No More Links on Wednesday

(most of the time)

Hi everyone! Welcome back to Out of Babel! My particular off-the-grid August brought a lot of changes: I’m starting a new job.

This new calling is one that should blend well with my other job of being a (still partly home schooling) mom and all-around housekeeper. I’m not sure what impact it’s going to have on blogging, since blogging is down on the priority list, below momming, Christianing, and supposedly below novel writing.

I’m well on my way to having posts scheduled for September and October, so that will be taken care of at least for a few months while I learn the ropes at New Job and how to integrate that with taking care of Old Jobs. There’s just one exception … I don’t have links lined up for Wednesdays.

Heretofore, I have posted a link on Wednesday. Usually they have to do with archaeology, but sometimes it’s psychology, theology, or humor. Well, no more. Something has to give, and this it. I might still throw you guys a bonus Wednesday link if I stumble upon one, but for the most part, all you’re going to get is regional or art pics on Monday, quotes on Thursday, and rants/writing updates/book reviews on Friday.

I’ll still check Out of Babel and respond to comments, and I still demand that you guys go out and buy my books. That’s it for now! Love you all … bye!

Book Review: The New Trail of Tears by Naomi Schaefer Riley

Life is very bad on our American Indian reservations.

People on the reservations experience rates of corruption, unemployment, depression, drug addiction, sexual assault and child abuse that are as high or higher than any other place in the nation.

But why?

Those with overly simplistic views of American Indians tend to oversimplify in one of two ways: your average American Indian is seen either as Wise Noble Victim, or Worthless Lazy Drunk. My instincts have always put me in the Wise Noble Victim camp, but I recognize that neither of these oversimplifications explains conditions on the rez. American Indians are people, which means they are sinful but not worthless. As Schaefer Riley puts it, “Indians, just like all people, respond to the economic incentives and political conditions around them” (page 178).

I have occasionally spoken with people who seem to resent all that American Indians receive from the government. Tribal governments are “sovereign.” Tribes have the right to operate casinos on their land (in most states no one else can), and in many cases, tribal governments or even individuals receive direct payments of federal dollars. None of this is false, but what has been the effect of it? It has not led to a cushy life for tribe members; quite the opposite.

The Incentives

Here’s my quick summary of the “economic incentives and political conditions” created by the way the federal government has handled the tribes:

  • Law enforcement on the rez is a nightmare. Since Indians are not considered as being under the jurisdiction of the state in which they live, if there is a serious crime, it is considered a federal crime, and you could have three or four agencies involved. “He became especially concerned ‘with the lack of coordination between the tribal police and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the FBI and the Justice Department.'” (page 164) Often, other law enforcement agencies defer to the tribal police, who often, because of nepotism, don’t prosecute. This creates a lawless situation on the rez, with high crime. It gives victims the impression that nothing will be done.
  • It is difficult for Indians to own land; or, if they happen to own some, to develop or sell it. Most land is not individually owned, but belongs to the tribe. A combination of tribal politics, environmental concerns, and federal red tape tends to block any attempts at development. This means that it is very hard to create or find jobs on the reservation … except jobs in tribal government.
  • While casinos provide some jobs, the linking of the casinos with tribal membership has introduced all kinds of corruption. Some tribal governments run their casinos essentially as cartels. The effect is that tribal membership is “commodified.” A common political move against a rival would be to get them declared no longer a member of the tribe.
  • Schools on the rez tend to be as bad as the worst inner-city schools. Schaefer Riley profiles a few schools that have bucked this trend, at least for a few years. One is a Catholic school. There are also Teach for American volunteers who are very motivated to give Indian kids a better education. But these people are usually met with mistrust and actively undermined or driven out because they are outsiders and because of the bad experiences that the older generation had with residential schools trying to forcibly assimilate them.
  • While it is important for Indian kids to learn about their traditional language and culture, “this is not a good first step.” Schaefer Riley points out that those tribes that have done the most to preserve their language and culture are those that have done the best economically. When no longer just struggling to survive, they use the money and the energy they now have to create museums and cultural centers.

In short, massive amounts of government money and regulations have had the same effects on the Indian reservations that they always have elsewhere. The red tape is at least tripled compared to the red tape faced by other Americans, which pretty much brings any kind of enterprise to a grinding halt. The infusion of government money through the tribal government incentivizes corruption. The lack of private property and actual employment makes people depressed. The white guilt (and the red tape) have made a lost cause of law enforcement.

Possible Solutions

Schaefer Riley ends with a call for American Indians to be treated like all other American citizens. She points out that American Indians have had very high rates of serving in the military.

Indeed, despite centuries of broken promises from the federal government, despite the bitterness that often pervades Indian communities, and despite years of being told by their own leaders and by Washington’s that they must remain a people apart, American Indians largely see themselves as Americans.

pp. 175 – 176

There has to be a way to ensure that Indian crime victims have the same rights under law as other crime victims … that Indians can own land and start businesses as individuals, not just as members of the tribe … that Indian families have access to a choice of schools that will prepare their kids to succeed. It has been suggested that the larger reservations be made into their own states. Then the people who live there would be considered full citizens who happen to reside in that state. This might not be feasible politically (although I think it would be really cool), but there are a few bands in Canada who are trying to get their tribal lands incorporated as cities. This would allow them to do development that they can’t do now, and the tribal leaders would be like city governments. Failing all this, a good step would be to drastically reform (or, ideally, eliminate) the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is known for being the one of the most corrupt and inefficient government agencies in a field where the competition is stiff.

I sincerely hope that Schaefer Riley’s book catalyzes a move in this direction. It should, of course, be read by anyone with the slightest interest in American Indians’ living conditions in these modern times. But it should also be read by anyone who is concerned about the effect of government micromanaging of citizens’ lives.

A Cautionary Tale

I see at least three ways in which the federal government’s treatment of Indians serves as a sample of what it would like to do with all citizens:

  • It’s coming from good – or at least utopian – intentions. In the case of the Indians, many people feel that the government owes them lots and lots of money and special rights because of the ways that same government mistreated them in the past. (Turns out, the money and “rights” are a new kind of mistreatment.) There is also an assumption that less development is better, because we don’t want to impact the environment at all. In the same way, there is a strong movement to put all citizens in the same position: “You will own nothing, and you will be happy.” Putting the most charitable interpretation on it, the idealists believe that this would bring about a utopia in which everyone has a high (but more importantly, “equal”) standard of living … there is no family loyalty or private property to cause conflicts … and everyone’s lifestyle is perfectly “green.”
  • It features forced assimilation. Schaefer Riley points out that Indians are in fact assimilating culturally to the United States, but forced assimilation is a very different story. A few generations ago, Indian children were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to boarding schools where they were not allowed to speak their own language. This idea that, if the parents don’t share the government’s value system, the government has a right to separate children from their parents and re-educate them, has not died away. The idealists have not yet gained enough power to practice forced assimilation on all American children, but they are trying.
  • It is collectivist. The degree to which Indians have been denied private property and individual initiative is the exact degree to which they have been brought to poverty and despair. In their case, this has been brought about partly from a sort of Rousseauian “noble-savage” myth about the way the Indians lived before Columbus (spoiler: they weren’t collectivists then either). In the case of other Americans, there has been an attempt to demonize private property, small business, and intact families as the problem with humanity. In fact, these things are key to human flourishing. Sin certainly shows up in them, but that is because it is present in human nature and shows up in whatever humans do.

This is As Jaundiced as Alexander McCall Smith Gets

The moment you accepted any promotion, any slight advantage over those below you in the pecking order, you had to accept that you might have to do things that others would prefer you not to do–make rulings that would dash the hopes of others, give one person an advantage over another, make people do things they would rather not do. All this came with seniority; all this came with working in a hierarchical organisation; all this came with simply being human.

Alexander McCall Smith, The Man with the Silver Saab, p. 172

My Boring Analysis of Encanto

I call this boring because I am one of those boring people who has to analyze every dam’ movie she watches. I mean it: I have to. My mind has not processed a movie until I’ve articulated to someone exactly what I think was going on in it. I don’t know why I am this way. I think it’s biological. I’m sorry if it drives you crazy. If it drives you crazy, don’t read this post.

But first, my new favorite YouTuber

Not too long ago, I discovered podcaster A.D. Robles. His videos are really enjoyable because they’re short and he has a masculine, streetwise, no-nonsense way of calling out what he calls “Big Eva” (short for evangelicalism) for compromise, heresy, firing on their own troops, etc.

A.D. is no-nonsense, that is, except when he puts on shades and tries to be “Smooth A.D.” He can never sustain it, though.

I happened to listen to A.D.’s reaction to Encanto before I saw the movie myself. It was fun to hear him notice how the movie handled Latin culture, as he is Puerto-Rican-American. Anyway, his video was primarily about how some Big Eva pastors or writers had, predictably, said that Bruno is a type of Christ. Consider: Bruno tells truths that people don’t want to hear, and he is ostracized for it. A.D.’s assessment of this theological point was summed up by the video’s title: “This Is So Stupid.” You cannot just call someone a Christ figure, he points out, just because they have one or two things in common with Christ. He’s not wrong. I’ve heard that people tried to draw parallels to Christ from Edward in Twilight, and if that’s not blasphemous I don’t know what is.

Anyway, go find A.D. on YouTube if you want to be entertained for a few minutes by his take on Encanto. But I finally watched it, and here is mine.

Family Relationships: A-

With A.D., I think Encanto was a pretty good movie. Where it really shone, of course, was the portrayal of the relationships in a family that is loving but also kind of dysfunctional (and aren’t they all?). It showed, for example, how people can get locked in to perceived roles in the family that aren’t 100% accurate. (Abuela blaming Mirabel for everything that goes wrong, and Mirabel even accepting this perception of herself for a while.) It showed how one sibling or cousin can think that the other has it all, but have no idea what they are secretly dealing with (as Mirabel finds out for both Isabel and Luisa). The symbolism of the house itself literally shaking and falling apart captured the emotional feel really well. I especially appreciated the scene at what was supposed to be Isabel’s engagement dinner. The tension, the anticipation that some family members were feeling, the desire of everyone to keep Abuela happy, and meanwhile a terrible secret was spreading like wildfire from one family member to another, and literally causing the floor to crack … if you have lived in a family, I guarantee you have sat through at least one dinner like that. I think this is what makes “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” such a perfect song. Just the phrase “we don’t talk about,” captures exactly what it’s like to be in a family.

Gospel Parallels: C

I am not quite as contemptuous as A.D. over the attempt to make a Christ figure out of Bruno. But actually, I think Bruno has more in common with John the Baptist. He speaks truths that people don’t like, yes, but he doesn’t see everything or have all the answers. He is in exile, just as John the Baptist lived out in the wilderness, and he even looks a little bit like him. But, most importantly, his role in the story is to point to the Chosen One, the one who is going to change everything.

And that one … is Mirabel. C’mon, guys, this is a Disney movie! If it has a Christ figure, odds are that person is going to be the teenaged female main character.

So, in this movie, Mirabel is Jesus. She is “despised and rejected.” Just as Jesus did, she seems ordinary … in fact, she is more ordinary than her family members. She takes the blame for the fact that the house is falling apart, when in fact it is falling apart because of the family’s collective sins and refusal to face the truth. She pursues the truth at all costs. She “ruins everything,” but ends up fixing it. In fact, you could even draw a parallel between the way Mirabel becomes the catalyst for the magical house being destroyed, only to be restored in a better form, and the way Jesus came to destroy the old Temple system and build a new and better “temple,” which was first His body, and then His church. “Destroy this temple, and I will build it again in three days. But the temple he had spoken of was His body.”

O.K., so Mirabel is a Christ figure. Why, then, the C minus? Because Mirabel is the Christ figure. In a Disney movie, the princess (or young female lead) is supposed to be the one the viewer identifies with. Therefore, in this movie, the message is “You are your own savior.” This is really brought out in the “moment of epiphany” scene, where Mirabel looks into the medallion inherited from her grandfather.

“What do you see?” they ask her.

And she answers, in a tone of wonder, “I see … me.

Voila! The answer is … herself! This is supposed to be a profound moment. Instead, it’s profoundly disappointing.

Mirabel, you see, is not divine. She does not see all, know all, or have the power to fix all. She spends the movie, in fact, looking for answers, for a solution. In so doing, she becomes the catalyst for the solution, and I would have been fine with that, but not with her being the solution herself.

If I had spent weeks looking for wisdom, for answers, for help, and all that my mystical search led me to was a mirror, I would be … well. Not filled with wonder. I’d be dismayed. Frightened, because I know that I’m not up to the task. I would realize that the mystical person who had “revealed” to me that I was the answer had led me astray. “Is that it?” I’d be angry.

Now, when you are young and don’t know yourself quite as well, you might not have this clear a reaction. You might feel flattered, but also have quiet, nagging doubts. Don’t listen to the flattery, please, and do listen to the quiet nagging doubts. Let them grow into a healthy realistic fear so that you can go on seeking Someone who is actually up to handling the situation, because believe me, you can’t. There really is a Savior, but don’t let Disney tell you that you’re it.

Ahem.

Pardon me, I didn’t mean to get so carried away. I guess it’s like I told you … it’s biological.

How to Get Dressed

For the ladies

This article is a letter to my self of 25 years ago, with the hope that it might also prove helpful to my little sisters in Christ who might be struggling with some of the same issues that I was then. It’s for young Christian women who want to dress modestly, but know that being told “dress modestly” gives you close to zero guidance as to how to proceed. It builds on this article by venerable pastor and father Douglas Wilson, which gives a man’s perspective. His article lays out some excellent general principles, but I felt there was quite a bit more to be said.

So, guys, you can probably stop reading now. Read on if you wish to find out all the sartorial complexity that women have to deal with. But be warned: the passage below contains the word “bra.”

I will now address my fellow ladies directly.

Ahem

Surprise! You’re a woman. You have a brand-new, woman’s body. If you are in your late teens or early twenties, the body you have now is not the same as the one you had just a few years ago. It comes with new aches and pains. It moves differently. It attracts more attention. It’s harder to dress.

Unfortunately, there is no Standard Modest Outfit out there that all women can just pluck off the rack and don. Some societies in the past have had “traditional garb” or even actual laws about what people of different social classes could wear. Modern America is the opposite. Clothing, especially for women, is viewed as a matter of personal expression. On the plus side, this means we have almost infinite choices. On the down side, this means we have almost infinite choices. So, like it or not, if we want to wear anything at all, we have just been thrown into the wild and crazy world of women’s fashion.

But first, mindset.

You Are Probably Beautiful

You may feel unattractive in your new body. You may even feel grotesque. You may, then, be tempted to reason that it doesn’t matter whether you dress modestly or put any thought into your ensemble. No one is looking; or you can’t “get away with” a classy look; or no matter what you wear, the effect will still be one of the orcs from Lord of the Rings, but with lipstick.

This is probably not true.

The odds are overwhelming, if you are a young woman, that men find you attractive. Even if not every man does, there are probably many, many out there who do, on a daily basis.

It’s not good to motivate yourself to modesty with shame over some aspect (or all aspects) of your appearance. This can backfire in so many ways. So, regardless of how you may feel about yourself, for the purposes of getting dressed, think of yourself as a beautiful woman who wants to be modest and dignified and classy, and who can get away with any look she desires to attempt, no matter how formal, rather than as an ugly woman who has to use her clothing to either conceal or compensate for her ugliness.

You Are Going to Have to Spend Some Money

You may also be hampered in your quest to dress classy by a reluctance to spend more than $20 on any one item at any one time.

The eleventh commandment in some Christian families is, “Thou shalt be frugal.” Perhaps you were raised wearing hand-me-downs, and that worked fine when you were a kid, but now you have this new body that you have to clothe.

You may also have received the impression that spending – not just money, but time, effort, and worry – on your appearance is vain and shallow. You don’t want to be a Barbie doll. You don’t want to be “high maintenance.”

Let me tell you, putting together a modest, classy wardrobe is worth the effort. I’m not saying you have to be dressed like an executive every day and apply makeup with a trowel. Depending upon your current calling in life, your wardrobe might be different. But whatever job or role you are dressing for, you’re allowed to put some thought into it. Lumberjacks are allowed to buy steel-toed boots and suspenders and hard hats or whatever it is that lumberjacks wear, and grown women are allowed to invest in some good bras, slacks, dresses, dress boots. You are going to be donning some kind of clothes every day. They might as well be nice-looking clothes that fit you right now, not stuff left over from your middle school days, or stuff you bought on clearance but it didn’t fit but you continue to wear it because you don’t want to throw it away.

In short, by spending some time, effort, and money on this, you are not being wasteful or shallow or vain. You are being responsible.

Building up a good wardrobe might cost more or less depending upon how difficult it is to shop for your particular build.

Special Problems

If you happen to be very curvy, it’s worth pointing out that this is a special problem. When it comes to getting dressed, being very curvy is a handicap. As you have probably already noticed, most clothes are not designed for you. It’s going to be harder to find clothes that fit, and of those that do fit, clothes that look modest when they go on. You may need to go through a grieving process until you can accept that this is what you look like now, and proceed with the interesting challenge of dressing the body that has been given to you.

Get yourself fitted for a bra. It’s possible that you have been wearing ones that don’t really fit, just because that’s all that was available in stores. Because of your special problem, you are going to have to spend more money and effort than most women, but luckily, there are companies out there that specialize in making bras and clothes for the very curvy woman.

When possible, use dressing rooms. I hate dressing rooms as much as the next gal: they are gross, the lighting is always ugly, and just being in there drains the energy out of you. But it is better to spend a few minutes crying with frustration in the dressing room, than to buy a top that almost fits.

Don’t worry about sizes. Sizes are not consistent from one clothing brand to another. Many many women wear XL or XXL and do not appear fat. Buy whatever fits you.

Ponchos are your friend.

Get Your Colors Done

You could find the perfect garment, one that is modest but attractive, fits you perfectly, etc., and drop a lot of money on it … but if you hate it, you just won’t wear it.

A big part of whether you hate the garment, and whether it actually looks good on you, is color. No matter what your favorite color is, there is probably a version of it that flatters you and a version that doesn’t. Getting your colors done is a cheat code to help you find the shades that will look best on you.

The basic idea behind getting your colors done is that someone helps you determine whether you are a “Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter” based upon your natural coloring. These aren’t personality types or anything like that … they purely describe different types of skin tone, and to a lesser degree eye and hair color. There are also YouTube videos that can help walk you through this process at home.

On the related issue of figuring out what looks good on you, I recommend finding an older fashion book from the library (not a magazine, which will just try to sell you the latest looks). I stumbled upon one in the local library which had a bunch of ordinary-looking women for models, with pictures, and it was incredibly helpful. It was a revelation, for instance, to discover that if you have a lot of color contrast between your skin and hair, you will look good in patterns with a lot of contrast such as black and white, whereas if you don’t have a lot of contrast, you will look good in softer tones. Seeing this illustrated with a variety of models was invaluable.

Pick A Few Looks You Like

Why “pick a few looks”? Why not just individual pieces? Having a look in mind will help you determine what pieces you need, how they best go together, and which ones you can and can’t combine when you get dressed in the morning. (Also, of course, every look comes with its attendant hairstyles, makeup, and accessories, but that is beyond the scope of this post.)

Why looks “you like”? Do this mean that it is all down to individual taste, and you are a modern liberated woman who can wear whatever you want? No, I am not saying that. Coming from a Christian world view, we know that no one can do whatever they want, with no limits, in any area. You have to consider modesty, being appropriate to the occasion, and what kind of image you are projecting when you go outside.

But this does not mean that individual taste is entirely irrelevant. As discussed, we live in a society where clothing is not prescribed. There are a great variety of ways to get dressed, and the choices among these are thrown back onto the individual. This is especially true for women, for whom in most situations there is no “neutral” outfit. (I owe this point to Deborah Tannen.) In this kind of social environment, you have no choice but to make choices. And that means that one factor you need to consider – you must consider – is your own taste. If you like the look you have put together, you will wear it. If you don’t, you will just keep reaching for the old t-shirt you loved when you were 15.

What look(s) you select will depend upon what region of the country you live in; whether you live urban or rural; and what kinds of social circles you move in. Perhaps you live in a city environment where you have to dress rather formally just to be taken seriously. Perhaps you are in a Christian community where the consensus is that women should always wear skirts and dresses. Perhaps you’re a farm girl who looks perfectly fine in jeans, flannel or fleece tops, work boots, and a baseball cap or maybe even a cowboy hat.

You also have to consider whether your typical day involves frequently climbing in and out of a vehicle, and if so, what vehicle. I love skirts and dresses, but if I am going to be running errands, I opt for pants instead because they are more convenient and modest when getting in and out of my car. Also, pockets.

Now we are getting into opinion territory. I’ll give you my opinions about some looks and whether they can be adapted by a Christian woman to look dignified and wholesome. This will not be comprehensive. New looks, and new variations on old looks, keep popping up all the time. I am not an expert, and have made my share of sartorial mistakes. (Oh, so many mistakes!) I am an artistic person who always secretly kind of wants to wear a costume. So take this for what it’s worth.

Some looks, in my opinion, cannot be adapted by a Christian woman because it’s integral to the look to appear very sexy, very edgy or very rebellious. Here are a few:

  • 80s rocker
  • 70s dance party
  • Punk
  • Goth/Vampire
  • Steampunk
  • Rockabilly (but see 50s housewife below)
  • Lady rapper
  • Anything pirate (Sorry, fellow costume afficionados!)
  • Motorcycle gang
  • Viking-inspired

Other looks can be made modest, classy, or at least sweet without doing violence to the look. Here are a few:

  • Hippie (there are variations on this – beachy hippie, hippie chic)
  • Preppy (also formal preppie/Audrey Hepburn/Jackie O)
  • Academic (corduroy, sweaters, blazers, sensible shoes, neutral tones)
  • Sporty
  • 90s Grunge (baggy jeans, flannel shirts, beanies)
  • 50s housewife, like Lucille Ball. Believe it or not, this is a look that is coming back. The thing that distinguishes it from Rockabilly is that the Rockabilly look combines 1950s clothes and hairstyles with an intentionally rebellious attitude, shows more skin, and features lots of tattoos.

All of these looks also have immodest versions featuring very short skirts, crop tops, and the like. They also have rebellious versions. For example, the hippie look can go in the direction of a ton of beads, peace signs, and not taking a shower. But it doesn’t need to. For preppy, you could wear a tennis skirt. For 90s grunge, some people would do their makeup to make themselves look like a heroin addict. But none of these things are integral to the look and you don’t need them. You can get the look by picking its distinctive fabrics, patterns, and colors.

Of course, you can also, if you so desire, go in the direction of Amish/Little House on the Prairie/Anne of Green Gables/Cottagecore. I love that look on other people, but it makes me look like a grandmother and I’m not ready for that yet. Also, though modest, this look is actually more conspicuous in the modern world than the looks listed above.

Good Luck, Sisters

Finally, realize that you are not locked in. You won’t be buying new clothes as often as when you were a growing child, but you will switch out your wardrobe every few years as your stage of life changes and as you get older and (probably) gain some weight. The good news is that clothing marketed to older women tends to be more modest and dignified than clothing marketed to younger women. Also, you will know yourself better when you are older, and will probably have a husband whose tastes have influenced your own, and probably more income to spend on clothes. So, feel free to take the time and money required to look classy in a way that fits your body and personality right now, realizing that this will probably change and that’s fine.

And when you have done all this, you will be a dazzling Proverbs 31 woman, “Clothed with strength and dignity.”

Amazon Unboxing

Yes, I know I am a bad girl for using Amazon.

I had … shall we say a number … of books I wanted to buy. I checked out prices on B&N. I would have been paying a lot more than on Amazon. Like, a lot more. And I’m Dutch-American and kind of cheap, what can I say?

The books are coming in several shipments. This is the first.

Live Not By Lies is one I’ve seen several people recommend. The books of Enoch keep showing up as primary sources in the reading I’ve been doing in secondary sources about giants and elohim and so forth, so I figured it might be just as well to own a copy.

Quotes from a Book I Binged

The book is Before the Ruins, 2020, by Victoria Gosling.

It’s been a while since I binged a book, but I finished this one in just a few days. It is so well-written that it’s almost like unrhymed poetry. Almost every page has something quotable, even when the quotes are ones I disagree with, like the following …

I remember Peter’s father in the church telling the story of Jesus and Pilate, and jesting Pilate asking Jesus what the truth was but then not staying for an answer, and so we never got to find out, not any of us, not ever. I was so disappointed and on our way back to the vicarage, hell-bent on my share of the roast dinner — chicken, chicken, let it be chicken! — I pestered the vicar, “But why didn’t the disciples ask him instead? There he was on the cross, it’s not like he was going anywhere. Why didn’t they ask him?” With his hand on the gate, he turned. A watery smile. “Sometimes, Andy, I think you are the only one who is listening.” Which, of course, was no answer at all.

Nor was there anything in the Gospels that shed light on what Jesus would have said about [my abuser]. I don’t remember anywhere in the Bible Jesus meeting a truly wicked man.

Before the Ruins, p. 114

*pinches brow*

No, Jesus never met a truly wicked man … except the ones who hunted, slandered, gaslit, and betrayed Him. And then tortured Him to death. Except the majority of people he met. Except those.

He never said anything about child abusers … though there were certain passages about the sea and millstones and whitewashed graves and the fires of hell.

His disciples never asked Him “What is truth?” … except all those times they did, and He said “I am the truth,” and the time Philip said to Him, “Show us the Father,” and Jesus said, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you for such a long time? Anyone who has seen me, has seen the Father.”

It’s interesting, because a big theme of Before the Ruins is how difficult it is to really know people, even people you love very much. And how difficult it is to let people know you, even if you really want to.

When not on the subject of the Gospels, the book has a lot of insight and achingly evocative passages about childhood and growing up. Passages like that will break your heart. Passages like this one:

It made me aware of how dormant I was most of the time. How my life — my job, my screens — made it easy to be occupied every waking moment, hurrying, distracted, and equally, on some level almost entirely asleep, comforted by dreams of effortless transformation.

But I was not Cinderella. Instead, there was another story Peter and I had often found in the books of our childhood. It came in different disguises. It was the one about the traveler who arrives at an island, or a castle, or a secret door into the side of a mountain. There, welcomed, the traveler stays, perhaps against their instincts. Often they eat or drink — strange fruit, or wine from a goblet. There is always something they should be doing, an important task for them to fulfill, but they forget it, they are waylaid, and if they ever remember, their companions, if there are any, distract them with promises, or songs, or riddles to ponder.

Often the traveler sleeps, sometimes they dream, always they are nagged by the sense that there is something they are forgetting, something they must do. Their true love is waiting, or their aged parents. There is a sick child they must bring herbs to, a kingdom for them to inherit. But they do nothing; they are paralyzed. And when they wake, if they ever get away, once back in the world they find that centuries have passed, that they are too late, too late for everything, and that all that they loved, everything that truly mattered, is lost forever.

To sleep on? Or to wake? This was the question facing me. To sleep, or to wake and face the reckoning, to find out what had been lost.

Before the Ruins, p. 181

I Feel Like It’s Time I Re-posted This Quote

Originally posted this in July of 2020. Now it has become relevant again.

More than one side can be the bad guys at once.

“What I know about Mendoza,” Palmer said slowly after a while, “is that he’s a petty gangster who enjoys pushing people around. I’ve already told you what I think of Cobar: a psycho killer.”

“But in his book –“

“I know,” Palmer said, lifting a hand. “But a killer who writes a book is still a killer — even if it’s a book about peace and justice. A thug with a lot of high-blown political ideas is still just a thug in the end.”

“But he’s at war with a brutal government …”

“Gangsters get in wars with each other all the time,” said Palmer. “That doesn’t make one side good and the other bad. And it doesn’t mean I have to care which bunch of bullies and thugs wins the day. You think the people in this village will be any better off when it’s Cobar’s government murdering them instead of the government they had before? The only one who’ll feel better about it is you, because you’ll think it’s all for some higher cause — fairness or justice or whatever they’re calling it nowadays. Whatever they do call it, it always translates to the same thing in the end: obey the man with the gun or he’ll kill you. The truth is, Professor, there’s only one higher cause I know of. That’s the right of every man to go his own way and spend his own money and speak his own mind and find his own salvation. You show me the side that stands for that and I’ll fight for them.”

If We Survive, YA book by Andrew Klavan, pp. 218 – 219