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.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Who’s ‘Normal’?

Here is an old piece, but it’s not a reprint. This article was first conceived for an anthology on multiracial identity, but I missed the deadline. It was eventually rewritten for a magazine’s special on “skin,” but needless to say, it was immediately rejected. It’s no use crying about “censorship.” I’ve got my own blog!

It was sometime in the late ‘80s, back before biracial was cool. My younger sisters and I grew up without a television, so as to keep us safe from its negative influences, but our parents did let us watch preapproved videos. One of our favorites was Hal Roach’s Our Gang, or The Little Rascals as it’s better known. The only downside was that we kids often misunderstood what was going on just as much as the kids in the show.

Case in point: “The Kid from Borneo,” in which the main characters mistake a freakshow star “Wild Man” as their uncle George, the “black sheep” of the family. After viewing it a few times, I was still extremely confused by the scene in which the mother comes face to face with the half-naked African.

“Mom,” I asked, “if they’re brother and sister, why is she screaming? Don’t they recognize each other?”

My mother’s look defined “flabbergasted.” “What?” she asked.

I must have looked confused.

“That man is black!” she squeaked out.

I raised an eyebrow.

“Those kids are white!”

“So…?” My sisters and I looked at each other. So what if some white kids have a black uncle? Wasn’t that…normal?

Mom looked helpless, probably wondering where she’d gone wrong in raising us. While offensive to her, that episode allowed me to form a special bond with Dickie, Dorothy, and Spanky. Sure, our friends might think our families are strange, but we mixed kids know how to weather through it.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Staring Discrimination in the Face

Another Hubpages reprint (August 5, 2009). Lest you think I’m dwelling on the past, note that this situation happened to me twice again, early last year before I landed my present job. My circumstances were very different by that time, but the outcomes of the interviews were essentially the same.

I Just Don’t Like Its Looks:

Yesterday, for the very first time - that I’m aware of, that is – I was a victim of discrimination while on the job market. Why was I refused employment? Was it racial discrimination? No. In fact, I strongly suspect that my “mixed-ness” might have even given me an advantage in this particular case. Was it sexual discrimination? Well, there’s no reason to waste time with an in-person interview since he would’ve had considerable evidence that I was female after a few e-mails and phone calls. Besides, this job required a lot of tedious, repetitive work...quite like a lot of “women’s work.” I’d be surprised if a lot of men had applied anyway.

Was it age discrimination? If you post a job on craigslist that would only appeal to retirees and college students on summer break, you can’t be too choosy. I’m not a veteran. I’m a native-born citizen. And nothing related to political affiliation, marital status, or religious views came up in the conversation. No, the employer discriminated against me because I was over-qualified.

The Story:

I had a summer position lined up, but conflicts with school forced me to decline it. So, I’ve spent all summer in great need of cash, having no luck because (1) positions I would’ve possibly gotten were closed months ago, (2) I don’t possess highly-demanded skills for low-wage jobs, (3) employers don’t want to hire someone who’s planning on leaving soon, and (3) employers don’t take me seriously because someone so well-educated can’t possibly want a “such-and-such job”! Of course, I really need a job right now. I’m willing to break out of my usual part-time job routine and do something very different because I needed the money. For example, I applied to a number of retail jobs...and was rejected every time.

So you can imagine how happy I was to find a temporary job that required the very skills I had, although it was low-paying and not intellectually stimulating. After a phone interview that went very well, I went to the in-person one feeling like a million dollars. I had years of experience doing exactly what the employer wanted done. I felt that my PHD candidacy was actually an asset in this case, unlike with other interviews for low-wage jobs. I also had a great excuse for why I wanted to take the assignment: To get more practice! This one was definitely in the bag...NOT!

He took one look at my resume and CV – neither of which he’d taken the time to actually read beforehand – and announced, “You're an academic. You shouldn’t have a job like this.” Say what? Apparently, my teaching experience, research, and publications, not impressive by any means from a real academic’s point of view, convinced him that this was not the job for me. Well, shouldn’t I be the one to determine that? I was willing to do the work needed and accept the pay offered. And I had the skills to do it far more efficiently in far less time than anyone else who applied, I’m quite sure.

So, yes, I’m a victim of discrimination. The employer made no attempts to hide that fact. To make it worse, he thought he was doing me a favor! Try telling that to the credit card companies.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

10 Reasons Why That ‘Advice’ Book Might Be Junk

Another blast from the past: This is a reprint from back in my Hubpages days (August 6, 2009).

10 Reasons Why That “Advice” Book Might Be Junk: So sell it on eBay and buy another...

1. Finding a Mate: The author is and always has been single. These are especially depressing to find.

2. Fashion: The author promotes monogramming. Despite what some people would like to believe, it’s never been stylish.

3. Etiquette: It tells you that the best thing to do is to use your intuition – “just be polite” - without really giving any defining guidelines. If we knew how to do that, we wouldn't have bought the book!

4. Interior Decorating: The author is a slave to the “accent wall” and can’t recommend anything original.

5. Beauty: The author actually says that there’s one “correct” eyebrow shape...and that it works for all women regardless of differences in the shape and size of their heads and facial features. Don’t let her get anywhere near my face!

6. Internet Dating: Don’t reveal religious or political views or life-time goals too soon? Gee, maybe if you’re upfront from the very beginning, you’ll attract like-minded people and scare off others with whom you might otherwise have wasted a lot of Inbox storage space.

7. Makeup: Denies the existence of undertones and, therefore, advises light-skinned blacks, medium-skinned Hispanics, and dark-skinned Asians to use the same color foundation. Run and hide!

8. Getting Out of Debt: Pay it off. Umm...Excuse me. DUH!

9. Small Business: Encourages the reader to get involved in a “pyramid scheme” by insisting that sales experience or knowledge in the subject aren’t necessary to become a successful independent “business owner.” The brutal truth is that you must know how to sell something to be successful, and no one really wants to buy from someone who can’t be trusted to know the industry.

10. Getting Your Prayers Answered: It tells you that you must pray a specific prayer, either one found in the Bible or one personally created by the enlightened author. This turns religion into mere spell-casting and can’t explain why so-and-so’s genuine, heart-felt (but non-conforming) prayer got a favorable response.

Friday, July 4, 2014

‘The Fruit of the Spirit ’Zine’ (A Look at International Zine Month)

Yes, today’s Independence Day, the 4th of July. I’m very happy to have my freedoms here in the United States, and I’m grateful to my ancestors who fought and survived multiple hardships so that I could live comfortably. But today I decided to write about International Zine Month instead of the American Revolution.

If you’ve been living under a rock for the last half century, you might be new to this concept. “Zines” are those amateurish mini magazines that we all made as kids that usually had a distribution limited to parents, siblings, and a few “bestest” friends. I remember my sisters and I publishing a few eons ago, and I never really thought I’d do that again until last July. I was teaching the kids’ class here at Alhambra Church of Christ. Some lessons were designed to reinforce the “Fruit of the Spirit” theme (from Galatians 5:22-23) that they had in Vacation Bible School (VBS). With some randomly assigned ClipArt and an industrial sized stapler, I became publisher once again. Introducing The Fruit of the Spirit ’Zine!

This is what the page layout looks like:
  1. Title Page (with space for name) – Right (Front)
  2. Fruit of the Spirit Verse (Galatians 5:22-23) – Left
  3. Fruit of the Spirit Tree – Right
  4. Love: Apple (Matthew 22:37-39) – Left
  5. Joy: Pineapple (John 16:24) – Right
  6. Peace: Peach (Psalms 34:14) – Left
  7. Patience: Avocado (Proverbs 25:15) – Right
  8. Kindness: Cherries (Proverbs 21:21) – Left
  9. Goodness: Banana (Romans 15:14) – Right
  10. Faithfulness: Limon (Proverbs 3:3-4) – Left
  11. Gentleness: Grape Bunch (1 Peter 3:15) – Right
  12. Self-Control: Pear (1 Corinthians 9:25) – Left (Back)

This year I taught a special “Great Women of the Bible” series, but didn’t have time to make another zine. Maybe later when I have some free time. (Ha-ha!) In the meantime, readers, I hope you enjoy my zine and share this craft idea with your kiddos. And Happy Independence Day!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Considering the Titus 2 Woman

Young girl reading in 1st century
bronze (Wikipedia)
In the Pauline Epistle to Titus, the recipient was charged with improving the lives and reputations of Christians on the island of Crete. This rested on the pastor teaching “sound doctrine” as to how everyone was to conduct himself or herself. Particular details were made concerning how church leaders, slaves, and men and women according to age were expected to conduct themselves. In short, Titus was responsible for turning lying, gossipy, drunk women into model citizens:

[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)

Our task today is to identify what exactly was expected of the Cretan women. Unfortunately, this passage isn’t exactly easy to for someone as Greek illiterate as I. However, with a lot of help from various language resources, I think I’ve managed to parse out the text:
  • ἱεροπρεπεῖς (“befitting a sacred place”)
  • καλοδιδασκάλους (“teacher of virtue”/“teaching good”)
  • σωφρονίζωσιν (“making sensible”)
  • φιλάνδρους (“husband-loving”/“man-loving”)
  • φιλοτέκνους (“children-loving”)
  • σώφρονας (“sensible”/“of sound mind”)
  • ἁγνὰς (“pure”)
  • οἰκουργοὺς (“working at home”)
  • ἀγαθάς (“good”)
  • ὑποτασσομένας τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν (“while being in the state of having been made subordinate to their own husbands”)

I’m still uneasy about how I’ve worded that last one!

When considering this list, we must keep in mind a few things: Scholars are constantly warning us layfolk not to get caught up in irrelevant details such as the number of things in a list or their relative importance. This is by no means an exhaustive list of godly characteristics for Roman-era Cretan women, or women today. And while their inclusion in the Epistle to Titus suggests that they were of some importance for the initial audience, we shouldn’t think that these should necessarily take precedence over other characteristics that Paul just so happened not to mention in this passage. Finally, it might be tempting to impose a ranking ordering, and many have done so, prioritizing loving one’s husband over being good. However, as scholars remind us repeatedly, that’s not the point of the list. All of these characteristics are important for living a blameless life, and one shouldn’t be neglected in favor of another that’s more to one’s liking.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Confronting the Past

Shameful by Rufino Tamayo (LACMA)
May’s selection for the Alhambra Civic Library’s Page Turners Book Club was Piper Kerman’s prison memoir Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison. Kerman had been involved in money laundering and drug trafficking, but had bowed out when it proved too risky. Years later, her past caught up with her when she was dragged into court, convicted, and sent to a women’s correctional facility.

What initially struck me about her story was how Kerman seemed rather surprised – and rather upset – that she was found out. After all, she’d had a chance to get her life back together: career, relationship, etc. And then she was made to pay for something she’d practically forgotten about. Now to spoil the ending: Yes, she eventually learns some valuable lessons about what damaging affects her actions had on others. But what it took was the painfully embarrassing process of having her crimes exposed.

While I’ve never had an experience as serious as Kerman’s, I felt like I could identify with her. Sometimes we think we can bury a not-so-spotless past under a pile of time, but there’s always a chance that our sins will eventually be uncovered for all to see. And even though it might be uncomfortable, or even shameful, there will likely be a sense of relief. We can confront our past, and feel the freedom that comes with no longer needing to run and hide.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

‘Pulling Back the Shades’ (Book Review)

In 2011, E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey made quite a stir. It’s not as if “mommy porn” and deviant sexual practices are anything new. It’s that much of the public would rather keep them out of sight and pretend they don’t exist. However, James’ book pushed this somewhat underground form of erotica out into mainstream, forcing us to take notice. With the publication of two sequels and the long-awaited movie release scheduled for 2015, the timing seemed right for a Christian voice in this growing discussion about women’s sexuality. Moody Publishers – experienced, well-known, and well-respected – took the challenge, and Pure Freedom’s Dannah Gresh and Authentic Intimacy’s Juli Slattery came out with Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman's Heart (2014). I purchased the book with great anticipation and finished reading it a bit disappointed.

What Christians want to believe is that, under God, things really are “black and white” (meaning that there is a clear “right” and a clear “wrong”) and not in “shades of grey” (situational ethics). Few want to go as far as Bill Gothard, applying it to your choice in carpet color, but a decided majority will try to apply it to sexual activity – pornography, erotica, oral sex, French kissing, or what have you. It would be nice to get some detailed feedback on exactly how God expects us to behave in the bedroom, but we have general principles, not specifics.

I appreciated Gresh and Slattery’s efforts to try to clear up some of the “fuzziness.” It’s necessary so that Christian women can feel guilt-free about their God-given sexuality. While a few times they resort to the “slippery-slope” fallacy, the authors are generally honest about how much personal preference and other factors come into play, which would cause many readers to rest easy. They even admit to disagreeing with each other about some practices (e.g., masturbation). But they are adamantly against erotica like Fifty Shades, and seek out to build a case that matches their guilty verdict. They hit a brick wall a number of times, but I’d like to point out some obvious problems.

Much of their argument lays on the assumption that there’s a problem with reading about (or observing, in the case of pornography) other people’s sexual activities. This is backed up scripturally with a discussion about keeping sex between a married man and woman, anything else being adultery, fornication, etc. The problem is that the book then sends mixed messages about the appropriateness of erotic literature. Okay, we’ll assume it’s damaging to read, and get excited over, descriptions of others having sex. So why tell us about all of the “steamy scenes” found in the Song of Solomon? (Worse yet, why then is that book even in the Bible?) And why share your own experiences? I really don’t want to read about the authors’ sexual escapades with their respective husbands, no matter how sanitized they are. At least fiction isn’t exploiting the real experiences of real people for the reader’s own pleasure!

There’s also a problem area revolving around “submission.” The authors go to great lengths to lend support to this cause. However, they’re so wrapped up in defending it, that they never clearly define how their view differs from the so-called “counterfeits” found in books like Fifty Shades. And more importantly, they never explain how this biblical concept would translate into bedroom activity, if at all. The implication is that, if you have a “manly” man who takes charge in the relationship, you won’t need erotica for sexual fulfillment. I’m still trying to follow that logic.

To sum it up, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend Pulling Back the Shades. The awkward tag-team approach and lack of solid content, betray it as a rush-to-publication project. The authors come across as naïve – Oh, my! Christian women are reading erotica??!!! – and devoid of empathy - We never read this stuff, so we can’t relate to your problem! Gresh flat out refused to read Fifty Shades, and Slattery only under duress. While some readers might admire the authors’ concerns to protect their own purity and marital relationships, I thought they came across as condescending, caring more about maintaining spotless reputations than actually being of help to their readers. I would’ve preferred to hear from someone drawing from her personal struggles than someone who feels it necessary to remind me that she’s unstained by erotica. While I’m grateful that Gresh and Slattery took the time to address these important issues, I can’t help but think that the book assignment could’ve been passed on to better hands.