Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Things that are not

“…the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were” (Romans 4:17)

That’s me! These two phrases perfectly reflect God’s work with me. I never thought I’d be excited about this verse, but it suddenly carries so much meaning for me.

Life to the dead - I was dead. Not just lost, not just lethargic, but dead.
*I was dead. “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned – for before the law was given, sin was in the world.” (Romans 5:12-13)
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:1-3)

I was dead in my sin. And yet God, Elohim, the creator of the universe, the One and Only, the Alpha and Omega, the holder of the keys to Death and Hades, He loved me.
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. … We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:10, 19)

“When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)

“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:4-10)

“For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: the judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:15-17)

It is God’s grace and mercy alone that led to Him sending Christ to take my faults and anger and illnesses and sorrows (“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” ~Isaiah 53:4-6) . He took them all upon Himself, suffering for all the stupid things I have done, the anger I have succumbed to, the harsh words and evil in my heart. And he imparted righteousness to me. Me! The wretch that I am is now called righteous through faith in Christ – faith that He gave me.

My life in Him is dependent on His mercy: “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” (Romans 9:16)

Calls things that are not as though they are
How often He has called me what I, on my own, am not:
*Righteous – “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness!” (Romans 6:17-18)

*Holy & Pure – “But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’ For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God. Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:15-23)

*Child of God and co-heir with Christ – “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.” (Romans 8:16-17)

*Containing a spirit of power, love, and self discipline (“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.” ~2 Timothy 1:7)

*Useful – “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-30)

*More than a Conqueror – “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

*A teacher – which is a very long story!

*Worth saving.

Wow! Praise the LORD!


I learned a new word this morning. While reading David Jeremiah's Until Christ Returns: Living Faithfully Today While We Wait for Our Glorious Tomorrow, he mentioned having priorities and posteriorities. I wasn't sure the latter was a legitimate word, but the OED substantiated it.

A posteriority is "opposed to a priority," something that comes later in time, or is considered less in importance.

Dr. Jeremiah wrote that the creation of priorities necessitates relegating other things to posteriorities. If you are going to emphasize one set of actions or goals, you must diminish your emphasis on others. It made me pause and think: What am I emphasizing and what I am not emphasizing currently?

I must confess that prior to last August, my priorities were centered around work and my health. I was in my office for 40-60 hours a week, except on days when my body wouldn't cooperate. I didn't have consistent fellowship at a church, was isolated at work, and some days it was all I could do to get to work, teach, and work on my own classes. It's not that I didn't want to make my relationship with God a priority; it's just that I failed miserably.

Thank the LORD that last summer He began to change that. That un-extraordinary Sunday morning in August when He began to work in me through Psalm 37:4 marked a new beginning. Despite the fact that, on my own, I am wholly unable to make my relationship with God my biggest priority, He sparked a hunger that I can't explain and I can't satisfy apart from Him.

I can't boast at all in this, because I know that over the last 15 years, I have tried repeatedly to do hat I thought I was supposed to do. With Paul, I must say that what I want to do, I don't do, and what I don't want to do, I do. It seems that especially when I know what I should do - when I know what I want my priorities to be - I fail even worse than when I'm not particularly trying. So I know that the last 7 months haven't been about me. They've been about God and He's been doing some awesome things.

Christ said that no one comes to the Father but by Him, and that He draws all men to Himself. He has been drawing me to Him, and I am so thankful. He's slowly transforming what had been priorities into posteriorities. I still devote myself with work, but I crave those spiritual things that only He can reveal. In Acts 17:6, the Jews in Thessalonica said that the "men who had turned the whole world upside down have now come here." One of my pastors said that they had it wrong: the world is already upside down, but Christ puts it right side up. St. Augustine of Hippo also proclaimed that the way down is up (or up is down - we always said it wrong while reading his "Confessions" in college!).

I'm seeing God turn my world right side up. He's shifting my priorities, giving me a heart for Him and a strong desire to be a wife and mother and share in His ministry. These are things that I've tried to want on my own and failed. But He's reshaping me, and giving me a better heart. I know I'm still going to fail miserably at times, but how glorious it is to see God moving in your own heart!

Monday, March 15, 2010


Sitting in my grandparents' house, sometimes I am amazed by the depth of history that surrounds me. I know, I know - I'm an historian, it's what I do. But, honestly, my family's history is often so much more interesting than the macro-histories that I consider daily for work. Don't get me wrong, I love both micro and macro histories. But there is something that touches my soul with personal stories that doesn't quite happen when considering larger stories like the Enlightenment in Europe in the 1700s. I tell my students that history is a collection of stories that we tell about ourselves and our ancestors that together weave together a fabric upon which our identities, values, fears, and questions can be found.

I first was introduced to this idea of history as stories in an Environmental History seminar in my doctoral program. (Why it took so long to see the field this way, I'm not sure.) The article was William Cronon's "A Place for Stories: Nature, History, and Narrative," in The Journal of American History, 78 no. 4 (March 1992): 1347-1376. In the article, Cronon describes how histories contain specific plots, and those plots are intricately connected to the kind of narrative that the historian uses to describe that plot. He says that historians

"configure the events of the past into causal sequences - stories - that order and simplify those events to give them new meanings. We do so because narrative is the chief literary form that tries to find meaning in an overwhelmingly crowded and disordered chronological reality. When we choose a plot to order our environmental histories, we give them a unity that neither nature nor the past possesses so clearly. In so doing, we move well beyond nature into the intensely human realm of value" (1349).

It's a fascinating thought. The kind of stories we tell are tied to the plot of our histories, which can be fundamentally changed by a different narrative. In my own field, this is brutally clear. The foremost story told about modern Spain is fundamentally a declension narrative. It goes something like this: After 1588 when Spain lost the armada to England's superior navy, the country began a long, steep decline from its glory days under Carlos V and Felipe II. The country embarked on a series of ill-planned wars with the Netherlands and in aid of their Hapsburg cousins in Austria, while simultaneously losing control of the wealth of the Americas. At the end of the 17th century, the Hapsburgs lost control entirely, and the French Bourbons entered the picture with Louis XIV's grandson. While the Bourbons tried to salvage the mess that was the Spanish economy and resistance to modernization, the rest of the continent embraced the Enlightenment and began patterns of industrialization, urbanization, and modernization. By the 19th century, Spain was falling behind the rest of the world: they had no Enlightenment, no rising bourgeoisie, and so no democracy, no liberalism, and no modernity. Spain thoroughly failed in holding on to its American empire - seen most dramatically when the United States kicked her out of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines, and the nation fell into a despairing spiral of self-doubt, insecurity, and political chaos. This of course led to the horrors of the Spanish Civil War and Franco, and it was only when Franco thankfully died that Spaniards could pick up the pieces of their failed history and begin to join the rest of the First world."

The narrative - one of decline and failure - sets the stage for a long, long history that sees Spain as corrupt, inept, decidedly not modern, and unable to accept modernity. Therefore, the transition to a democratic government in 1975 is seen as a miracle, a strangely unique event that has virtually no real history in the nation at all. This narrative must express shock that Spain quickly vied for position and power in Cold War and post-Cold War Europe, becoming a key member of the European Union and in the fight against global terrorism.

But if the narrative changes, if the historian questions the decline plot and looks for a new story line, with a different starting point and ending point, the history changes dramatically. Broadening our idea of the Enlightenment so that it includes those groups who did not totally reject religion - as Jonathan Israel does in Radical Enlightenment and Richard Herr does in The Eighteenth-Century Revolution in Spain - opens up the possibility the there was an Enlightenment in Spain, albeit not the radical Enlightenment of Spinoza or the atheistic Enlightenment of Voltaire. If there was an Enlightenment, then the lack of a distinct, liberal middle class by the early 1800s cannot be attributed to the failure of Enlightenment thought, and historians must reconsider the questions they ask about that middle class. My own advisor suggests that the public sphere functioned in a particular way in Spain, due to the low literacy levels - newspapers and pamphlets were read aloud at taverns and bars, and there was an oral sphere that fostered liberal debates despite the lack of a "Republic of Letters," as Dena Goodman described it in France.

And the changes go on. By changing the plot at one point, by not adhering automatically to a declension narrative at this one point, the rest of Spanish history begins to shift. Instead of Spain being a backward country that barely is considered part of the European continent - and we have Napoleon to thank for saying that "Europe ends at the Pyrenees" - we begin to see how processes and intellectual movements enter into, work within, and are adapted by groups in Spain. We start to see not a 500-year decline, but an ebb and flow, just like in the rest of Europe, albeit with its own peculiarities and speeds.

It's completely fascinating!

Cronon's short article encouraged me to consider the plot devices my fellow Hispanists use to create the quilt that is Spanish history. But it also moved me to reconsider the way I teach my own students.

While most of my students come into their freshman history class with me expecting that history is primarily a series of dates connected to facts and names that should be memorized, they find that I am more interested in them weaving a story together. I would rather them be able to explain the overall plot - the introduction, the problem, the climax, the resolution - than necessarily remember who said "War is hell" on which date. I feel strongly that if they understand the plot, they can begin plugging in the minutia, the exact dates and the quotes and the names and battles. I want them to see that history encompasses all of human experience. If you can tell a story about it, you can tell its history.

I think that's why I love sitting in this room in my grandparents' house so much. On the wall are pictures of my grandfather's C-47 in WWII and his "Medaille de Jubile" - a medal and certificate of thanks from the French government for being part of the liberation of France. I can plug his story into the larger stories of US history, of World War II, of European history. I also see his college diploma - a testament to both his determination and the success of the GI Bill in the 1950s - and plaques of commemoration for years of service to the city of Los Angeles. I also see my family's pictures laid out, each one offering a glimpse of our rich stories. My favorite picture is one of my great grandmother, whom I never met. She was a flapper, and in the picture she is wearing a fur coat and looks more like a glamorous movie star than most movie stars. Her life was turbulent, but it is a part of my story, and I love her.

Stories are one way that we make sense of who we are. I feel honored that I get the chance to talk about these stories every day. After all, I'm just a story teller at heart!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Long time

Wow, I have not been on here for a very, very long time. I suppose a few updates are in order.

Mom - She's stable for now. Her treatment has been working, though it's not gone by any means. Right now we're simply grateful for each new day that she's with us.

Dissertation - has been a bit stalled. I finished my second month in Barcelona and then returned home to spend December taking care of Mom. I'm back at home now, teaching US history (which is certainly an adventure!) and have started trying to analyze my sources and plan out my first chapter. It's been slow going, though.

God - has continued to show Himself faithful. Faithful not only in revealing His promises and His goodness, but in continually fueling my hunger for Him. Some days I feel a ravenous desire for scripture, as though I will be consumed if I don't feed on it. Each day, each verse, each chapter brings new awe at the glory of our Lord. I can't believe He is so good, when I am inherently so wretched.

I am so thankful tonight, even though it has been a very hard day. Grandma fell at church, Mom had a horrible day and never stopped crying on the phone, I had to fight through a small migraine. But I am thankful. Especially on the hard days, I am reassured by the words of the prophet Isaiah: "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of His robe filled the temple." (Is 6:1) When all looks dim and hard from my perspective, God is still on His throne. He is still the LORD, YHWH, the God of Israel and the redeemer of men. One of my pastors put it this way: God is never surprised. He's never shocked at the turn of events. Things are never out of His control.

Praise Him!