Constantinople (not Byzantium)

March 31, 2010

Before Constantinople was renamed Istanbul in 1930, the name ‘Istanbul’ had been used by its inhabitants for hundreds of years.  But before that, the swing hit “Istanbul (not Constantinople)” was actually “Constantinople (not Byzantium)”.  Both names come from kings who obviously had too much ego (Constantine and Byzas).  Istanbul, on the other hand, is a very humble name, simply coming from the Greek phrase eis tên polin (‘to the city’).  Everyone knows that Istanbul was Constantinople, but why does no one ever say Byzantium?  Is it because they don’t know what to do with that silly y in Byz?  Who knows…but I like the name Byzantium, because it sorta makes my mouth buzz, and I’m going to share with you perhaps its greatest marvel: the Hagia Sofia.

The Hagia Sofia was dedicated in 360 AD, but it burned down.  The second Hagia Sofia burned down, too (didn’t they learn their lesson?)  Today’s structure was dedicated by Justinian in 537 and served as a church in Istanbul until 1453 when the Muslim Ottomans took power and converted it into a mosque.  It has always struck me as interesting that one religion is happy to use another religion’s building after making the necessary modifications.  It seems kinda sacrilegious, doesn’t it?  I don’t know whether it is a symbol of subjugation (like, “haha, look what we did to your church!”) or just one of practicality (I’m sure it would be really expensive to build a comparable mosque).  Ever since 1935 it hasn’t been a functional place of worship for Muslims or Christians, but is now a museum.  Anyway, I took quite a bit of footage in the Hagia Sofia (about 5 minutes) and narrated what I could, so if you watch the video, you’ll get a pretty good orientation to the building.  You can see many remnants from both the Christian and Muslim days.

Allison and I both agreed that visiting the Hagia Sofia was the best part of our trip to Istanbul–*cough* I mean, Byzantium–and we also agreed that the worst part of our trip was getting food poisoning.  I’m going on my fifth day of this wicked illness’ sick and perverted effects, although the doctor gave me some medication yesterday that should help me get better, I hope.  Or, maybe I can find a wealthy emperor to buy me a new stomach…

-James, the younger brother


Book Review: Redeeming Love

March 29, 2010

Recently, this book was recommended to me by several of my friends. Everyone I talked to about it had only good things to say, and they all claimed it was one of the best books they’d ever read. I finally decided that it was something worth reading, and found myself so enthralled by it that in only twenty-four hours I had finished it, though it is not a short book at 464 pages. When Katie and I decided to start writing book reviews for this blog, I immediately thought of this book.

Francine Rivers wrote this book basically as her own loose interpretation of the first three chapters of the book of Hosea, but set in the 1805s California gold rush. In the biblical book of Hosea, God tells Hosea to go and take a prostitute for his wife and to love her and have children with her. Hosea does just that, and when she keeps running away from him, he keeps going back and buying her out of prostitution again. This is meant to be a picture of what God did for the people of Israel, whom He constantly sought after and loved and brought back to Him, no matter how many times they strayed, whoring themselves to lesser gods and idols and things of this earth.

In Redeeming Love, a man, Micheal Hosea, is similarly told by God to take for his wife a prostitute. Her name is Angel, and she wants anything but to be his wife. Much like the biblical story, she runs away from him several times, and he keeps bringing her back to him, showing her God’s love for her. Francine Rivers goes into much more detail than the Bible about the woman’s past, which is full of rape, abandonment, murder, and sin of every kind.

From the beginning, Angel was taught that it was her own fault and mistake that she’d even been born and that no one wanted her except to take things from her and prey off of her. It takes a long time for her to realize that Micheal truly loves her and that he’s right about God loving her, too, no matter what she’s done. In the end; she realizes that nothing she could ever do could stop God’s powerful love for her. It’s a wonderful thing for the reader to see her coming to salvation and struggling with understanding God’s intense, persistent, redeeming love.

For me, the best part of my experience in reading this book was that there were points where I was so frustrated with Angel for running away and for not seeing what God and Micheal were trying to show her and do for her that I would feel like yelling at her for being so stupid. And then I would realize that almost every second of every day I am guilty of that very thing. The greatest power in this book is how it reveals to the reader the fact that we are all constantly running from God, whoring ourselves to lesser things, and how much further God’s love goes for us than we could ever possibly run from Him.

I’ll leave you with this verse:

“So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Ephesians 3:17-19

– Lisa, the younger sister

Life in Texas

March 27, 2010

Living in the Bible Belt has its advantages. Take Christian Brothers Automotive whose sign boasts “Christ is Risen”. Where churches are found on almost every street corner, fliers are sent in the mail inviting people to church on Easter, and a plethora of businesses tote the Christian fish symbol. In some ways, this can be very encouraging to feel like what you believe is accepted; that you won’t feel as ‘out there’ when witnessing to someone.

But it also has its downsides. I tend to feel that by being in a place where Christianity is largely accepted also means that it has a tendency to get watered down. It reminds me of this post by Pastor Lumpkin I read a while back.

The church in the West has been largely diluted in quality over time, and I think that it is in places like the Bible Belt where we see that even more. Take Joel Osteen’s ‘health and wealth prosperity message’ for one. Or this situation in Africa which shows how this dilution can cause much more global ramifications. Health and wealth prosperity is not gospel (see John Piper’s message here). It is just a bunch of lies that are dragging people down a pathway to eternal suffering.

The way I see it, I have a challenge to meet in this place, a challenge that is to not let the culture of the area make me feel comfortable being a Christian, but that I would use the culture’s accepting view of religion and God to spur me on to be a light in this place, to live a life filled with the truth and that I would not further the disillusions caused by the health and wealth gospel, but that I would be able to shine through in the face of opposition or even persecution. I want to live a life here as though I was in a place where the truth wasn’t ‘normal’, wasn’t accepted, because largely the acceptance of the Bible Belt’s inhabitants of the actual truth is an illusion. The illusion of being comfortable, the illusion of God being accepted and believed – where people don’t even realize that they don’t really believe. I do not want to miss out on this opportunity to feel open to sharing about God with people who may think that they are saved because they go to church every year on Easter. To share the real truth with them, or to invite them to come to a church where I know that the pastor will take the opportunity of an Easter sermon to really catch these people off guard and not just preach on some ‘safe’ topic, but to really challenge the believer to consider if they are living for Christ in a sense that they are cherishing Him above all else.

I know that I lived in the Bible Belt when I was in Arkansas, but moving to a new place has still been enlightening to me. And a new beginning in a new place is always a good opportunity to remind yourself of why we’re all still here after being saved and what our longing and purpose in life should be. So I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about where I am with God, where I want to be and how to get there, which I suppose is a constant challenge that all Christians face. My hope is that my relationship with God will be deepened though this new adventure in this new place. I want to find that I have rooted myself in the spring of living water that will never fail me, no matter what I face.

On a lighter side, moving to Texas has also brought some other lessons and reflections. For one thing, it is probably best to always wear shoes even if I am from Arkansas. You never know when you might step on something harmful like a wasp, or perhaps even something worse. Also, basic cable includes mostly Spanish channels rather than things like TBS, which is more like what we imagined it would include. And, I think it would be a good idea for all microwaves to have a smoke sensor inside so that if you, say, were popping popcorn or something and it caught on fire, that the microwave would automatically sense the smoke and shut itself off. I just think it might be a good idea, that’s all. Other than that, living in Texas has been quite like living in Arkansas, expect our house is much larger (everything’s bigger in Texas, right?), and our friends and family aren’t just a short drive away.

P.S. If you do happen to forget to wear shoes in Texas and you also happen to step on a wasp and get stung on the bottom of your foot (or anywhere else for that matter), I highly recommend (1) removing the stinger with a credit card, and (2) making a paste out of baking soda and water and applying that paste to the affected area. I was quite lucky to be on a conference call with a nurse when this happened to me and this advice proved extremely helpful. There is hardly any evidence today that I was stung yesterday so I’m convinced it did, in fact, draw out the  venom (?), although I’ve been since told that baking soda is better for bee stings, while wasp stings are better treated with something acidic, such as vinegar so I may have just been lucky.

– Katie, the older sister

Crazy Cat Lady

March 22, 2010

Our last two days in Houston have been really fun. Mommy and I have gotten to hang out a lot with Katie and Jeremy and seen quite a bit of the area in and around their new neighborhood. Last night, mom, Katie, and I took Cabela (Katie’s dog) on a walk down the greenbelt, which was nice and relaxing.

Today, we girls have been shopping. We started out at a saddlery where I bought myself a nice saddle because Katie is moving hers down here so that she can keep riding. Then we quite happily went back to IKEA. We spent several hours shopping there and we bought a desk for Katie’s office that we decided wouldn’t be able to fit into the car the other day.  We were very right. It turned out to be quite the task to get the two boxes in the car, and I ended up squished between them in the back. You can see what it was like in the video below that I took on the drive home (which also contains Katie’s lovely singing and dancing…)

We also shopped at a mall that’s a short ways from Katie’s house and at a Stein Mart. This evening, we all ate out at an Asian place called Pei Wei (pronounced “Pay Way”, not “Pee Wee” as mom tried to say it). It’s the same as P.F.Chang’s, except you order your food at a counter, and the prices are much lower. After dinner, we toured The Woodlands, which is a planned community north of Cypress. We walked along a river in downtown, looking at the interesting fish and the water fountains. The weather was very nice, and we had a lot of fun.

Now we’re all pretty exhausted and headed for bed. I’m definitely going to be sorry to have to leave tomorrow. Katie says she wants us to stay here forever, and I can’t say that I’d mind (until the heat sets in). They’ve moved into a very nice area with lots of things to explore, and there is never a dull moment with my sister. I expect you’ll be hearing more from her about her new life in Houston pretty soon. Until then, these videos should give you a pretty good idea what a loopy sister I have, and you can see her and her cats being crazy together.

– Lisa, the younger sister

Houston, TX

March 21, 2010

On Friday, mom and I drove down to Houston to visit Katie and Jeremy over spring break. We’ll be here until Tuesday because mom has to fly to D.C. for a GK-12 annual conference. We have been having a lot of fun hanging out at the Rogers’ and helping them unpack. We’ve moved things to the garage and right now we’re helping Katie to organize her kitchen and pantry.

Yesterday, we went to the Houston Downtown Aquarium. I think it’s safe to say that it was one of the strangest experiences I have ever had. When we got in line to buy tickets, there was a group of Hispanic teenagers in line in front of us who were dressed in suits and fancy dresses. One of the girls was much more dressed up than the others and seemed to be the focus of the group. They ended up going around the corner of the building (we later found out that there was a restaurant over there), and we decided that it must have been a Quinceañera. Once we got inside, it was pretty normal, just tank after tank of really cool and interesting fish. Then we got to the White Tiger exhibit. We were quite confused until we heard someone explain that White Tigers apparently like water more than any other cat. So, I guess when the aquarium people heard that, they decided that four of these very rare mammals would be the perfect addition to their aquatic exhibits. That was the end of the exhibits in that building, so we went outside, where it got much weirder. There were carnival games and a Ferris wheel, a merry-go-round, and a little train. We rode the train through a tunnel in a very large shark aquarium, which was pretty cool. Then Jeremy tried to win Katie a stuffed animal at a basketball carnival game, but he failed. Oh well.

After the aquarium, we decided to go to IKEA. It was a ginormous store. We had a really great time looking at all of the furniture and containers and organizational things that they had there. Mom got really dehydrated, though, and was having trouble standing or being coherent. We were very excited to get to the end where there was a little bistro. We got drinks and I got some ice cream that was very tasty. Then Katie and Jeremy bought their stuff and we loaded it up into the car.

By this time, it was six or later, so we decided to go out to dinner. We ended up going to Pappasito’s for some really good Mexican food. When we got back to their house, we were all pretty much exhausted. Overall, it was a very fun and exciting day.

Here are some videos of the aquarium and the IKEA store:

Hopefully I will have time to post again over the next few days to tell you more about our fun times in Houston.

– Lisa, the younger sister

Can’t Find the Toaster? and Checking Out

March 20, 2010

Can’t Find the Toaster?

Katie, I’m not sure why you had such trouble finding the toaster. Ours is the largest appliance in the kitchen other than the refrigerator. Just look:

Checking Out

Also, I’ll be checking out for the week. We’re headed to Istanbul, Turkey tomorrow morning for a brief vacation and break from studying Bulgarian. We’re really excited to see a city that is ranked among the top four “must see” cities of the world (next to London, Rome and Paris).  It’ll be great to actually just be tourists and feel free to speak English. We’ll try to take some good pictures and video and share them with you after we get back.

-James, the younger brother

Somebody’s Birthday Is Coming Up Soon …

March 17, 2010

But she won’t be the oldest one in the room. I couldn’t remember the tune of this nice little song or else I’d have sung it for you. Not to mention the readers probably don’t want to even hear Katie singing. Now that I think of it, I remember it’s to the tune of Little Brown Jug. Oh well, perhaps another time I’ll sing it for you.

So, I hope you have a wonderful birthday filled with all life’s greatest things: fun, family, friends, and fantastic memories. You’re the best mom in the whole world and I’m not just saying that because it’s your birthday.

– Katie, the older sister