Thursday, June 30, 2011

Best Thoughts from the Prince of Paradox

The Quotable Chesterton: The Wit and Wisdom of G.K. Chesterton,  ed. Kevin Belmont. Thomas Nelson, 2011.

The man had a way with words. An inexhaustible store of clever sentences poured from his lips and his pen. He’s been gone for many decades; you’ll find him quoted extensively in some circles, forgotten in others. The Quotable Chesterton might hold the interest of both the diehard fan and the neophyte. It compiles and categorizes more than 800 quotations from this great writer.

This work is modeled on The Quotable C.S. Lewis and published concurrently with Belmont’s biography of Chesterton (Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life and Impact of G.K. Chesterton ). If you’re looking for Chesterton’s thoughts on a specific topic, this is a fine place to start. It will also take you places that merely trolling the internet for Chesterton quotes will not. Plus, it provides complete source documentation.

You might also be able to use the book to confirm that Chesterton really said what you’ve heard him as saying, and find out where. However, this might be more difficult as each quote is only listed in one category. If I were looking for
"The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies, probably because they are generally the same people."
I would not find it under Bible, love, neighbors, or enemies. It's instead listed under a category that might not occur to me: aphorisms.

Well, one book can’t do it all. Chesterton fans will appreciate this labor of love, and public speakers and writers may find frequent use for this compact 321-page paperback. The book also includes an introduction to Chesterton, and, interspersed with the A-Z collection, a dozen short essays Belmont has written about the man.

Much of Chesterton’s work is now in the public domain. That makes it easy to go from a quote to its source. For some fun summer reading, I’d recommend a daily dose from the best (or at least breeziest) collection of his newspaper columns, Tremendous Trifles.

Note: I requested and received a free copy of this book through Thomas Nelson's book blogging program in exchange for writing this review.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Finding Wholeness in an Age of Self-Obsession

Review of The Vertical Self: How Biblical Faith Can Help Us Discover Who We Are in an Age of Self Obsession, by Mark Sayers. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2010.

Mark Sayers does an excellent job evoking the spirit of today’s popular culture in which projecting and maintaining an image, reinventing oneself, and being cool – in other words, looking to the material world and “horizontal” relationships to define who you are – have replaced a “vertical” understanding of ourselves as being created in God’s image and growing into wholeness through the pursuit of holiness.

The book is at its strongest in describing our fragmented condition, how it came about, and what its effects are. Sayers blends pop culture stories and illustrations with explanations from history and philosophy. I thought he straddled the divide between sociology and self-help fairly well. The book certainly gave me words and images for some of the things I have experienced.

I found it less successful in its attempt to call readers to wholeness through holiness; Sayers seemed to run out of steam toward the end. But he still had some thoughtful suggestions and he finishes with a well-designed plan for working through the book with a group of friends.

After reading The Vertical Self I described it to a friend who asked to borrow it. Lynda went through the book with her teenaged daughter, who easily recognized the trends Sayers described. The book gave them some valuable points of discussion for describing what it's like to be a Christian teen in today's world.

Find some quotations and personal reflections on this book in my previous posts, You Can Be Anything, But Is That What You Really Want? and Products of a Celebrity Culture.

Note: I got a free copy of this book through Thomas Nelson's Book Sneeze program.


Monday, June 27, 2011

A Farewell to Books

This weekend I starting thinning what has become a rather unwieldy collection of books. Oh, it's no big deal to hang onto books when you stay in one place... But since I'm rather expecting to box up the whole kit and caboodle and move to Oregon - note, this is NOT an official announcement, just something more along the lines of a weather forecast - it's time to assess what I own and take a more deliberate stance toward all this stuff.

Anyone else got too much stuff? Sheesh. I thought I had the books under control. But the last time I counted was before I emptied my office cubicle and brought everything home. I now work from the house. The additional volumes - their ranks swollen by donations from people who left before I did - doubled the number of books on my shelves. 

So, this weekend, I boxed up about 50 for the next charity pickup. As I get used to the idea I expect I'll be able to steel my will enough to pick at least another 50 or so send away. Since I'm starting with about 1000 volumes, saying goodbye to 100 should not be so hard, right?

I told my love - the impetus for the expected move - it's going to be hard enough to say goodbye to all my friends. Don't ask me to give away my books too. I'm probably a little silly about this. And I'm not sure he sees it the same way. But he's a kind and considerate man and I don't think he'll force the issue. He'll let me come to a conclusion on my own. He's good that way. He saw my mother's yarn collection, though, which is about the size of my book collection. He may wonder if he's found a woman with too much baggage.

Ah well. There are bigger issues to deal with than the book question. And it's not like we'll be moving in together. If he has to deal with my book collection at this point it will be just helping carry boxes into my (theoretical) new place.

Is being much of a book-owner justified in this day and age? After all, I do have a library card, a bank account, and a good bit of internet savvy. But I like the books themselves.... frequently re-reading them, looking stuff up in them, and passing them on to others. Recently I was able to send a good collection of stuff saved from Central Asia to an old friend moving to Sofarawayistan; I was glad I still had it. The month before, a family going to Indonesia was glad for the loan of a dozen volumes on topics they thought would help with their preparation. It was partially to fit those back on the shelves that I started thinning. So it seems worth holding onto these things. Right? Many of them, anyway... Well, I'll tackle the process in stages.

Because of the aforementioned dynamics, these days when people ask me to review a book I think twice. Often I ask for an electronic copy. If I don't end up liking the book and thinking I'll read it again, I really don't want to own it. I still get free books, though. Both wanted and unwanted.

Several of the "wanted" ones came to me through Thomas Nelson. Their BookSneeze program provides free books to bloggers who promise to write about them. And I've gotten behind. Have some promises to keep. To discharge this duty I will be posting a couple of the tidy, 200-word book reviews they prefer. One (The Vertical Self) is a book I loved and wrote about, just never did a proper review. The other (The Quotable Chesterton) is more of a reference book. Like Chesterton himself, it's great fun but a little hard to get one's arms around. But I shall review them both. Watch this space.

Then.... question is, will I request or accept more free books or put a stop to this for a while?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Why we like teaching more than learning

"Most of us are better at teaching than learning. I know that I am. It’s because we know what we know, and we feel comfortable teaching that to others (most times). Learning is different. We don’t like that feeling of not knowing."

>> Read more that Chris Brogan has to say about this in his recent post Lessons.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Ever-changing World of Air Travel

Been spending time in airplanes and airports again. More, it seems, in airports than in airplanes. I think I prefer life on the ground to the thrill of cruising at 30,000 feet. Of course, it may be necessary to go to such lengths - or heights - to get from point A to point B, which is the point of the whole endeavor anyway.

A few observations about the ever-changing world of air travel:

1. High Class

I wrote before about not buying into First Class Mystique. The whole thing with getting to walk across a six-foot-long patch of red carpet, sometimes set apart by a matching velvet rope, still cracks me up.

Also, "priority boarding." Again, I prefer airports over airplanes and am in no rush to maximize my time aboard (unless I need to stash an ambitiously sized carry-on). As long as I've got an aisle seat I'd rather vie for the privilege of getting on last. Though one mustn't make the flight attendants nervous by dawdling, eh?

2. Personal Space

Flying United last week I noticed the extent to which they are pushing "Economy Plus." When you buy your ticket, when you check in, and even when you drop off your bag, you're encouraged to consider making the upgrade. It's also pushed by flight attendants and the in-flight magazine. The marketing campaign now emphasized not just more legroom, but more laptop room. Interesting...

3. BYO Entertainment

Many, many customers these days are sporting not just laptops but also Kindles, Nooks, personal game or movie-watching devices, etc. Some patrons - especially the pint-sized ones - seem unfamiliar with the concept of headphones; they share their music or sound effects with everyone on the plane.

Are the days of (airline-provided) inflight entertainment systems numbered?

4. Staying Afloat - er, Aloft

While complaining about various airlines and travel experiences is a well accepted activity among the jet set, I have to say my sympathy is with the airlines. They may do some dumb or aggravating things but they're also just struggling to keep their companies in the air. Competition is tough and prices have not increased at the same rate as costs. What they save on peanuts and plasticware and make on suitcase fees and seat upgrades can't make that much of a difference. As they say goodbye they usually acknowledge, "We know you have a choice of airlines, and appreciate your business."

>> Fellow travelers, how have you noticed the experience changing?

See also: Greatest Inventions Since the Wheel


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Sluggard Goes to the Ant

Recently I ran into two people in one week who described themselves as "plodders." The great missionary pioneer William Carey used that word for himself. Asked how he was able to accomplish as much as he did, he said:

"I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything."

Carey's many and long-lasting accomplishments suggest a certain brilliance, but he relied less on genius than faithfulness. He worked hard, stuck with it, loved, forgave, and partnered with others, and persevered through all kinds of obstacles: When his young son died. When his wife had a nervous breakdown, became insanely jealous, and tried to kill him. When a fire destroyed the manuscripts that contained decades of his work. When he got to the place he felt he had to resign from the mission he'd given so much to begin.

I suppose many do not think their lives can, or should, accomplish great things. Yet when we do find within ourselves the desires to do great things and change the world, do we pursue them, and how?

It seems our styles, talents, and positions matter less than our consistent availability to God. Is that what Eugene Peterson means by the title of his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction?

Studying through so much of the Old Testament last semester I saw this theme come out again and again. Even when your leaders are corrupt, when the society around you is going in another direction, in times of lawlessness and chaos, you have a choice. Follow God; make him your master. Keep on plodding.

By the time we reached the book of Proverbs, I was ready to take the verses about "the ant" to heart. These statements about universal, practical truth say little about God, but much about the power even the powerless have if they know what they are to do and persist in it. Nobody has to make them do it. Consider...

Proverbs 6: 6-8
6 Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
7 It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
8 yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.

Proverbs 30: 24-28
24 “Four things on earth are small,
yet they are extremely wise:
25 Ants are creatures of little strength,
yet they store up their food in the summer;
26 hyraxes are creatures of little power,
yet they make their home in the crags;
27 locusts have no king,
yet they advance together in ranks;
28 a lizard can be caught with the hand,
yet it is found in kings’ palaces.

Ants? They are extremely wise. So says Agur son of Jakeh, who first penned or uttered this second list of proverbs. Don't know much about him. Was he a guy who sat around philosophizing, or did he, himself, do the work on an ant?

After just a few months of grad school I'm reminded that study and thinking themselves can be hard work, but I appreciate those thinkers who enmesh themselves in community and get their hands hands dirty with other kinds of work as well. After all, as another proverb I read recently has it, "When all is said and done, far more will have been said than done."

I want to be someone whose thinking - and speech - furthers the effectiveness of what is done.

I think that line about the locusts holds another key. "Locusts have no king, yet they advance together in ranks." Insects are communal creatures, aren't they? In many cases they die if they are alone, yet accomplish amazing things together.


Friday, June 10, 2011

More on the topic of listening

1. John Maxwell's recent book sounds worth the read. Get the gist of Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently in David Mays' Book Notes.

2. There's a new iPhone app to measure who does the most talking in a conversation. Sounds like it could use some tweaking, though, and I bet most of us have a pretty good idea of the communication dynamics around us. The Talk-o-Meter can prove what you may already suspect (source: GOOD). Though I don't think we need a 50/50 split to have a good conversation. Some people really seem to guard their right to remain silent. What do you think?

3. The ministry team I'm part of has what seems to me a good model for facilitating regular group sharing on our conference calls. Each person has two minutes to share a personal report and/or item for prayer. After each person talks, the leader appoints or asks for a volunteer to pray for that person, and then the pray-er shares his or her update. Things move pretty quickly; and all nine of us have a chance to hear from each other and be heard in 20-30 minutes.

4. One of our group's core values is listening. The Church Partnerships Team was formed to serve as a point of personal connection between Pioneers and the several thousand churches that send out and support missionaries through our agency. It's not fund-raising or recruitment, though there is a significant "PR" element. Typical conversations between church ministry leaders and church partnership facilitators focus on trying to understand the world of the church leaders and explore ways we can help them and collaborate.

I can't see myself working as a partnership facilitator full-time like most of my colleagues - I seem to do better a bit more behind the scenes. Calling and meeting with church leaders may be a job best left to the guys-with-ties. But it's an honor to be part of their work. Lots of shared values. Sometimes I miss the companionship of a face-to-face team, though.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Internationally Aware Locavore

Between work and studies I'm slowly savoring Craig Goodwin's book Year of Plenty, vacillating about which idea or chapter I should blog about here. The book describes one family's journey away from a life of American consumerism to something both simpler and more responsible but also more relational. Watch this space for more.

The writers at Read the Spirit published a good review of one of the most interesting elements of this sustainable-living story, the fact that their strategy included an international element.

See Summertime Family Inspiration: Enjoy a Year of Plenty ("How an ordinary American family of modest means managed to ‘Think Locally, Act Globally’")

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Remembering Nichole

A good friend is preparing to move his family to Central Asia to teach there for a couple of years. I'm trying to pass along various things that might prove helpful for them. When he commented on my May 5 post I remembered another I'd written which reveals some of the cultural - and cross-cultural - wrinkles I wrestled with in building relationships in the Central Asian context. Here's a post from 2010.
I met "Nichole" the day before I moved into her parents' house. A pretty Uzbek girl in her early 20s, Nichole was fascinated by the foreigners in her city. She had a part-time job working for some of them, friends of mine, and lived in a house not far from them. I needed a local family to live with; her folks could use the rent money. They had the space, and the house was suitable. So we decided to give it a try.

So began what is probably the most significant cross-cultural relationships I've ever had. There have been others with whom I had more common ground, or learned more from, but nobody I had more fun with than Nichole, nor anyone with whom I experienced more of what differences in culture can really mean - on a gut level...

See Nichole's Story.