Books

Battle of the Books 2012 in the Newspaper

From today’s Midland Daily News:

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Championship Battle 2012

This afternoon Boomslang participated in the championship battle for the 2011-2012 Battle of the Books.  They faced “The Cryptid Chickens” from Blessed Sacrament.  Each team was asked 15 questions during the battle.  The Chickens answered all 15 of theirs correctly and 3 out of the 4 that Boomslang missed.  The Chickens were pretty much unbeatable.  I’m sure the kids from Boomslang were a little disappointed about the outcome, but mostly they just seemed to be glad to have permission to read non-Battle-books again.  Congratulations to the Chickens and to Boomslang and Coach Herman for a fantastic performance in this year’s Battle!

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The Help

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I recently finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  From Wikipedia:

The Help is…about African American maids working in white households in Jackson, Mississippi during the early 1960s.

It didn't impact me the way The Color of Love did (which I mentioned here and here), but I enjoyed it.  It gets criticism as a white woman writing about the black experience, but Stockett addresses/acknowledges that directly in the afterward…and I'm not sure why we should only be allowed to write about ourselves (whatever category of self that might be).

Pilgrim Heart

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Last spring I finished reading Pilgrim Heart: The Way of Jesus in Everyday Life by Darryl Tippens while leading a Sunday AM class studying it at church.

From the product description:

Originally, the way of Jesus was considered a distinctive way of life rather than a sophisticated theological system. Pilgrim Heart re-imagines discipleship as - first and foremost - a particular way of life guided by a set of simple, but powerful, daily practices known to the earliest disciples and the saints through the ages. These include: Friendship; Sabbath Rest; Hospitality; Confession; Forgiveness; Listening; Discernment; Singing; Creating; Telling Stories. How would this approach to the religion of Jesus change the way we think and live? Pilgrim Heart is an invitation to consider afresh the way of Jesus in light of practices that have proven to transform lives for two thousand years.

I enjoyed the book, although it was lighter on explicit references from the New Testament than I would have expected for a book about "the way of Jesus."  My favorite chapter was "Welcoming: Opening Doors to Strangers" in which Tippens describes the radical, self-sacrificial hospitality that many Christians practiced during the first few centuries AD.  I previously reproduced a big quote from that chapter and why it stood out to me here: link.

I gave the book 4 out of 5 stars.

The Windup Girl

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I recently finished reading one of my Christmas gifts The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi.

From the School Library Journal Review:

In a future Thailand, calories are the greatest commodity. Anderson is a calorie-man whose true objective is to discover new food sources that his company can exploit. His secretary, Hock Seng, is a refugee from China seeking to ensure his future. Jaidee is an officer of the Environmental Ministry known for upholding regulations rather than accepting bribes. His partner, Kanya, is torn between respect for Jaidee and hatred for the agency that destroyed her childhood home. Emiko is a windup, an engineered and despised creation, discarded by her master and now subject to brutality by her patron. The actions of these characters set in motion events that could destroy the country.

Somehow this one had a Dune-like vibe for me.  I think it was the foreign-language phrases sprinkled throughout.  I liked it fine and gave it 3 out of 5 stars.

Just Walk Across the Room

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I recently finished reading Just Walk Across the Room by Bill Hybels.

From the book's description:

What if you knew that by simply crossing the room and saying hello to someone, you could change that person's forever? Just a few steps to make an eternal difference. It has nothing to do with methods and everything to do with taking a genuine interest in another human being. All you need is a heart that's in tune with the Holy Spirit and a willingness to venture out of your 'Circle of Comfort' and into another person's life.

I started reading it a few years back in our small group, but I didn't make to the end until now.  I appreciated the encouragement to be the kind of person who walks across the room, breaks the ice, and reaches out to make a connection.  However, to me this is one of those books that would have made a good article or pamphlet but seemed a stretched thin as a book.  I gave it 2 out of 5 stars.

How Lucky You Can Be - The Story of Coach Don Meyer

Last summer we heard that Coach Don Meyer was coming to Midland to speak at a fundraiser.  Not only was he the basketball coach when we were at Lipscomb, but he's also "...the winningest men's basketball coach whose career has included at least one stint with an NCAA member school."  We made plans to attend.

Here's video of Meyer winning an Espy:

As the day of the event approached, we realized that we didn't have our tickets.  We contacted the community center who told us that they had mailed them.  I remembered receiving a receipt in the mail but didn't see the tickets in the large envelope.  A few days later I received an email.  Someone in another state had found the tickets on the floor, Googled the event, and realized that they must have fallen out of the envelope I had sent her.  I had reused the envelope to mail a book, and the tickets went along for a ride.  She kindly mailed the tickets back just in time.

mbatixIn the course of trying to figure out what happened to the tickets, Lisa talked to Ryan and Bob at the community center quite a bit.  She told him about the special memories we have of John Pierce setting the all-time scoring record.  Lisa had an astronomy lab that night, and the instructor wasn't keen on letting the students out early to go to the game.  When she got out of class, she ran across campus to get to the game...arriving just in time to see Pierce set the record.  I remember  them stopping the game after the record-setting basket, and Pierce threw the ball to his dad up in the stands as a tribute to him.

Meyer's talk at the fundraiser was quite enjoyable.  He talked about faith and family...integrity and hard work.  He told a bunch of jokes too (more about that in a separate post).  He had some advice for parents: don't critique your kids after the game...leave that to the coach...your kids don't want to hear that from you.

When we talked to Meyer afterward, we could tell that Bob or Ryan had mentioned us to him as he reminisced with us about Pierce.  Here's a photo we took together...

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howlucky Over Christmas I read "How Lucky You Can Be: The Story of Coach Don Meyer" by Buster Olney.

Early on in the book Olney glosses over the Meyer/Lipscomb split: "a disagreement on principle with the administration."  I was worried that would be all it said on the subject, but later in the book it was addressed with some detail:

...in the late nineties, the administration began considering a move to Division I-A - a switch that Meyer vehemently opposed.

He believed that the university would have extraordinary difficulty raising the funds needed year after year to meet the costs of travel, as well as expense of adding the sports programs required to join a new conference.  He felt, too, that Lipscomb - a church-affiliated school squeezed among the University of Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and other Division I programs in the state of Tennessee - would have difficulty luring the level of student-athletes needed to have a strong program.  Lipscomb contended annually for NAIA championships, but at Division I, Meyer believed, the team might have trouble continuing that tradition.  He felt that Lipscomb should have more appreciation for the strong programs it already had.

In the end he resigned, feeling betrayed that the university made the decision without what he considered to be adequate deliberation.  It was nice to hear how some healing of the relationship between Lipscomb and Meyer was triggered by Philip Hutcheson taking the AD job at Lipscomb.  I also didn't know that, after resigning from Lipscomb, Meyer tried and failed to get the coaching job at Pepperdine.  It's a shame that didn't work out.

It was interesting to see how Lipscomb's unique environment was described in the book.  For example:

David Lipscomb College was affiliated with the Meyers' church, the Church of Christ, and Lipscomb operated under a strict code of conduct, as if there were additional commandments beyond the first ten.

and about how Don's wife felt upon leaving Lipscomb:

[Carmen] felt liberated, in part, by the move.  When they were at Lipscomb, they could not have gone out to a restaurant and had a glass of wine, because the school's religious doctrine was so strict.

The book was quite frank about many of the Meyer family struggles...that the relationship between Don and his wife was quite strained before the accident, that both of his daughters got pregnant out of wedlock during the freshman years in college, etc.  The one subject that I noticed as conspicuously left (mostly) unexamined was Jerry Meyers' (Don's son) dismissal from the team:

Before Jerry Meyer's senior season, he had violated team rules and Don Meyer kicked him off the team...

I was at Lipscomb at the time and heard rumors about what precipitated Jerry's dismissal.  Given that the book was so transparent in discussion of so many other aspects of the Meyer family, Olney's reticence on this subject seemed odd.

Olney does a good job detailing many of the eccentricities that made Meyer the unique character that he is: his fondness for Captain D's, his humor, that he loved listening to Rush Limbaugh on long drives during recruiting trips, etc.  It's clear that growing up on a farm with a hardnosed father had a profound influence on his work ethic and parenting style.  (As a related aside, I found this anecdote to be quite remarkable and sad: once, when the pigs escaped from their pen, his dad kicked him "over and over" when he didn't figure out a way to contain them.)

Meyer is an interesting guy, and his story is quite inspiring.  I especially enjoyed the book given my connection to Lipscomb and time there during part of Meyers tenure.

Here are some of the handouts I picked up when we went to hear Meyer speak.  I'll reproduce some of the jokes he told in a separate post.

Stop and Think

  1. Is this a risk I can afford to take?
  2. How will this affect my future?
  3. How will this affect my family?
  4. How will this affect my teammates and coaches?

Coaches and Players with Great Team Attitudes

  1. Listen to each other.
  2. Are courteous to each other.
  3. Show concern for each other.
  4. Help each other out - share the load.
  5. Say what they feel, but watch how they say it.
  6. Don’t put each other down.
  7. Praise each other.
  8. Don’t talk behind each other’s back.
  9. Celebrate success.
  10. Treat everyone’s opinion as important.
  11. Treat mistakes as learning experiences.

THE SIMPLE FAITH

  • The Fruit of Silence is PRAYER
  • The Fruit of Prayer is FAITH
  • The Fruit of Faith is LOVE
  • The Fruit of Love is SERVICE

The 2nd Ten Commandments

  1. Thou shall not worry; for worry is the most unproductive of all human activities.
  2. Thou shall not be fearful; for most things we fear never come to pass.
  3. Thou shall not cross bridges before you come to them; for no one yet has succeeded in accomplishing this.
  4. Thou shall face each problem as it comes; you can only handle one at a time anyway.
  5. Thou shall not take problems to bed with you; for they make very poor bedfellows.
  6. Thou shall not borrow other people’s problems; they can better care for them then you can.
  7. Thou shall not try to relive yesterday for good or ill, it is forever gone; concentrate on what is happening in your life and be happy now.
  8. Thou shall be a good listener; for only when you listen do you hear different ideas from your own.
  9. Thou shall not become “bogged down” by frustration; for 90% of it is rotted in self-pity and will only interfere with positive actions.
  10. Thou shall count thy blessings; never overlooking the small ones, for a lot of small blessings add up to a big one.

Amish Grace

AmishGrace I recently finished reading "Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy" by Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, and David L. Weaver-Zercher.  From Wikipedia:

When a group of Amish schoolgirls are taken hostage and killed in their classroom, their parents and the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, stun the outside world by immediately forgiving the killer.

I previously new very little about the Amish (mostly from the film Witness?).  As I learned more, I couldn't help but notice some similarities to my own heritage.  I loved the book both because of its thoughtful examination of the nature of forgiveness and because it's a fascinating story of a group of Christians who obviously and in many ways aren't excusing themselves from being transformed by the radical, counter-cultural demands of the gospel.

I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.

This quote from page 12 caught my attention:

“We believe in letting our light shine,” said one Amish father, “but not shining it in the eyes of other people.”

I love that phrase.  It reminds me of 1 Thess. 4:9-12:

9 Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

The Amish take very seriously what Jesus said about forgiveness in Matthew 6.  From page 95 of the book:

To say that the Lord’s Prayer is a “good, well-rounded prayer” covers a lot of territory. But the prayer’s words about forgiveness “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” ring loud in Amish ears. One elder explained emphatically, “Forgiveness is the only thing that Jesus underscored in the Lord’s Prayer. Do you know that Jesus speaks about forgiveness in the two verses right after the Lord’s Prayer? So you see, it’s really central to the Lord’s Prayer. It’s really intense.”

The fundamentals of Amish forgiveness are embedded in those two verses: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6: 14-15).

The Amish believe if they don’t forgive, they won’t be forgiven. This forms the core of Amish spirituality and the core of their understanding of salvation: forgiveness from God hinges on a willingness to forgive others. The crucial phrase, repeated frequently by the Amish in conversations, sermons, and essays, is this: to be forgiven, we must forgive.

This notion was never clearer than in the aftermath of the Nickel Mines shooting. In response to a flood of inquiries about how the Amish could forgive, local leaders provided an explanation in an unsigned letter: “There has been some confusion about our community’s forgiving attitude, [but] if we do not forgive, how can we expect to he forgiven? By not forgiving, it will be more harmful to ourselves than to the one that did the evil deed.”

Here's an interesting passage from pages 126-128 where the authors explore the meaning of forgiveness:

Forgiveness is a concept that everyone understands - until they’re asked to define it. Many Christians say that people should forgive because God forgave them. The Amish say that people should forgive so that God will forgive them. But those statements point to theological motivations for offering forgiveness; they do not define what forgiveness is. Others argue that forgiveness brings emotional healing to the forgiving person, but this psychological motive for forgiveness also fails to define forgiveness.

In recent years, psychologists such as Robert D. Enright and Everett E. Worthington Jr. have helped to define forgiveness and examine its effects. As a result of their clinical research, both Enright and Worthington have come to believe that forgiveness is good for the person who offers it, reducing “anger, depression, anxiety, and fear” and affording “cardiovascular and immune system benefits.” To make that claim, however, they’ve needed to clarify what forgiveness is and what it is not.

Enright, in his book Forgiveness Is a Choice, uses philosopher Joanna North’s definition of forgiveness: “When unjustly hurt by another, we forgive when we overcome the resentment toward the offender, not by denying our right to the resentment, but instead by trying to offer the wrongdoer compassion, benevolence, and love.” In Enright’s view, this definition highlights three essential aspects of forgiveness: that the offense is taken seriously (“the offense was unfair and will always continue to he unfair”), that victims have “a moral right to anger,” and that for forgiveness to take place, victims must “give up” their right to anger and resentment. In sum, forgiveness is “a gift to our offender,” who may not necessarily deserve it.

Forgiveness, then, is both psychological and social: psychological because the forgiver is personally changed by the release of resentment, and social because forgiveness involves another person. That other person, the wrongdoer, may or may not change as a result of the forgiveness. In fact, Enright and many other scholars argue that forgiveness does not and should not depend on the remorse or apology of the offender. Rather, forgiveness is unconditional, an unmerited gift that replaces negative feelings toward the wrongdoer with love and generosity. “In spite of everything that the offender has done,” writes Enright, forgiveness means treating the offender “as a member of the human community.”

There are certain things, however, that forgiveness does not mean. Partly in response to their critics, forgiveness advocates have developed a long list of things that forgiveness is not: it is not pretending that a wrong did not occur, it is not forgetting that it happened, and it is not condoning or excusing it. To the contrary, “forgiveness means admitting that what was done was wrong and should not be repeated.” Similarly, forgiveness is not the same thing as pardon. In other words, granting forgiveness does not mean that the wrongdoer is now free from suffering the disciplinary consequences of his or her actions (for example, legal or other forms of discipline).

Finally, forgiveness should not he confused with reconciliation - the restoring of a relationship. That’s because “reconciliation requires a renewal of trust, and sometimes that is not possible.” Forgiveness may open the door to reconciliation, and in some ways is a prerequisite for reconciliation, but a victim may forgive an offender without reconciliation taking place. For instance, a victim of domestic abuse may forgive her abuser but at the same time seek legal means to keep him at a distance. Forgiveness advocates such as Enright even argue that forgiving  a dead person is both possible and appropriate, even though reconciliation cannot take place in such cases.

In the following passage from pages 175-177 the authors emphasize how truly counter-cultural Amish Grace really is:

To hear the Amish explain it, the New Testament provides the pattern for their unique form of spirituality. In a certain sense they are right. The Amish take the words of’ Jesus with utmost seriousness, and members frequently explain their faith by citing Jesus or other New Testament texts. But the Amish way of life cannot be reduced simply to taking the Bible or even Jesus seriously. Rather, Amish spirituality emerges from their particular ways of understanding the biblical text, a lens that’s been shaped by their nonviolent martyr tradition.  With the martyrs hovering nearby, offering admonition and encouragement, the Amish have esteemed suffering over vengeance, Uffgevva over striving, and forgiveness over resentment. All Christians can read Jesus’ words in Matthew’s Gospel “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” but Amish people truly believe that their own forgiveness is bound up in their willingness to forgive others. For them, forgiveness is more than a good thing to do. It is absolutely central to the Christian faith.

All of this helps us understand how the Nickel Mines Amish could do the unimaginable: extend forgiveness to their children’s killer within hours of their deaths. The decision to forgive came quickly, almost instinctively. Moreover, it came in deeds as well as words, with concrete expressions of care for the gunman’s family. For the Amish, the test of faith is action. Beliefs are important, and words are too, but actions reveal the true character of one’s faith. Therefore to really forgive means to act in forgiving ways - in this case, by expressing care for the family of the killer.

In a world where the default response is more often revenge than forgiveness, all of this is inspiring. At the same time, the fact that forgiveness is so deeply woven into the fabric of Amish life should alert us that their example, inspiring as it is, is not easily transferable to other people in other situations. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but how does one imitate a habit that’s embedded in a way of life anchored in a five-hundred-year history?

Most North Americans, formed by the assumptions of liberal democracy and consumer capitalism, carry a dramatically different set of cultural habits. In fact, many North Americans might conclude that certain Amish habits are problematic, if not utterly offensive. Submitting to the discipline of fallible church leaders? Forgoing personal acclaim? Constraining intellectual exploration? Abiding by restrictive gender roles? Declining to stand up for one’s rights? Refusing to fight for one’s country? Could any set of cultural habits be more out of sync with mainstream American culture?

Many observers missed the countercultural dimension of Amish forgiveness, or at least downplayed it, in the aftermath of the Nickel Mines shooting. Outsiders, typically impressed by what they saw, too often assumed that Amish grace represented the best in “us.” Few commentators did this as crassly as the writer who equated the faith of the Amish with the faith of the Founding Fathers. In his mind, the Nickel Mines Amish were not acting counterculturally; they were simply extending a long American tradition of acting in loving, generous, and “Christian” ways. Other commentators, eager to find redemptive lessons in such a senseless event, offered simple platitudes. Rather than highlighting the painful self-renunciation that forgiveness (and much of Amish life) entails, they extolled Amish forgiveness as an inspiring expression of the goodness that resides in America’s heartland.

We are not suggesting that the Amish response to the shooting was not praiseworthy. We contend, however, that the countercultural value system from which it emerged was too often neglected in the tributes that followed in the wake of the shooting. As if to drive home the depth of this cultural divide, ministers in one Ohio Amish community forbade a member from giving public lectures on Amish forgiveness. Ironically, the very value system that compelled the Nickel Mines Amish to forgive Charles Roberts constrained a member’s freedom to talk about forgiveness with curious outsiders. No, the Amish response at Nickel Mines was not so much the “best of America” as it was an expression of love by a people who every day challenge many of the values the rest of us hold clear.

A Feast For Crows

200px-AFeastForCrows Last week I finished A Feast For Crows, the fourth installment in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire Series.  Like the others, this one left me wanting more...which also leaves me depressed since the next installment has been constantly on the verge of being published for the last 4 years and follows a parallel set of storylines (the continuation must wait until the 6th book).

I gave it 4 out of 5.

A Storm of Swords

200px-AStormOfSwords Over the weekend I finished A Storm of Swords.  Like the previous two in the series, I found it to be quite enjoyable.  Towards the the end I noticed with surprise how much I cared whether or not the kingslayer and the imp left each other on good or bad terms and took that as evidence that this book had brought me a long way (I guess it should have at ~1100 pages!).

I gave it 4 out of 5.

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