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The Bible and Dr. Seuss Team
Up For Inspirational Reading
By Robert Moss
Although the colorful, cartoon-like cover of The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss by James W. Kemp leads the reader to believe it is for children, it is really a terrific book for parents to read to their children to help them understand the inspirational and spiritual messages contained in the Bible.
The technique the author uses is brilliant; he begins each chapter with a passage from the Bible. Then he relates a story from Dr. Seuss that parallels the biblical passage and teaches a similar lesson. This is an effective teaching tool because it uses Dr. Seuss as a hook to get children to not only learn the teachings of the Bible but also understand the meaning and symbolism behind the teachings.
For example, in the chapter titled "Yertle the Turtle," Kemp, who is a retired United Methodist pastor, begins by relating the famous Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus offers his wisdom on leading a good life, including the oft-quoted line: "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth" and the follow-up passage, "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock." After highlighting these passages from the Bible, Kemp follows up with the Dr. Seuss story of Yertle the Turtle.
According to Kemp, Yertle has a problem. "He couldn't see very far. His throne, a mere stone in the pond, was too low. And so King Yertle decided one day to expand his kingdom." Kemp then quotes from the Dr. Seuss story about how Yertle ordered nine of his turtle subjects to stack themselves on top of each other so that he is high enough to see for quite a distance. "But instead of getting more content as he got higher," Kemp says, "Yertle became less and less satisfied."
Eventually, one of the turtles on the bottom grows weary of holding up Yertle and burps, causing the king to fall into the mud. "The story of King Yertle," Kemp explains, "should remind us all of the foolish man, about whom Jesus told, who built his house on the sand instead of on the rock." He goes on to discuss some of the other important points in the Sermon on the Mount in language that is sophisticated enough for adults to appreciate, yet simple enough for children to understand.
This is a winning combination, and I highly recommend The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss to parents who want to have a serious discussion of ethics and spirituality with their children, and at the same time, have fun doing it.
Story of Jesus Christ Told
As First Person Narrative
By George Randall
Recounting the life of Jesus Christ as a first person narrative is at once audacious, innovative, and risky, and it is likely to alienate some true believers; nevertheless, it is a literary device that works quite well for Christopher Miller in his book My Life: A Story by Jesus Christ. Starting from birth, Miller tells the personal story of Jesus Christ, artfully explaining Christ's feelings and emotions as they relate to the trials and revelations that he encounters on his road to spiritual illumination and transcendence.
The author, who states that he has spent over twelve years researching the Holy Scriptures and the Bible, maintains his motivation for writing the book is that he believes that our society is in trouble, that individuals today are living in a "brainless world," and "the entire Christian faith, as it exists in groups, seems virtually without a living heart."
Although Miller admits that he "is not nor do I feel anything like Jesus," he maintains that by using the tools of contemplation and meditation, he was able to place his Universal Spirit within the scriptural record and write about what Jesus thought and felt. He goes on to say, "Perhaps this story is not exact, but it is correct from a position that Spirit is universal and divine and that my spirit sees things pretty much the same as the Spirit of Jesus saw things."
Obviously, the reader has to take this statement on faith, but Miller's first person version of Christ is both compelling and believable from within a biblical and historical framework. The narrative itself begins with Christ's birth and ends with his resurrection. Along the way, Jesus personalizes his spiritual journey and comments about all the characters and events in his life, including his feelings about marriage: "I knew I could never marry. It would simply be unfair, to any woman, because of the pain I now knew my life would bring to her."
Throughout most of the book, Miller succeeds in convincing the reader that Christ is telling his own story; however, there are parts that do not ring true, where the narrator of the story sounds more like an twentieth century scientist than an ancient prophet. For example, when Jesus is discussing the beginning of the universe, he states: "Consonant with the true condition of the world, neither the mystical nor the empirical have succeeded in one of their foremost purposes, proving that the universe is this unified singularity."
Aside from these lapses, however, the story of Jesus, as told by the first person narrator, is a story worth reading, discussing, and emulating.
Teenage Girl Creates Turmoil
In Life of Divorced Everyman
By Mark Westfield
As is often reported, the divorce rate in America today is well over fifty percent. Perhaps as a consequence, many of us are living in a world where teenagers act like adults, and adults act like teenagers. At least this is the topsy-turvy world portrayed by Wells Earl Draughon in his fast-paced, angst-driven novel, Traci.
The story is about Steven Bates, an average guy from Boston who is divorced from his wife and hasn't seen his 14-year-old daughter Shirley in eight years. Then one day a teenage girl shows up at his doorstep and claims to be Shirley. Straining credulity, Bates believes that the young girl is actually his daughter and takes her into his home. Soon after he discovers the teenage girl is not his daughter, but a wise-beyond-her-years, manipulative coquette named Traci who has fled her rich and powerful family in California in order to live a more normal life with Bates.
Traci knows all about Bates because she is a classmate of Shirley, who longs to be with her estranged father and has told Traci what a terrific guy he is. Shortly thereafter, we are introduced to Shirley's mother, Delores, a neurotic woman with a dark secret; Bates's current paramour, Janet; and Traci's actual parents whom she dislikes intensely, especially her step-father, Jenkins. Before long, worlds collide and Bates gets caught in a web of emotional trauma, dangerous passion, and sexual blackmail.
Throughout the story, Draughon maintains a delicate balance between farce and drama and is quite adept at developing character through description: "Steve's mod-framed photos of sleek sports cars looked pathetic, cars he just might save up enough money to buy someday, but that Jenkins probably already had stashed away in his five-car garage. The expensive walnut veneer couch upholstered in real leather- which was probably only polished sheepskin- looked like cheap stuff putting on airs. The sloppy appearance of the room, the absence of expensive crystal ornaments or oil paintings made him feel that all these precious things that he'd collected and moved from place to place and taken care of- that were somehow uniquely him- were second rate."
This description of the main character's lifestyle underscores the dilemma of today's average guy who measures his self worth through the prism of material wealth and status, thereby feeling perpetually inadequate. However, after Traci come into Bates's life, the second-rate everyman is forced to evaluate what is really important. And so is the reader.
Spiritual Guide For Black
Teenage Girls is 'Real Deal'
By Wendy Reid
It is no secret that parents today, especially parents of black teenage girls, have a difficult time fighting against the corporate marketing machine in America that targets their daughters and encourages them to lead lives based on negative cultural stereotypes, rampant materialism, and sexual promiscuity. Unfortunately, for parents to demand that their daughters take the time to read the Bible every day is unrealistic. However, their daughters will take the time to read a compelling new book called The Real Deal: A Spiritual Guide for Black Teen Girls by Billie Montgomery Cook.
Cook, who coordinates the drama ministry at the Third Baptist Church in Portsmouth, Virginia, has hit on a winning formula in her book as she speaks directly and personally to black teenage girls in a language they can understand. Each chapter begins with one or two quotes from the Bible and the salutation, My Dear One. This sets the tone for a personalized explanation of the teachings of the Bible and how they apply to young black females and their everyday social and emotional problems.
At the end of each chapter, there is also an individualized prayer for the teen, a few questions for her to contemplate and answer, and a blank section called "A Prayer from You," where the teen is encouraged to be creative and soul searching and write a prayer from the heart. This is an excellent technique to get black teenage girls to tap into their subconscious and bring to light issues and feelings that are important to them. It is also advisable for parents to read this book along with their daughters and use it as a teaching tool to discuss spiritual solutions to practical problems.
For example, in a chapter titled "Fear: Whom are You Worshipping?" the author discusses how a young girl can run the risk of losing her spiritual center when she treats her boyfriend as if he is an idol: "He gets all of your attention, time, and focus. You may not see it this way, but you do make sacrifices to him, not only of your body, but of your sense of self-esteem, your capacity to love and be loved by him. You make yourself a servant, slave, 'punching bag,' and idol worshipper."
This is strong language, "the real deal," as the title of the book suggests, and it is a hard-nosed, yet compassionate and illuminating must read for black teen girls (and their parents).
Freedom, Liberty, and Justice
Explored in Philosophical Book
By J.E. Laine
An exploration of the principles of liberty and justice, and the conditions, motivations and options that affect them, is the core of What Freedom Is, a non-fiction book of philosophy by Wells Earl Draughon.
From his proposition that the universal definition of freedom is in flux and, therefore, a shaky foundation to build upon - to his suggestion that a maximization of freedom within a society can be achieved through modeling each aspect of communal interaction - Draughon states his case in a well-organized approach; including a section at the end, specifically written for philosophers, that ponders others' posits. Using everything from Mary-and-John scenarios to Plane Geometry formulas, his postulations alternately support and refute long-accepted concepts of freedom.
Delving into the politics of governmental, educational, organizational and even interpersonal relationships that affect one's ability to be free -- or enjoy an agreeable level of liberty -- Draughon argues his case that: "Conflicts between the freedoms of different people is the only grounds needed for limiting the freedom of any one person." Later suggesting that: "The ultimate goal of a society should be the prevention and elimination of conflicts, not their resolution....; in conflict resolution someone always loses. In an ideal society, there are no losers." He proposes that scarcity- and conflict-based limitations on liberty are not inevitable, offering ideas for testing and implementation frameworks.
Touching on morality, economics, welfare, population control, parenting and paternalism, the author polishes the facets shaping freedom and our societal definition of it, even evaluating the First-Come-First-Served, Majority Rules and Time-Sharing methods of equalizing one's ability to be free. Quoting such diverse sources as 19th-century philosopher John Stuart Mill and 20th-century novelist George Orwell, Draughon sorts through contradictory philosophies in his quest to "achieve agreement about this theory of freedom as the ultimate goal of society."
For the most part, Draughon does a good job keeping the heavy topic as light as possible, but the weight of the ideologies and possibilities make it a serious foray into the fundamentals of freedom and how to protect them. Whether the reader agrees or not, it's an intriguing journey.
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Online Review Exclusive: Interview with Jesus Christ|
Would You Follow Jesus Christ Today,
Or Would You Choose to Crucify Him?
By J. F. Miglio
The author of a controversial new book, I Am Jesus, You Are Jesus (Deus Ex Machina Press; 2004), not only claims that he is Jesus Christ, but that all of us have the potential to be Jesus if we would only follow his prescription. The book itself, which is replete with religious allegories, thought-provoking parables, and compelling didactic stories, is reminiscent of the Bible, but it also draws upon the writings and wisdom of many philosophers and theologians throughout the ages, including Plato, Thomas Aquinas, and Kahlil Gibran.
Despite the weighty subject matter and analysis of age-old philosophical questions, I Am Jesus, You Are Jesus is written in a simple, easy-to-read style that can be appreciated by both adolescents and adults. In addition, the author, Jesus Christ, tackles many of the social, ethical, and political problems in the world today and offers solutions from his vantage point. Although the book is quite serious and written from a spiritual viewpoint, it is not without wit and humor. For example, in the prologue, Christ writes, "When asked what kind of car Jesus would drive, my answer is, I don't own a car. And if I did, it would be an electric car."
The author currently lives in California (where else?), and this is his first interview. He freely admits that Jesus Christ is his nom de plume; however, he would not divulge his real name, and I gave my word that I would not take any pictures of him or reveal his whereabouts to the mainstream media. Physically, he looks nothing like the Christ depicted in Mel Gibson's incendiary film, The Passion of the Christ, nor does he resemble any other representation of Christ I have ever seen in a photo or painting. In fact, he seems every bit the modern man in his appearance and demeanor, and the only trait that sets him apart from the average person is his eyes. They seem to look right through you.
OR: I guess the first question I have to ask is this: When you say you are Jesus Christ, do you mean it metaphorically, or do you mean it literally?
JC: I mean it in both ways.
OR: But you admit that Jesus Christ is not your actual name. And to say that you are literally Jesus Christ would be considered blasphemous to some people.
JC: My intention is not to be blasphemous, far from it, and when people read my book I think they'll understand this. But I'm not going to talk about my background. Not because I have anything to hide or I want to be cryptic, but because I don't want the mainstream media to know anything about me until I define myself first. Otherwise, they will distort the message in my book and create a false image of me as a person. You know how the media works- sell the sizzle not the steak. Well, I want to sell the steak, not the sizzle. Which is why I want to get my message out gradually, through the written word, so that I can build a mass following based on the truths in my book. If I try to rush things and reach a mass audience through the mainstream media, I will be destroyed by the powers that be, as I was before.
OR: Forgive me for asking, but do you intend to make a profit on this book?
JC: This book is about prophets, not profits.
OR: Yes, well, as you know, there has been a lot of controversy in the past month about Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ. And one of the major controversies sparked by it is who bears the responsibility for putting you to death. By the way, have you seen the film?
JC: No, it brings back some unpleasant memories. Regarding who is responsible for putting me to death, the answer is simple: the same people who killed Socrates, Gandhi, the Kennedys, Martin Luther King Jr., and all the other martyrs who have died throughout the centuries. Many of them are not famous and you would not recognize their names, but they have all been social reformers of one sort or another who have died at the hands of those who value money and power above all else, who are motivated by greed and selfishness, and who are willing to destroy anyone who brings the message of peace and love and compassion to the people.
OR: All the social reformers you mentioned, including yourself, come from the liberal, or left-wing side of the political spectrum, yet many Christians today, especially fundamentalist Christians, tend to be politically conservative. How do you explain this?
JC: Fundamentalist Christians, I'm sorry to say, are misguided because they are locked into a literal translation of the Old Testament. As a result, they are not focused on the most important aspects of my teachings in the New Testament, such as peace, love, and brotherhood. Instead, they seem more concerned with ancient Hebrew dictums that tend to be repressive and vengeful. As a result, they almost always side with conservative politicians and attack social reformers who want to change the system, often labeling individuals like me as communists or socialists.
OR: Some people would argue that we live in a highly competitive capitalist society and that if everyone practiced the virtues you espouse- especially those eschewing material wealth- the economic system would collapse and our society would descend into chaos.
JC: (Laughs) I can't tell you how many times I've heard that before! The rich have been using it as an excuse to exploit and subjugate the poor since the beginning of time. The irony is, any society that does not seek the correct path and places material wealth and power above virtue and goodness is destined to collapse. The Romans found this out the hard way, and we Americans- unless we change our ways- will inevitably learn the same lesson. Perhaps Plato put it best when he said: "Wealth does not bring goodness, but goodness brings wealth and every other virtue to the individual and the State."
OR: So you are not against capitalism per se.
JC:I am in favor of acting out of love, fairness, and compassion. The type of economic system in which we live is irrelevant. Any system is only as good as the people who run it.
OR: In your book you write, "Most people today do not recognize Jesus Christ, even when they meet me face to face." You go on to say that if you were to suddenly gain celebrity, a lot of people would want to crucify you all over again. read more
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The United States Cannot Win the
War On Terrorism with Its Military
In view of the fact that George W. Bush is running for re-election as a "war president," Americans must wake up to the fact that the war on terrorism is a global guerrilla war with no end in sight and no victory possible unless the United States radically changes its destructive and shortsighted policies.
By J.F. Miglio
Back in the 1980s, when the Reagan administration was sending its CIA operatives to Central America to "advise" government military forces there how to fight against Marxist guerrillas- that is, uneducated and unemployed peasants who didn't know Karl Marx from Groucho Marx- a reporter asked Jose Napoleon Duarte, the former president of El Salvador, when the guerrilla war in his country would be over. "As long as there is one guerrilla left," he replied stoically, "the war will continue."
No military genius, Duarte was smart enough to realize that a guerrilla war was different than a conventional war, and unless his government was prepared to find and kill every guerrilla and the son of every guerrilla, the war was going to last a very long time, not only in El Salvador, but in Guatemala and Nicaragua, two neighboring countries also engaged in civil wars. Today, the same could be said about America's war on terrorism, which, after all, is the ultimate guerrilla war, since it is worldwide in scope and includes suicide bombers.
When I was a freelance reporter in Central America in the 1980s, it was quite apparent to me that although El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala were all sovereign nations, the cause for civil war in each country was quite similar: repressive and unfair political and economic conditions that precipitated widespread poverty, systematic oppression of the population, and huge disparities of wealth. Not surprisingly, these conditions are also quite similar to those that have existed in most Muslim countries in the Middle East for centuries. Given this scenario, the solution to the Central American problem, as critics of the Reagan administration had suggested from the very beginning (and called "unpatriotic" and worse for their efforts), was for the United States to use its considerable leverage to force the leaders of these countries to reform and negotiate an open and equitable peace agreement with the rebels.
Of course this solution was out of the question since it would have put the U.S. government at cross-purposes with powerful American corporations that had been doing business in the region for decades. It also would have alienated the ruling families and military juntas of each country, who essentially were in partnership with these American companies and assured them cheap labor, little if any government restrictions, and very high profits-as long as they got their cut, of course. As a result of this cozy relationship (facilitated by CIA operatives who were specialists at instigating assassinations and government coups whenever a populist leader emerged), hundreds of thousands of Central Americans were systematically exploited, oppressed, and executed decade after decade during the twentieth century, while American companies and the ruling families of each country got rich and fat.
During this time period, America had the same type of cozy relationship with the ruling families in the Middle East- from the Faud family in Saudi Arabia to the Shah of Iran to Saddam Hussein himself- all to the detriment of each country's citizens. In Saddam Hussein's case, the U.S. government not only used our CIA to help him seize power in a violent coup in 1963 against the Iraqi government headed by Abd al-Karim Qasim, but also provided him military hardware, intelligence information, and the wherewithal to build bio-chemical weapons which he used in the Iran-Iraq War and against "his own people," the Kurds, whom we abandoned as they were gassed en masse. As a result of this ruthless, shortsighted strategy, designed to "protect our interests," we made a lot of enemies in the Middle East over the years, which, in part, explains why there are a growing number of angry young Muslims in the world who are willing to sacrifice their lives by becoming terrorists or suicide bombers.
In the 1980s, the U.S. employed the same type of strategy in Central American, but it backfired there as well. After decades of living under brutal military juntas supported by the U.S. government and American Big Business interests, the people of Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala finally reached a breaking point and took up arms against their respective governments. During this period, Ronald Reagan and his right-wing cohorts promoted military intervention in Central America and branded the rebels in all three countries as Marxist guerrillas who wanted to destroy democracy and replace it with communism, a convenient argument our government has used whenever our Big Business interests are challenged. Nevertheless, the mainstream news media obediently followed Reagan's simplistic assessment of the situation and fervently beat the anti-communist war drums.
At the time, I was appalled at how many reporters from the mainstream U.S. news media offered almost no background or analysis about the importance of the long and profitable relationship that American corporations, the CIA, and the ruling families of each country had shared throughout the years. Instead they presented the news as if it were filtered through the public relations department of the Reagan administration, conveniently ignoring the reasons why the peasants were rebelling, and simply slanting the news to conform to Reagan's quotidian mantra: the Godless communists are trying to take over Central America, and we're not going to let them get away with it! This superficially macho policy, handled ineptly by the likes of myopic true believers like Oliver North, inevitably led the Reagan administration to break the law, trade arms for hostages, and lie to Congress during the Iran/Contra debacle.
As if in a somnambulistic trance, the mainstream news media once again is reporting the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq without offering any serious analysis about why young Middle Eastern men and women are willing to commit suicide in order to strike out at America. Instead, they dutifully present George W. Bush's simplistic assessment of the situation as the politically correct viewpoint, i.e., the terrorists are all a bunch of crazy evil bastards who hate the U.S. because we're a good Christian nation that loves democracy. So far, this self-serving explanation of superior moral rectitude has convinced a substantial number of Americans to support Bush and his war against terrorism. But this support won't last forever, and just as members of the Reagan administration got caught lying about trading arms for hostages and supporting right-wing death squads that killed innocent citizens and clergy in Central America, Bush and his advisors are currently on the hot seat not only for distorting information about their actions prior to 9/ll, but also for starting an unnecessary war in Iraq based on false assumptions about weapons of mass destruction and imminent threats to the West.
Predictably, what finally ended the guerrilla wars in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala was not a dramatic military victory by the U.S.-backed reactionary forces in each country, but a change in American policy that supported a series of negotiations and peace plans promoted by the United Nations and Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias of Costa Rica. So what does that tell us? Unless the U.S. is prepared to kill every terrorist and the son (and daughter) of every terrorist on the planet, the international war on terrorism cannot be won militarily and can only be ended through the use of diplomacy. If we refuse to pursue diplomacy, and continue to maintain, "We don't negotiate with terrorists!" we will end up in a perpetual state of war like our longtime ally Israel, or we will "slog" on for years (even if we catch bin Laden), only to withdraw our military forces in the end, as we did in Vietnam-- both disastrous outcomes.
In order to avoid this, the U.S. must begin a diplomatic process, perhaps similar to the Arias plan in Central America, to negotiate a peace agreement with our Islamic enemies, including al-Qaida. At the same time, we must use our considerable economic and political leverage to encourage Israel, once and for all, to resolve its conflict with the Palestinians. This action in and of itself will go a long way to ameliorate the terrorist problem, since many Muslims always have blamed America for the deaths of their "Palestinian brothers" due to its close relationship with Israel.
Once at the negotiating table, we must acknowledge that for decades the U.S. government and the CIA had a hand in creating the underlying cause of terrorism in the Middle East by supporting the repressive and oligarchic regimes of corrupt shahs, crooked kings, and brutal dictators in order to exert our hegemony over the region and secure oil contracts for American companies- and we must be willing to change this policy. In addition, we must be willing to promote genuine democracy in this region, and not titular democracy that only benefits a handful of wealthy sheiks and multinational corporations. And finally, we must demand that our government institute a new energy policy in the United States, one that is designed to eliminate our need for foreign oil by mass-producing renewable energy technology so that it will become affordable for all citizens. (Despite propaganda from the fossil fuels industry and their congressional shills, we've had the technology to do it for over 25 years!) And once we no longer need oil from the Middle East, there will be no reason to send our troops to that region of the world to protect "our interests." Which will also go a long way to ending terrorism, since radical Muslims have always decried the fact that American troops stationed in and around their holy lands are an affront to their dignity and autonomy.
Unless there is a groundswell of popular support for these positions from the American people, however, none of this will happen. And if George W. Bush wins the next presidential election (fairly or unfairly), he will continue to misuse our military might to "win the war on terrorism," tragically ignoring the lessons we learned in Central America and Vietnam, and are continuing to learn in Israel, year after bloody year. But perhaps this was the plan all along, perhaps the Bush administration has been using the war on terrorism to divert Americans' attention as they sack the country of its wealth and shred its social safety net through corporate giveaways, tax breaks for the rich, and increased spending on the military/industrial complex. It's an old trick, really, a little prestidigitation they learned from the same slight-of-hand artists who brought us the debacle in Central America. Only this time the stakes are much higher.