Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Spoiler Alert!

If you have not yet read The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, and plan to do so, I recommend not reading this post, for it may contain information that will spoil the book. 

I have been a fan of Dan Brown since I first saw the movie Da Vinci Code.  I know, I am one of those people that resist such bandwagons of books until I see the movie and am inspired to read it.  After seeing the movie, however, I then read Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, and Deception Point.  The only one that I have not read is Digital Fortress.  When I heard that he was releasing another volume of the story involving Robert Langdon, I of course wanted to read it! 

Overall this story compels the reader to think of Jesus' message "The Kingdom of God is in you and all around you."(Gospel of Thomas)  God can be found within us all through the expansion of minds and knowledge.  This message is not just a Christian one, but one of all religions, portrayed in numerous ancient texts.  I am intrigued with Brown's intricate way of connecting so many ideas.  He not only makes connections of ancient texts and religions, but also connects those ideas to newer revelations about the power of the mind and the proof of God.  In this book, Brown gives light to Enlightenment, if that is possible.  The greatest revelation of all is his illumination of the Noetic Sciences, a sector which bridges the ever widening gap of religion and science.   As always, his book has left me pondering and grasping out to read texts affirming and/or tearing down these great hypotheses. 

There are two areas of the book where Brown has disappointed.  One aspect that is greatly disappointing as a historian, is Brown's many references to dispelling of the theory of a flat earth through the explorations to the New World.  There is no evidence to support such a claim, though as children we are taught this fallacy in school from a very early age.  I am disappointed because it is one area that Brown does not challenge the norms in the way the world views history. 

A second disappointing aspect of this novel is the lack of connectivity to the previous two concerning Robert Langdon.  Brown does make some superficial references like his claustrophobia and the horrors that he experienced in that respect while in Rome and France.  What the book avoids, is building upon the knowledge that Robert has learned in the previous installments.  In this new tale, Robert is solving a mystery of the Freemasons and in the process revealing much about Enlightenment and the presence of God within us.  What would make these revelations more meaningful, would be for the character of Robert to reflect these new findings with what he had learned previously, most notably reflection on the fact that he has proof of the blood-line of Christ.  What is the meaning of this claimed knowledge about Jesus' life and the alleged incorrect portrayal of his life in the Bible in reference to the way Brown presents the Bible in The Lost Symbol?

The Lost Symbol was a very enjoyable novel which both challenges and expands the mind as all the previous novels have done.  Still, I am left a bit disappointed with a lack of connection to his other works, and left wondering what is his real message?  Perhaps, I am reading into this too much. However, I do not believe that anyone would write novels that stir so many questions for entertainment purposes only.

Images found through google images at pacemiller.com and  onlinemoviesfreedownload.blogspot.com

Monday, May 24, 2010

Gossip Pool

It has recently, and most abruptly, come to my attention that the Internet world has become the biggest gossip pool since humans began gossiping.  And let's just be honest, humans have been gossiping since they could draw on cave walls!  The use of such mediums like blogs, facebook, and others is not only to make connections with friends and family that are not easily accessible, but also to get commentary from the world at large.  For example, when you post things on Facebook, it is to tell the world your thoughts for a specific reason.  You may be asking for help, looking to annoy or get a rise out of people, or simply letting people know what is happening in your life.  It is understandable that you may forget what people may or may not see, but simply sharing the intimate details of your life on such a network is an invitation for people to read, analyze, and even comment on your actions.  If something is "none of any one's business" but your own, then keep it to yourself.  That is precisely what diaries are for!  You can still write it on the computer ... just saved in your own personal documents and not blasted out on the Internet for the world to see!

Sorry for the whining session ... but I had to share it with the world!  :)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Back in the Saddle

Well for those of you who know me, it is very needed to say that I am not going to literally be back in the saddle tomorrow.  What I am going back to tomorrow is Church.  I have been debating this for quite some time, and I have decided to take the plunge.  I am a bit nervous.  My nervousness consists on several levels: a) the fact that I have not been in a long time gives me some anxiety, b) the expectations that I will have, not having the minister that I am most comfortable with, and c) does not have anything to do with Eisenhower, but I am afraid that I will go into some sort of internal break down due to the unending debate that will ultimately be going on inside my head.  (For those of you who did not catch it, the list of nervous levels is an allusion to American President.)

As an historian, I cannot help but look at the Bible as an historical document.  As such, I see it as written by men and not God.  This alone is somewhat detrimental to the principles of the Church.  What is more, I continually analyze and doubt the translations that I have been given, as well as feel the need to search out those documents which were not allowed to be a part of the New Testament.  Then again, even the old testament is flawed with multiple interpretations within one story; just look at the creation story. It is these questions that will lead to the huge debate that may not be contained in my head.

My goal for tomorrow: feel out the community of Grace United Methodist Church.  For me, I do not believe that it is required by God to go to church.  It is simply there for a sense of community and perhaps help when you need it.  Once I have found the church that fits my community needs, then I may be able to help address my problems and anxieties over my faith.   In the future, I hope that any help I receive can be returned back to the community.  That, after all, is what the Church really should be about.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sounds Like Greek To Me!

As a historian, I am intrinsically interested in the learning and experiencing of new cultures.  When I am planning out vacations, I do not just think about going to a place where I can have fun in the sun.  My vacations include excursions which allow me to delve into things outside of myself.  For example, even a trip to New York City is a cultural experience for me.  I am after all a southerner.  What I truly long for is to learn and experience cultures that are not only exotic to me but  include a far older and deeper history than my own.  There is just one problem.  I am a poor graduate student. 

My solution?  The Greek Festival!   Okay so I was really just experiencing the food, and drink, of the culture but who can blame ya?  The day started off rather well since a rather attractive man let us into the festival without paying the entrance fee.  I am not sure if he let us in out of admiration for our beauty or out of pity since we were so overzealous at the thought of Greek food that we showed up about a half-hour before they actually opened.  At any rate we were in, and ready to eat.  One of the most difficult decisions of the afternoon was whether or not to get a bottle of wine.  My personal opinion was that we were there to experience another culture, and we could not very well really get a grasp of that culture without sampling the wine.  My opinion won the day.  We not only purchased and drank the bottle of wine, but were so happy with its contents that we decided to take multiple pictures with that magnificent bottle!  Oh yeah and the food was delicious too!   Be sure to attend your own local Greek Festival!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Going For a Run

As I laced up my tennis shoes for a run, Orlaith, my Icelandic Sheepdog, just about jumped for glee.  She thought that she was going for a walk.  I normally separate her walks from my runs, because frankly it is too much of a work out.  Not quite having proper training for the leash, she jerks and stops and does all kinds of crazy things all along the way that I usually tires me out within a block or two.  At this point, I either give up and go home or just walk instead of run.  Today my plan had been to indulge in lonely but peaceful run by myself down to the river and back.  But the pure look of joy on her face melted my heart, and I couldn't even think of doing anything but take her along. 

As I hooked her to the leash and walked out the door, I laid the ground rules.  I told her there would be no pulling, sudden stops, or in any way trying to trip me.   Somehow this little "Come to Jesus Meeting," as I like to call them, worked!   She was almost a complete angel the whole run. 

My favorite part of the run is always once we get to the river walk.  First, we met another very fluffy dog, some sort of husky.  She was very beautiful and it seemed that Orlaith had found a new friend.  But as runs go, we had to move on so they agreed that their owners should meet here again soon.  As we continued on the river walk past all the lovely restaurants with that great smell and the openness of the river, I always get an overwhelming sense of the old south.  Now I am not speaking in the literal sense with slaves, states rights, or any of that nonsense.  I am only referring to that slow sort of culture that rolls off the tongue like molasses, the heavy sweetness of tea (not iced but "sweet tea"), garden parties with big hats, and good ole spicy fried foods.  All of that cultural overload in my brain quickly drifted away as Orlaith and I exited the river walk and had to make the steep climb back up to Front Street. 

The rest of the run was a bit slower.  Not because of my own over-weight, out of shape body, but because my poor girl was tired.  She was on her last legs and extremely over heated from running the whole time(not making quite as many stops along the way).  There were a few quick stops in the shade where she plopped herself down saying, "Mom, I need a rest."   I was even tempted to go into one of the famous stab and grab marts for her some water when she just layed down at the front door panting wildly.  Thinking against it, we finally made it home.  Now resting in the back yard in the shade, we agree it was a lovely morning run!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Females in Religion

I am currently re-reading a fascinating book, Resurrection by Tucker Malarkey. Less publicized than Dan Brown's works, Malarkey really enriches the mind and questions the soul. She takes the reader on a journey of both discovery and re-discovery. For the main character, Gemma, it is both because she is re-discovering herself and her female qualities in a post-World War II world while at the same time on a threatening trail of papyrus documents in hopes of discovering her recently deceased father's work. For the reader, the book allows discovery in the great depth of information that is given on the Nag Hammadi Gospels and in the history of Christianity itself. Still, this path of knowledge is somehow also a re-discovery for the reader, for he/she is retouching any and all questions that have ever arisen in regards to faith. For the world, Malarkey has discovered a branch of fictional literature that brings together spirituality, history, and a great story. At the heart of what is gained by the world, is the way this story captures the re-discovery of ancient texts and long forgotten Christian ideals, all parts of the book which are based on actual events, findings, works, etc.

Picture captured from

In my own soul searching, faith questioning, and life re-evaluation which this book invokes, I cling to a subject which I often find to be distasteful. Gender relations is a subject of history that I have made a career of avoiding, yet while reading Resurrection, I find myself drawn to the history of female involvement in religion. Malarkey argues that it was Christianity that took power away from the female. Prior to the creation (by man) of this particular lasting strain of Christianity, women were a source of great power, strength, and religious meaning.

My first reaction to this argument takes me back to a course that I took in my first undergraduate experience, "Old Testament/Hebrew Bible." In this course, I received the first real hurdle in my faith. The reality of the Bible being written by people other than who they claimed to be, illuminated the fact that religion was created by people, and the Bible was just another primary source. The Old Testament speaks to the limitation of women, especially in Genesis and Leviticus. Quickly I came to the conclusion that Malarkey has forgotten the guidelines of the Old Testament, and its innate sense of crippling women. For goodness sakes, women were not even allowed into the walls of the temple, only the in the courtyard. Because Christianity derives from the Judaic religion, it of course follows the same sense of dis-empowering women.

As I delve deeper into the ideas of women and the impact which Judaism made on the ancient world, I realize that so many more religions were indeed embracing women. The multitude of powerful female goddesses seemed to have such large roles in the lives of their people. Even a place like Athens, where women were known to not have a particularly powerful or even meaningful role in society, the patron deity was Athena, goddess of wisdom. There is not a single powerful female figure in the New Testament, other than the Virgin Mary and Elizabeth mother of St. John the Baptist, both of which are essential in the mystical deification or canonization of these characters. The Old Testament, though still not fully embracing women as normal holders of power, presents many strong female figures including Ruth, Ezra, and Esther just to name those who have books named for them.

Malarkey's most controversial yet moving message is one of sexuality. It is well thought that many "pagan" religions embraced the act of sexual intercourse as transcendental and even sacred. Malarkey brings to the forefront that sex was the tool with which women gave men power, even in societies which had stronger male rulers. This idea really makes sense when you break it down. A man steals a woman' s virginity because there is something gained for him, and somehow I know it is more than just the momentary pleasure. The act of rape is so brutal because it is the act of taking power away. According to Malarkey, it was a sin in the time of Jesus to be celibate. She delineates from this fact that he therefore was most likely not celibate. The underlying question here is, why then does Christianity take all dignity, power, and beauty from women and at the same time preach celibacy?