A Few Words About Victor Hugo

Okay, I’ve given you a couple of days break from Les Miserables.

Last time we saw that Victor Hugo lived through one of the most tumultous periods in all of French history, and Les Miserables was his attempt to speak into this.  The issues which he sought to address included:

–A political scene so volatile that it would make ours seem like a day in the park.

–A penal system in dire need of reform because it came down harshest upon the poorest of the poor, whose crimes amounted to little more than just being poor, while at the same time it was woefully ineffective in punishing the worst criminal offenders.

–A society in which working class women were kicked to the curb and then held fully accountable for everything that society did to them, and in which their children suffered profusely in the aftermath.

–Family structures that were essentially nonexistent among the lower classes, and, when they did exist, were so weak that just the slightest disruption (political, social, economic, or otherwise) was enough to wipe entire families completely off the map.

–Rigid class structures in which people were unfairly judged on the basis of their class standing, and not the content of their character.

But how did Victor Hugo acquire a platform big enough to allow him to speak into the life of an entire country?  And what was going on in his life that brought this book out of him?  That is what we will now consider. Continue reading “A Few Words About Victor Hugo”

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Featured Link: The Seed Company

I have just started a new category called “Featured Links”.  Every so often, I will take time out from the usual diatribe thing to focus upon an organization that is doing something to make a difference in the world.

A couple of weeks back I wrote a post entitled “You Can Tell a Lot About a Person by the Bible Translation They Use”.  This was a response to a few posts debating the merits of various translations of the Bible that I found while bopping around the blogosphere.  I made the point that translation is never an exact science because there is never a one-to-one correspondence between words in different languages.  There are many different philosophies of translation, and thus it is possible for two people who both have an equally great respect for the Word of God and desire to see it translated faithfully and accurately can arrive at philosophies of translation which are almost completely opposite.

I had a couple of responses to this piece.  One commenter was a Bible translator who spent several years living overseas with a people group which does not yet have a copy of the Bible in its own language.  He made the point that it shows the misplaced priorities of the English-speaking church that we have several translations of the Bible in our language while millions of people around the world do not yet have any translation of the Bible in their language, and we sit around and argue over finer points of our own translations.

He raises a valid point.  And so, in light of this, I would like to direct your attention to an organization which is helping to make a difference in this regard by translating the Bible into languages where no copy of the Bible yet exists.  That organization is called The Seed Company.

It is easy to get involved with them.  Through their OneVerse campaign, you can give $26 a month and help out with the work of Bible translators who are working with people groups that do not yet have a copy of the Bible in their own language.

If you are also of the opinion that, as English-speaking Christians, our priorities would be better placed upon the work of translating the Bible into languages that do not yet have their own copy, then I would encourage you to check out The Seed Company and explore the opportunities for involvement which they offer.

Quick Hit: Why Can’t More Churches Do This?

A couple of years back Francis Chan came to speak at a Passion gathering.  When I heard that he was pastor of a large church out in Simi Valley, California, my first reaction was “Great.  Who needs another evangelical megachurch out there in Rick Warren country?”  But as I have heard more about what Francis Chan is doing with his church, my perception has changed radically.  Specifically this:

Francis Chan’s church wanted to expand, and so the board of directors came up with a plan for a lavish $20 million facility.  But Francis Chan said no, and instead they built an outdoor amphitheater and a community park and gave away the several millions that were left over.  And then they wrote it into their budget that 50 percent of all the money that they took in would go to missions.

That’s right, people.  50 percent of the church budget is being devoted to missions.  In other words, for every dollar that comes in, 50 cents is going right back out the door to the poor, the hurting, the starving, and the dying.

Now Jared Wilson’s church, Element, in Nashville, Tennessee, has launched a new initiative in which they will give 50 percent of everything that comes in to missions, while giving 10 percent to church planting and other gospel-related ministries.  Jared Wilson says that the inspiration for this decision came largely from what Francis Chan’s church is doing.

Just think.  If more churches were to latch on to a similar vision, there is nothing that we would not be able to accomplish in terms of meeting the needs of the sick, the hurting, and the dying in our world.  And isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?  Wasn’t Jesus all about the sick and the suffering and the outcasts in his world?  And shouldn’t we be too?  Didn’t Jesus say that whatever we did for people such as these we did for Him?

So why can’t more churches do this?

Read what Michael Spencer has to say about this.  Bill Kinnon at Achievable Ends makes essentially the same points, but does so in a much more humorous, backhanded way.

Book Review: The Organic God by Margaret Feinberg

Those of you out there who loved The Shack will probably find this book by Margaret Feinberg to be helpful in determining where to go next in your relationship with God.  In this book, Margaret Feinberg asks us to imagine what it would be like to have a relationship with God that is true and pure, free from all the pollutants of preconceived notions, thoughts, and biases that we may have.  She shows us several attributes of God that we may never have considered or have forgotten about, infusing it with stories of her own experience of God at various seasons of life going from early childhood all the way to the present.

We all have the tendency to see God through the grid of our preconceived notions and biases.  We may favor certain parts of Scripture and read others with a been-there, done-that attitude which denies the possibility that God could speak to us freshly through it.  What’s more, we compartmentalize God, welcoming Him into certain areas of our lives while shutting Him out of others.  We treat the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible study, journaling, etc. as items to be checked off a list and not experiences to be savored and enjoyed.  As a result, our understanding of God becomes clouded, just like the smog of a major city.  We don’t even notice it until the itchy eyes and the warnings of scientists tell us just how bad it has become. Continue reading “Book Review: The Organic God by Margaret Feinberg”

More on Hugo’s France

Last time we looked at the history of 19th century France, in an attempt to become acquainted with the backstory behind Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.  We saw that it was an extremely volatile period marked with tremendous political instability.  The French Revolution, the rise and fall of Napoleon, the restoration of the monarchy, the July Revolution of 1830 and the constitutional monarchy of Louis-Philippe, the Revolution of 1848 and the Second Republic, Louis-Napoleon, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Third Republic were all current events, fresh in the minds of anyone living in France in Victor Hugo’s day.

Politics was a huge deal in Victor Hugo’s France. Everyone was either a Royalist or a Republican, in much the same way that everyone in America today either loves Bush or hates him, is for the Iraq war or against it, is pro-life or pro-abortion. Except that in Hugo’s France, the stakes were much much higher. Families were divided, often irreconcilably, over politics; we will see this in the story with Marius’s family. A slip of the tongue in the wrong context could be deadly; we will see a couple of instances of this in the story where Valjean complicates his situation through slips of the tongue which cause him to inadvertently peg himself as a Bonapartist to the wrong people. Continue reading “More on Hugo’s France”

A Few Words about Hugo’s France

Before we try to get into Les Miserables, it is essential for us to understand that this was Victor Hugo’s life work, his attempt to speak into the life of his country.  Thus it is essential for us to understand the story behind the story, the backstory of what it was that Victor Hugo was seeking to speak into.

Let us begin with a short history lesson.

In 1789 the French Revolution happened.  Louis XV and Louis XVI fought several wars and ran up a huge national debt.  The populace chafed under a profoundly unjust system of taxation, and conspicuous consumption by the upper classes of French society–especially Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette–only served to exacerbate the resentment which the general populace was feeling.  Unemployment and food prices were very high, and famine and malnutrition were prevalent.  There was also an intense general resentment toward the monarchy, the privileges enjoyed by high-ranking lords and nobles, and the privileged status of the Catholic Church in French society.

All of this came to a head in 1789.  Louis XVI convened the Estates-General in an attempt to deal with the economic troubles which France was facing.  But when the finance officer who was in charge of convening the Estates-General recommended that the king and his family live on a budget, the king fired him.  This threw the entire city of Paris into revolt, and on July 14 the insurgents stormed the Bastille. Continue reading “A Few Words about Hugo’s France”