Friday, November 21, 2008

BOOK 14: Shopgirl by Steve Martin (audio)

How timely, with Steve Martin guesting on 30 Rock last night, that I should post his book in my 40 books in a year project today. I enjoy Martin's comedy maybe 30% of the time, mostly because he's so over the top and obvious. I know that's the joke and yet I still don't find it funny. He was good on 30 Rock, a role in which he's half funny and half serious actually makes him funnier.

I was intrigued despite my ambivalence about his comedy to see what kind of chops he had as a writer. Not bad, it turns out. I don't know that a lot of the great authors I've read this year have to look over their shoulder for Martin's shock of white hair, but he does a very good job with character development. He captures or caricatures (I really can't say for lack of knowledge) Los Angeles. And although I didn't write down quotes from this book as I was listening to it, I do remember going back to re-listen to some passages as the phrasing was that good. That's high praise for someone the world thinks of as a boisterous slapstick guy.

Overall, it's thoughtful and layered. They have turned it into a movie in which Steve Martin plays a role alongside Claire Danes. I'll be interested to see it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

WWJD about Obama?

I received the following in my inbox this morning, forwarded by someone named Donald.

It's long so I'll comment here and then you can read it. Grassfire is not expressly a Christian organization, but it's pretty clear to see that it was founded by Christians. I guess this email took me aback so much, because I don't see the point or what's helpful about mounting a resistance to our democratically elected President. Even John McCain said, "He's MY President" in his concession speech.

This kind of radical (perhaps paranoid) reaction is exactly the kind of thing that freaks out non-believers and makes them think we're all hypocrites and weirdos. I think a biblical approach is to support all of our government leaders in prayer and for us to live lives of integrity. I'm not sure signing up a million resisters is what Jesus would do.

Bomb away.

>+ + Obama Resistance Update
> Donald,
> Thank you so much for taking part in Grassfire's "Join The Resistance" campaign. I'm thrilled to report that in just one week, more than 100,000 citizens have
> joined the Resistance!
> This is great news, especially with more and more reports about the very aggressive agenda President-elect Obama has set for the first days of his administration.
> Obama's promised executive orders alone will shut down oil and gas exploration, push radical global warming policies and force taxpayer funded abortions. And now Obama is promising more
> massive bailouts that will further expand government power.
> + + Our Goal: 200,000 Resisters This Week!
> In order to reach our goal of 1 million Resisters by Inauguration Day, we must cross 200,000 this week.
> We have already begun aggressive efforts to get the word out through conservative radio, Drudge Report and other means. But I need your help to spread the word TODAY:
> Please forward this message to your conservative friends right now and ask them to Join The Resistance. Your friends can go here to sign:
> + + Update on the Obama Booklet
> Also, my staff is finalizing Grassfire's booklet "Living In An Obama Nation" which outlines the 21 greatest threats the Obama Administration poses to your family and our nation. I expect to have this 48-page booklet to the printer tomorrow and shipping on time before the end of the month.
> To request your copies or for a sneak peek inside the
> booklet, go here:
> Thank you so much for taking a stand with Grassfire! Together, we can mount a patriotic, resilient, conservative Resistance to Barack Obama and the socialist Left.
> Steve Elliott, President
> P.S. I have received many requests from Resisters who want more information on Grassfire's overall Resistance strategy. If you would like a more detailed breakdown of our strategy, or to give us your suggestions and feedback, go here:

Monday, November 17, 2008

BOOK 13: Streets of Hope by Peter Medoff and Holly Sklar

I had tried to read Streets of Hope previously, but this project was good motivation to pick it back up. This is the story of the rebirth of the Dudley Triangle in Roxbury. I had struggled to get through the book previously because, though the story is dramatic, the presentation here is more sociological study than emotional re-telling. Residents and community agencies came together to stop illegal dumping, arsen for profit and decades of neglect by city services. They came together at the table realizing that shared strength was the only viable route to putting a stop to everything that was tearing their community apart. They got the attention of some funders and put together an organizaion--the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative that would go on to rebuild the community one vacant lot at a time.

This book is a good read for anyone who is interested in an urban neighborhood making a comeback. but it was especially cool for me to know a good percentage of the people mentioned in the book. I have walked these streets and seen some of the 1300 units of housing they've added over time. I've been to DSNI community meetings as we've planned the Kroc Center and seen the richness of a diverse group of people working toward a common goal.

I encourage you to push through some of the dry early portions to read this story of triumph.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

BOOK 12: Sixty Six by Barry Levinson (audio)

I listened to this book by Barry Levinson, more well known for his TV and film work than as a novelist. Set in Baltimore in the late 1960's, the story feels like it happens a lot earlier than that in many respects. So much of day to day life for these 20-somethings still resembled 1950 and yet huge shifts are occuring in a layer just on top of finding their first job, settling down toward marriage or dodging the draft.

With some books I've listened to, I know right away whether to contiue listening or quit and take it back to the library. This book was a tough choice because there is a lot of cliche and some strange non-sequitirs and rabbit trails, but Levinson provides just enough hook and mystery that he convinced me to stick with it for a while longer. Then I was past the halfway point and decided to ride it out.

Since listening to Sixty Six, I've hardly thought about the book once, which says to me that though this one is a check in the completed column, it was more or less a non-entity in this experience. Unless you're a Sixties-o-phile or you're from Baltimore, don't bother with this one.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

BOOK 11: The Pursuit of God by AW Tozer

Reading this book was 13 or 14 years in the making. My brother, Jeff, gave me this book while we were in college and I was pursuing a lot of things other than God. Because I was in full flight mode, I couldn't read the book then. At this point in my life, it was a much more meaningful exercise.

I love Tozer's writing because he's never trite and rarely simple, but he has a great talent for being clear even when he's going deep theologically. It is evident even in his title here. A writer could not be more ambitious about his topic choice than the pursuit of God and yet, as Tozer points out, pursuing God simplifies everything. The first quote illustrates it beautifully.

"A satisfying prayer life elevates and purifies every act of body and mind and integrates the entire personality into a single spiritual unit. In the long pull we pray only as well as we live."

How I could have used a passage like this when I was busy pursuing the world back in college:
"It will be a new day for us when we put away false notions and foolish fears and allow the Holy Spirit to fellowship with us as intimately as He wants to do, to talk to us as Christ talked to His disciples by the sea of Galilee. After that there can be no more loneliness, only the glory of the never-failing Presence." p. 141
If you haven't read it yet, regardless of where you are in your walk with God, get a copy of Pursuit of God and get to work.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Halloween Humor

Taking a break from the book series for some timely humor. I don't know what it is, this one just made me laugh out loud.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

BOOK 10: The Blind Side by Michael Lewis (audio)

The Blind Side is a remarkable story of a kid from the poorest section of Memphis being adopted by the Tuohy family. He learned to play football at the Christian high school where the Tuohy kids went. I don't want to ruin the story for anyone who loves football and underdog stories, so that's all I will say, other than that this is a worthwhile read for Orr's story, for the football insight and for the inside look at big high school and big college football.

Michael Lewis has been accused of losing his objectivity as a reporter on thsi book. Maybe I'm a sucker, but I think the story is so heartwrenching and compelling, I'd have questions about Lewis if he didn't become a supporter of the ultimate underdog in Michael Orr. Sean Tuohy (who incidentally is the color commentator for the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies) has been criticized for adopting Michael for selfish reasons. His wife was the one, if Lewis is correct, who really went after this kid because he was in need and for no other reason. I guess people can say what they want, but I don't know a lot of people who would take a kid from this kind of background into their own home. At most, it's a cocktail of selfish reasons and utter selflessness that prompted this decision a lot of people simply wouldn't make.

Great read. Great listen. A must for sports fans and fans of the underdog everywhere.

Monday, October 06, 2008

BOOK 9: This Mind in You by Bramwell Tillsley

This Mind in You was written by Commissioner Bramwell Tillsley before he became General. He is one of my favorite Army preachers and this book is a compilation that was orignially a series preached in holiness meetings while Tillsley was at The Salvation Army Training School (seminary) in London. It is an examination of the mind of Christ as observed in the book of Philippians. The topic could get very heady, but the book reads like a collection of sermons featuring many accessible illustrations.

Here are some favorite passages:

"The New Testament church lived by witness, service and fellowship. The contemporary church must also teach and preach as well as serve. Fellowship is also essential for effective proclamation and relevant serving. It has been suggested that the church of our day is suffering from a 'fellowship crisis.' It is rare to find that beautiful intimacy among God's people where masks are dropped, where honesy prevails and where there is a sense of 'community' beyond the human."

I JUST STOPPED TO CRY WITH HER quoting TURKINGTON (p. 18 paragraph 5-p. 19 top)
"Somtimes just being available communicates our love for others. Dean W.D. Turkington loved to tell of the little girl who one evening was later than usual in returning home from school. 'You're late tonight,' said her mother. 'Yes,' replied her daughter, 'I met another girl who had broken her doll.' 'Did you think you could help her repair the doll?' her mother asked. 'No, mother, I just stopp to cry with her.'"

"Persecution is really a compliment, for no one persecutes an individual who is ineffective. George Bernard Shaw said that the finest compliment the world can pay an author is to burn his books. Perecution gives us the opportunity to demonstrate loyalty. It also enables us to share the fellowship of Christ's suffering. All through the New Testament there runs the conviction that to accept and endure persecution places a man in a special relationship with Jesus Christ. 'If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him' (2 Timothy 2:12)"

I USED TO BE A BASEBALL UMPIRE (p. 33 paragraph 4)
"The story is told of a man who simply stood by and listened to another man call him all sorts of unkind names. A bystander said to him, 'You are a strange fellow; the man called you all kinds of things and you just stood there and smiled until he walked away. How did you do it?' the man replied, 'I used to be a baseball umpire.'"

TRUE HUMILITY (p. 44 paragraph 2)
"True humility means knowing yourself, accepting yourself and being yourself—your best self—to the glory of God. It is a balance between thinking less of yourself than you should or thinking more of yourself than you ought."

I recommend this book, particularly to anyone who preaches on a regular basis because Tillsley choosing excellent quotations and shares pithy, poignant stories that serve well from the pulpit.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Timeout: Can't post from Disney

The marketing mouse wants $10 per day for internet access, so I'm opting to suspend my series about recently completed reading and enjoy our family vacation. I'll resume the series when I return to the magical world of free internet.

Friday, September 26, 2008

BOOK 8: I, Robot by Isac Asimov (audio)

I had never read any Asimov largely because science fiction isn't a favorite genre of mine, but the description sounded interesting. I have not seen the film, but highly enjoyed the book. Several discs into listening to it, I checked the copyright and was astounded that Asimov wrote this book over 50 years ago, before the PC, before many digital conveniences were a part of our lives. His vision of the future captured many specific elements of our life that have come to pass in the interim, but he also seemed to capture the psyche of westerners in the digital age in an uncanny way.

I, Robot makes a statement about the endgame of giving over too much control to a digital lifestyle. What begins as convenience becomes control and we are no longer in charge. I think his prediction or prophecy is coming to pass in some significant ways.

I highly recommend I, Robot even to the non-sci fi types like me.

BOOK 7: The Abstinence Teacher

Tom Perrotta is a Boston writer who shares the story of a high school health teacher and a born again stoner and rocker. The Abstinence Teacher challenges a lot of assumptions about sinners and saints. It may be set in a small town, but it just as easily could be set in any major metro's suburb. I think that's where Perrotta really succeeds in his writing--identifying the malaise so many people feel in the suburbs and bringing out just how ready people are for any kind of excitement--all the better if it's a controversy involving sex and spirituality. His characters are believable, not cartoons. The way the two main characters here stumble into a situation together seems completely plausible and the depth he brings to their responses to the scenarios they face ought to be a curriculum for any young writers attempting write real people. Who is sinful and who is saved? is a central theme to this book.

I suppose I should give a disclaimer as a Massachusetts resident who has been accused of being a liberal--I'm sure this book might offend some believers. The portrayals of Christians and attitudes toward Christians expressed in this book are not always positive. And, in case the title doesn't make it clear, the book deals with adult themes. I found Perrotta's understanding of evangelicalism spot on and a challenge to my walk of faith. Others might call him a heretic. Ok, just don't say I didn't warn ya.

BOOK 6: The Education of a Coach by David Halberstam (audio)

Bill Belichik is a puzzle to those of us who live in New England and breathe Patriots football. He is universally respected (now), I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say loved, but admired definitely. When he does press interviews on radio or television, he surrenders almost no information. All Patriots fans love what he has done for and with the team, but unlike personalities like Bill Parcells or Jimy Williams with the Sox, there is a feeling that no one knows who the man is behind the genius tag.

Halberstam did an admirable job at getting at a lot of the background information, particularly on Belichik's heritage growing up as the son of eastern european immigrants and the book chronicles Bill's dad's career as a major part of his education as a coach. Steve Belichick coached at several schools including, most famously, the Naval Academy and as a result, his son was engrossed in football from an early age.

This book gave away almost nothing personal about the coach himself, apart from his childhood. It did give significant insight into how Belichik developed his passion for and his approach to football. It shared who many of the key influences were that created this great football mind. It's also a great sort of American Dream story of the trajectory of this family from eastern europe to small Pennsylvania mining towns to Super Bowl glory.

Eric Conger did the narration. I can't find any evidence that he voiced any of the NFL Films stuff, but that's the style all the way. Hard hitting pronunciation and a gravelly tone that fit the Belichik heritage, but honestly grew tiresome after the third ofr foruth disc. Halberstam's clear and direct writing style made up for that, though and I liked the stories he chose to include in chronicling the coach.

I recommend it to any sports fan, except the Patriot haters. You'll probably hate this book. Too bad Halberstam's not around any longer to write the Education of a Cassel.

BOOK 5: Through Painted Deserts by Donald Miller

Donald Miller is my favorite Christian author because he doesn't write on spiritual topics from an overly churchese perspective. In Through Painted Deserts, he remixes his earlier version of the same work, Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance. It's a road book about a trip Miller took as a young man with a friend of his named Paul. Miller was escaping Houston, TX, which ends up serving as a sort of every-megalopolis USA as the opposite of what real life is meant to be. I'm a sucker for a road book anyway, but this one is particularly good. The stories are funny, almost unbelievable. It's not as good as Blue Like Jazz, but that's hardly surprising as BLJ is a book for the ages.

There are several sections of the book that I noted on the inside back cover because I wanted to remember them, but really, this book is best taken as a whole, so I'm only sharing a few pages that epitomize the essence of the book.

THE MEANING OF LIFE (pp. 75 paragraph 1 thru 77)

"I tend to think life is about security, that when you have a full year's rent, you can rest. I worry about things too much. I worry about whether or not my ideas are right, I worry about whether or not people like me, I worry about whether or not I am going to get married, and then I worry about whether or not my girl will leave me if we get married. Lately, I found myself worrying about whether or not my car is fashionable, whether I sounded like an idiot when I spoke in public, whether or not my hair was going to fall out, and all of it, perhaps, because I bought into Houston, one thousand miles of concrete and strip malls and megachurches, none of it real. I mean it's there, it's made out of matter, but it's all hype. None of the messages are true or have anything to do with the fact we are spinning around on a planet in a galaxy set somewhere in a cosmos that doesn't have any edges to it. There doesn't seem to be any science saying any of this stuff matters at all. But it feels like it matters, whatever it is; it feels like we are supposed to be panicking about things. I remember driving down I-45 a few months ago and suddenly realizing the number of signs that were screaming at me, signs wanting me to buy waterbeds, signs wanting me to watch girls take off their clothes, signs wanting me to eat Mexican food, to eat barbeque, backlit, scrolling signs wanting me to come to church, to join this gym, to see this movie, to finance a car, even if I have no money. And it hit me that, amid the screaming noise, amid the messages that said buy this product and I will be made complete, I could hardly know the life that life was meant to be. Houston makes you feel that life is about the panic and the resolution of the panic, and nothing more. Nobody stops to question whether they actually need the house and the car and the better job. And because of this there doesn't seem to be any peace; there isn't any serenity. We can't see the stars in Houston anymore, we can't go to the beach without stepping on a Coke bottle, we can't hike in the woods because there aren't any more woods. We can only panic about the clothes we wear, panic about the car we drive, sit stuck in traffic and panic about whether or not the guy who cut us off respects us. We want to kill him for cryin g out loud, and all the while we feel a need for new furniture and a new television and a bigger house in the right neighborhood. We drive around in a trance, salivating for Starbucks while that great heaven sits above us, and that beautiful sunrise is happening in the desert, and all those mountains out West are collecting snow on the limbs of their pines, and all those leaves are changing colors out East. God, it is so beautiful, it is so quiet, it is so perfect. It makes you feel, maybe for a second, that Paul [his travel companion] gets it and we don't - that if you live in a van and get up to see the sunrise and cook your own food on a fire and stop caring about whether your car breaks down or whether you have fashionable clothes or whether or not people do or do not like you, that you have broken through, that you have shut your ear to the bombardment of lies that never, ever stop whispering in your ear. And maybe this is why he seems so different to me, because he has become a human who no longer believes the commercials are true, which, perhaps, is what a human was designed to be.

It makes sense, if you think about it. I mean we stood out in the desert this morning, and the chemicals in my brain poured soothingly through the gray matter, as if to massage with fingers the most tender part of my mind, as if to say, this is what a human is supposed to feel. This is what we were made for, to come alive; like fairy dust, making trees and cacti and humans from the magic of its propulsion. It makes me wonder, now, how easily the brain can be tricked out of what it was supposed to feel, how easily the brain can be tricked by somebody who has a used car to sell, a new perfume, whatever. You will feel what you were made to feel if you buy this thing I am selling. But could the thing you and I were supposed to feel, the thing you and I were supposed to be, cost nothing? Paul seems to think so, or at least he acts as if this is true. He doesn't want to sit in a hotel room and catch up on the news. He doesn't want to rifle through the sports page and make sure the team he has associated his ego with is doing well. I don't think he is trying to win anything at all. I just think he is trying to feel what a human is supposed to feel when he stops believing lies. And maybe when a person doesn't buy the lies anymore, when a human stops long enough to realize the stuff people say to get us to part with our money often isn't true, we can finally see the sunrise, smell the wetness in a Gulf breeze, stand in awe at the downpour of a magnificent twenty thousand foot waterfall, ten square miles wide, wonder at the physics of a duck paddling itself across the surface of a pond, enjoy the reflection of the sun on the face of the moon, and know, This is what I was made to do. This is who I was made to be, that life is being given to me as a gift, and that God is doing these things to dazzle us."

BOOK 4: A Song Flung Up to Heaven by Maya Angelou (audio)

I stated up front that when I listen to audio books, I only listen to unabridged versions. I particularly like it when books are read by their authors and in the case of an autobiography, listening to Maya Angelou read A Song Flung Up to Heaven was a special privilege. In the interest of full disclosure, when I took this book out of the library, I had no idea that the singular Ms. Angelou had written multiple autobiographies. This one, though chronicled a lot of her early work with the NAACP, the civil rights movement and her friendship with and admiration for both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have a sense that reading this book might be a very different experience as the poetic prose might be too much in print in some cases. The style works in this medium and is enhanced by Angelou's varied sometimes sing-s0ng modulation of her voice. Her sense of humor, experience with people of so many cultures and her descriptions of critical moments in the life of Harlem and our country kept this book always interesting.

I learned a lot about the important life of this complicated American and want to read more of her work. I recommend A Song Flung Up to Heaven. If you have the opportunity and the inclination, listen to it instead of reading this one.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

BOOK 3: A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren

If there was a single book that motivated this project, A Generous Othodoxy by Brian McLaren fits the bill. I had started this book before the goal was born, but I had not gotten deep into it and the book had been on my shelf for just about a year. I commited to reading it during my morning devotions and it was a very rich experience. McLaren combines on point thoughtfulness and thoroughness with an ability to communicate clearly, directly and in a winsome, inviting way. I think he may be the most important communicator of the gospel alive today (that ought to elicit some comments, I'm sure).

The full title of the book includes the following subtitle: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN. I enjoy the exhaustiveness of McLaren's approach in this book. He goes after the hard questions and successfully contemplates the duality of being in the world, but not of the world. Accessible stories accompany deep theological assertions. Practical, doable suggestions support heady concepts.

I have begun a new practice of recording page numbers with significant passages for me in the back cover of books I own. In that way, I have a personal index to return to later if I know I read something particularly good by an author or in a specific book. Rather than searching through pages of highlighted passages, I can turn to the back cover for reference. This will also allow friends who may borrow a book of mine to encounter the material in a fresh way without my highlights and scribbles to distract them.

Here are a few of my favorites. I've included Google books links in the headings if you want to read it as it appears in the book.

FORGIVENESS (p. 95 paragraph 3, sentence 3 thru top of p. 96)
“Forgiveness without conviction is not forgiveness: it is irresponsible toleration. It doesn't lead to reconciliation and peace; it leads to chaos. (Ask any third-grade teacher who tolerates her rowdy students but never convicts them by naming and addressing their misbehavior.) Conversely, judgment without mercy is not salvation, but condemnation. It doesn't lead to reconciliation and peace; it leads to alienation. The Good News of salvation is that Goid sent Jesus not to condemn but to save; to save by bringing justice with mercy, true judgment with true forgiveness. First by exposing our worng (judging) so we can face our wrong and turn from it...and then by forgiving our wrong, God intervenes and breaks the chain of cause and effect, of offence and alienation, so we're truly saved--liberated, recued--from teh vicious cycle (aka mess) we created.

Some people I know once found a snapping turtle crossing the road in New Jersey. Snapping turtles are normally ugly: gray, often sporting a slimy coating of green algae, trailing a long, serrated, gator-like tail and fronted by massive and sharp jaws that can damage if not sever a careless finger or two. This turtle was uglier than most: it was grossly deformed due to a plastic bottle top, a ring about an inch and a half in diameter that it had accidentally acquired as a hatchling when it, too, was about an inch and a half in diameter. The ring had fit around its midsection like a belt back then, but now, nearly a foot long, weighing about nine pounds, the animal was corseted by the ring so it looked like a figure eight.

My friends realized that if they left the turtle in its current state, it would die. The deformity was survivable at nine pounds, but a full-grown snapper can weigh 30. At that size the constriction would not be survivable. So, they snipped the ring. And nothing happened. Nothing.

Except for one thing: at that moment the turtle had a future. It was rescued. It was saved. It would take years for the animal to grow into more normal proportions, maybe decades. Perhaps even in old age it would still be somewhat guitar-shaped. But it would survive.

A ring of selfishness, greed, lust, injustice, fear, prejudice, arrogance, apathy, chauvinism, and ignorance has similarly deformed our species. When I say that Jesus is Saviour, I believe he snipped the ring by judging, forgiving, suffering, dying, rising and more. And he’s still working to restore us, to lead us, to heal us. Jesus is still in the process of saving us. Because I have confidence in Jesus as Savior, I’m seeking to be part of his ongoing saving work, sharing his saving love for our world.

A TRUTH GREATLY REDUCED from WALTER BRUEGGEMAN (bottom p. 145 thru top 146)
The gospel is a truth widely held, but a truth greatly reduced. It is a truth that has been flattened, trivialized, and rendered inane. Partly, the gospel is simply an old habit among us, neither valued nor questioned. But more than that, our technical way of thinking reduces mystery to problem, transforms assurance into certitude, revises quality into quantity, and takes the categories of biblical faith and represents them in manageable shapes….There is then no danger, no energy, no possibility, no opening for newness!...That means the gospel may have been twisted, pressed, tailored, and gerrymandered until it is comfortable with technological reason that leaves us unbothered, and with ideology that leaves us with uncriticized absolutes.

Though the last one is not original McLaren, it is indicative of the kind of quality scholarship that he includes and references throughout. I could go on with some others, but that's probably enough.

Without a doubt, I recommend this book to anyone whether you believe in Jesus as the Savior of the world or not. This book is that good and is the definitive statement of what Christianity could be today.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

BOOK 2 LA Confidential (audio)

I can't really say what compelled me to borrow LA Confidential by James Ellroy from the library. Maybe, I had fuzzy memories of the film with Danny DeVito, Kevin Spacey and Russell Crowe. I generally hate noir and in the end, this book holds to form in that way. It explores very dark portions of the human spirit. The Ed Exley character and Wendell "Bud" White, the role played by Russell Crowe in the film version, are compelling and complicated figures. I found myself disliking everyone in this book at one point or another.

I guess the trouble was that by the time I figured out that this book was unpleasant for me, it was too far into it. I had invested several hours of listening time and didn't want to turn back. Perhaps I should have. The overwhelming prevalence of sadness and emptiness in this narrative ultimately left me wishing I had never gone for it in the first place.

Probably bad form to do this on book #2 out of 40, but I can't recommend this book, too much heaviness and void and not enough to make it a book worth reading.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

50 Books in a year, or as it were, 40

Last year on my birthday, I set a goal to read 50 books before my next birthday. My father did it while I was growing up and looking around at the many books that had sat on shelves at home, I wanted to try to accomplish this. I also realized that I simply don't spend enough time reading, so I set out on my quest. I did not, in fact, reach the goal of 50, but completing 40 books this past year means I far outpaced anything I've done recently, probably ever.

A couple of points about how I calculated books I've "read:"

1. I had started reading a few of the books before my last birthday. I counted any books that I had finished. This was helpful as it motivated me to finish some books I hadn't previously been able to get through.

2. I counted audio books that I listened to primarily on my commute. I know the purists may not like this approach, but for what it's worth, I only borrow unabridged audio books from the library and this is a vastly better way to spend my commute than the other available options. As I note them here, they will be listed with (audio).

3. I tried to read a variety of books, but did not lay out a plan of so many biographies, so many novels, so many non-fiction books. I just kind of felt my way along as I was finishing one or two books (I read more than one at a time, another trick from dear old Dad), I'd figure out what to pick up next.

4. I'll also be adding my thoughts on the books to my facebook virtual bookshelf. Same thoughts here as there, but if you'd rather check it out on facebook, well, there you go.

5. This is not the last time I'll do this. On January 1, 2009, I'll restart the year with the goal of 50 books and perhaps, more of a plan.

In theory, my next 40 blog posts will be thoughts and perhaps some favorite quotations from the books. Also, in theory, this will take place over the next 40 days. Where possible, I'll link the title to the Amazon or Google Books page (whichever has more info) where you can preview the book for yourself. What will Google do next?

So here goes, BOOK #1 Mystic River by Dennis Lehane (audio)

I had seen the movie and jarring as the story was, it was compelling and I thought Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon and Tim Robbins did an amazing job. As movies go these days, the character development was deep, the story pulled me in and kept me throughout the two hours plus. No surprise given that Clint Eastwood directed it, I guess. I had heard the book was better.

So, as I was reading it, I was picturing Sean Penn as Jimmy Marcus, Bacon as Sean Devine and Robbins as Dave Boyle. Lehane's East Buckingham is a blend of several Boston neighborhoods, but he does a great job of capturing the ethos of poor and working class families in Boston. The character development goes even deepr as it's never 100% clear who the good guys and bad guys are.

The book tackles questions like whether people ever change, ever evolve and the question of our childhood shaping the rest of our lives. The book has an air of inevitability about it, that as a person of faith, I don't know if I buy entirely, like every tragic event that transpires was set in motion years before. I like to look at it more in the context of "there but for the grace of God, go I." I think this is especially true in that my dad's upbringing was not far off from the Marcus family in East Buckingham. My grandfather was a fruit peddler in Somerville and other Boston neighborhoods, the Marcus family had a convenience store. Other similarities exist, but my father bears no resemblance to Jimmy Marcus, but for the grace of God.

I recommend this book and will read other Lehane books as a result of reading this.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Working Weekends?

I don't exactly know where it started, but I've always had an aversion to working on weekends. In college, I observed a practically religious No Work on Weekends policy. Notice it was practically religious and not actually religious. It's an important distinction because, generally and during that time of my life, this cessation of work has nothing to do with the observation of any Sabbath. However, I would put my devotion to "rest" on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays up against the most devout monks and rabbis. On Friday afternoon I would attend my last class of the week and literally would not have any plans to do anything academically productive until (rather late) Sunday evening. This might have been an admirable quality if I had been half the student my brother and sister-in-law, Jeff and Paige, were during the week. I wasn't, enough said. One disastrous semester, I had all of my classes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays save one Child Psychology lecture class on Fridays (translation: show up and be counted, but have no fear of a discussion arising to expose just how far behind you are in the reading.) I would put the books away on Wednesday at dinner time and literally not pull them out until dinner on Monday night to cram for Tuesday. Every week, at least early in the semester, I would promise myself that I'd even out the workload, but I never managed to do so. Incidentally, I don't recommend the two-day week, five-day weekend model. As free as I might have felt on a Thursday afternoon, I felt twice as terrible during manic Monday through Wednesday nights.

I have had to work on a Saturday or Sunday with different levels of consistency during my professional life. When I taught, I would invariably have papers to grade or lessons. Even then, I did as much of that work before leaving school on Friday or late on Sunday as possible so as to leave the largest manageable amount of free time in the middle of the weekend. When I was in campus ministry, our biggest gathering and one of my major responsibilities was a monthly praise meeting on Sunday evenings. When we were at Central Citadel, Sunday was the command performance of the week, preaching and teaching in the morning and ministering and counseling from lunch often through 3 or 4pm.

My work now doesn't so much necessitate working on weekends, but even so, I often leave on a Friday afternoon with plans (or at least thoughts and intentions) to pull out the laptop at some point in the weekend and work for two to three hours on something--a budget task, new content for the website, some portion of a writing task our team is working on. I bring the laptop home every night regardless of whether or not I plan to do work. I guess it's a security blanket for the modern era. I rarely find I can bring myself to actually pull the laptop out. I don't have a lot of guilt around this as my weekends are now dedicated to three children--bike riding (Riley's really got the two-wheeler down now), creative play, reading to one or all of them, etc.--the stuff of life, stuff I wouldn't trade for anything. There are also the obligations of birthday parties, laundry, mowing the lawn, etc. Somehow, though, I allow guilt to creap in on Monday mornings because I didn't work on that task for at least a little bit of time. So I come in very early on Mondays and try to "catch up" on work I didn't do over the weekend.

I guess I'm trying to figure out if I'm the only one. Do you do discretionary (I don't have to, but I should) kind of work on weekends, or do you leave it for Monday? Do you have to work on weekends because that's when your shift is or because you're a pastor? When do you find your weekends if this is the case? How do I check the guilt? Is pulling out the laptop late on Saturday after everyone goes to bed the only way? Is that healthy? Where is the sabbath in all of this?

Thursday, September 04, 2008


Who needs sleep?
Well you're never gonna get it.
Who needs sleep?
Tell me whats that for.
Who needs sleep?
Be happy with what you're getting,
there's a guy who's been awake
since the second world war

--Barenaked Ladies

So, after 7 months (the last 3 of which were at camp), Luke is finally sleeping through the night. We might have been able to accomplish this feat a lot earlier--he is our third child after all, but it was especially difficult with him sharing our bedroom and sleeping twelve inches from the foot of our bed in the staff cabin. We went for the quick fix and whatever would comfort him, rather than making the sacrifice of 90 minutes of sleep one night for the sake of more rest thoughout the summer. But now that we're back at home, he's in his own room in a crib, not a pack and play and it has really been going well.

It's amazing how not sleeping changes one's quality of life. It is also incredibly freeing to know that (more or less) when your head hits the pillow, you will be able to sleep uninterrupted until the alarm clock goes off and you hit the snooze bar. I wake up (and go to bed) with a totally different outlook. And it's only been two days of this fantastic phenomenon.

I really just intended to write this post to celebrate Luke sleeping through the night, but it's hard not to notice the significance of going for the quick fix rather than making the necessary and effective sacrifice. Maybe it's because I'm reading Olivia and Stephen's Uprising right now, but I couldn't miss that connection. Why do we do that? Why do we so often choose the easiest, fastest fix instead of putting the work into doing things right the first time? Perhaps, I should not say "we" in those questions. Maybe I'm the only one who feels this way. I'm pretty sure I'm not, though, as someone in my family once remarked while telling a story about some kind of recent blunder a sentiment like this, "Of course I'm a Forster, so I tried to fix the situation in the most convoluted hardest way possible instead of taking the most direct and effective action." I'm wondering though, maybe it's not a Forster trait, but rather a human trait, a fallen characteristic? Paul said "I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway."

When we know what is right and do not follow that path, it is called sin and it leads to pain (and death). In my case, it lead to more and more sleepless or at least sleep deprived nights. The gift of salvation is free to us and yet, so often we leave it unopened under the tree. Or worse, we try to accomplish our salvation on our own. More questions than answers here, but when I wake up refreshed tomorrow morning, I will remember the sacrifice that brought about that feeling and endeavor to honor the sacrifice of my Savior that allows relief, release, reprieve and refreshment.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Snooze Bar - My friend, My Nemesis

Every morning from
deep dark sleep
The clock brings me to life
with beep beep beep.

I keep it close,
don't want to stretch too far
So I can always reach
my good friend, snooze bar.

Time to start the day
but I don't want to yet.
another few minutes
and I'll be all set.

Will the world really stop?
Is that much on the line?
If I just close my eyes
for another nine?

Snooze bar, my friend
you are the best
Thank you for the gift
of a bit more rest.

I sleep perchance to dream,
but wait.
How in the world did
it get so late?

I had set that alarm
because I had to get up
I preset the coffe maker
Should have already had a cup.

I have a meeting
things to do
Now I'll miss them all
thanks to you.

How could you do this
to me evil snooze?
Do you know how much
I stand to lose?

For just a bit more sleep
a few more Z's
Can you do me a favor
can you help me, please?

The next time I push your buttons
and want to sleep for a while.
Could you lie a little low?
Keep a low profile?

Snooze, what to do
with your lazy ways?
Shall I cut you loose
try to start my days
with a mean alarm clock
sans the nap feature?
I'm afraid that won't do.
I'm too much of a creature
of habit to live without
nine minutes of bliss.
So I'll stick with you.
Meetings I may miss.

C'est la vie or at least
C'est l'homme.
My friend, snooze bar,
we have a happy home.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Office is back and Kelly is Crazy in Love

Found this through the Office Alliance podcast. Props to 4am insomniac for this great tribute to The Office's craziest lover, Kelly Kapur.

The DVR is set for tonight. Can't wait.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The New Friendship

WARNING: The following are not necessarily unique thoughts and are not only my own.

But have you noticed lately that friendship has changed? I now have a facebook page. I successfully resisted joining the friendster, myspace, linked-in and other social network revolution, but the facebook wave was overwhelming. I was caught up in it.

Facebook is accomplishing many things, I think, more successfully than a lot of its predecessors. It's got great mobile access. It's up to the minute. You can hug someone, hit someone, bite someone or give them a latte. That is changing the world, for sure. But it has also succeeded in watering down an extremely watered down concept: friendship.

My friend, Bill and I regularly talk about the fact that now that facebook has spread to all generations and is being used as a corporate networking tool in addition to a personal one, it's high time facebook offer some options beyond friendship. I would like to colleague some people instead of friending them (a new social network verb: to friend). Heck, there are people, I would feel totally fine labeling an acquaintance, but friend seems the wrong term entirely.

One of my favorite aspects of facebook is that through it, I have finally connected with some very good high school friends with whom I haven't spoken since the Circle Line docked at the end of our post-graduation cruise around Manhattan. But even that connection begs the question--if I spoke to someone every single day during high school, then haven't even said hi in roughly 17 years, should they be a facebook friend. Maybe they should be a facebook old friend, past friend or I thought we were friends, where have you been for the last 17 years? Is it fair after such frienship delinquency to pick up the conversation where we left off and declare ourselves friends?

John 15:13 says:
"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
Not to be impertinent, but do you think Jesus meant facebook friends or only real live friends?

I recently read that most people can only manage 150 meaningful relationships in their lives. Ok, so what's the big deal? I guess it's that it is very difficult to actually do friendship in light of jobs, families, home responsibilities, dog walking, personal time, physical fitness. There's a lot of demand on our time and it seems irresponsible to label people who are not close enough to actually be friends as friends. Maybe it's because some people feel closer to us than we to them. I'm sure there are people I have friended who would have much rather colleagued me, acquaintanced me or flat out ignored me as a friend. It's kind of like the youth group basketball night I went to in high school with some friends, where they played ball the same way everyone does, except they didn't keep score so no one could lose. Or win for that matter.

I don't expect the geniuses who created facebook to change based on my opinion, but I'd love to know what you think. By the way, I have 230 friends as I write this blog.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Have we seen the Promised Land?

So today marks 40 years since the world lost Martin Luther King, Jr. to senseless violence. With recent conversations going on about Barack Obama and Reverend Wright and with my experience in the Dudley community, a question keeps coming up for me. It's put in sharp relief today as I consider King's last speech in Memphis, as his life was clearly under threat. Particularly, his fearlessness comes out in his concluding paragraph when he said the following well known words:

"Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

I think the country and the world were at least interested in going to the mountaintop in 1968. Now I should clarify. I think MLK is referencing both the spiritual mountaintop and the earthly mountaintop of racial equality. I think his view of the Promised Land is a heavenly one and an earthly one. He says earlier in the speech as he is running through all the epochs in time and all the places he could live and saying he wouldn't stop in Egypt or Jerusalem, etc. He says:

"But I wouldn't stop there. Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, 'If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy.' Now that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a away that men, in some strange way, are responding — something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same — 'We want to be free.'"

I think he's right that at that moment of time, there was a lot of attention, a lot of overdue outrage, a lot of the right kind of work being done to overthrow injustice. And great success came from that unified conscience and unified work.

What worries me today about America and I see it particularly in my own city of Boston is that there is a polite denial going on that there are still very grave racial injustices in this country. Only today, instead of outrage at the racial injustice, there's outrage at Reverend Wright and overtones that Obama should denounce him too (or maybe he has to reject him according to Hillary).

Here's just a small slice of what that racial injustice looks like on a national scale:
  • 8% of african-american men under 29 have graduated from college while 17% of same-age white males and 35% of asian males have done so.
  • More than double the percentage of young african-american males is unemployed (19.5%) compared to whites (7.9%), hispanics (8.0%) and asians (7.9%).
  • The prison percentages are staggering. 10% of african-american young men (1 in 10) are in prison compared with 1.5% of whites and 3.6% of hispancis.
  • While african-american young men reepresent 14% of the general population, they represent over 40% of the prison population.
  • (Source:

There are more stats than that having to do with obvious eonomic imbalances, death rates and other health related issues, but I think the points above are enough of a portrayal of injustice, to make the point.

Boston remains a city that is segregated in a de facto fashion. No laws proclaim it, no signs are hung, but forces stronger than signage or laws prevent the city and the surrounding metro area from being truly integrated. I think what bothers me the most about this situation is the constant polite silence regarding the disparities and seperation. It seems to me that no one is talking about it. Very little effort is being made to cross the lines. And no one is outraged.

I think America needs a new civil rights movement. It has to be a movement toward interaction and understanding, not simply a way to control behavior. With all of its world class institutions and its importance to the history of our country, it is shameful that our city and still far too much of America is segregated with people of color enduring not fair and unequal.

Will this bubble up to the consiousness of America? What did MLK and all of those who stood with him accomplish? What remains to be accomplished and who will sound the call? More importantly, who would follow?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Luke Andrew

I guess I should have followed up with another post to let everyone know that all of the details and the all-important pictures are on our family photo blog.

Thanks for all the well wishes. Everyone's doing fine.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

9 Months for 100 Reasons

So we've been in the hospital since Thursday night. 35 hours at time of writing. It looks like Luke will be here within the next 2 hours. He's been taking his sweet time and testing his mother's patience. Just another addition to my theory that our kids are real, living beings--think about how much they alter our behavior--long before the sun shines on them. It could be good. This guy is going to have to be laid back to survive being the little brother of Riley and Sydney.

While Jen tries to squeeze in a few winks before the big event, I'm keyed up. I can't wait to meet him, to hold him, to feel his fingers and his toes. I think God gives parents 9 months for 100 reasons. Topping that list right now is that He wants us to know what gifts our children are from the get-go. He wants us to feel that anticipation of arrival. The anticipation sets us up to appreciate the miracle gift, way beyond Christmas morning and parallel with our wedding day. Right now, nothing matters but that anticipation. Exhaustion doesn't matter. The details don't matter. The onslaught of visitors over the holiday weekend doesn't matter. And I love that, that for a few moments here, my only job is to be sure that Jen is ok and to look forward to the celebration of birth.