Friday, March 30, 2012

Conquering the North Face, by Hap Klopp and Brian Tarcy

I recently read about someone who is an executive at The North Face, and thought what an awesome job that must be, traveling and mountaineering and skiing and rafting and going on other adventures to sell your wares.  So when I saw this book by Hap Klopp and Brian Tarcy, I decided to get a first-hand account of the man who started it all.  The North Face has long been known for making high-quality outdoor gear.  Long before everybody and their mother had the ubiquitous TNF logo on their shoulders, they were outfitting world-class adventurers and bringing innovation to outdoor recreation.

The man behind The North Face, Hap Klopp, does, in fact, have a really cool job!  In Conquering the North Face: An Adventure in Leadership, Klopp intersperses stories of his own adventures, both the outdoor-in-the-mountains-and-on-the-rivers kind, and the in-the-boardroom-and-on-the-production-floor kind.  Rejecting the rigidity and traditionalism of corporate structures, he built The North Face into a company that values creativity, culture, and relationships, while upholding the highest standards of value and integrity.
You may see people TNF gear at the mall, but this kind of extreme adventure is what the company's reputation was built on.
The primary audience of Conquering the North Face is managers, company owners, and entrepreneurs, but there are lessons for the corporate cog like myself.  I'm a little guy in a big company, but from my perspective low on the ladder, I appreciate viewing company life from the perspective of a guy at the top who values the contributions of everyone at every level.

Conquering the North Face, which is an updating of Klopp and Tarcy's 1991 book The Adventure of Leadership, does sometimes feel a little dated, but for the most part the inspiring stories from Klopp's experiences, as well as those of many other leaders in business and adventure sports, will motivate you to step out and face the challenges of the mountain and the marketplace.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary digital review copy!

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Kingdom Man, by Tony Evans

I think I'd like to go to Tony Evans's church.  To be honest, most men's ministry-type books turn me off, but in Kingdom Man, Evans's solid biblical exposition and challenging teaching make me want to sit at his feet so he can disciple me.  Evans, founder and pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, doesn't waste time with pop psychology or feel-good stories.  Nor is he concerned with equality or feminism.  He's a good, old-fashioned, preacher of the Bible who believes men should be the heads of their families, and step up to take leadership in their homes, churches, and communities.

In the heart of Kingdom Man, part 3, Evans looks at Psalm 128 as the blueprint for a kingdom man.  In his personal life, he "walks in [God's] ways.  In his family life, his wife is "like a fruitful vine within his house," his children "like olive plants around your table."  In church life, "the Lord bless you from Zion."  In the community, he will "see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life."
Hey Tony, want to disciple me?
Evans isn't shy about offering examples from his own life and ministry.  The cynic in me got a little tired of his tooting his own horn.  But my inner cynic was shut up by Evans's humility, as he attributes God's blessings in his life to God's power as well as to the foundation laid by his father, also a pastor and a kingdom man.  Evans's success in life and ministry is challenging and inspiring, but also a bit intimidating.

If there's a weakness to Kingdom Man, it's that: the intimidation factor.  Like many inspirational or self-help books, the author's success is difficult to translate into the readers' lives.  Here's a highly successful man, urging the reader to follow his example and find success in his own life.  I don't dispute the principles Evans lays down here, nor do I doubt that to the extent I apply those principles my life and my relationship with God will improve.  But I was left feeling like Evans is on a higher, unobtainable plane.  Perhaps if Evans would come over to Fort Worth to disciple me for a couple of years, I could get there, too.

Thanks to Tyndale House Publishers for the complimentary review copy!
For more on the book and on Tony Evans, click here.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Love at Last Sight, by Kerry and Chris Shook

Following up on the success of their best-seller, One Month to Live, Kerry and Chris Shook give us another one-month project: Love at Last Sight.  Founders and pastors of a fast-growing megachurch in the  Houston area, the Shooks bring their pastoral experience to improving and valuing our relationships.  In 30 short chapters, designed for daily reading for a month, the Shooks help you "grow and deepen your closest relationships."

The Shooks offer many valuable insights and suggestions in these daily readings.  The idea of the title sums it up best.  Rather than love at first sight, we should aim for love at last sight.  "Each of my relationships has the potential to be better the next time we're together than it was the previous time so that the last time we see each other on this earth we're closer than ever before."

This theme runs through the entire book.  Be intentional about time with the people you love; make sure they know how much you value them.  When relationships are strained or you are tired of the demands of a relationship, put actions before feelings; act as if you're selfless, act as if you're in love, and the feelings you are acting on will tend to return.  Be sure to share activities to build oneness.  Accept and accommodate the inevitable changes people go through.

The Shooks state that the book is to be applied to "your most important relationships."  The principles certainly apply to all kinds of relationships, but it will be of primary benefit to married people relating to their spouses.  I know it left me with plenty to think about in my relationship with my wife.

To explore some of the ideas in the book, see the authors' web site.
For more about the book, including an excerpt, see the publisher's web site.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I Sold My Soul on eBay, by Hemant Mehta

Now here's something you don't see every day.  In fact, I'm not sure I've ever seen it: a book by a professed atheist published by a Christian publisher.  WaterBrook Press stepped out into some interesting territory by publishing Hemant Mehta's I Sold My Soul on eBay: Viewing Faith Through an Atheist's Eyes.  Mehta, the self-described "friendly atheist," wants Christians to be better Christians, and wants churches to be better at representing Jesus and his teachings.  For I Sold My Soul, Mehta visits churches around the country and reports back here.

The premise for the book is rather amusing.  Mehta realized that although he was an atheist, he didn't have much exposure to Christianity.  He decided to explore the Christian faith, but wanted to document and share his experiences.  After hearing about eBay auctions of the grilled-cheese Virgin Mary, and the guy who auctioned off his forehead as advertising space, he thought  eBay would be the perfect venue.  He offered the auction winner the right to determine where Mehta would go to church; every $10 would get one hour in church.

The winning bidder, Jim Henderson, had long been paying atheists and other non-Christians to go to church, sort of like a secret shopper service for churches.  So Mehta's project was a great fit.  Henderson sent Mehta to churches around the country, a mix of large and small, famous and not-so-famous.  Mehta took extensive notes and records his experiences and critiques.

Many of Mehta's observations are quite humorous.  His book is helpful in that, as the subtitle suggests, we  can benefit from looking at our church culture through the eyes of a total outsider.  One Sunday he realizes that two churches he attended read the same verses of scripture.  The pastor explained the use of the common lectionary.  But what about the fact that both churches sang "Open the Eyes of My Heart"?  That's just a popular song, she explained.

Mehta's suggestions and reflections frequently reflect his ignorance about the church and biblical teaching, but he does offer some ideas worth considering.  To an atheist, the most important expression of church, as a social organization, is an impact in the community.  I don't agree, but I do agree that churches should have an impact on the community as an outpouring of the Spirit's work in them.  He thinks we sing too much, but we know that worship through song is integral to biblical worship.  On the other hand, he observed many who arrived late for church, missing the singing, or didn't participate in the singing, as if singing were just a warm-up for the "main event," the sermon.  That sort of rudeness irks him (and me, too, sometimes!).  He also says churches show "a lack of sensitivity to nonreligious people."  He's right, that we should always be seeking to build healthy relationships with people who are not Christians, and we should have civil dialogue with those with whom we disagree, but I think the exclusive claims of Christianity will be offensive to any who are not Christians.

There are some good nuggets of truth in Mehta's book, which can help us to be more effective in reaching unbelievers, but Mehta's writing calls out for a response.  At many points, he expresses his perplexity at some point to which any Christian could bring clarity.  I hope someone filled him in on what he was missing.  From an entertaining premise (hiring oneself out for worship attendance) to a worthy goal (helping churches become better churches), Mehta can help you become more aware of how you relate to that stranger in the next pew.

For more info, including an excerpt, visit the publisher's site.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Night with a Perfect Stranger, by David Gregory

First Nick had Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, meeting Jesus face to face.  Shortly after that, his wife had a Day with a Perfect Stranger, meeting Jesus on a flight to Tuscon and coming to share her husband's faith in their mutual friend.  After five years of living the Christian life, Nick is feeling frustrated and dry, and gets to spend a Night with a Perfect Stranger.

In Night with a Perfect Stranger: The Conversation That Changes Everything, Nick has an argument with his dad in Chicago, decides to leave early and hits the road for a late-night drive home to Cincinnati.  He doesn't plan well in the fuel department, and moments after he sputters to a stop, out of gas in the middle of the night, here comes Jesus, in the flesh, hauling a gas can.  Jesus comes along for the ride, and Nick and Jesus get to catch up and get Nick redirected in his relationship with God.

Wouldn't we all love to have some face-to-face time with Jesus?  I love the way Gregory portrays him.  He is humble, patient, and kind, as you would expect, but he also has a great sense of humor, a friendly demeanor, and a way of making strangers feel comfortable, just the sort of person you'd want by your side in every situation.

The major theme of Nick's conversations with Jesus in Night is the father love that God has for us.  Unlike Nick's experience with his earthly father, who was judgmental, demanding, and whose love was conditional, God's love comes with no strings.  Our sin cannot diminish God's love for us, any more than small stones we throw at Hoover Dam can threaten its structural integrity.  We can do nothing to make God love us more, and nothing we do makes him love us less.  Like a newborn baby, who is unable to do anything for his parent, we are powerless to effect God's love for us.  Gregory manages to convey this message without coming across as giving license for sin or diminishing the need for our response to God.

With Dinner, Day, and now Night, Gregory gives us food for thought, presenting the gospel and guidance for growth in our relationship with God in a creative, compelling, sometimes provocative, but theologically sound ways.  Any of these is worth a look for the seeker and the seasoned believer alike.

Thanks to NetGalley and Worthy Publishing for the free electronic review copy.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

No Pity, by Joseph Shapiro

No Pity is a difficult book to discuss or review briefly.  Joseph Shapiro, a journalist who has written extensively on the disability rights movement, gives us a sweeping look at the changes people with disabilities have experienced over the last several decades, both in terms of legal rights and the perceptions of others.  Although much has changed since No Pity was published in 1993, Shapiro captures the biggest changes of the 20th century, especially leading up to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

One of the major themes of the book, whether Shapiro is talking about people with blindness, deafness, paraplegia, or other disabilities, is disability as identity.  As the title implies, the disabled rights movement is a movement away from pity.  The poster children of telethons, the sad fund-raising appeals, the billboards of some charities, all send the message that a disability is something to be cured, to be overcome.  People with disabilities object to a message that they are less than whole, that they need fixing.  To them, their disability is what makes them who they are.

Feelings run quite strong with many.  Some object to efforts toward a cure.  For instance, "many deaf people abhor [cochlear implants] as suggesting that deafness is a pathology, something to be corrected or eliminated."  They view it as cultural murder, even genocide, of deaf culture.  Some disability rights activists are even critical of injury prevention research, saying that "to prevent disability is to suggest there is something pejorative about it."  Others object to very expensive technological means to assist in mobility, citing the low success rates in healing spinal cord injury and arguing that such expenditures should be used for the vast majority who can't be helped by advanced technology.

This perspective leaves me in a quandary.  Like Shapiro and the subjects of his book, I want people with disabilities to be involved in society, to work, and to have opportunities to engage others, disabled or not.  But is there not an objective sense in which to see is better than not to see?  To hear is better than not to hear?  To walk is better than not to be able to walk?  I don't mean to imply that one who can see, hear, or walk is better than one who can't.  But if I were to lose my sight or hearing, I would certainly like to regain it.  On a personal level, my daughter has an array of disabilities, including difficulty walking, inability to speak, etc.  I know, as many individuals with disabilities would agree, that her disabilities have made her who she is, and I do love who she is.  But wouldn't it be great if she could sing, talk to her friends, eat normal food, and run around and play like her peers do?  Shapiro quotes people who say something like, If you could wave a magic wand and take away my disability, I would refuse that, because this is who I am.  But if I could wave a magic wand and take away my daughter's disabilities, I would do it.  Again, don't get me wrong.  I don't love her less, or think she's less of a person.  I simply acknowledge that she has barriers in her life; if I could remove those barriers, I would.

As I mentioned, Shapiro covers the disability rights movement up to and including the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Many people who have grown up seeing curb cuts, wheelchair ramps, kneeling buses, and other accommodations don't realize the extent to which the ADA changed the way disabled people are treated and viewed in the U.S.  There's still room for improvement, to be sure, even 20 years after its passage, but the ADA has done much to improve life for people with disabilities.  I do have to admit the libertarian in me and the parent of a disabled child in me have argued about the application of the ADA.  One doesn't have to look far for seemingly silly applications of the law, and in many cases a conflict between property rights and disability rights comes into play.  Unlike the Civil Rights Act, to which ADA is compared, property owners seeking to fulfill ADA requirements  often must incur a material expense.  In some cases, it's quite small, but in plenty of cases the costs for a restaurant, retail store, or office can be substantial.  On this, the struggle between the rights of the disabled and the rights of property owners, I am torn.

I know a summary does not make for a good review, but in the case of No Pity, I thought it might be useful to briefly describe the chapters.  Shapiro's scope is expansive; the whole book is worth your time, but if you don't have time for the whole book, take a look at the chapters that interest you.

"From Charity to Independent Living": The story of Ed Roberts, a postpolio quadriplegic who enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley and whose activism opened doors for many other disabled individuals to attend college.  The parallels to the civil rights movement, including sit-ins and protests, are striking.

"The Deaf Celebration of Separate Culture": Deaf students' protesting the hiring of a hearing president of Gallaudet University led to greater awareness of and civil rights protection for disabled people.  For decades, only hearing teachers were hired to teach deaf students; sign language was discouraged.

"A Hidden Army for Civil Rights": Background on the passage of the ADA.

"Integration: Out of the Shadowland": The decline of institutionalization and segregated education for students with disabilities and increasing integration.  Economically, integration is much less expensive than separate schools.  More work to be done here, for sure. . . .

"People First": Self-advocacy and independence for people with intellectual disabilities.

"The Screaming Neon Wheelchair": The changing market for wheelchairs and other assistive technology.  People with disabilities are not "confined to a wheelchair."  They are liberated by their wheelchairs.  Other forms of assistive technology similarly liberate people with disabilities.

"Up from the Nursing Home": Tragically, some people with disabilities are stuck in nursing homes, where, at best, their needs are not adequately met, and, at worst, they are abused and neglected.

"No Less Worthy a Life": A difficult chapter.  How do you measure quality of life?  How do you determine whether an individual has the right to end his own life?  How can care-giving and life-improving technology help a disabled person feel that his life is valuable and worth living?

"Crossing the Luck Line": When people don't fit our labels and categories, they can be overlooked and end up in settings where they don't belong, missing opportunities to show their abilities.

The stories of the movements and individuals in No Pity will move you, inform you, and inspire you to look at the world through the eyes of people with disabilities.  Shapiro does not hold back from making the reader uncomfortable, yet fills each chapter with hope and optimism by showing how far we as a society have come.

Shortly after I finished reading No Pity, I saw an inspiring article in the Star-Telegram by Sean Pevsner, a disability rights lawyer with severe cerebral palsy.  His attitude exemplifies Shapiro's perspective: "Disabilities are not something that people should fight to overcome, but a part of what makes them who they are.  Our minds are the only things that limit us."

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Monday, March 12, 2012

When Work and Family Collide, by Andy Stanley

I think Andy Stanley is one of those type-A personalities: driven, prone to workaholism, success-oriented, perfectionist.  Like most type-As, he's drawn to other type-As.  When Work and Family Collide is the first book of his I've read, and he definitely is writing here for his fellow type-As.  While my goal is, as always, to provide a review that gives a taste of the book as well as my take on it, for this one keep in mind that I'm definitely not a type-A, but I'll try to fairly evaluate the book from my non-type-A perspective.

The reality of many people's lives is that there is not time in the day to give all of ourselves at home and at work.  You probably know someone who puts in lots of hours on the job, succeeding in the workplace, but who lost his family in the meantime.  Stanley relates to that desire, to give all one can, even for the right reasons, like providing for the family and meeting worthy financial goals.  In When Work and Family Collide: Keeping Your Job from Cheating Your Family, he offers help to those of us who have cheated our families in hopes of greater success at work (or, in some cases, hobbies).

Stanley gives examples from his own life and the lives of people he has known who have successfully managed to prioritize and set boundaries in order to keep work and family in their proper perspectives.  The latter chapters are an extensive application of Daniel's stand in Babylon, when he refused to eat the king's diet.  Rather than go on hunger strike or something, he effectively lobbied for an exception and demonstrated the superiority of his position.  In the same way, when we are asked to work in such a way that compromises our family priorities, we can follow Daniel's example in the way described by Stanley.

Personally, over-prioritizing is not a problem for me.  Stanley's intended audience is the business owners, executives, and ladder climbers whose work is their life.  For a clock puncher or corporate cog like me, it's hard to relate to Stanley's examples.  Personally, I'd love to be able to say "I was rocketing up the corporate ladder, making all kinds of money, and just had to get my priorities straight."  I have to admit that I envy those who have managed to make a bunch of money and now are scaling back their lives.  It's easier to scale back your life when you have a fat, seven-figure 401K and a vacation home or two.  Maybe the fact that I've never struggled with working too long or too hard has something to do with the fact that I've never made a lot of money. . . .  In any case, Stanley's message is right on, and affirms what I know to be true: success in business is not incompatible with a successful home life.  Stanley's book can help you keep that success going on both fronts.

This book was previously released in 2003 as Choosing to Cheat: Who Wins When Family and Work Collide?

Thanks to Waterbrook Multnomah for the free copy to review.
Read more about the book at the publisher's web site.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Day with a Perfect Stranger, by David Gregory

In Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, we meet Nick, who has dinner with Jesus and becomes convinced of his need for God.  In A Day with a Perfect Stranger, we meet his wife Mattie.  Mattie is somewhat pleased with the changes she has seen in Nick in the weeks since he met Jesus, but she's pretty skeptical about his sudden change and is thinking about divorce.

She's relieved to have a break from him as she sets off for a business trip, and ends up on the plane seated next to a most intriguing man.  Of course the reader immediately knows what Mattie takes some time to realize: her fellow passenger, who says he's a counselor, who speaks many languages, who has keen insights, is actually Jesus.

After the first flight together, Mattie "happens" to run into Jay at the coffee shop, and then they end up seated together on the next flight.  What a coincidence!  While Nick's meeting with Jesus was very cerebral, Mattie's conversations tend to be more personal.  With Mattie, Jesus emphasizes God's unconditional love for his children, and the fact that we are designed to delight in God (big nod to John Piper here).

I didn't find Day as satisfying as Dinner, but in Day Gregory nicely captures God's heart and his desire to have a relationship with us, no matter what.  After a day of travel sitting next to Jesus, Mattie's heart is softened and begins to turn toward the wooing of God.  Taken together, Day and Dinner make a great introduction to the gospel and a relationship with God.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, by David Gregory

On the heels of reading The Shack, in which a man struggling with his faith gets a written invitation to meet with God, I picked up David Gregory's Dinner with a Perfect Stranger: An Invitation Worth Considering.  In spite of the similar set-up and theme, these are two very different books.  Gregory's slim volume is less ambitious, but achieves more.

Nick, a workaholic who is distant from his wife and skeptical about church, receives an invitation in the mail to "a dinner with Jesus of Nazareth."  Convinced it's a prank by his buddies, he decides to play along and shows up at the appointed time.  By the time dinner's over, he's convinced that Jesus himself, not some actor, was sitting across the table from him.

Over the course of the evening, Jesus and Nick carry on a wide-ranging discussion about life, God, and salvation.  (I seem to remember another Nick who had a lot of questions for Jesus. . . .)  Gregory skillfully weaves many familiar apologetic arguments and evangelistic messages into their conversation.  Readers familiar with apologetic literature will recognize allusions to C.S. Lewis and others.

For example, they discuss the "many paths to God" as Nick offers what he knows of other world religions.  Jesus flatly states, "There is no path to God."  He elaborates: "A path is something you travel down by your own effort to reach a destination.  But there's no such path to God.  There is nothing you can do to work your way to God."

As you might expect of Jesus, he is warm and engaging, yet probing.  He patiently answers Nick's concerns, eventually winning him over.  You may never get an invitation to dine with Jesus, but Dinner with a Perfect Stranger might leave you longing to spend more time with him.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Shack, by William P. Young

I know The Shack has impacted many people, some of whom glow about how it has changed their relationship with God.  I don't want to completely dismiss all those people's experiences; I can only tell you my own experience.

 In my experience, The Shack was annoying to read.  It wasn't just that Young portrayed God as an African-American woman.  I know God has no gender, but there are many more masculine references to God in the Bible than feminine.  Represent God as a woman if you want to.  Whatever.

And it wasn't just that the theology is weak.  I won't go so far as to say it's blasphemous or anti-biblical.  It's painfully incomplete.  Young presents God as a buddy, a pal.  Young's point throughout the book is that Christianity is not about religion, ritual, or rules, but about relationship.  I agree completely.  But I thought Young went too far, and it ended up with a watered-down, philosophically and theologically weak presentation.

Of the many theological criticisms out there (And there are many; some people have written whole books discussing the theology of The Shack.) the one I was most curious about is that Young devalues the local church.  The dismissal is there if you're looking for it.  "God" says he didn't create institutions and seems to dismiss the institutional church.  Fine, but perhaps he could say something nice about the earthly manifestation of his bride.

One theological theme Young was supposed to be dealing with was the problem of evil.  The main story has to do with Mac's dealing with the kidnapping and murder of his young daughter, Missy.  He harbors a great deal of anger against God for allowing such evil to happen.  God invites Mac to spend time at the shack where Missy was killed, and Mac spends a surprising weekend with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, all appearing in the flesh.  While he does get a sense of closure on his daughter's death, I was disappointed that Young couldn't address Mac's complaints more convincingly.

My main complaint with The Shack is Young's amateurish writing style.  Have you ever received those forwarded e-mails with the emotional, maudlin stories, that tell you you must forward them to 10 friends?  The Shack is a book-length version of those e-mails.  Just awful.

That's not to say there's nothing of value here.  Young's theme of friendship with God is a great message.  And I loved God's assertion that God is "especially fond" of all of God's children.  I'll end with this quote, God's reminder to Mac that his life is meaningful:

"Because you are important, everything you do is important.  Every time you forgive, the universe changes; every time you reach out and touch a heart or a life, the world changes; with every kindness and service, seen or unseen, my purposes are accomplished and nothing will ever be the same again."