to be/do A
     2. Old women are to be/do B
     3. Young women are to be/do C
     4. Young men are to be/do D

Now let’s consider an alternative:

     1. Old men are to be/do A
     2. Old women are to be/do likewise
     3. Young women are to be/do A’
     4. Young men are to be/do likewise

What I’ve merely done in the second outline above is highlight the similarities in Paul’s instructions rather than overstating the differences. When a preacher gives a sermon or a scholar a class on Titus 2, much is made about Paul giving different instructions to different groups to highlight their unique roles and responsibilities. Yet this doesn’t appear to be the point of the text at all. You might disagree with the exact way I’ve outlined it, but it should be obvious that each group’s ideal behavior is unmistakably linked to another’s. We get caught up in perceived differences and miss the author’s entire point.

Consider the general context of the letter. Paul is concerned about the conduct of Christians on the island of Crete. He criticizes insubordination, deception, lying, disobedience, and a host of other sins (1:10-16; 3:3, 9-11). Titus is charged with setting things right (1:5; 2:1, 7-8, 15), and instructions are given for elders (1:5-9), for lay members by sex and age (2:2-6), for slaves (2:9-10), and for members of the congregation in general (3:1-2, 8). Two important themes are submission to authority (1:6, 9, 10, 16; 2: 5, 9, 15; 3:1, 10), and self-control or being sensible (1:8; 2:2, 4-5, 6, 11). In summary, Paul wants his audience to put aside their old reputation, and instead become a credit to their faith (2:4, 10; 3:1-2, 8). Put this way, we can see that the Epistle to Titus is far more than lists of rules by demographic. Paul wants to encourage godly conduct in everyone, and that means everyone must develop the same sort of virtues.

So where does that leave us in our discussion about becoming a “Titus 2 Woman.” Well, first, we should recognize that the whole book gives us guidelines for proper Christian conduct, not just three verses. The passage isn’t about different roles, but the right conduct of everyone in the church. Young women should reflect on the instructions to overseers. Old men the instructions to slaves. Etc. Everyone in the church can benefit from the whole letter, not some bit assigned to them.

Second, we should remember that Paul was addressing a social problem as much as an individual one. We can certainly focus inward and work to improve ourselves. However, we need to recognize that it was intended to be a group effort, involving every member regardless of sex, age, social status, or position in the church. I might seem to belabor the point, but we can’t expect to see the sort of improvements that Paul was anticipating in Crete by training up “Titus 2 Woman” if we never care about “Titus 2 Elders,” “Titus 2 Men,” or so on.