Book Review: Rise of ISIS, a Threat We Cannot Ignore

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To join the discussion about Rise of ISIS, a Threat We Cannot Ignore, or to order a copy, go here

Jay Sekulow has written a small, much-needed counter-point to the suicidal political correctness that infects almost all public discussion about the threat of ISIS and militant Islam. This political correctness has become a kind of censorship by means of name-calling and personal attacks that sink to the level of vendettas against anyone who dares step over the line to say that, yes America, we have a problem.

Mr Sekulow refuses to accede to this, and, in the process, puts forward his own viewpoint without weakening it with protective self censorship.

To put it bluntly, ISIS is a killing machine. Its brother violent jihadists, Hamas, are more specific in who they kill and how they conduct themselves, but, based on their own statements, there is little doubt that they would kill every Jew in Israel if it wasn’t for Israeli defenses. We are witnessing the rise of organizations bent on holocaust in a determined, multi-generational way. In a manner reminiscent the 1930s, these murderers have powerful apologists in the Western world.

These apologists launch personal attacks against anyone who steps outside their dogmatic assertions by labeling them bigots and trying to destroy them professionally. They have been absolutely successful in destroying civil discussion in our society and we are much the weaker for it.

The Rise of ISIS does not excoriate all Muslims. In fact, it makes clear that Islamic people who oppose these murderous villains are our allies in the fight against them. It also says something I think should have been acknowledged a long time ago: We do not need to shoe-horn American-style democracy into societies that are not ready for it in order to oppose these satanic killing machines.

ISIS is a living libel on the name of Islam. It disfigures the notion of faith and transmutes it into an ugly self-permission to murder, rape, steal, kidnap, enslave and torture the innocent. It seeks to deify the ungodly sin of genocide and to destroy whole civilizations. It is, at base, the claim of the right to enact soul-destroying, civilization-killing dictatorship, all dressed up in a phony guise of religious sanctity.

What ISIS really amounts to is putting one satanic man, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, and his satanic philosophy of death in control of wide swaths of the world. That this man claims he has the right to enslave populations of people under his “caliphate” because of his twisted ideas of religion does not alter the fact that this is a grab for absolute power by one man.

I recommend the Rise of ISIS, a Threat We Cannot Ignore. I do not see it as an end-point in learning about the threat civilization is facing because of violent Jihad. But it is a good beginning. The primary reason I say this is because it represents a viewpoint that is expressed without self-consorship to conform to politically correct dogma in order to avoid being personally attacked.

Honest discussion of issues of almost any sort has been obliterated in our society by the threat of personal attacks. I applaud Mr Sekulow for ignoring that threat and speaking out according to what he believes. More people need to do that.

Book Review: Trusting God with St Therese

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You can buy a copy of Trusting God with St Therese here

 

Does news of ISIS, the Ebola virus and the Synod on the Family fill you with anxiety?

Are you downcast and disheartened by the unraveling of our society and its descent into amoral self-destruction?

Maybe your problems are closer to home.

Do you worry about your children’s friends? Are you caring for a sick child or an elderly relative? Does it seem that you’ll never make enough money to get ahead? Do you fear for your job? Are you faced with a scary health problem?

Is life beating you to the ground on a daily basis?

Trusting God with St Therese is for you.

Connie Rossini does a good job of teaching St Therese’ “little way” in a comprehensible manner that makes it easy to apply to our daily lives. Since reading the book, I’ve been reminding myself to say “Jesus I trust you,” whenever I consider the problems that face me. It helps me a great deal to remind myself that I am not in this life alone. I have a companion who will never desert me, and who, ultimately, has already claimed the victory over all that assails me.

St Therese practiced a life of sanctity based on living each day for Him and through Him. She did not focus on being sinless, but on trusting God for her salvation. She did not attempt great deeds, but entrusted her every action to Him on a daily, and even momentary, basis.

It’s so simple, really. When my mother interrupts me for the 50th (I’m not exaggerating when I say 50; over the course of a day it’s accurate) to ask me something she’s already asked me 49 times and I snap at her, What do you want? St Therese reminds me to turn to God and ask Him for a kiss, or a bit of comfort rather than falling into guilt and despair.

She teaches us to view God as a loving parent, which, for me, is a good analogy. In that way, my own imperfect Daddy is a good model for God. I understand unconditional love because I had it all my life from my Daddy and from that elderly Mama I now care for.

St Therese teaches God as that same sort of loving parent, only writ eternal and almighty.

Think about it for a moment. Is there anything you can do, any accomplishment you can accomplish, that will make God love you? Conversely, is there anything you can do that will make Him stop loving you?

Too often, people come to the conclusion that the answer to the last question is yes. Yes, you can make God stop loving you.

But that simply is not true. Hard as it is to fathom, God loves the murderers of ISIS as much as He loves you and me. They have rejected Him, and sadly, they’ve done it in His name. They are running away from Him and from salvation as hard as they can, and they are laying waste whole areas of the world in the process. They have made themselves the servants and the disciples of satan.

But that does not cancel out God’s love for them. It does not change His willingness to forgive them and change them from sons of darkness to children of Light. The message of the Cross is that no matter what we’ve done, Jesus has paid the eternal price for it. All we need to do is say “yes” to His offer of forgiveness and newness of life.

God’s love lets us roam free, even of Him. We can do our worst. He will still love us.

And if we turn back to Him, the rejoicing in heaven will fill us with love and peace enough to change our souls.

For those of us who do not commit the ghastly barbarisms of ISIS and their fellow mass murderers, this may seem like an odd example. After all, what does me, speaking tartly to my Mama when she interrupts me repeatedly to ask me what day it is or where she put her cane, have to do with the destroyers of life and civilization?

Nothing. And everything.

God’s love for them is the same as His love for me. It is, in both cases, unconditional.

Which is why St Therese and her little way are true. The Bible tells us that God remembers our frame, He knows that we are dust, which is a poetic way of saying that He knows our weaknesses, our tiredness, our sadness; our anxiety and our fears.

He knows us. All the way through. And He loves us with an everlasting love.

We can go to Him like disobedient children because that is exactly what we are.

Connie Rossini has written a fine book, explaining how to live the Little Way in our daily lives. I recommend it.

Book Review: If Daddy is a Cipher, Who is God the Father?

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To join the conversation about How the West Really Lost God, a New Theory of Secularization or to order a copy, go here

How the West Really Lost God, a New Theory of Secularization, is an important book. It’s the kind of book that is bound to provoke discussion. It will be lauded and excoriated.

That’s because it deals with important issues and advances an argument for a new explanation of much-discussed social trends. A lot of people have a social or professional stake in the old-school explanations of why secularism has taken hold in the West. Many social scholars have based their life’s work on the gradualist explanation of secularism.

Social scientist gadflies, such as Dr Richard Dawkins, are attempting to base new socio/political movements at least tangentially on those same explanations. When someone comes along and advances a new theory about what has become a kind of social science cant, the reactions will be strong and varied.

This is exactly what has happened with Mary Eberstadt’s fine book, How the West Really Lost God, a New Theory of Secularization. Ms Eberstadt’s premise is that the rise of secularism is linked to the demise of the family. She does a good job of establishing a historical correlation between these two trends, going back hundreds of years.

The theory she advances in her book is that this is more than a correlation, that the destruction of the family leads directly to a lessening of religious fervor, specifically as it relates to Christianity. In other words, she’s saying that strong families buttress the practice of religion and the loss of family weakens it. She is saying that the loss of family, which began with the industrial revolution, is the primary cause of the rise of secularism.

I am not sure exactly what I think about this. I agree that the correlation between the loss of family and the rise of secularism is there. I also agree that single people go to church less.

I do think she Ms Eberstadt is correct that the loss of family is a real factor in the rise of secularism. But I tend to think that there are economic forces at work here that underlie the loss of family that are probably the true, root, cause. I also think that the two things feed on one another. Declining religion also leads to a decline in family.

My opinion, which is not based on research, but is just my opinion, is that one of the main reasons that a smaller percentage of single people than marrieds go to church in today’s society is because they feel compelled to engage in sexual activities which the church forbids. Notice I said “compelled.” Sex is a powerful, even overwhelming, drive in young people. Young human beings go through a period of years in which their hormones are running so strong that no matter what they’re doing, sex is in their minds somewhere.

However, much of the sexual behavior they engage in today is being pushed on them by adults. Sex education, the media and even their own parents push them toward sexual awareness before they want it and then toward sexual activity before they are ready for it. They are often coerced into sexual activity at a point when they are actually scared of it and would, if allowed to make free choices, much rather just talk and giggle about it for a few years.

They are also forced, by the way adolescent social life is currently constructed, (again by adults) to engage in sexual activity whether they want to or not in order to be one of the group. At that point, their sexuality is no longer their own and it is not so much a response to raging hormones as it is a coerced situation.

Progressive churches often fail to offer a bulwark or any sort against this, while traditional churches, just tell young people to stay pure and not engage in sex outside of marriage. Church does not give kids, even those in intact families, the resources to deal with the cultural landslide of influences pushing them into early sexual activity. What churches do is make them uncomfortable about what they are doing. They are betrayed by progressive churches who are actually part of the problem. They are simply given mandates with no real comprehension of what they are facing or support in facing it from traditional churches. It is easier, once they reach the age where they can decide, just not to go.

Once they are married, they usually find it possible to comply with church sexual teachings and their social group, both at once. The dissonance is removed. They can go to church again.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that. All this sexual activity weakens or even destroys the bonds that sex forms between spouses. It contributes to the rise of unwed births, and once people are married, their prior sexual promiscuity makes it easier for them to break their vows.

People aren’t as committed to their husbands and wives because they’ve left too many pieces of themselves with their priors. They find it easy to think of divorce in times of trouble. They also find it easy to engage in extramarital sex. Divorce is just as easy as sex for people like this, and for the same reasons.

The upshot of this is that more and more children grow up in partial families with only one distracted and overwhelmed parent. They may never have seen their father. They may not know who their father is. They may grow up in homes wrecked by divorce with absentee fathers or parents who hate one another and are constantly dragging one another into court over custody and child support.They can’t form families of their own when they grow up because they don’t have any idea what a family is.

This is more than the loss of family. It is the destruction of normal child parent relationships and the introduction of acute insecurity, abandonment and isolation on a primal level into children’s developing years. It leads to partially dismembered adults who cannot form normal permanent relationships or commit to any other person.

Meanwhile, the Church tells them that God is their heavenly father, the church is their home, and heaven is their ultimate home.

The best reaction those metaphors are going to get from children who’ve grown up in one of today’s chaotic, shattered and almost non-existent families, is huh? More likely they will respond with a rejecting anger.

After all, if Daddy is a cipher — or worse — then who is God the Father?

How the West Really Lost God, a New Theory of Secularization is an important book. It dares to break step with the accepted explanations for how we got here. The fact that it also raises questions as well as answers them, is a mark of its relevance to today’s world.

I think anyone interested in discussing why Western Civilization has turned toward an increasingly totalitarian form of secularism should read it.

 

Book Review: Coming Home to Wholeness

To join the discussion about Atchison Blue, or to order a copy, go here

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Life is hard. 

Life for Americans is not only hard, it is usually frantic. 

We are frantic, almost driven, people. I did not realize this until I went to a country where people live by a different internal clock. The contrast was stunning. 

Americans are certainly not the only people who race from deadline to goal to commitment to task. And we have a sense of self about how we do it that is our special grace among the driven places on this earth. But living here is a tough boogie.

Life is hard and it is fractured and in some ways desperate. Our nation is divided between the drop outs who just sit, and the doers who never sit at all. In both cases there is a kind of desperation and overwhelmed thing going on. In the case of the drop outs, overwhelmed is where they live and what they do. But for the doers, overwhelmed is the demon they fight every day. 

Judy Valente, the author of Atchison Blue, is an overwhelmed fighter. She is an astonishingly high achiever who has managed to carve out a flourishing career for herself in two competitive worlds: free lance writing and human interest broadcast reporting. 

Her private demons are a nagging dread of death and the great bugaboo of everyone; family problems. The major betrayal of her life was being laid off from her job at the Wall Street Journal the year after she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Based on what she writes in this book, losing this job was an earthquake for Ms Valente, a wake-up call about trusting career to be the all-in-all of life. 

Her solution for her human woes is to seek the thing we lack in our American society: Wholeness. 

It is a simple fact that the abundant life that Christ offers us is based on a spiritual and emotional wholeness that the larger society (any larger society) can never provide. Anyone who wants to be whole must find a way to retreat at intervals from the squabbling bitterness of our workaday lives. Without these retreats, we slide into a kind of fractured insanity without being aware of it. I see this insanity quite often in the exceedingly fractured world of politics. In fact, there was a time, back before Jesus rescued me, when I was pretty sick with it myself. 

There is no permanent cure for this fractured-ness. It’s causes are so thoroughly woven into this fallen world and the way it treats people that no one anywhere can completely escape its pull. However, for overworked, over-stimulated Americans, it is particularly ubiquitous. We are a driven people. The fact that we in large part drive ourselves does not change this. 

Without retreats, stopping places, we become so fractured that the insanity of life becomes our own insanity. 

My retreat is simply going home. When I walk into my house and shut the door behind me, I leave the frantic outside world. Nobody inside those walls is going to attack me or betray me or go on the internet posting lies and accusations about me. Inside these walls, I am free of that. 

Ms Valente sought something akin to this when she went to the Benedictine monastery, Mount Scholastica, in Atchison Kansas.

I’m beginning to think that monasticism is a particularly good fit for writers. After all, writers are already contemplatives by nature and avocation long before the monastery bug bites them. 

For someone like Ms Valente, who is a poet and human observer writer, walking into the monastery must have been something akin to what I feel when I walk into my house. She must have known at some level that this was home. 

Atchison Blue is a lovely book written by a journalist-poet whose writerly skills enable her to tell the story without letting the poetry overwhelm it and still keep the romance of the contemplative life in the midst of the story. It’s a delicate balance; the kind of writing that probably comes naturally to a journalist-poet. 

Reading this book makes me want to pack my bags and head off to Atchison myself. I imagine it will do the same thing for many of its readers. 

Love stories are like that. They make you want a love of our own. 

In the final analysis, that’s what Atchison Blue is; the love story between one woman and monasticism. It is the tale of her homecoming to wholeness in the contemplative life at a Benedictine monastery. 

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The oblates of Mount Scholastica, Benedictine Monastery. Ms Valente is the one on the bottom right. 

Book Review: The World Needs Quiet People, Too

To join the discussion about Quiet, or to buy a copy, go here.

I am an introvert.

I am also an elected official.

Many people assume that this makes me a walking, breathing contradiction in terms, an oxymoron, a rarest of the rare. However, they are wrong about this. Most of the politicians I know — and I know a lot of them — are introverts.

I’ve only known a few true extroverts who actually managed to make it into office, and they usually drive the rest of us crazy with their other-the-top, always-on, go-go-going. While extreme shyness would certainly be a problem for a politician, introversion, with its ability to focus, reflect and think things through, is, in fact, a huge advantage.

Susan Cain’s excellent book, Quiet, describes introverts quite well. It talks about the need introverts have to spend time alone, the powers of reflection, concentration and self-direction that are such a part of the introverted personality. In an earlier time, this was called “reserve;” as in “She’s not shy. She’s reserved.”

That’s what the school principal told my mother about me when I was in first grade. Mama commented that I was shy, and the principal corrected her with the astute assessment, “She’s not shy. She’s reserved.”

Personally, I like the word “reserved” better than introvert for the simple reasons that it’s both less clinical and more accurate. As Ms Cain describes, reserved people tend to think things through before they leap. They are prone to analyze and consider a move before they make it.

While the world needs people who will jump right in there when the occasion calls for it, it also needs more reflective and deliberate thinkers working alongside them. The excesses of either personality type can be destructive if they are allowed to run unchecked. They need the balance of association with the other personality type.

As with so much of what works with people, our personalities perform best in tandem with one another. The hard-charging extrovert will drive you right over a cliff if there isn’t someone sitting beside them with a map to find the way.

Unfortunately, as Ms Cain notes, American society is wired for extroverts. This can be downright punishing for young children in our schools. I suffered with it a bit when I was little, but I grew up in a much less chaotic time. One of my own children — who had inherited a good dose of his mother’s reserve — experienced public school as an isolating and utterly miserable box. I remember at the time thinking that our schools were designed for only a certain type of child and that all other children were judged defective to the extent that they failed to be that one type of child.

I took my child out of this environment. My only regret is that I ever put him there in the first place.

According to Ms Cain, many reserved people are forced to struggle to imitate their extroverted colleagues, even after they become adults. Her descriptions of life inside certain corporate environments explains at least in part why I knew instinctively that the corporate world was not the place for me.

Quiet is a good read and a needed book. The author makes the point that many of the tragedies of American life, including the economic debacle of 2008, are at least in part a result of the unbalanced emphasis we place on extroversion. Human beings were made from our beginning to work together in community. Our various parts fit together to create a whole that is civilization.

The author implies, and I agree, that our society would benefit from acknowledging the value that introverted people bring to any endeavor.

I highly recommend Quiet. It raises important points. It also is a necessary read for teachers, parents, and administrators who must learn to bring the best out in their children, students and employees who are “reserved.”


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