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April 2013

The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women's Christology

The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women's ChristologyThe Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women's Christology by Grace Ji-Sun Kim
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have drawn from this book a couple of different times when preparing sermons, because I like some of what she has to say about grace and its role in healing and transformation. I finally decided to read the entire book.

Much is familiar to anyone who has read any feminist or Asian theology, criticizing elements of patriarchy and racism in traditional Western theology. But there are some interesting elements.

One is her discussion of syncretism. Syncretism often has a bad name, but she discusses its appearance in the bible -- many elements of Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Greek, etc. cultures do appear. She believes that it is unavoidable, particularly in a multi-cultural, multi-faith environment.

Because of that she thinks that there are Asian wisdom traditions that can be drawn upon to find touchstones with Christian theology. Wisdom, Sophia, is particularly open to this, as she reveals the connections between Hebrew Hokmah and the Egyptian goddess Isis.

There are feminine, syncretistic elements to traditional images of God and Christ. Emphasizing these elements, and connecting them to elements of Korean culture, open up possibilities for liberation and healing of Korean North American women.

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Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest TrailWild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In 2004 I hiked for four days on the Appalachian Trail and determined that this would be something I would do routinely, including leading up to a big, long backpacking trip. That has never materialized, though I'm still determined sometime to get a backpacking buddy or group of friends and start doing this regularly.

This book is very different from Bill Bryson's Walk in the Woods. The latter was very much a hiking story, focusing on the trail itself -- its history, nature, the challenges of hiking, with meaningful and fun personal moments.

Wild is a memoir of finding oneself, wrestling with grief, divorce, and the need for some grounding. In order to do that Cheryl went backpacking one summer. At times I wanted to skim over the personal elements and backstory, as they weren't really what interested me. The adventures on the trail, the people she met, the natural settings, these are what I most liked.

I also read books like this, especially ones that have been bestsellers, wondering if there will be material to use in a sermon. I think this one will provide such.

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Pipeline and Politicians

The publisher of the York New Times, the paper in the small town of York, Nebraska, strongly criticizes Nebraska's politicans for supporting the Keystone XL Pipeline and, even more, for refusing to be present to listen to Nebraskans strong opposition.

Let’s get serious. The nation’s final KXL environmental hearing was held at the same venue as the Nebraska State Fair. Had this been an actual state fair, this current crop of elected officials would have been thicker than flies over at the bovine barn. But their minds were made up and nothing their constituents would say, nor over 800,000 comments submitted to the State Department, means anything to them. That says a lot about their view of democracy, doesn’t it?

Their absence was a glaring embarrassment on a day when the nation came to Nebraska to listen to the people, and our state leaders didn’t want to hear a word.


Divided America

A depressing Washington Post column on the divided politics of the United States.

But the red-state/blue-state fissure seems to be turning into a chasm in the months since President Obama won reelection. After theNewtown massacre, Connecticut and Maryland enacted sweeping bans on assault weapons and other gun-control measures. South Dakota enacted a bill authorizing school employees to carry guns.

Meditations: Book Five

The fifth book opens with the emperor's questions and motivators of himself while lying in bed of the morning deciding whether to get up or not.  He has a man's work ahead of him and must set out to do it.  "Was I created to wrap myself in blankets and keep warm?"   Certainly not.  Look at the animals and insects, "each helping in their own way to order the world," don't you have a task as well?

But then there is this deterministic, fatalistic nonsense:

so welcome all that happens to you, even if it seems rather cruel, because its purpose leads to the health of the universe and the prosperity and success of Zeus.  He would not bring this on anyone, if it did not also bring advantage to the Whole."

Ridiculous notions like these infiltrated Christian thought, harming it.

Now, here is an interesting idea:

Your mind will take on the character of your most frequent thoughts: souls are dyed by thoughts.

Later in that same paragraph he emphasizes that the "good of a rational creature is community."  So it would seem that our thoughts should focus on community as such.

As a good Stoic, he believes we have internalized a divine spark.  After advising to revere the "ultimate power in the universe," he writes, "Revere the ultimate power in yourself: this is akin to that other power."  A little more influence of this idea in Christianity would have been helpful.

Meditations: Books Four

"No action should be undertaken without aim, or other than in conformity with a principle affirming the art of life." 

Interesting advice.  What do you make of it?  There are some resonances with Whitehead's aim of adventure.

Remove the judgement, and you have removed the thought 'I am hurt': remove the thought 'I am hurt', and the hurt itself is removed.

Nonsense.  Plenty of pain is not the result of our perception but of the injustice and oppressions imposed upon us.  Only someone of the upper class could believe what he has written.

Now, this is good advice:

No, you do not have thousands of years to live.  Urgency is on you.  While you live, while you can, become good.

Then some metaphysical speculations:

Think always of the universe as one living creature, comprising one substance and one soul: how all is absorbed into this one consciousness; how a single impulse governs all its actions; how all things collaborate in all that happens; the very web and mesh of it all.

I am drawn to this organic vision, though not to the deterministic elements in it.  Though, he also emphasizes change and process:

Change: nothing inherently bad in the process, nothing inherently good in the result.

Fun cynicism there.  But also this regarding change:

There is a river of creation, and time is a violent stream.  As soon as one thing comes into sight, it is swept past and another is carried down: it too will be taken on its way.

And reflecting on the impact of time and change on the human person, he has a sober picture of the world:

You should always look on human life as short and cheap.  Yesterday sperm: tomorrow a mummy or ashes.