Friday, June 29, 2018

Retiring and Transitioning (Next by Vanderbloemen and Bird)

The short version of how I came to be reading this book: I thoroughly disliked hearing the statement: "All pastors are interim pastors." Wait! Don't stop reading because I used the word "pastor." I promise that this post will apply to all, not just pastors.

I still don't like the statement as used by authors Vanderbloemen and Bird. While I have dear friends who are wonderful interim pastors, I think the use of it in the book carries with it a negative feeling even if the authors do not intend to write in that way.

In this case, why do I give the book three stars which means I like the book? I would go so far as to say, for pastors and churches the rating is 4-5 stars and a necessary book to read. As someone not on an elder board and not a pastor, I appreciated the ideas in the book to know how to help a community of faith and a workplace community. I appreciated being challenged to think about how we all need to build bridges for others.

For the first two communities mentioned above, I like to think of leaders moving on in the best of circumstances as a time of commencement. They are about to begin a new part of their journey in life and how can the leaders bless their community and how can the community bless them. In the worst case situations, dealing with grief within a community is needful. For good or for ill, being prepared from the moment a leader takes up his or her position is the great idea conveyed by this book. The authors do go into every nitty gritty detail (money, loss of momentum, etc.) As one reviewer put it, for a book about pastoring, it seems like the the authors deem a good succession as one with continued tithing and continued growth. I have to wonder about some of the examples in the book: what happened to love God and love others.

The takeaway for me in this book is how does anyone: a parent, a woman or man, a employer, a leader, and, yes, a pastor, leave a legacy, not of wealth but of that which she or he has contributed to the world just being who they are and what they have been doing on this journey? Our unique identity can not be passed on, nor should we want it to be, but people are going to continue on without us. How can we make those transitions as smooth as possible for them?

Vanderbloemen and Bird's last chapters are some of the best. On page 171-172 of the next-to-the-last chapter, they bring in the work of William Bridges, an authority on change and transition "[who] helps us understand the emotional side of those transitions. He argues that the single biggest reason organizational changes fail is that no one has thought about endings or planned to manage their impact on people. His argument is that changes don't do you in. Rather transitions do you in.

"He explains the way the concepts differ. Change is location...retirement...reorganization...a shift...Transition is psychological. It is a process people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the details of the new situation the change brings about."

I have just participated in seeing a community carry out V&B's suggestions well: The pastor and his family verbalized a personal goodbye, the community had opportunities to say goodbye and to honor the pastor and his family. The grief of the community was and is being recognized. The pastor and family was gifted and blessed.

I wanted to include the beautiful words spoken during these celebrations and services but it would make the post too long so if you know me personally and would like me to get those to you, I will. If I don't know you, but you ask in the comment section, I will start putting those in my replies in the comment section.


I've mentioned in this section before the need to know who would take care of your children if something were to happen to you. My children are grown so now my concern about what comes next is not to leave them with too many of my possessions to go through and try to get rid of or find places for. Also, as I think about my job, how can I make it easier for the person who one day will follow me? And, those who follow behind me will have their own contributions to make, but how can I leave my little section of the path clear so that they can more easily extend the path and travel farther than I could go?


HUMILITY -- oh, does preparing for one's successor take humility. To practice little habits daily so that when that day comes, we can do so with grace and love and peace -- this, this is following Christ.
My indirect ways of practicing humility have been in choosing to get in the slow line at grocer's stores and letting people with less groceries than I to go ahead of me. Humility. Why is my time so much more than other people's time? Read the book Leadership and Self-Deception (link to the review here). When we take action which lacks humility, we want to make the others as people not like us, people who deserved whatever action we took.

Another little indirect step toward humility I took yesterday involved the dish soap. Yes, the dish soap. I tend to leave it out on the counter. My spouse loves tidiness. He mentioned that he is always putting it away. Please note that he did not say it to "put me in my place". It's not a slippery slope toward slavery if I choose to put the dish soap away as an indirect way to practice humility. This may not be a good practice for someone with an abusive spouse. I'm a creative messy person and my spouse likes some order. I'm not ready for a hoarding reality show, and he's not ready for psychological care; we're just different and  I'm confident in myself and my abilities; therefore, for me, putting away the dish soap is a practice I thought I would try. You can figure out your own small step of practicing humility.  

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Listening (The Art of Listening in a Healing Way by James E. Miller)

The Art of Listening in a Healing Way by James E. Miller "reveals the art of being a healing listener" as the back cover states. It's a small book -- 80 pages and truly only half of those pages have full size paragraphs printed on them. On the left hand, even numbered pages are quotes and beautiful pictures of flowers. Still, I would buy this book again with no problem (the price is typically reasonable), and I easily rate it four stars. If I had not been so stingy with my star ratings lately, I would give it five stars because listening is a skill desperately needed today. When listening becomes an art form, all manners of goodness takes place.

The book is made up of statements such as "Healing listening is founded on wonder" and "Healing listening begins with a triple intention." Each statement is explained, described, and illustrated with a combination of instruction, inspiration, research, and example. Occasionally, another quote will be found on the right hand instructional/inspirational side such as the one by Irish poet William Butler Yeats on page 29: "We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us to see their own images..." Miller concludes: "Your still presence gives others the opportunity to see their own reflections. Your quiet being offers a hush in which others can find and hear their own voices."

Much of the book may not even be new to the reader; however, it is good to be reminded that the gentle art of listening is a gift we can bring to one person at a time in a world with voices shouting and clamoring to sell us something, whether that which is being sold is an emotion, a viewpoint, a product, or a service.

And, now I have come to the end of my spring-early summer reading books! (I won't count this one toward my 52 books read in 52 weeks because it is so small.)

To see the reviews of each of these titles, click on the links in the titles: Summer Hours at the Robbers LibraryLeadership and Self-DeceptionSmall CountryJoyful JourneyPlant ParadoxHillbilly Elegy, and Calypso.

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My mother taught her children as we became parents: "If your boys start to talk to you, stop everything and listen because that may be the only time you will get to hear what they have to say." She had it partly right. My brother is a quiet person so if he starts talking, we want to stop and listen. However, girls can be quiet, too. And, even when children are not quiet, boys and girls, they need a listening ear. I have two quiet children (male and female) and two talkative ones (male and female). At least they were talkative when young, but, friends and family, with goodnatured intentions, made jokes about their talkative ways, and now they are much quieter, and that can be a sad outcome.

I've included this spiritually transforming practice before but it's good to practice again and again. Choose a day to intentionally listen to people, without interrupting, without advising, without giving your version or your example or your story. It doesn't mean that you and I will never talk again. We need people who will listen to us as well, but as a practice, listening can be an awakening experience. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Siblings (Calypso by David Sedaris)

I know, I know; the word "siblings" may have an 'ing' in it, but it is not a gerund. Nonetheless, it fits too well for me to get hemmed in by details like grammatical rules. In my family, we could make a gerund of it: "I think she just siblinged you!" And, my siblings would instantly understand.

Did you know that calypso can mean "a type of West Indian song whose words are often invented as the song is sung" which actually fits Sedaris's books -- they come about as his song of life is sung. However, Calypso comes from the name of his cat, not the name he gave his cat, but the name his neighbors gave the cat who had a secret life apart from its life with Sedaris (for fans of etymology, Sedaris has some fairly intelligent neighbors as the original Greek means "she that conceals; to cover, conceal").

I did not actually intend the picture to go with concealment. I was going for a West Indian feel, all part of image management; I can't just post a picture of the cover, can I?

Let me return to siblings. This is my family. No, not literally my family, but it could be my family except, thankfully, my mother is still with us. Therefore, it is difficult to criticize anything that comes so close to home. Also, it's a memoir and even my students knew (or if they didn't, they really would have benefited from figuring this out), I do not like to downgrade anyone's writings when the stories come from the heart. Don't immediately assume I hated the book (family, you know).

But, it is a type of memoir, even in essay form, and I'm not a fan of memoirs. (Thus, my three star rating.) I usually don't finish reading them. I finished reading this because I couldn't stop reading it. Reviewers who read Sedaris say that this is his most introspective, darkest humor...and not to start with this book as an introduction to Sedaris. Too late for that advice. He is funny...and, yes, back to family. His family reminds me of my family.

Yet, the turtle. I can't get over the turtle incident. That is not like my family. And, the incident with his sister. I want to be mad at him about that. I want to think that none of my siblings would ever do that to another one. I discussed it with one of my sisters. When is "tough love" truly love and when is it a euphemism for "downright mean"?

I've bookmarked page 91 a conversation between Sedaris and his partner Hugh:

Sedaris writes, "It's not that our father waited till this late in the game to win our hearts. It's that he's succeeding." Sedaris then starts complaining to Hugh: "'But he didn't used to be this nice and agreeable.'

'Well, he is now,' he [Hugh] said. 'What can't you let people change?'"

Sedaris comments: "This is akin to another of his often asked questions: 'Why do you choose to remember the negative rather than the positive?'

'I don't,' I [Sedaris] insist, thinking, I will never forget your giving me such a hard time over this.

Honestly, though, does choice even come into it? Is it my fault that the good times fade to nothing while the bad ones burn forever bright? Memory aside, the negative just makes for a better story..." Sedaris concludes.

So, either confession is good for Sedaris's soul or all the negative stuff makes for a better story or both. I could have done without any essays on bodily functions, but, again, sigh, family. I could do without the bodily discussions in my own family, except when my sisters get going during a sibling reunion and they crack me up. Sometimes it's funny until it's not, and there are parts of this book (for some, the whole book) that are not going to be funny. There are plenty of 4-5 star reviews for this book (and that's how I ended up choosing it from Book of the Month Club). This is for those who want to read a review with a lower amount of stars.

This is my "raising children" section, and whether one would normally pick up this book to read or not, it really has some family stories to get a parent thinking. If you only read books on your "acceptable" list, books that probably say what you think anyway, then you're not going to be challenged to think through your parental practices. This book can give you a chance to think through how you feel about tough love, how you feel about people changing, how you feel about life now and life in the future. It's somewhat like being immersed in one's own culture, one can't see where your culture misses the mark, but go to another culture, and you see with different eyes. Still, there are parts that will gross out some readers (me included). I would like to say that we raised our children not to be gross,

On a more serious note, spiritual transformation. I have to wonder, without casting stones because I have to practice how to avoid this as well, whether or not the incident with Sedaris's sister had anything at all to do with image management. Was it tough love or was Sedaris concerned about what his sister would do in front of all those people if he let her in? I'm not sure I know of any adults who are totally oblivious when it comes to their images. How people see us matters a lot to us. Before I went through a spiritual formation institute (this one at RenovarΓ©), I had never heard of a practice to learn indirectly how to push back against image management when it truly mattered. One practice is not to go back and fix an email or a media post when the reason to fix it would be to fix one's image. If autocorrect really messed up something, then, yes, by all means, editing is called for; however, there are times when what we need to practice is to practice truly being kind not just our image of being kind.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Lamenting (Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance)

The diversity of my spring/summer reading selections boggles my mind.

The book Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance was thrown into the mix by my library book discussion group. Most of the time when the group chooses a memoir, I don't make it to the end. Vance's book broke that pattern. That doesn't mean I'm giving it five stars (I've vacillated between 3 and 4 stars), but I did finish it within three days of reading and parts of his story resonated with me.

An elegy is a lament, and I'm not so sure this book is a lament as much as it is a cry for help. Reviewers disagree about the value of the book and, as usual, the ratings depend on how they take the book personally.

Connections for me revolved around whether conclusions Vance made could happen in my community and, if I had a similar background with a different result, what made my life different from Vance's?

On page 56, Vance comments on students and college that applied to my life, and I wasn't born or raised anywhere near Appalachia. "To move up was to move on. That required going to college. And yet there was no sense that failing to achieve higher education would bring shame or any other consequences. The message wasn't explicit; teachers didn't tell us that we were too stupid or poor to make it. Nevertheless, it was all around us, like the air we breathed: No one in our families had gone to college..."(56). Not a single counselor or teacher talked to me about getting into college. I did all the work myself (and very poorly). I was an intelligent person who read a lot, but never knew how to study to get good grades. Thankfully, I had access to a community college and it was there that grades began to matter to me. I didn't think about "moving up"; I thought about having that college degree and proving that I had worth.

This memoir (one reviewer questioned calling it a memoir when the author is thirty-one!) is a must read for Christ-followers who care about making a difference. On page 96, Vance discusses: "Many of the sermons I heard spent as much time criticizing other Christians as anything else...My new faith had put me on the lookout for heretics. Good friends who interpreted parts of the Bible differently were bad influencers...All of this talk about Christians who weren't Christian enough, secularists indoctrinating our youth, art exhibits insulting our faith, and persecution by the elites made the world a scary and foreign place" (97).

Vance's thoughts on Marine Corps boot camp, I believe, hold a key to some solutions: "Marine Corps boot camp, with its barrage of challenges big and small, began to teach me I had underestimated myself", and this -- "...I had never felt empowered--never believed that I had the ability and the responsibility to care for those I loved" (163, 167). The Corps taught him how to compare banks and shop for loans (175). Just as with college preparation, no one at school taught lower middle class students like myself how to do finances. Vance states: "I'm not saying ability doesn't matter. It certainly helps. But there's something powerful about realizing that you've undersold yourself--that somehow your mind confused lack of effort for inability. This is why, whenever, people ask me what I'd most like to change about the white working class, I say, 'The feeling that our choices don't matter" (177). There's no reason to put forth effort if one thinks effort does not change the circumstances.

This may be the difference between the community and family of Vance and my family. My family background may be one of times of poverty, but they were (and some still are) farmers. Farmers know that they may not be able to control the weather, but they can control tilling the soil, putting seed in the ground, and tending to crops and farm animals. One's effort makes a difference.

I'm a bit surprised that I don't want to buy the book as it does have statements I'd like to remember: "I don't believe in epiphanies. I don't believe in transformative moments, as transformation is harder than a moment. I've seen far too many people awash in a genuine desire to change only to lose their mettle when they realized just how difficult change actually is" (173). Vance writes: "We're more socially isolated than ever, and we pass that isolation down to our children. Our religion has changed--built around churches heavy on emotional rhetoric but light on the kind of social support necessary to enable poor kids to do well" (4). Thought-provoking.

I almost titled my blog post: "Politicking" as the book was later used to explain election results. The emails Vance cites on pages 192-193, I have seen and had discussions with relatively upscale family members and their friends who believed fake news and conspiracy theories. One's culture lives on no matter how little or how much money one earns. Also, reviewers have castigated Vance's book saying they believe it is his way to begin a run for public office. Is a person more noble who doesn't plan to go into public office but just seemingly "falls" into it? I ended up liking Vance and his wife and the decisions they make. This book is definitely a great discussion group book choice.


Too often when parents and others start discussing "consequences", the topic is tied to consequences for one's naughty actions. What about consequences of perseverance and practicing and taking risks and failing yet trying again? Researcher Carol Dweck's work in growth mindset is excellent for learning how to teach children the "power of believing that you can improve".

Dweck's work wasn't around when I was raising my children; however, we did believe that our efforts could change circumstances. We may not have farmed, but we did garden.

What can you and I continue to do to help others know that they can persevere, practice, take risks and fail yet try again?


See above. I don't know that I believe all transformation is harder than a moment, but I do believe transformation comes with daily moments. As Dallas Willard often said or wrote, and I paraphrase him, "indirectly doing practices which enable us to do that which we have not been able to do by our own direct effort." Vance could not in one direct moment overcome his cultural belief that his efforts did not have an impact on consequences yet the Corps taught him moment by moment he could keep his room clean, keep his hair cut, iron his uniforms, run not only a mile continuously but, in the end, three miles continuously, fail and be able to try again.

As Dallas wrote in The Great Omission: "Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone" (61).  

Friday, June 22, 2018

Eating and Healing (Plant Paradox by Steven R. Gundry, MD)

Interestingly, I have been all over the map with rating this book. I'm going to settle for a three star rating. My decision mostly came after trying out the protocol, reading a host of other healing/eating protocol books, and reading critiques of Gundry's protocol in his book The Plant Paradox.

First of all, my gut reaction: some suggestions on Gundry's protocol, my gut liked and some my gut did not. That's the physical gut reaction. Gundry uses coconut products instead of traditional flours and oils, and, unfortunately for me, I do not do well with coconut flours, milks, and oils. I get intense cramps, but that may be a topic for another day.

His protocol is difficult to stay on, but then again, so are some other healing/eating protocols suggested by other doctors and authors. What I have started looking for and have continued to look for are the commonalities in the various dietary protocols and healing books. I also pay attention to how my own body reacts to individual food items. If I feel well, then the food may be something I keep. If I react badly, then no matter how much a researcher/doctor/author proclaims it, that particular food item needs to eliminated from my pantry.

Noting the negatives and positives of the book, Gundry's continual references to millions of years ago, our ancestors did not eat (fill in the blank) annoys me. Also, his attempts at humorously discussing bowel movements don't seem all that humorous to me. On the other hand, reviewers have mentioned his making money off of his supplements. Those type of situations do raise red flags for me; however,  to his credit, Gundry mentions his supplements, but then he also tells the readers how they can buy inexpensive versions at Costco (a large wholesale warehouse place to buy just about everything) or at local markets.

I originally checked out this book from the library because my sisters recommended it after we read Dr. Bredesen's book The End of Alzheimer'sYou can check out my review of that book here or here.

I think the book is worth reading with a grain of salt (make mine iodized sea salt), keeping in mind one's own body reactions and the other protocols out there. The common thread throughout all of them is that we (at least North Americans) eat way too much sugar and way too much processed food. I'll include links to a couple of serious critiques of Gundry's methodology with the caveat that these authors/medical folks also have critics (and are also selling their own products). Yet, people are getting healed and feeling better. I feel better, but I'm also glad to read the critiques of Gundry's protocol as a reminder to me to not accept without question the food items Gundry says to eat or not eat. Instead, I will be paying attention to my body and my blood counts and tests.

A commentary on 'The Plant Paradox' and another link to a doctor who has been free of Lupus for thirteen years.


I do not regret limiting the amount of sugar which my older children ate while growing up. By the time I had the fourth one, I became a bit more lenient. However, the older ones have grown up and still do not eat a lot of sugar. I'm realizing now that the early years of eating are formative years.


Here in my spiritual formation section, I'll go back to something I've written before: our spiritual life involves every part of us -- mind, body, heart, soul. It is a good spiritual practice to pay attention to our bodies. Gluttony is not good for our body, heart, mind, or soul. Neither are any of the eating disorders. Why we are eating or not eating matters as much as what we are eating. Good food, good company, good celebrations. As Tevye says in The Fiddler on the Roof, "L'Chaim!" To life. Or, as I just discovered in a Jewish question and answer post: "l'chaim tovim ul'shalom" -- "For good life, and for peace!" 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

This Isn't the God I Grew Up With Pt.1 (Joyful Journey Listening to Immanuel)

"This Isn't the God I Grew Up With" has been a title in my draft posts for awhile. When I read Joyful Journey Listening to Immanuel (by E. James Wilder, Anna Lang, John Loppnow, and Sungshim Loppnow), I knew I wanted to pair the title with the book review. However, as I wrote, I discovered the thoughts behind the title were too many for one post coupled with a book review. Therefore, I'll start with a short review (so I can copy onto Goodreads easily), and then follow up with how the God (god?) I grew up with would have compromised the practice of Immanuel journaling.

Joyful Journey is a fantastic personal growth / transformational book. My only complaint was the cost for such a slim book but then I found out I could have bought it for a better price directly from Life Model Works (see also the JoyStartsHere website). Life Model Works joins brain science with spiritual life and scripture. This particular book walks the reader through improving awareness that God is with us, God is good, and God is willing to help us. The fourth chapter guides the readers through what to do with the disconnect that comes through trauma and intense emotions. The steps in journaling start in chapter five although I was introduced first to the journaling aspect of Joyful Journey. One more general comment: the authors address both fears within the Christian community ("Are you sure this is scriptural?") and the connections to what we are learning about the brain. Essentially we have a Creator who designed our brains for connection -- "neurologists are even identifying that there is a region in our prefrontal cortex in charge of how we conduct ourselves that is nourished and developed best in this environment of loving relationships. Through these connections we actually become our true selves as God originally intended. We are able to have meaningful relationships and develop our brains and minds for success and abundance through loving connections" (11).

Chapter Six develops Immanuel journaling within community and with community, the practice of "shalom check". Shalom check can help guide the journaler in knowing if this is "the right relationship, at the right time, in the right place, at the right strength and in the right amount" to share with people (52). Also, I find it a good check for knowing those same qualities of God's peace, shalom, for myself and my actions, my journaling. The authors' checklist for shalom include:

Do I feel peacefully calm? (This topic "fits" together correctly now.) 
Am I sensing God's loving presence? (Underlining mine.)
Am I confident that nothing can take me away from God's love? 
Am I portraying my weakness accurately? 
Am I still sensing God's interactive presence in my painful memory? 
Have my joy, peace, and hope increased? 
Has my desire to love and serve others increased? (54).

This checklist would have invalidated the view of God which I grew up with. As I walk through Immanuel journaling, thankfulness fits in with most views of God. Sometimes that thankfulness is more along the lines of "Thank you for not squashing me like a bug today" than along the lines of "Thank you for the the beauty surrounding me" but gratitude is usually a given. The authors do make the connection between gratitude and the control center of the brain on the right hand side (34-45); however, if gratitude is impossible at the moment because our relational circuits (RCs) are off (covered in chapter four), then starting with what God sees in our body and what God hears from us, and stating to ourselves that God is with us (Immanuel), God wants to be with us, is a first step to restoring relational circuits.

Here is where I would have hit a roadblock with the god I grew up with. God did NOT want to be with me when I was a bad girl, an angry child (or adult). The god I grew up with stopped listening to me if I started to whine or complain. Basically, the god I grew up with resembled either Zeus (capricious and wrathful) or Santa Claus ("He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!" -- Or you're going to get coal in your Christmas stocking) or  George Burns (Oh, God! 1977 movie with Burns portraying God as an old man who expects actor John Denver to deliver God's message to the human race that they have everything they need and so the human race needs to get on with life).

Those gods are not going to be interested in me hearing the words: My dear beloved...I delight in you...

If those gods saw me, they're going to throttle me; if they hear what I'm thinking, I'm going to get punished and sent to my room for sure. God gives his beloved sleep; therefore, if I don't sleep, I must have done something wrong. Even worse, as this happened to be the conversation among childhood friends this past week (No, I did not bring it up!), one dear friend had been told that God sent her illnesses because she must have done something bad. I wish this were an uncommon thought; however, another writer/teacher was told the same thing when his daughter was born with a defect that took her life at a young age.

Now I know and trust that God who sees me and hears me, loves me and understands me, wants to be with me, wants to do something about what I am going through. It may not be what I think I want in the moment, and I've lived long enough now to know that when I think I am right, I'm not always right (see below in the heart section).

Interestingly, I did an exercise this past week of drawing with my non-dominant hand my earliest thoughts of God. Surprisingly, the pictures were not the same as my pictures of God that I learned as I grew up! My earliest pictures were of a smiling Jesus with arms stretched out or of a picture on my best friend's wall. Two children crossing a bridge with God protecting them which as I write this, I realize that it actually must have been a guardian angel; however, that was my picture of God: protecting me and opening up arms to me.

Now I know and trust that when Jesus says to his disciples: "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father (God)" that is to be my picture of God. The 1 Corinthians 13 passage so often recited at weddings is a picture of God. Those attributes are the attributes of God. Anything less is not God.


I so regret as I raised my children that I raised them in the way I was taught, not by my mother necessarily, but by some well-meaning women, who might have said, "God is love" but their version of love was fairly strict. An example that stands out in my mind is children do not get out of bed or out of the playpen just because they are crying. I'm fine with an overtired child crying for a brief time because when he or she is overtired, then no amount of attention is going to stop the crying. In fact, the attention may just keep the child from getting the sleep needed. But, if mom is trying to be perfect to please God, you can imagine what that mother's children will go through. I thought I was so right just as the women who taught me thought they were so right. I wonder now how many children have a picture of a Santa Claus god who "sees them when they're sleeping; he knows when you're awake; he knows if you've been good or bad, so be good for goodness sake!"

As a spiritual formational practice, place your bible in front of you opened to 1 Corinthians 13. As you journal, picture God loving you, being patient with and kind to you, not dishonoring you, not easily angered with you. Yes, God does not delight in evil, but you can admit your weaknesses, and God, whether you are at the place of admitting all or not in that place yet, God protects you, teaches you how to trust, how to hope, how to persevere. Where it looks like God has not protected you or your loved ones, God will be with you in that trauma and suffering. I know that this can cause people to either not believe in God or to hate God, but I've never gone that direction because 1) I've had too many times of experiencing the unseeable God who calls me "beloved child" "delightful one" even when, especially when, I fail,  and 2) I can not figure out how we could have a perfectly good world without God making everyone a robot type of person with no choices.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Surviving (Small Country by GaΓ«l Faye)

Small Country by GaΓ«l Faye is a difficult novel to read, not because of the prose, which is outstandingly beautiful, but because of the horrors within it, which are tragically ugly. Why in the world would I recommend the book to anyone? Let me answer that with a conversation in the book itself as the main character Gabriel asks Madame Economopoulos if she has read all the books lining the shelves on her walls.

"Have you read all those books?" I asked her.

"Yes, I've even read some of them many times over. They're the great loves of my life. They make me laugh and weep and question and reflect on things. They allow me to escape from myself. They've changed me, they've made me a different person."

"A book can change us?"

"Of course a book can change you. It can even change your life. It's like falling in love. And you never know when such an encounter might happen. You should beware of books, they're sleeping genies." (140)

There wasn't much laughing or escaping from myself in this book. Weeping, questioning, reflecting -- there were plenty of those times. I'm trying to think of how to explain those times without giving away moments in the book, moments so real and detailed that the story feels more autobiographical than fiction. A character named Donatien brings up God, but rather than asking where God is, he puts the blame on humankind. The question to reflect upon becomes how can one help? Do we allow two small countries to annihilate each other along with all the powerless ones trying to survive? Rwanda and Burundi are extremely small. It took me three times and a final Internet search to find them on my world map.

Follow the boy's first finger out horizontally and just a tad bit up, and you can see two tiny pieces as if they are small puzzle pieces of Tanzania. They also both touch the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Uganda sits above Rwanda. If you want to feel where prejudice can ultimately take you when it tears apart an entire country or two, this is it.

If you're willing to face the challenge of reading the book, you will have excellent writing to read. Kudos to both the author Faye and the translator (in my case, Sarah Ardizzove translated it into English). On Goodreads, reviewer Liberty Hardy had the best recommendation I've read for diving into this book: "Don't forget, books that break your heart also strengthen your soul."  It is one of those books that can be read quickly but sit long on your mind and heart.


I don't have the answers for how we keep our children from being overwhelmed by tragedy, keep them from being inured to violence because they may see so much of it in media, and keep them from being without compassion. I'm not sure if I lived in that tension between all those poorly or well. I was surprised as 2011 came to a close by how many of my students (living in the West) grew bored with 9/11 stories. Yet some of the most vocal became caring medical professionals. Perhaps the expression of boredom was a way for a teenager to keep fear away. Feel free to comment on how to address this with children, students, teenagers, adults. Again, my apologies for making you wait before seeing your comment appear, but if it is on topic (and not trying to sell anyone something), I will add it to the blog.

In the formation of spirit, a human navigates a variety of streams. Six that I am familiar with as a Christ-follower are as follows: 1) Incarnational -- practicing life every day living as Jesus would live my life if Jesus were me 2) Holiness or wholeness or virtuous -- practicing life aiming for good and thriving 3) Spirit-filled -- practicing life living and loving with passion and joy 4) Word-centered -- practicing life with a life-giving message (and when necessary using words, as St. Francis supposedly said) 5) Contemplative -- practicing a life of prayer 6) Compassionate -- practicing a life of compassion. All of these prepare my mind, body, heart, soul for both tragedy and joy. For more on the Six Streams, use this link here.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Why Sunday Sermons Might Not Work (aka "Bring Forth Fruit")...or Parent / Teacher Lectures or Employer Evaluations (Leadership and Self-Deception)

An extremely long title for a very thin book with a title guaranteed to repel some readers! Who willingly goes into exploring self-deception?

I read it because my daughter read it for work. If you want your company to be top notch, this book (or something similar) is a must read. I write "something similar" because some reviewers hate the narrative form of the book. If you hate reading example stories, and you can read to-the-point, tell me like it is informational statements  which you then apply to yourself, then go for it. My understanding is that some of the other books are tied to religious organizations and this book is appropriate for non-religious settings.

I read it before heading out to a conference with 200 people and found the concept of "being in the box" toward people useful. If I found myself starting to think ill of another person, I would ask myself if I was in the box toward him or her and why. Some reviewers did not like the "in the box" "out of the box" descriptions. They are difficult to explain. I think in other fields they might be described as treating people as "other" -- other than yourself, someone not of your kind. We don't realize that we are forgetting that we do have our humanity in common, that the other person feels just like you and I would feel if we were receiving that sermon, that lecture, that evaluation, but we don't stop to think about that. We deceive ourselves unconsciously into thinking we have good reasons for acting the way we do, but the other person is being ____________ (fill in the blank, but make it worse than you are or would be).

At our place of employment, we make mistakes and think we need to blame others so we won't feel so badly about our actions. Same for families and communities.  Yet it is better for a business, better for families, better for communities when people treat each other well. Lectures or Sermons are not the way to solve the problem. When lectures and sermons by employers, parents, teachers, pastors don't lead to change, we blame the listener, the student, the worker, the child, the congregant.

What the stories in the book can do that concrete factual statements can not is to give examples that lead the reader to realize "I do that. I pretend to be asleep and let my spouse get up with the child. I yell at my son for squealing the tires when he gets in on time as I asked. I make it look like someone is already sitting in the empty seat next to me so that no one will sit there even though people are looking for seats (because my needs are greater than that stranger's, even though I have no idea what that stranger is going through)."

The section on collusion is also powerful. We hate conflict, but we don't want to think we might be the one in the wrong. We don't want to give our son permission to be out for the evening because he has been irresponsible in his actions lately. We grudgingly give permission with a set time to be in, and if our child is late, it proves our point that he is irresponsible. We want him to be responsible, but at the same time, we want him to get the point that he has been irresponsible. Yet, our actions make him more irresponsible than ever. Oh, the games we play in our brains!

This is why I hesitantly suggest that there is a bit of this going on with Sunday sermons. If a congregation were perfect, there might be no need for a pastor to tell them to be better! I read this John Ortberg quote today: "We spend too much time arguing about Christianity and not enough time marveling at Jesus." This probably deserves a post of its own, but I combined the review of the book  (thoroughly secular) with an issue I see in Sunday sermons: with a bit of rephrasing (of perhaps a Dallas Willard quote), Sundays tend to be filled with too much "God is good. You're really not doing well at all. Try harder, and go tell someone about Jesus" rather than marveling at Jesus and learning to do what he did: love God and love others. Go to weddings and drink the wine. Eat with people who are different from you. See them as people with feelings like your feelings. Listen to them like you like to be listened to. Know that you're not going to be humiliated by God who loves you. As we learn to trust that Someone holds us, we also learn to love and not humiliate others.

Lest you think the book is all warm fuzzies, no one who does something wrong ever gets those issues addressed. That is not the case at all. It's about learning how to address those wrongs and still treating another person as a human being who is like yourself. There's a lot more in this short book such as being in a box a long time with another person, so much so that you can't even remember when you first started blaming them for everything that goes wrong. People on both sides of a conflict may be "in the box" with one another (how fun is that).

I bought the book; I give it a five.


We now know that children think differently from adults but feel the same emotions.  I wish I had had access to a book like this when I was raising my children. When talking with children (or anyone for that matter), I know have to ask myself two questions: Would I like to be talked to the way I just talked to that person (or was going to talk to them)? When I have the feeling part of it sorted out, then I also need to think about the personality of the person to whom I'm talking. With adults who we have not known for a long time, this may take some time; however, with children, if we start from birth, we have some time to learn a child's personality and what he or she responds to.


I found the "in the box" illustrations very helpful in this book. When bad characteristics came into my head about a person, it was a great trigger for me to think, "Am I in the box toward this person?" "Why?" "Is he or she really like that?" "Did I think those thoughts about this person before this incident?" "What prompted these thoughts in my head?" "Oh, maybe it's because I'm hoping this friend will fill a need that can not be filled at this particular time. That doesn't make them a bad person." Etc. The "in the box" concept has continued to be a transforming one.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Companioning (Summer Hours at the Robbers Library by Sue Halpern...sic, as in "spelling is correct")

This book was not on any of my "to read" lists. I was wandering through the local library waiting for my granddaughter to pick out her books, and I saw this book in the NEW BOOK section. Look at this cover! How can a bookophile bypass such an offering? And, a  logophile, also.  So much so that I looked up the etymology of bookophile and logophile. At this point, if I have almost lost you, skip down to the picture! Bookophile is a recent addition to the English language. However, the word that means "lover of books" bibliophile is on record as early as 1820. If I have not lost you, logophile means "lover of words" as does lexophile; however, the latter is used mostly with people who love words in puzzles and the like. It has been at least three weeks since I have reviewed any books (although I have finished six books), and I needed to prime the brain to go into reviewing mode. Maybe I'm not such a lover of writing. What would that word be?

Awesome cover, isn't it? I have ten bookmarks in my library copy so I definitely enjoyed the book. I'm going with a rating between a three and a four. See how I rate in this post. Halpern's novel is entertaining, and I had it read within three days. Some readers think it ends abruptly, too pat (simple, glib, unconvincing) which took me back to my days of teaching denouement -- a tying up of all the loose ends into a conclusion -- a definition which is rather interesting considering I was taught the actual word means "unravelling" as in all the problems are unravelled and life settles (for good or for evil or in the case of great novels, ambiguously). I am truly digressing into words today!

One reviewer quit reading after the first chapter, which is not the first chapter but rather titled "The Marriage Story Part I". He or she called it "chic lit" and stated that starting out a book with college sex did not portend an auspicious read. (My apologies for the big words today; I'm only half way through my coffee; will that work as an excuse?) Skip that part if it would annoy you; Halpern does not actually continue in that vein.

Sliding up the scale from three stars to four, if you give an English teacher or a group discussion leader a book with talking points in it, she's going to like the book. Strewn throughout this book are quotes from poets and authors! Swoon!

There is a story. You might have been wondering. Homeschooled (wait, "Unschooled") girl Sunny steals a dictionary and gets community service time at, yes, you guessed it, the library, where she meets older single woman Kit, yes, the one involved in the marriage story, part 1, but she's not married now (and part of the draw of the story is wondering why she is not married). One also wonders what is going on with Sunny's parents, Willow and Steve.

My connections to the book -- Sunny and her parents do not eat anything with a face which leads Kit to contemplate a bible verse she learned in her college "Bible as Literature" class (Genesis, not Song of Solomon) about humans having dominion over animals. This talking point sent me off on a search of the Hebrew word radahThis is an excellent discussion of four Hebrew words used in Genesis. Rather than Sunny thinking the bible verse is a bad idea as in the book, the real Hebrew word would support her family's desire to protect and take care of animals. Also, in a connection to me,  my eating protocol at the moment is such that I'm not too keen to eat anything with a face...except maybe a fish...but that's a different blog.

Sunny and Kit have a discussion about silence and mindfulness which Sunny relates to because her parents went to a meditation retreat. Then, the two have the homeschool/unschool discussion throughout the book. Sunny states at one point about her ability to get along with younger children: "[It goes with] the whole homeschool / no-school territory. Older kids and younger kids are always tossed together. No one really makes a distinction. When you're little, you idolize the older kids, and when you're older, the little kids idolize you, and you get used to entertaining them" (71).

How about the question of reading the ending of the book first? See, if you're not a book reader, you're thinking, "Who cares?" but this is the type of question which raises voices in a book discussion group.

Another talking point: Characters change (103). Do they? Do the character traits of people change in real life?

Lest you think this is strictly a chick lit book, Halpern delves into the life and thoughts of her male character and his relationships with a group of four older men (thus, one of the aspects of my "Companioning" portion of my blog title). As much as I do not like the current wave of books where each character gets his or her own chapter, Halpern does a great job of transitioning between the characters.

Death and dying. Yup, got some death and dying in here. Got some religion, but church folks tend to get the negative aspects of the book. Maybe homeschoolers/un-schoolers get negative treatment as well, but Willow and Steve are not religious homeschoolers. No..., but I can't explain why without including plot spoilers. As a homeschooling parent who tried the John Holt unschooling, which is harder than using already written curriculum when done correctly, and a private school teacher and a public educator (not all at the same time), I'll just write that there are oddities and lawbreakers in every avenue of education.

I'll close with going back to the words and books. Halpern does include where Robbers Library comes from. It takes a long while for a short little explanation which has nothing to do with the story but satisfies those of us who kept flinching because we thought an apostrophe had been left out. After all, Sunny did steal a dictionary, but it has nothing to do with her. That's not a plot spoiler, folks. That's for all the readers who need to know that Robbers Library is not a typo or grammatical error. As for the books part -- the library -- some reviewers thought these situations would never happen at a real library. Pay attention to the reviews of the small town librarians. These activities could happen at all the small town libraries I have ever been in and used. We know our librarians. They are our people.


For the children/grandchildren part of my blog: Libraries! Go to them! Often! My children had a library card as soon as they could write their name, between four and five years old.

For the spiritual formation part of my blog: Check out that link about radah. You may not give up eating anything with a face, but what is one action you could take to protect the world we live in?
Next month is Plastic Free July . Give it a try. I have for several years now, and I've reached the point where it has become habit to avoid using single use plastic or, if possible, not use plastic at all. 

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Ratings and Reviewing (aka Why Did You Give It That Number of Stars?)

A befuddled question from a daughter "How exactly do you rate your books?" initiated this post. A standard ratings guide looks a little like the one below (maybe a bit fancier).

This is an opportunity to reveal my complex, not so complex, way of scoring and have a post to which I can refer in other book review posts. Starting from the top:

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 stars still means phenomenally great, well, maybe not always phenomenally, but it definitely means that I have bought the book or will buy the book. It usually means the writing is fabulous; however, it always means I have parts of the book that I want to remember or to refer to.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 stars still means really good. It might mean that the writing was phenomenal; however, the difference between 4 and 5 involves whether I would buy the book. 5 always means, "I want to own this book" and 4 means "I loved reading this book, but I don't know that I would ever read it again." The Chemist (if you like that genre) was a story that kept me hanging on the edge of my seat. The Help, I stayed up all night to finish that book (hmmm, I may have rated it 5 stars back in the day before I started really fine tuning my ratings). However, with both of these books, the story and writing is amazing, but I'm not buying the books. I'm willing to wait to get them from the library if need be.

Four stars is a tricky little rating for me. If you are my friend and you ask me to rate your book, there is a distinct possibility that I will give it a 4 rather than a 3 because you are my friend. If I hate your book, I will try to never get around to finishing it. Now some books of friends really are 4-5 star ratings. You never know.

⭐⭐⭐ 3 stars is a tough one to explain. It might be a beach read, a book to entertain me. The trouble with three stars is people who love the book want to know why I only gave it three stars, and the people who hate the book, wonder why I even bothered. Three stars very often means that I enjoyed reading the book; I'm glad the author wrote the book, but I'm not going to be referring to it. Maybe there were some flaws in the storyline or in the writing. Maybe they weren't flaws at all -- maybe the book just was not my cup of tea! For those unfamiliar with that phrase, others might like the book, but it was not the usual type of book I read or like.

⭐⭐ 2 stars still means I didn't like the book, but I don't think I give out 2 stars very often. Two star books are blah, and I rarely finish "boring, dull, and without meaningful content" books.

⭐ I think I have only ever given out one 1 star rating to a book. I would not finish reading a book I hated; however, I might have been the library book discussion group leader and had to finish this particular book. You might wonder why I chose a book I hated. In our group, no one person chooses all the books, and, at the time, I would lead the discussion, but everyone had an opportunity to choose a book.

0 rating -- You may wonder at a zero rating. This does not mean that I hated the book beyond belief. It means either I did not get around to rating a book (at my entrance into Goodreads, I added a lot of books at one time without rating each and every book), or it means it's just that type of book which is difficult to rate which truly means that I'm too much of a coward to tell my friends who love the book that it was so-so or to tell my friends who hated the book that I actually loved it. Lol!

And, now I close to go attend our local library book discussion group!