Africa

Why does the continent of Africa intrigue me? The answer is its exotic aurora, namely, its animals and natural lands. Hippos staring out of murky water charm me as to the mysteries of wildlife.The Democratic Republic of the Congo fascinates me simply because of the Congo River streaming through steamy jungle. This kind of setting causes me to fantasize about adventure; I would have to thank books such as Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines for engendering this feeling. In regards to literature about Africa, I have also read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan of the Apes, and Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. The more I read about Africa, the more interested I become.

And yet, when I try to learn about Africa in the academic world, the discussion is somewhat different. The focus becomes the subjugation and exploitation of the African peoples. Though I do not doubt that in many ways, economically especially, Africans have had a dark history with Europeans, I often feel as if the discussion is unnecessary. It seems too hyped for its own good. In other words, I feel as if people worry too much about issues of “inequality” in Africa. They don’t focus on what’s positive about Africa. But then I guess that’s the point: there isn’t. Yet, is that not “racist” of me to say? Surely there are important things about the continent.

What have I learned about Africa? 

Well, for starters, there’s the fact that Africa has a wild climate situation. In northern and southern Africa, the weather tends to be quite hot and humid. Yet in the middle where the Congo lies, rainfall can become so intense that banks will flood. Farmers have a difficult time adjusting to these situations. Despite the fact that Europeans offer their technological advances, some Africans choose to remain in these situations for personal reasons. Some tribes believe it to be their religious duty to live off the land.

Another fact is that there are vital minerals in the Congo responsible for composing a lot of the technology Americans use on a daily basis. There are certain metals that compose cells phones and ipads. Africa is the only place that holds such materials. Plus, there is ivory, which, though illegal to carry, played a large economic role in the nineteenth century. Some elephant populations have gone almost extinct due to poachers searching for ivory tusks worth thousands.

 

Religiously, we tend to think that Africans only host primitive religions separate from the three major ones: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Historically, even before Christianity arrived with the Europeans, Islam had a strong cultural base in the region, especially in places such as Egypt and Mali. It is not a mistake to know that religious feuds often occurred between Christianity and Islam in Africa, not including the Middle East. At least that’s what I think.

That’s all for now. Hopefully, I’ll be able to learn much more about this continent and more fully grasp how its role has shaped world events and what natural phenomenon lie inside its borders. I’m sure I will. I may even go on to write about it or adopt my own fictional spin on it as some of my favorite authors have done.  

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On Sex and Marriage

Many Christian leaders love to acknowledge, at least in words, that sex is a good thing, created by God for mankind’s benefit. Yet the reality is is that if sexuality was bluntly discussed in full honesty, most Christians would check their thoughts so scrupulously just to be sure it turned out to be a “biblical” or “pure” conversation. What they mean is that we need to be careful of how we address sex, lest the chat lead someone to fantasize about someone’s body all day with drool running down their chin. That would be lust. That would be sinful.

But please allow me the liberty to be frank with you: I’m going to talk about sex in this blog without shame and with full conviction that God would have us know the truth about it and not another misplaced moral drama of how we need to be on guard for sexual sin. I hope to be able to convince you that such a position actually makes it harder for the Christian to identify as a sexual being, especially in the case of single Christian men.

Where to begin? Well, we all know what sex technically is, where two lovers get down and dirty with each other. Why? Because they each have desires, the longing to feel sexual release as well as emotional bonding. Sex brings physical and emotional pleasure to both individuals in a relationship. It is only when we enter our teenage years that we discover our new found yearnings and wonder why we want what we want.

This is when all the preaching begins. The exhortation is to treat your desires according to God’s will. And what is God’s will?

The youth pastor stands in front of the congregation, wearing a pink T-shirt that says “Jesus is Word!” He smiles with clean white teeth and says “You guys know what God thinks of sex? I’ll tell you. He thinks it’s good. It’s a good thing. Amen? But I’ll tell you, God placed sex in a special compartment: marriage. If we experience sex outside of marriage, we’re missing out on all the fun sex can be! Imagine! Would you rather have fleeting sex with someone you don’t even know, or with the partner that God has placed in your life?”

The conversation ends as awkwardly as it began.

You see, we are taught that sex can only be righteous in marriage. If an unmarried couple shows affection to one another, they have sinned against God and will suffer consequences, now or later.

We don’t know exactly what these consequences are, but I’m sure there must be something.

Saving sex for marriage becomes the moral mantra of the hour. If it is true that sex before marriage is sinful, then what about sexual desire altogether? What happens when single men and women discover their desires only to be told that what they essentially feel has to be evil since they aren’t married? This idea centers on the fact that Jesus warned us about lust: “Whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her in his heart.” Why don’t we think for a minute. If He was speaking to married men in this context, about how loving someone isn’t only about having a sausage stand but actually being devoted to that one special person, then His argument is completely valid and rational. What good can come from cheating on someone who has really been good to you anyway? But no. For some reason or another, single people soon become the target of this verse. Since it is true that single people can commit adultery (at least in the case of  a single man with a married woman or vice versa), then we must oddly conclude that to desire bodies at all is sinful as a step forward in our “logic.” In other words, in the view of these pious pastors, if a person even remotely acknowledges sexual desire outside of marriage, then they are probably riding the lust band wagon and need to repent, even though these same exact people preach that God created sexual desire and it is “good.”  Since sin is not only a matter of how we treat others but a matter of the heart as well, then we sin when we fantasize about that gorgeous butt.

It is a strange thing indeed that these desires can only be viewed as legal in marriage. May I ask what marriage is? Most of us picture the legal procession that takes place in your local neighborhood church near you. And that’s it. When asked what marriage really means, few would think of it in those terms.

Marriage is simply when two people want to love each other as deeply as possible. That’s it. It has never had anything to do with a legal contract. I honestly believe that that is what has stripped marriage of its meaning. Why does every good thing have to have some legality behind it, especially when that legality doesn’t serve to make it any better? We become obsessed with marriage’s righteous standard that we never emphasize its true beauty. We go a step further by making sexuality a complete taboo in our hearts. As a result, no Christian will ever appreciate sex and marriage as it ought to be. They will hide from their feelings until they are married and even in marriage there will be safe guards against such things as pornography and masturbation. There seem to be so many ways of sinning sexually that the idea of enjoying sex isn’t worth it in the long run. It’s better to be single all your life. Sex is just too dangerous.

Married men and women will be able to relax, but single people will inevitably suffer the pangs of conscience every time sex lingers in their minds. Sex was meant to linger in their minds! An important question must be asked: if “lust” as Jesus defined it is essentially the same thing as sexual desire, how can the single Christian ever think it good to be sexual? They are trapped, with nothing to help them but vague books about “purity.” And all the while, their feelings will not disappear. Every time they cave in and masturbate, fantasize, view porn, or even admit or confess what they want, they have sinned. For men there is a particular obstacle. Because feminism has caused a breach between men’s communication with women, men have more reasons to feel guilty about their desires than ever before. I once viewed a ridiculous video on Facebook about how a Christian man is begging his girl college mates not to dress too revealing and how that was a threat to his purity. This is what happens when we believe what liberals and conservatives preach about sex: men become afraid and defeated around women, and therefore will fail to give women the love they need. Male youth pastors love to talk about a man’s responsibility in marriage. It makes them chivalrous boy scouts.

Paul seems to give a much better solution to single people. In a letter to the Corinthians (I believe), he says it is better to marry than to burn. If someone is sexually overwhelmed, it would be good for them to take a partner, one who is willing to help them with those needs. But must they go through a boring ceremony to do so? Can the person not find someone they love and simply make love to them? They can admit that they are sexual at last without shame. And they can seek to deal with it appropriately.

There is a lot more I think I could have said in this blog. I feel as if my thoughts haven’t been elaborate enough. This is indeed a deep issue. Suffice it to say that I think Christians need to stop stressing sexual purity because it creates a subconscious backlash against actually being grateful that one is a sexual being, created by God to glorify Him. You shouldn’t have to go through all the morally correct drudgery of “marriage” to feel pure in God’s sight. True purity comes from hope in Christ. Love is the result, binding two people together in wonderful harmony. May it never be condemned. And if single people can’t help their desires sometimes, it’s OK; they shouldn’t have to go to  secret clubs where men share their “personal struggles with purity.” Those sessions will make the matter more hopeless. It will be all about “not doing this” and “doing that.” That is not enough. It will never be enough. Be grateful that you are a sexual being. It is one of God’s greatest gifts.

Why Fiction is Important

In Plato’s famous work, Republic, he mentions that poets should not be tolerated in any ideal society. The reason is that they spread lies about the world and therefore deceive people regarding reality. For example, a poet may say that humans can conjure up the dead if they dig up bodies and perform resurrection chants over them, having their eyes bulging out of their sockets. If you believe this, says the poet, then your loved ones will return. Reality, of course, says that no matter how ardently you chant, the dead will not rise, in spite of your loving intentions. A more serious example can be drawn to Adolf Hitler in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Since Hitler used emotional (sometimes poetic) rhetoric to hoodwink the masses to follow his evil causes, it only serves to show you the wicked purposes that poetry can be put to. If people looked to reality, says Plato, they can live in a much happier, reasonable way and avoid dangerous falsehoods. Not only poetry, but fiction, for that matter, can only lead to perpetual sin.

This kind of idea is a lot like the “Harry Potter encourages witchcraft” argument that caused a lot of curious kids to bow their heads in disappointment as their parents forbade them to read what is quite arguably one of the greatest sagas of fantasy ever written. All you need to do is ask a Harry Potter fan and they will tell you how wonderful the books are. 

Why are they wonderful? Because they are entertaining, enlightening, funny, seriously satirical (and even realistic! gasp), despite the fact that it is “unrealistic fiction.”  Fiction does so much that even attempting to label it just so you can understand it is somewhat of an insult. You do not have to “explain” everything to appreciate fiction. One of it’s greatest aspects is that it defies explanations; the imagination itself, being so diverse in its essence, cannot be put into a rational box. Who can fully tell you why a story is awesome? You are simply in awe of its effects and rest in that bliss alone. You don’t have to turn it into a math equation. The more you do that, the more literature itself tends to lose its beauty. You start unnecessarily scrutinizing everything you read, which is just plain unnecessary. It creates a needless strain on your mind and belittles the aesthetic flow that writing can bring to the reader.

Charles Dickens warned his readers in Hard Times that living solely by “facts,” and not imagination was detrimental to one’s emotional health. Because Thomas Gradgrind rams scientific, dictionary terms down his daughter’s throat, she wails to him in anger that his advice has ruined her life. Her father’s concepts were just stark facts that never encouraged creativity. When people disregard imagination, emotion, creativity, and just plain fun in the name of science, realism, rationality, and logic, they spoil so much pleasure. There will be no color to life at all, just a bunch of formulas. 

Not all writers share Dickens’s views; many authors in the 18th century looked at fiction through the lenses of rules and formulas, like Pope and Swift. The Romantics who came later, however, argued that imagination was more important than reason. I agree with the Romantics, though I do not think logic is evil or that a story can never excite the intellect or reason. They most certainly can. But when it comes to value, I value the imagination more than  I ever could science. That’s just the way I am. I disagree heavily with Plato that poets are evil; in spite of the fact that language can be used for sinister purposes, that can’t be an excuse to just be skeptical of every storyteller.  

The Fearful Sacrament

The sacrament of communion is one of two sacred practices in Protestant Christian churches. Baptism is the other. In regards to communion, believers are exhorted by Christ to drink wine (or, these days, juice) and eat bread in remembrance of His sacrifice on the Cross. In contrast to the Roman Catholic Church, Protestants do not believe that the physical elements actually are the literal body and blood of Christ, but rather just symbolic elements of Christ’s work.

The Roman Catholic church’s insistence on the bread and juice being literal actually brings me to the point of this blog faster than I had anticipated. Let’s imagine if you’re Roman Catholic and you partake of communion one Sunday. The administrator of the communion solemnly warns you that you are literally taking in the real body and blood of the Lord. Wow! How awesome! What could be a more intimate experience with God, at least in this life? After all, didn’t Jesus preach that whosoever would eat His flesh and drink His blood would live forever?  And since Christ instituted the supper, how can we conclude otherwise?

Well, let’s suppose this particular Sunday something goes desperately wrong; someone, by accident, spills the blood of Jesus on the floor. The church administration may be merciful to the person (I’m not sure how strict the priest would take it), but what on Earth could save that person from the most terrible guilt they’ve ever experienced, realizing that the blood of Christ will dry on the floor without accomplishing its holy purpose, namely, to satisfy you spiritually? “Dear Father have mercy on me! I’ve just spilled your holy blood!” Someone with a more liberal conscience may laugh at this, and that is part of the point. I find it very difficult to believe that the Son of God would take His actual blood and flesh and put it in the hands of pastors and priests who could have it subjected to the clumsiness of people. The implications of that fact would make communion so serious that to screw it up in even the tiniest way would strip you of whatever favor you had with God. It’s like passing a grenade around the congregation.

Protestant churches are no better though. They have a more rational view of the elements, believing them to be just symbols, but they, too, create binds on believers that have absolutely nothing to do with communion. For that matter, there are a whole host of things they put chains around, but I digress.

You see, before communion (at least in Presbyterian churches), there are several exhortations given by Protestant pastors: “Remember the words of Paul; whoever eats this bread and drinks from the cup in an unworthy manner shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. Also, whoever does not believe in Christ should not partake of this meal. But if you are a believer and you have examined yourself, you may come and partake. Yet we encourage only members of the local church to partake.” 

On examination, I hope you will see just how stupid this train of logic is. First, what does it mean to partake in “an unworthy manner?” Admittedly, I feel Paul is being too strict about a simple matter of bread and juice when he warns of guilt. But then, I must think God is being too strict, eh, since that phrase is biblical and therefore God-breathed? Yes, I do feel like this is too strict on God’s part, but it’s controversial moments like this where I retreat into my prayer closet and pray to God that He would be gracious to me and, in His own perfect way, give me understanding of the things He says that are hard to accept. I won’t just bow my head and say “This is God’s Word” as if wanting clarity and peace with the Bible was the unforgivable sin. I’ll just admit how I feel about the Bible (and its not like I disagree with a lot of it anyway) and just let the matter be. Anyway, maybe the best way to understand the goodness of the phrase is to understand the context of Paul’s warning, which many pastors fail to do: Paul is warning the Corinthian church of not seeing communion for the way it should be seen, namely, as a special, physical means to spiritually nourish the Christian. Communion reminds us of our sweet, perfect redemption in Christ, how He freely  gave His life to save us from the wrath of God. We partake of communion out of the desire to experience emotional, spiritual, and physical pleasure from this beautiful truth. Nothing more, nothing less. We are simply worshiping our dear Savior. How can we not, if we truly sense His love in our hearts? If we don’t see it as such and act accordingly, then we have sinned against our Father. The Corinthians just viewed it as another meal without treating it with due reverence, and for Paul this is serious business. Understandable, I think. I can just hear the unemotional Calvinist rebuke me for even linking God with emotional sense, but if you deny such, then the point of the meal is lost. What are you really doing when you eat and drink, solemnly bowing your head down to the cold floor and “just taking communion like I should?”

Oh God have mercy on us! That should never be the case. If communion is simply duty, then the excitement that ought to be in our hearts doesn’t exist. We just participate in a meaningless ritual. And it boy does it not become so when we listen to this ridiculous rhetoric of “examine yourself before you partake.” What in the hell does that mean? Are Christians worthy to partake or are they not? Are not sinners welcome to the table, or is there some special internal exercise that comes before? The only ones who would be better not to take it are the non Christians. Obviously the observance means nothing to them anyway. Simple. But the table is ALWAYS open to the Christian. I don’t care what that Christian is guilty of; either he or she is forgiven or not, and if church elders have the power to take it from God’s children (even the forgiveness of their sins!), then I would have to conclude that Christ’s sacrifice only did so much. Man, what a sad message to the sick soul, the person who desperately needs grace from a Savior who is more than willing to comfort them. It is down right demonic to suggest otherwise. Either give me Christ or nothing at all, not this “flip a coin” suspense where I MIGHT be ready to take communion. Such suspense makes the meal pure fear. We’ll all think God is ready to punish the first person who takes it with sinful hands when it was prepared for such all along!

Don’t look inward, dear Christian, look outward, to your Heavenly Father. He pleads with you to take His flesh and blood and live! Eat and drink. Be filled. Amen.

Is the United States losing its liberties?

It’s been around 230 years, more or less, since America fought for independence from Great Britain’s tyrannical George III. Our nation was founded on the principle of liberty, that each individual on its soil should have the opportunity to pursue happiness without the interference of unjust laws and regulations. From what I have learned about America’s history, our liberties as Americans have slowly been eaten away from powers that few wish to acknowledge. Maybe the exposing of such people who attack freedom is, in a moralistic society as we have today, the equivalent of social suicide. We shouldn’t be so quick to judge those in authority, those who know what is best for us. I do not wish to conclude such, but there are signs that America may be on its way to losing faith in the ideals that  defined and contrasted it from other countries.

For one thing, I’m hearing that the federal government has too much power in the country today. The federal government influences just about everything including religion, politics, economics, foreign policy, and such. It seems to make sense. There are a number of programs and policies in place which give the federal government abilities not given to it by the Constitution. The government is on its way to forcing citizens to partake in policies without their consent. Edward Snowden, an American escaping to Russia, exposed the workings of the NSA, a program designed to tap into the cell phones and emails of thousands of people. Under the Constitution, the government has no right whatsoever to invade the privacy of Americans. Yet due to the “threat” of international terrorism, President Obama’s team urges that such precautions need to be taken to protect Americans from another foreign terrorist attack such as 9/11. Spying on Americans allows the government to discover potential terrorists. The only real question is: does terrorism, in their eyes, mean simply a mass suicide bomber or something more? And if something more, what? If we end up defining terrorism based on politically correct views of the world, then many people suddenly become terrorists, making it more difficult to live in a land that celebrates free speech. Without privacy, personal issues can become public knowledge, harming the personal welfare of many.

In the case of economics, at least since 1913, the Federal Reserve has played a role in jeopardizing the wealth of many Americans. Since the Reserve prints money that devalues the dollar, economic advantage slowly decays. I personally need to understand this more; economics makes sense in some ways but not others. Because the government prints out our money, they offer people countless loans (the debt due to college education is in the trillions). These handouts promise to make our lives better when in fact they make our lives more difficult since you have to spend a fair amount of your earnings paying the government back. I can say that, though I am a little over $14,000.00 in debt, it was worth it. If you’re willing to pay the price, then pay the price. Just be prepared for the potential consequences.  Yet if Americans worked to pay their education straight forward, they could have more options in regards to how they spend their money. They should have the right to do whatever they wish with their earnings. And when we owe money to the higher powers, will they not harass us in demeaning ways to get their cash back? Being hounded by tax collectors doesn’t seem to be a pleasant way to live. And all the debt the government has accumulated will make it more difficult as a nation to recover economically; that money has to paid back somehow. This will surely result in someone paying a hefty price: how about the American people? But again, I need more understanding of this issue.

The right to bear arms was given to the American people in the hopes that, if Americans were tyrannized by their government or were invaded by a foreign power, they should defend themselves with weaponry. This right has been staunchly defended against President Obama in the past few years: Americans will be damned if they lose their right to carry a gun. They know all too well, based on history, that the government can run over any group of people who have no right to protect themselves. Maybe even murder them on a mass scale as Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong, and Joseph Stalin did to their people in the twentieth century. But because there seems to be a growing trend of mass shootings in public schools and malls, many Americans are rethinking their stance of bearing arms. We need a more peaceful society, and the only way to accomplish this is to take guns away from potential murderers. But who is to say that the only ones who have the guns (the police, the army) will not decide that it is “in the best interests of the nation,” to suddenly end the lives of many unprotected people? And besides, criminals will find a way to commit atrocities with or without guns. When people decide to sacrifice their freedoms for unrealistic ideals, we are in deep trouble.

These things bring me to the most important right: free speech. Free speech is what this country ultimately boils down to: the right to say and do as you please, as long as it is in the parameters of law. Such freedom has given people the ability to carry out both beneficial and harmful actions. Yet it is better to live in a risky world in liberty than a “safe” one where speech is always monitored by moralists who think they know what is best for every single individual. Moralism is the great evil of our age, and the only way to defend ourselves from its subtle tyrannies is to speak of freedom and know what freedom is. This applies to many areas and not just politics. It is impossible to avoid. We must be willing to face and come to terms with the worst. Otherwise, our silence will not accomplish any love in our world.