Saturday, April 30, 2011

Prayer from the Royal Wedding

I guess William and Kate couldn't write their own vows, but they did write the prayer recited at their wedding. I think it's a beautiful prayer. My favorite part is the "strengthened by our union" phrase--what a wonderful perspective on marriage.
"God our Father, we thank you for our families; for the love that we share and for the joy of our marriage. In the business of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy. Strengthened by our union, help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen."

Did You Know. . .

  • A child dies from hunger every five seconds.  
  • One-third of the world’s children live in extreme poverty.
  • One in every six children between the ages of 5 and 14 is involved in child labor. 
  • More than 2 billion people lack access to electricity and modern forms of energy. 
  • More than 1 billion (one in five) people live on less than $1 a day. 
  • Every day, 1,600 women and more than 10,000 newborns die globally due to complications that could have been prevented. 
  • Approximately 15 million children under the age of 18 have lost one or both parents to AIDS.  
  • 20 million children have had to leave their homes due to war. This is roughly the population of Australia.
  • An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked every year, many for sexual exploitation or cheap labor.  
  • More than 10 million children under age 5 die each year. Two-thirds of these deaths - more than 6 million deaths every year - are from malnutrition and other preventable causes.  
  • Children under age 18 make up 49 percent of the population of the world’s least developed countries, compared with 21 percent of the population of the world’s industrialized nations. 
  • Approximately 143 million children in the developing world (one in 13) are orphans. 

I'm going to guess you didn't know. I've read through these statistics on two separate occasions, and I still don't really know.

These statistics are horrible, and when you read them, you can't help but be struck by the unimaginable immensity of the problem . . . but five minutes later, you probably won't remember a single fact. I think the problem might be that the facts are so horrible that we cannot really wrap our sheltered minds around them. We have food to eat, a place to sleep, clothes to wear, and family to love. And as we sit in our air-conditioned homes checking our email, it's hard to imagine the harsh reality that these children face every day. So in our minds, they remain a statistic--faceless, nameless.

Hopefully you will walk away from this post with a better sense of how lucky you really are. Hopefully from now on, you will give more than a passing glance to verses like Proverbs 31:8, Matthew 10:42, James 1:27 and Micah 6:8. But more than that, I hope you decide to do something about it, because the Bible makes it clear that the church is responsible for these children.

This is where Compassion comes in. In their own words, Compassion's mission is to release children from poverty in Jesus' name. The best way to learn about this ministry is to visit their website, especially the child advocacy section. I will tell you, though, that I think Compassion is one of the most rewarding, world-changing ways to help children in poverty. For $38 a month, you can provide a child with the resources he/she needs to grow physically as well as emotionally and spiritually. The best part is the opportunity to exchange letters with your sponsored child and even visit him/her on a Compassion tour.

My husband and I currently sponsor two children through Compassion: Rashid from Kenya (whom my friends and I have sponsored since 2007) and Winny from Indonesia (whom my husband and I began sponsoring this month).

Friday, April 8, 2011

Lost in Translation: I Kings 20 (Part 1)

People seem to have this perception of the Bible as either a book of fairy tales or a dry, boring chronology. Sometimes what gets in the way is the Old English of the KJV. When you read Old English--even if you know what all the words mean--you're forced to translate as you go. I love how poetic Scripture sounds in the KJV, but a lot can be lost in translation. For instance, the humor inherent in a story's dialogue or plot is often obscured by the unfamiliar style and vocabulary of Old English. Reading the same passage in an updated translation allows the average reader a better appreciation of the material. 

One of my favorite examples of humor in Scripture can be found in I Kings 20--a story filled with ridiculous characters, drunken dialogue and inane actions. To make it a little easier to read, I'm quoting from the NASB version. You can read in whatever version you like; the story will the same.
1 Now Ben-hadad king of Aram gathered all his army, and there were thirty-two kings with him, and horses and chariots And he went up and besieged Samaria and fought against it. Then he sent messengers to the city to Ahab king of Israel and said to him, "Thus says Ben-hadad, 'Your silver and your gold are mine; your most beautiful wives and children are also mine.'"
 Nothing really out of the ordinary here... Just one arrogant monarch asserting his dominance over a presumably less powerful peer. What should catch your attention is the message King Ahab sent in reply:
The king of Israel replied, "It is according to your word, my lord, O king; I am yours, and all that I have."
You tell him, Ahab! .... Wait, what? Did he really just agree? Yes, he did.And it gets better.
Then the messengers returned and said, "Thus says Ben-hadad, 'Surely, I sent to you saying, "You shall give me your silver and your gold and your wives and your children," but about this time tomorrow I will send my servants to you, and they will search your house and the houses of your servants; and whatever is desirable in your eyes, they will take in their hand and carry away.'"
After all, Ahab just conceded everything he owned. What did he expect? Of course Ben-hadad was interested in more than lip service. Why he march an entire army from Aram to Israel and back again without taking any sort of plunder?
Then the king of Israel called all the elders of the land and said, "Please observe and see how this man is looking for trouble; for he sent to me for my wives and my children and my silver and my gold, and I did not refuse him." All the elders and all the people said to him, "Do not listen or consent."
Well, duh!  Of course you shouldn't just hand everything over to Ben-hadad. Personally, I find it amazing that he even had to ask for advice on this one.
So he said to the messengers of Ben-hadad, "Tell my lord the king, 'All that you sent for to your servant at the first I will do, but this thing I cannot do.'" And the messengers departed and brought him word again. 10 Ben-hadad sent to him and said, "May the gods do so to me and more also, if the dust of Samaria will suffice for handfuls for all the people who follow me."
Cue the ridiculous smack talk. Translation: "When I get through with you, there won't be enough of Samaria left for each of my men to talk a hnldful of dust home."
11 Then the king of Israel replied, "Tell him, 'Let not him who girds on his armor boast like him who takes it off.'"
Translation: Don't boast like you've already won the battle when it hasn't even started yet. Get it? Because you gird on your armour before the battle, and you take it off after the battle... At least, that's the most sense I can make of Ahab's reply. If you wanna break it down further, I suppose you could say, "Don't count your chickens before they hatch."
12 When Ben-hadad heard this message, as he was drinking with the kings in the temporary shelters, he said to his servants, "Station yourselves." So they stationed themselves against the city.
Oh, that's it! You're going down Ahab! No more Mister Nice Guy... and so on and so forth. You know how it goes.
13 Now behold, a prophet approached Ahab king of Israel and said, "Thus says the LORD, 'Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will deliver them into your hand today, and you shall know that I am the LORD.'" 
That part isn't humorous, but it did strike me as strange. If you're familiar with Ahab at all, you'll understand: Ahab is not the sort of guy you'd expect God to work miracles for.
14 Ahab said, "By whom?" So he said, "Thus says the LORD, 'By the young men of the rulers of the provinces.'" Then he said, "Who shall begin the battle?" And he answered, "You."
Look at Ahab, being all detail-oriented. Who're my best players? Are we on defense or offense?
15 Then he mustered the young men of the rulers of the provinces, and there were 232; and after them he mustered all the people, even all the sons of Israel, 7,000. 16 They went out at noon, while Ben-hadad was drinking himself drunk in the temporary shelters with the thirty-two kings who helped him.17  The young men of the rulers of the provinces went out first; and Ben-hadad sent out and they told him, saying, "Men have come out from Samaria." 
"While Ben-hadad was drinking himself drunk..." Right after declaring war... Umm... Ok. Apparently Ben-hadad didn't expect Israel to go on the offensive. Which is probably why God told Ahab that he should start the battle.
18 Then he said, "If they have come out for peace, take them alive; or if they have come out for war, take them alive."
Yep, definitely drunk. What kind of a statement is that? I have a wonderful mental image of a drunk, staggering Ben-hadad slurring his words together as he delivers this idiotic command.
19 So these went out from the city, the young men of the rulers of the provinces, and the army which followed them. 20 They killed each his man; and the Arameans fled and Israel pursued them, and Ben-hadad king of Aram escaped on a horse with horsemen. 21 The king of Israel went out and struck the horses and chariots, and killed the Arameans with a great slaughter.
I figure an army with drunk commanders is probably pretty easy pickings--comparatively, anyway.

When you're reading through the historical books of the Old Testament, it's easy to skip over the details without a second thought. Something I've found helpful is retelling the stories in your own words. Processing the information that way really helps the story stick in your memory.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Introductory Ramblings

This blog will be more of a journal than anything else. I just want somewhere to share my thoughts: ideas, opinions, interests, etc. This isn't my first attempt at a journal, so part of me doubts it will be my last. I have a tendency to over-analyze everything, which makes journaling a time-consuming process. But I think I need some sort of outlet. I figure using a blog will help me organize my thoughts so I can find things later. With all the blog-to-book options now, I'll also be able to print it later if I want a hard copy.

My British Literature teacher played this video in class last semester:

It made me think. Am I losing the part of me that writes just for the pleasure of it? I still read a lot, but I don't feel the same urge to write as I used to. I used to read a book and then work on one of my own, just for fun, because I could, and whether the author inspired or disappointed me, my reaction was the same. Am I sacrificing that for a solid 4.0 GPA? Reading only the required course materials and writing only enough to get an A in the class?

In college, you end up writing a lot of papers--especially when you're an English major. I've probably produced more papers in my first three semesters than I did during my entire high school career. The problem is that, in the most important sense, these papers aren't really mine. No, those papers about Shakespeare and literature and study abroad programs don't belong in my portfolio. I would despise using them as a writing sample. College papers, at least for English classes, are influenced by more than just the student writer. Their topic derives from the class, and the tone reflects the teacher's expectations.

You see? I write college papers for the grades; I write what the teacher wants me to. At least, I write what I think the teacher wants me to. Sometimes I guess wrong, and get a lower grade despite it all. This is irksome, because if I knew I wasn't going to get an A, I could have just written the paper I really wanted to write. Still, my approach to college papers seems to be what teachers expect from students. The proof comes when teachers leave comments telling me what I should put in my paper, or (even worse) what argument I meant to make or ought to be making instead. That always grates a little. Maybe I'm a little oversensitive, but it seems to me that no one should presume to tell an author what she should be writing. Why would a teacher make comments like that? The answer is that these assignments aren't for the student; they're for the teacher.

The simple fact is, there are no real "rules" anymore for writing. They teach you in high school, and more in college, about correct uses of punctuation and capitalization, and so on. The best one is that there should be at least five sentences in a paragraph--taught in the same literature class in which the assigned reading almost always breaks the rule. I've heard of one classic author who advised writers to use as few adjectives as possible, substituting colorful verbs instead. Another best-selling author argues that verbs should be as simple as possible, at least when writing dialogue, because the more descriptive verbs will interrupt the flow.

From this and other inconsistencies amongst the literary community, I conclude that there are no rules. There are style and voice, appropriate and effective. What matters is that your style matches your subject, and that the voice is your own. Like painting. There is no "right" way to create art. Paints and oils and brushes aren't better than colored pencils, or even crayons, for that matter. What matters is that your medium suits your message--that every aspect of your art complements itself.

So. I need somewhere to experiment with writing and express my thoughts without having to worry about what the teacher will think. I want to write for the fun of it, rather than to get a good grade.