Thursday, September 3, 2015

A New Reading Queue for September

In the middle of last month, I posted a list of what I had already read and what I intended to read in August. I was mostly on track:
  • I had already read…
    • The Germans in Normandy
    • The Complete 101 Collection
    • Leading Like Jesus: 40 Leadership Lessons From the Upside-Down Kingdom
  • During the remainder of the month, I read…
    • The Girl Who Fell From the Sky — For the most part, I liked this book. Ms. Darrow, in some ways, is telling her own story of growing up as a bi-racial child. The novel is a unique way to talk about the struggles of "discovering" how other people see you differently than you see yourself.
    • 7 Women — A pretty good series of short biographies of women who had a significant impact on world history. I didn't think it was as good as 7 Men, but definitely worth reading. My review is here: Review of 7 Women
    • The Last Battle: When U.S. and german Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe — This was a well-written history of a little-known (to me, anyway) bit of World War II. Harding does a good job of bringing the characters to life. I really liked the book.
    • I started reading David and the Old Man, by William Zemba — This book was not on my list, but I had gotten it from the publisher, WestBow, as a review copy and wanted to get it out of the way. I finished it today (3 Sept) and must say I was very disappointed. First of all, it was poorly edited. In fact, if you were to see my notes through the book, the read something like: Was the editor asleep? Editor? Where is the editor? There were so many mistakes, thing I would expect from a self-published book, but this was published by a division of Thomas Nelson Publishers. I can think of no excuse for such poor editing. Then, I just didn't connect with the story. The book is about the impact that anorexia nervosa had on Zemba's family and how family dynamics led to or exacerbated (I'm not sure which) the anorexia. I alternated between thinking that this family was totally dysfunctional and thinking that they were almost normal. In the end, I decided that there were some majors dysfunctions but their reaction to a son with anorexia was probably not atypical. The only reason I finished the book was because I had committed to do a review of it, otherwise it would have joined a very short list of books that I stopped reading.
  • I didn't read The Reason for God, by Tim Keller. I just wasn't in the mood for this book after reading The Last Battle.
So, what about September? Here's what I think:

A Spent Bullet: Louisiana 1941, Curt Iles — Curt is a friend and I hesitate to read and comment publicly on books written by friends. What if I hate the book? (It has happened.) Would I dare to critique it? Well, I don't think I have anything to fear — I started the book today and Curt had me hooked before the end of the first chapter. A Spent Bullet is a novel based on fact. During WWII, US troops were stationed in Louisiana for training maneuvers. Elizabeth, a local, and Henry, a soldier from Wisconsin, meet and … Amazon says it's more than a romance; Curt's a great story teller; I think I'll enjoy the book.

The Reason for God, Tim Keller — It stays on the list for September.

Open Your Hymnal, Denise K. Loock — A devotional book that uses Christian hymns to illustrate truths that Ms. Loock draws from Scripture. So far, it's good.

Seabiscuit: An American Legend, Laura Hillenbrand — This was Ms. Hillenbrand's first book and I've seen the movie several times. After reading Hillenbrand's Unbroken twice and then learning a bit about Ms. Hillenbrand herself, I've been wanting to read this book. It's a classic underdog story with a twist — the underdog is a race horse that … well, if you haven't seen the movie or read the book, do at least one of those. If the book is anywhere near as good as Unbroken or if it captures the story as well as the movie, this will be fun to read.

Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission, Larry McCrary, Caleb Crider, Wade Stephens, and Rodney Calfee — I'm reading this book in preparation for an Urban Church Planting training conference. I read a few parts of the book a couple of years ago and was impressed with its straight-forward and relatively simple approach to urban missions.

Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money, Mary Lederfeitner — Anyone who has done ministry internationally knows that money and subsidy and dependency are issues that can derail good work very quickly. Lederfeitner seeks to help cross-cultural Christian workers navigate those dangerous waters and develop true partnerships that aren't based on western cash, at least not primarily based on money.

Without a doubt, there will be two or three other books added to the list before month's end, but that's a good start.

— What do you plan to read in September?

Run well, y'all,
Bob Allen
Kampala, Uganda

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Rabbit Sandwich

It's pretty bad when your sandwich eats your lunch. And, it appears it doesn't carrot all. (Thanks, Terry Jones, for the "carrot" quip.) 
Go ahead and groan.

Run well, y'all,
Kampala, Uganda

Monday, August 24, 2015

Book Review: Seven Women — Women Who Changed the World

I read Seven Men by Metaxas about 2 1/2 years ago (April 2013) and thought at the time that he should write a similar book about women. That book, Seven Women, is coming out on 8 September 2015.

Like its prequel, Seven Women is a series of short biographies of people who have made an important, sometimes culture-shifting contribution to their own time and culture and to the subsequent history of the world. The biographies in Seven Women are about women whose lives and accomplishments can inspire others to attempt great things -- Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Saint Maria of Paris, Corrie ten Boom, Rosa Parks, and Mother Teresa. These women were all women of deep faith in God and who depended on God for inspiration, strength, and guidance as they set out to do what He had called them to do.

Metaxas chose women whose greatness derive[d] precisely from their being women, not in spite of it… and not because they or their accomplishments are measured against who men are and what men have done. Metaxas does not attempt to promote either an egalitarian or a complementarian viewpoint on the role of men and women. Some of these women were wives and mothers -- some were unsuccessful at or unfulfilled in those roles (not always their fault, either) -- but Metaxas focuses more on what they did outside of those roles.

Some of the biographies are stronger than others. For me, the stories of Hannah More, Saint Maria of Paris, and Rosa Parks were the most interesting. Prior to reading Seven women, I knew nothing about those three -- except for knowing that Rosa Parks' determination not to move from her seat on the Birmingham bus so that white folk could sit on that row was the spark that lit the fire of the Civil Rights Movement in the US. The biographies in this book should be inspiring to men and women, to girls and boys.

DISCLAIMER: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher as a part of their BookLook Bloggers programme. I received no other compensation except for continued participation in the book review programme and have been free to write the reveiw that I think the book deserves.

Friday, August 14, 2015

What's in My Reading Queue, Friday, 14 August

This is my August reading list:

The Germans in Normandy, Richard Hargreaves — Since WWII, books written in former Allied countries about D-Day and the liberation of France have been written primarily from the winners' perspectives. This book changes that. It's a well-written, thoroughly researched book about the invasion of France by the enemy (Allied forces) from the perspective of German troops. There are some great negative leadership passages. Had Hitler and his top leadership not been so sure that they knew how to conduct the war, the outcome might have been very different. As it was, German troops fought doggedly and bravely against overwhelming odds. My review is here.

The Complete 101 Collection, John Maxwell — Eight books fro the 101 series. Classic Maxwell, lists and numerous quotes, but it's a great introduction to important leadership concepts and a great resource for an experienced leader who is mentoring a young leader. My review is here.

Leading Like Jesus: 40 Leadership Lessons From the Upside-Down Kingdom, Floud McClung — One-a-day format based on a Bible passage. These are brief and to the point.

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, Heidi W. Darrow — Fiction. Bellwether Prize Winner. Coming of age story of a girl whose mother is white (Danish) and father a black G.I.. After her mother' death, she is raised by her grandmother (father's mother) and has to learn how to live, for the first time, in a mostly black community where she gets a lot of attention. I just started this book, but it's good so far.

Plan to Read — these could change depending on my mood or what I might buy. In fact, a book just came available for review and I've changed what I was going to put in the list:

7 Women, Eric Metaxas — I've been looking forward to this book for some time. A follow up to the excellent 7 Men, Metaxas gives short biographical sketches of some of the most important women in history — Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Maria Skobtsova, Corrie ten Boom, Mother Teresa, and Rosa Parks. They are described as women whose lives [were] shaped by the truth of the gospel.

The Reason for God, Timothy Keller — Keller presents an apologetic to help those who adhere to the Christian faith respond to passionate, learned, and persuasive [people and books] that promote science and secularism over religion and faith. This book was recommended to me by Phil Faig, a Virginia pastor who I highly respect.

The Last Battle: When U.S. and german Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe, Stephen Harding — Another book that I've looked forward to reading for several months. After Hitler is dead and the Third Reich is dying, a U.S. Captain and a German Wehrmacht officer and their men join together to rescue 14 French prisoners held in an SS-guarded castle in the Austrian Alps. Fascinating concept.

What are you reading?

Run well,
Kampala, Uganda

Book Review: John Maxwell's "The Complete 101 Collection"

The Complete 101 Collection contains 8 books from John Maxwell's 101 Series — Attitude 101, Self-Improvement 101, Leadership 101, Relationships 101, Success 101, Teamwork 101, Equipping 101, and Mentoring 101. A ninth book, Ethics 101, is not included in this collection. This is a great starter set for a young leader and for an experienced leader who wants content for conversations in a mentoring relationship.

Each of these books is intended as an introduction to its topic. Don't expect to learn everything you need to know as a leader, despite the subtitle, What Every Leader Needs to Know. However, do expect to get a good introduction to the things that a good leader needs to know and do. There are numerous references to other books by Maxwell, each of which goes into greater depth on a given topic. In typical Maxwell fashion, these books have plenty of quotes from historical figures as well as some of the best current writers on leadership. And it will be no surprise to Maxwell readers that there are lists galore. There is some overlap between the subject matters of the books, so there are sections that are repeated in different ones of these books. For example, a significant minority portion of Mentoring 101 is included in Equipping 101. That's not bad because equipping leaders and mentoring leaders have similar characteristics.

I think one of the best uses of these books (or this collection) would be for an experienced leader to mentor a young leader. And, in fact, 5 of these books (Mentoring 101, Relationships 101, Equipping 101, Attitude 101, and Leadership 101) are available as a part of Maxwell's Lunch & Learn series which includes a discussion guide.

Some of the themes that run throughout all of these books are:

  • Trust
  • Loyalty
  • Choosing people based on leadership potential, not followship
  • Passing on responsibility.

While every one of these books is helpful, I thought the best sections were:

  • Leadership 101, Chapter 9, How Can I Extend My Influence
  • Teamwork 101, Chapter 2, What is the Impact of Good Teamwork, especially the section Great Teams Create Community.
  • Equipping 101, Chapter 5, What Does It Take to Equip a Leader, especially the section Check on Them Systematically when Maxwell talks about working with "a person whose progress is repeatedly poor."

DISCLAIMER: In addition to a copy of this collection that I purchased, I also received a complimentary copy from the publisher as a part of its bloggers' review programme, BookLook Bloggers. I am free to write the review that I think the book deserves. My only compensation, other than a free copy, is continued participation in the programme.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Book Review: The Germans in Normandy

5–Stars, Highly Recommended

The story of the struggle for Normandy is an appalling one; the battle was, in Erwin Rommel's words, 'one terrible blood-letting'. (from the Introduction)

Both the Allied and German forces put most, if not all of their hopes for ending World War II on the battles over occupied France. Hargreaves does a masterful job of writing the history of D-Day to the final liberation of France from the German perspective. He talks about the logical hopelessness of the German defense, yet portrays the sheer will-power of the German military that, at times, threatened to thwart to Allied invasion. Germany missed its opportunity in so many ways — megalomaniacal leadership of Hitler and Goebbels who refused to face the reality of the Allied superiority and the complete exhaustion of their own troops, uncoordinated strategies, woefully insufficient front line and reserve forces, inadequate hardware (or, as Hargreaves terms it, "material"). Though Hargreaves doesn't explicitly make the connection, the attempted coup by top military leadership in the midst of the defense of France had to have been, at the very least, a distraction.

Hargreaves succeeds in portraying the tenacity of the German military as time after time they were defeated but continued to fight on in spite of overwhelming odds. It's terrifying to think what might have happened if the German military had been anywhere close to being as prepared as were the Allies. Whether Hargreaves intended it or not, one result of reading this book is a fresh realization of how horrible war is -- 240,000 or more people killed in a 2 1/2 month period and many of the bodies so damaged that they could not be identified!!

I do have some criticisms of the book. First was the overuse of the phrase "material supremacy". Often, this was quoted from German sources, but there could (perhaps) have been some variety in how the German phrase was translated and Hargreaves, himself, could have used a different phrase when he wasn't quoting. I found maps difficult to decipher — the quality of the graphics in the Kindle version was really good, but they lacked legends that would have made them more understandable to someone who, like me, has neither a military background or more than a cursory knowledge of French geography. There were some minor quirky (to me) errors -- for example, "The 6 June cost the Panzer Lehr thirty vehicles." Phrases that introduced quotes often ended with a period rather than a comma. Several times, a phrase like "It was gone midnight…" was used. Or, a phrase like, "Thus at the age of thirty died Michael Wittmann…" Or, "Paris not only lacked the men to defend it to the last man…" -- how many more than 1 does it take to defend to the last man? Hargreaves is, apparently, British and perhaps some of these are simply differences in how Amis and Tommies (the terms the Germans used in Hargreaves book) express themselves. None of them take away from the book.

I think Hargreaves sums up the essence of The Germans in Normandy with this section at location 5628 (Kindle):
For the Landser, there was the bitter taste of defeat, and yet the German soldier refused to accept he had been beaten. Events had conspired against him, but the Landser held his head high. Like Untersturmf√ľhrer Riegamer, he struggled to accept his sacrifices had been in vain. This could not be the end. 'German soldiers have once again acquitted themselves superhumanly in battle,' Hitlerjugend commander Kurt Meyer wrote bitterly in his diary. 'They do not deserve the terrible defeat. The defeat cannot be blamed on the frontline soldiers as this bitter cup was served to them by a gambler at the map table.'

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Enjoyable and Informative, but with a flawed premise — "The Printer and the Preacher" Book Review

My review is fairly critical of Peterson's book, The Printer and the Preacher. However, let me state at the beginning, that I enjoyed the book a lot, even with all the things that I find wrong with it. If I ignore the fact that I think Peterson failed to demonstrate his premise that a friendship between Franklin and Whitefield "invented America", he does a good job of showing how these two men exerted a powerful influence on the unique character of the emerging American nation. Many of these character traits have continued into the 21st century. They may well have been the most influential pre-Revolutionary War figures in this young, not-yet country. So, read the book for this perspective.

The best part of the book is the final chapter, "Special Effects". With a little background information on both Franklin and Whitefield, this chapter could have been published as an article. In this chapter, Peterson talks about how each influenced and affected the other. He also summarizes the many ways that each man impacted the forming character of the new nation. As Peterson says in this chapter, "We are George and Ben."

The timelines that Peterson included at the end of the book are also helpful. He includes 3 timelines: Before They Met, George Whitefield's Amazing American Tour (1739-41), and Encounters (listing the known and possible meetings and correspondence of George and Ben).

Peterson's premise, that the friendship between Franklin and Whitefield invented America, is quite bold … and, frankly, I think he failed to prove it. First, I wonder how much of a friendship there really was. It seems, from Peterson's book, that the two men were certainly acquaintances and business partners. This was, as Peterson points out in the final chapter, a long-lasting relationship. However, I don't think the book supports the kind of deep friendship that the subtitle postulates. For example, at one point, Peterson mentions that both Whitefield and Franklin were in England at the same time, but over a period of 6 years, they never once saw each other or talked to each other or wrote to each other or even acknowledged in their respective memoirs that the other was close. In other places, Peterson uses speculation to bolster his claim of an "inventing friendship" and even about other events or relationships. I'm not a fan of biographies that make excessive use of speculation and this is one (speculative biographies).

Second, both men embodied the unique characteristics of this country-in-the-making — independence, egalitarianism, a fervor for making the budding nation the best it could be, pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps. Each, on his own, was one of the most powerful of positive influences among the colonies as the colonies sometimes inched and sometimes hurtled toward independence. However, to say that their friendship invented America is, at best, speculation. Franklin and Whitefield were certainly good for each other — they challenged, supported, and, in their own ways, promoted each other. They were good for the emerging country as they sought to make America a good nation. It's just that their friendship didn't do that.

There are some odd mistakes in the book that an editor should have caught. These are two examples: 1962 saw the start of the Salem witch trials (that should be 1692); [Franklin] had established a newspaper as…a "fifth estate"… (the mainstream press is generally considered to be the' fourth estate').

Finally, Peterson's writing style sometimes becomes extremely informal in ways that are normal for oral communication but feel out of place for a biography. For example, This was not a marketing gimmick. Well, it was, but he was backing up the image… and If you view advertising as proud and/or deceptive, you’ll have a problem with this…

If you, like me, enjoy reading about the formation of the American republic, then this is a good gook to read.

(DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher as a review copy as a part of their BookLook Bloggers programme. As a participant in this programme, I am free to write the review I think the book deserves and receive no compensation other than continued participation in the programme — I don't even get a kickback if you click on the book title, go to Amazon, and buy the book.)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The IMB Is Not Going Charismatic!!

A recent change in IMB (Int'l Mission Board) policies related to appointment of missionaries has generated some misreporting by some and misinterpretation of reporting by many. For instance, Religion News Service​ had a headline yesterday, "Southern Baptists to open their ranks to missionaries who speak in tongues". Like most things that to be appear black-and-white on Facebook and via the media, this is way more complex than that.

Realizing that most will not be interested, for those who are, yesterday, David Miller wrote an excellent (and long) blog post about this change. It's worth reading and should be read by all Southern Baptists. I found nothing in the article with which to disagree, including his thoughts about the policy changes that were made in 2005. IMB Policies: Breathe, Folks — This Is NOT a Cataclysm!

I would, however, go one step farther than Miller. He says that those who supported the 2005 change on the policy related to baptism were not Landmarkists. I agree, but I would clarify that by adding that they certainly exhibited a tendency to accept the key tenent of Landmarkism — that Baptist churches can be traced back to the first century church and are the only true New Testament churches. Even more specifically, that the only valid baptism was that done in a Baptist church, by a Baptist — it was a reaction against alien baptism. And, yes, for those who are reading carefully, this is a simplification, akin to what I complained about in the first paragraph.

So, the results of the policy changes are, I think, good:

  • A private prayer language does not automatically disqualify an otherwise qualified candidate from being appointed as an IMB missonary. Now, teaching and encouraging glossolalia (speaking in tongues) would cause an appointed missionary to run afoul of another policy.
  • Biblical baptism (by immersion after salvation as a symbolic, testimonial,  memorial, and obedient act) is once again the criterion for a missionary candidate with the IMB, not who did the baptizing.
  • Having a child who is a teenager does not automatically disqualify an candidate couple from being appointed. This one is a bit more complex as it depends on the teenager, the location of potential service, and the availability of socialization. While it may seem strange to even make this a consideration for appointment but not for continued service, believe me, there is a huge difference between a family going overseas for service with a teenager and a family serving overseas when their children were not teenagers when they were appointed.
  • Divorce is not an automatic disqualifier for appointment by the IMB. Each case will be considered individually for circumstances of the divorce and for cultural considerations in the place where the individual or family would serve. This will be much more complicated for those who examine candidates, but is a more appropriate process than automatic disqualification.
For those who have made it this far, my plea is that you pray for IMB staff who are charged with the responsibility to examine candidates for appointment as Southern Baptist missionaries, sent by churches through the IMB and that you pray for Trustees who give final approval. Each of those persons needs divine wisdom.

Run well … whether it's "just" life or running on the roads, trails, dreadmills (OK, my bias), and tracks,