Saturday, March 29, 2008

Review of "Peter and the Starcatchers" by a couple of people

I'll admit this right at the front - there is a lot of good junior fiction out there. And since I have kids that read junior fiction, it is fun to read it with them.

Another confession - Peter Pan is just cool. What young guy out there didn't dream of leading a pack of guys on adventures, flying, fighting pirates, and being adored by all the young women, even if some of them are fairies and mermaids?

And in the book you find out how it all got started. Where did Peter come from? What's the deal with the island? Why is the pirate so angry (not that most pirates are angry, they may be fun-loving people for all I know)? Is Smee always that dumb?

I give it a thumbs up, it was a well written book with constant action and tension. Not all the history was given out, there are still some mysteries to be solved, but of course there are other books in the series...

Honestly, I was a little hesitant at first because Dave Barry, the quirky journalist known for his exaggerated stories of life, is one of the two authors. I was hoping it wouldn't be written with that same style, and it wasn't. I like Dave Barry in doses, but four-hundred-something pages at a time would be a little much.

My daughter and I are now off to Never-land to see what happens in the next story...


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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Review of "ScreamFree Parenting" by Hal Edward Runkel

Of course I'm not a scream-er. Maybe the occasional raise-the-voice type, a grab-the-hair frustrated bloke that is working on the toughest job - parenting. Which is what this book is about, rather than, as Hal puts it, "kidding."

I liked the ideas enough that we are bringing out Hal and his pals for a seminar in our area on May 10. Here is the basic gist - the best way to parent is NOT to try and control your kids or make them behave, but by controlling yourself and making YOU behave. It's a concept that is not about tricks that make your kids do the right things, but about being the person you need to be and helping your kids become good decision makers.

It's actually not a very long book. But the concepts are worth thinking about, discussing with friends, and incorporating into your life.

Actually, the idea that you can, or should even try, to control others is something we need to seriously reconsider. Anytime you are generally frustrated with someone, it is because they are not behaving like you want them to. But the only thing you can control is how you respond, or engage, and that is what being human is about.

What other parenting books are recommendable?


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Wednesday, March 19, 2008


This week people at our church have been going through training on relationships. The most important part is learning that conflict will happen whenever the status quo is disturbed because one person or group in the relationship is dissatisfied or some stress has entered into the relationship. The difficult part for us to understand is that conflict can be good if it is handled in a way that honors both groups in the relationship because it can make both parties reassess the relationship and the assumptions underlying it. It can be bad conflict if one or both of the parties handles the conflict in a dysfunctional way, such as using demeaning or derogatory language.

Ironically, our announcement to do relationship training caused conflict, and unfortunately one person decided to respond divisively and with derogatory comments.

I might have mentioned this before, but a great little book, "Jesus Asked" by Conrad Gempf, pointed out that Jesus was rarely in conversations that lacked conflict. While we tend to have to have this image of Jesus just walking around laying down pithy statements, most of his conversations were questions that asked people to decide something. Not everyone left happy. But it was conflict handled in a loving way - intending to lift people up. People sought conversations with him, especially those considered "sinners." I think we underestimate the ministry of dialogue and good conversation.

While not wanting to stay in a constant state of conflict, it can be a good thing if both parties are learning and maturing from the experience. Just check out the Psalms if you want to see some real conflict happening...


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Monday, March 17, 2008


My family and I went on a trip across Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware over the weekend. We spent Saturday mostly in Philly checking out the historical sights and grabbing a great cheesesteak, and Saturday night and Sunday in Delaware. New Jersey was just an accident (you can fill in your own sly remarks on that phrase), missing an exit and traveling down through Jersey to get to Newark, DE.

It was a personal history trip in many different forms.

My oldest son Jonathan just had done some historical research in his fifth grade class on the American Revolution, so it was fun watching him see the history before his eyes. We stood in the hall where people signed their lives to a cause that might cost them their lives, we saw the chair in which Benjamin Franklin said that sun is now rising, and we gazed at the bell that rang and has this scripture inscribed on it: "Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants" (Leviticus 25:10). But the best part was the people who dressed and spoke as if they were still there in the late 1700s, interacting with people from today. Our kids were particularly tickled when one man, acting the part of a delegate to the convention of 1776, kept arguing with a tourist about whether Washington was a state or a man.

What choices would I have made, faced with those circumstances? The search for meaning is a large part of my ponderations these days, and if it is true that a life worth living must be worth dying for, then: What do I fight for, and at what cost? (You could argue against the assertion that you need to be willing to die for something to have a meaningful life, and maybe we'll do that in a different post.)

This would be a interesting fill-in-the-blank: [Your Name] is fighting for _______.

But let's continue on the trip. Delaware is where I spent, as a local friend puts it, my "misguided youth." I was able to see people that I had not seen in up to twenty years, learn the happenings of people that I spent time with as a teenager, and catch up on local tales.

I spent a lot of time thinking about how my choices turned out, decisions that I should have made, actions I shouldn't have taken, what could have been and what is. The problem is that any one choice would leave me in a different situation now, and I can gladly say that my wife and kids are worth the pain and lost moments.

But it all comes at a price. Looking back, I sometimes feel like a bull in destiny's china shop. And it reminds me of the importance of decisions, actions, and most of all ideas.


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Monday, March 10, 2008

Pickleball and Online Degrees

My friend Joe and I had our first real tournament game in doubles pickleball last Thursday. We played two housewives who were very nice, and very new to the game. Both of us are tennis players, so there wasn't a whole lot of excitement until the last game. In fact, we only lost one point in the two games that meant something.

My form of entertainment during the games was talking to Joe about how we could use mental tactics to win the games against these very nice ladies, such as yelling at them while they are swinging at the ball, hitting the ball hard at one of them to send a message, hitting the ball way out of bounds and insisting that they get it, etc. Needless to say, we didn't actually do any of that, but it was funny talking about it.

For the last game, we decided to switch partners so that it might be a little more even. During the game, Joe hit a ball moderately hard at me when I was at the net. We both laughed about it. At the end of our time, when there was less than a minute left, Joe came to the net and hit the ball to me. I decided to have a little fun as well and just whaled the ball directly at him. Watching him flail at this high-speed wiffle ball that hit him was the highlight of my evening, and I couldn't stop laughing about it. Joe, fortunately, is good-natured.

Found out later on that Joe and a different friend were hanging around, and through conversations found out that one of the ladies was a elementary school teacher of Joe's friend's kid. When the teacher found out that I was a minister, she jokingly asked if I got my degree online. She admitted that she had an enjoyable time playing with us, but I thought the "online degree" comment was a great line.


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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Review of a book

What do you think of when you see this line:

He refuses to accept their will over his own. He refuses to live by rules set up by others, rules which condemn him to a defeated life. But his ultimate aim is to enter that society with a certain power since society doesn't really protect its members who do not have their own individual power. In the meantime he operates on a code of ethics he considers far superior to the legal structures of society.

Did you really first think of The Godfather, by Mario Puzo?
It was a long book, but it was great. Few books can totally wrap you up into their world such as this one. I'll have to admit that is has been about twenty years since I last saw the movie, so when a friend saw that I was reading the book we are looking forward to watching it on his home theater.

And the idea of "cosa nostra," Italian for our concerns, our world, has me sitting back and really digging it. Don't we all live in some world in which the rules of engagement are set and we try to succeed within its parameters? And we do choose which world it is that we join. This world may impact, may bend, and may envelope and overlap other worlds, but we live and die in this world, and how we view even our own worth depends on which world we see ourselves living in. This also has a huge impact on how I view expectations of how others should behave.

I am certainly no Don - just ask my wife and kids. My kingdom does not reach out very far. But there is a kingdom that I long to be a part of, that is even now reaching out. How I live as a Christ-follower shows my view of this kingdom.

I also was fascinated with the picture of loyalty and treachery, of favors and honor. All of these are still in effect today, but in such different ways in a different world.


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Monday, March 03, 2008

Disorientation and Honesty

What songs are you singing? I'm not really asking what you have currently dialed in on your radio station in your car, or the most played on your iPod. I'm more or less asking if you're humming a tune that all is right with this world, or if you are a part-time blues singer.

Ponder this quote from Walter Brueggemann:

“It is a curious fact that the church has, by and large, continued to sing songs of orientation in a world increasingly experienced as disoriented…It is my judgment that this action of the church is less an evangelical defiance guided by faith, and much more a frightened, numb denial and deception that does not want to acknowledge or experience the disorientation of life…Such a denial and cover-up, which I take it to be, is an odd inclination for passionate Bible users, given the larger number of psalms that are songs of lament, protest, and complaint about an incoherence that is experienced in the world…I believe that serious religious use of the lament psalms has been minimal because we have believed that faith does not mean to acknowledge and embrace negativity” (The Message of the Psalms, 1984, pp. 51-52).

As followers of Jesus, we should have a sense that not all is right with this world - I believe what Brueggemann calls the "disorientation." But so many don't seem to have any outward signs of disorientation - in fact, we (I will lump myself in here as someone trying to reorient my worldview) are hanging tenaciously onto what we have, onto the way things are, because we perceive that there is so much to lose. In the process, we are losing our souls.

Not that there aren't moments when we get a little taste of heaven. Tonight my daughter called me into the room to say goodnight. She asked me this question: "Am I special?" I actually teared up as I told her how much I loved her, how there is only one little girl in the world just like her, and that she is more special than she will ever realize. It was a good moment.

But at the same time, we are in a world that calls into question the special-ness of little girls, that special-ness is earned through looks or what she can provide. A world in which a little girl has to even ask that question, and that will continually question her worth based on any kind of scale, is so broken.

Maybe it does have something to do with the music, and the songs that we sing. What is some of the music that you would recommend?


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