Sunday, May 31, 2015

Dawn of the Algorithm, by Yann Rousselot

Sci-fi poetry?  Seriously?  Yes.  It sounds crazy, but Yann Rousselot pulls it off.  Remember when Jodie Foster's character in the movie Contact said, "They should have sent a poet"?  Well, here he is.  Dawn of the Algorithm is an odd, entertaining, poetic collection of Rousellot's poetry, illustrated eclectically by others.

As with any poetry collection, I liked some more than others.  I think my favorites were the first-person narratives.  "T-Rex is Sad," he writes, about becoming "the laughing stock of the Internet: a meme with tiny arms, a mockery."  KITT, from Knight Rider, misses his driver, but can "still feel his imprint on my leather."  And in the titular poem, Algorithm, the artificial intelligence that has risen to dominance over humans, gets to know his subjects (in between stock trades, which is interesting in light of the recent rise of "robo-advisors" and "robo-brokers" in the financial services industry).

Rousselot was influenced by and pays homage to classic and contemporary sci-fi, monster movies, and the present and future human condition.  By bridging these two genres, sci-fi and poetry, that typically have so little in common, he forces both to look harder at the other.  Sci-fi fans can see poetry as a window of speculation and wonder; poetry fans can see sci-fi as a vehicle for meaningful and profound reflection.

I wonder how autobiographical this line is: "I do not own a smartphone, but sport a pager and write poetry, mostly about the fact that no one ever pages me."  If you're looking for a sci-fi poet, page Rousselot.  Even if you don't love his work, you'll be intrigued, amused, and maybe enlightened.

More from Rousselot:

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

Friday, May 29, 2015

Words That Heal, by Michael Ross and Brian Doyle

I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did.  Michael Ross and Brian Doyle, veteran writers, have written Word That Heal: 40 Encouraging Stories Inspired by James 3:1-12.  FIrst of all, I think the subtitle is misleading.  It's not really "40 encouraging stories."  There are some stories.  But really it's "40 wide-ranging devotionals."  And they're not really "based on James 3:1-12."  They are based on a variety of scriptures, with an encouragement to follow the guidance of James 3:1-12 to harness the power of our words.

That said, Words That Heal can still be useful and encouraging.  The devotional readings cover church life, work life, family life, and community life.  Rather than just scripture and exhortation, each reading includes a challenge for a response.  The reader is encouraged to write healing words that he or she can speak, healing words he can speak to grow, and words to pray.  I like the fact that there is opportunity for reflection and response.

There are some nice tidbits in Words That Heal.  But despite the feature of the added response time, the readings themselves were, for the most part, pretty flat.  It's an OK devotional book, but not one I would heartily recommend.

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

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Accidental Feminist, by Courtney Reissig

Courtney Reissig is not a feminist, at least not in the sense that the word is usually used.  In The Accidental Feminist: Restoring Our Delight in God's Good Design, she writes as a "feminist in need of recovery."  What is she recovering?  God's design for women.

Reissig holds to the complimentarian view of gender roles, "believing that God created men and women equal, yet different."  She contrasts this view with the "bill of goods" that mainstream feminism sold women, "telling women they can have it all, by giving women endless choices" and promising "freedom to have what you want when you want it."

Women are life-givers and nurturers.  We primarily picture these roles as being played out in the home and family, but Reissig demonstrates that women can fulfill these functions in many ways, not exclusively as wives and mothers.  She is careful throughout the book to include single woman and childless women in her exposition.

Feminism is one of those terms that can mean a variety of things to different people.  To the extent that mainstream, secular teaches "feminism equals sameness" I agree with Reissig that they are wrong.  She goes as far as to say "the seeds of feminism are actually an affront to the gospel."  Most importantly, while "feminism claims to be the answer for the oppression of women," Reissig writes that "nothing frees women like the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Feminists (as commonly understood) won't like Reissig's perspective.  Many Christian feminists will take issue as well.  Her arguments about the role of women in the church are thoughtful, but ultimately reflect a patriarchy that many Christians are not comfortable with: "From the birth of the church after Christ's resurrection until now, God's intention for the local church has been for godly, qualified men to lead his people through the preaching and teaching of his Word."  Some women, as well as men who would like to see women in more leadership roles, won't be satisfied with her consolation that women can serve in other important ways in the church.

Ultimately, the important point is that "men and women are equally created in the image of God."  They are different, with different roles and functions, but both are valuable and unique.  Reissig affirms and encourages women to fulfill their role and express their gifts.  I, for one, want to be a man who supports my wife, daughter, and other women in doing so.  Isn't that the most basic, most elemental expression of feminism?

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

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Worrier's Guide to Life, by Gemma Correll

Gemma Correll is a very funny woman who draws very funny pictures.  How's that for a profound, insightful start to a review?  Ms. Correll's new book, The Worrier's Guide to Life, reveals her anxious side.  If you're the anxious type, you will find a kindred spirit here.  Worried about rare diseases?  Awkward social situations?  Pet peeves?  Body image?  So is she.

Plus there's a lot of other random stuff thrown in here.  Here humor is rather absurd and silly, like the "Less Appealing Seasonal Drinks," like "Yellow Snow Iced Tea" and "Turkey and Gravy Macchiato."    Her "Ye Olde Video Games" include sure hits like "Dance Dance Industrial Revolution" and "Harpsichord Hero."  I particularly enjoyed her more realistic women's magazines: "Vague: For the Fashion Backward and Just Plain Lazy," including a feature article on "What to Wear from the Pile of Clothes on Your Floor."  "Out of Touch," which has pictures of people with the caption, "We have no idea who any of these people are!"  "Mediocre Housekeeping: How to Get Away With Doing the Bare Minimum."

Her content is definitely female oriented.  I think she'd acknowledge that me deal with anxieties and issues, to, but she's writing primarily "girl to girl."  (Not to say a sensitive male like myself won't get the humor. . . .)  Correll is funny and real and goofy and fun.  The Worrier's Guide to Life will make you forget your worries . . . for a bit.

For those times when you just happen to be dating someone and February 14 rolls around:

I used to have a dog who would lick and lick and lick my feet, so I got a kick out of this:

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

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Hand-Drawn Jokes for Smart Attractive People, by Matthew Diffee

Matthew Diffee has one of those senses of humor that, well, some people will get and others won't.  I found his cartoons in Hand Drawn Jokes for Smart Attractive People to be pretty hilarious.  Diffee writes that he has found that people who don't like his work "are, without exception, ugly and dumb," whereas the people who enjoy his work are just the opposite.  In fact, "the more beautiful and intelligent a person is, the more they tend to enjoy my stuff."

I don't know how smart or attractive I am, but I definitely enjoyed Diffee's take on life.  In one memorable piece, a doctor declares that athlete's foot is a flattering name.  It sounds better than "disgusting fungus."  So he comes up with other flattering names, like "cheerleader's lip" (herpes), "poet laureate throat" (goiter), and "billionaire's sphincter" (hemorrhoids).

Some of the cartoons are quick and silly, like the sloppy looking guy sitting in front of a sign reading, "Face Painting Five Bucks."  With one hand he's dragging on a cigarette.  In the other hand he's expectantly grasping a paint roller in a pan of paint.  I'd love to see the finished product!
Diffee's work has appeared in The New Yorker.  I haven't looked at that magazine in years, but it might be worth picking up just to see what Diffee comes up with next.  No matter how smart or attractive you are, you just might like Diffee's unique humor.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Devo's Freedom of Choice, by Evie Nagy

As a young teenager, I remember being entranced by Devo, so delightfully different from the pop-rock garbage on the radio.  I joined Club Devo and eagerly awaited every new release.  Alas, I never saw them live.  Looking back after three decades, I am realizing how much I missed in Devo's music.  Evie Nagy has filled in a lot of gaps for Devo fans in Devo's Freedom of Choice.

Focusing on Devo's third album, Freedom of Choice, Nagy tells Devo's story.  She draws extensively on interviews with band members, who lend insight into the creative process behind the album and tell great stories about the life of Devo.  Perhaps more importantly, Nagy places the album in context.  She quotes contemporary reviews and other musicians who were influenced by Devo, and discusses Devo's place in and influence on the general state of rock music.

I enjoyed reading some of the backstory of the songs.  On "Whip It": it wasn't meant to be sexual.  They say "We wrote it as a 'you can do it, Dale Carnegie' pep talk for President Carter." After so many fans assumed a sexual theme, for the music video, "Devo ran with the S&M theme to the absurd extreme."

Devo famously had a dysfunctional relationship with record labels.  They also continuously satirized commercial culture.  So it's interesting to read their thoughts on the subject of money and success.  Nagy writes, "While Devo objected to the excessive corporate greed that led to unacceptable levels of inequality, they of course were not opposed to making money. . . ."  They also had a contentious relationship with MTV.  When the network started, Devo was one of a very few bands that had been making videos of their songs, so Devo got heavy rotation.  Soon, all the bands were doing it, and MTV shifted from "playing all the art stuff that was out there, to concentrating on music videos that record companies were basically making as commercials for the albums they were trying to sell." Since Devo didn't get the radio airplay that many other bands got, the found themselves excluded from MTV's rotations.

Now that I'm well into middle age, I have to admit Devo's music doesn't move me like it did when I was kid.  But I do still love it!  As a conservative Christian I probably shouldn't embrace them; I certainly don't embrace their liberal politics and atheism.  As a conservative Christian 13 year old, I know I didn't get some of that subtext.  As I've looked back at some of Devo's videos, I am also reminded that Mark Mothersbaugh is to blame for giving me the idea that it would be cool to wear my racquetball eye guards to a party.  I was a dork.

Spuds will love the nostalgia and the insiders' information in Devo's Freedom of Choice.  You may or may not agree with Mark that Freedom of Choice marked "the end of Devo."  But a good case is made here that, while their later work is enjoyable, this album did mark their pinnacle.  Non-spuds who think of Devo as a one-hit wonder will be surprised to read of Devo's impact and musical influence.  Spuds and non-spuds alike will want to dust off their old LPs or cassettes, or pull up some songs on YouTube, and relive the early days of Devo, a great band ahead of its time.

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Death Row Chaplain, by Rev. Earl Smith, with Mark Schlabach

Earl Smith has spent a good deal of his life behind bars--but not in the sense that he could have!  During his formative years (actually, into his adult years), Earl Smith lived his life is such a way that he could have become a permanent guest of the California Department of Corrections at the notorious San Quentin State Prison.  In Death Row Chaplain: Unbelievable True Stories from America's Most Notorious Prison, he and co-author Mark Schlabach tell his story and the stories of the inmates he met during his twenty-three years as San Quentin's Protestant chaplain.

It takes a while to get to San Quentin.  The first 1/3 or so of Death Row Chaplain dwells on Smith's story.  He was a pretty bad guy, making some terrible choices.  Drugs, dealing, crime, stereotypical street thug behavior marked his life.  Finally, when he was nearly shot to death and somewhat miraculously survived, he turned to Jesus.  Then he went to college to become a preacher and, well, drank, did drugs, and slept around.  Like many, OK most, OK pretty much all of us, Smith didn't become perfect once he became a Christian.

He did have a passion for reaching prisoners with the gospel, though.  Early on, he heard the voice of God tell him that he would become chaplain at San Quentin.  Years later, he got the job.  Few would be as well-suited for the job.  He could relate the population.  In fact, he ran into plenty of his old street buddies from Stockton, including the man who shot him.

The theme of forgiveness runs through Death Row Chaplain.  When he first happens upon his would-be murderer, thoughts of revenge ran through his mind.  Smith could easily have had him killed.  But God gave him grace to forgive.  That forgiveness set the tone for his ministry among the hardened criminals and death-row inmates he met every day.

Rev. Smith had a much more forgiving spirit toward his charges than I would be able to have.  At times he seems almost flippant, with stories like, Oh, he raped some young ladies and killed some folks, but now he's a Christian, sings in the choir, and man, you should seem him hit the baseball!  But really what he's saying is, Jesus met this criminal in the depth of his depravity, and now, in prison, he is learning to be a disciple of Jesus.  Smith certainly does not condone crimes or rule out the need for prison.  He writes, "A prison has to exist for certain people.  Some are lawless to their core, and, even if given an opportunity to change into law-abiding citizens, they would turn down the offer."  But he approaches every prisoner as someone needing the love and grace and forgiveness Jesus has to offer.  As much as that may go against my human inclinations, I certainly can't argue against it from a spiritual perspective!

I admire Rev. Smith's work with the San Quentin prisoners. He has impacted not only the prisoners' lives, but their families' lives, and even the lives of the victims and their families.  When the sheep and the goats are separated, there's no question that Smith will be counted among those who visited Jesus in prison. Well done.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, May 18, 2015

American Hysteria, by Andrew Burt

From time to time, writes Andrew Burt, "America's sense of self-identity routinely comes under pressure, with the result that certain groups confront a loss in status."  In American Hysteria: The Untold Story of Mass Political Extremism in the United States, Burt looks at several episodes in American history of "hysteria," which he describes as "the way America's 'doomed classes' confront their loss of prestige."  Covering the anti-Illuminati movement, the anti-Masons, the Red Scare, McCarthyism, and the anti-Sharia law movement, he demonstrates how a seed of facts, watered by exaggerations, half-truths, and sometimes lies, can grow a flowering plant of full-blown hysteria.

The key to the movements described in American Hysteria is that they are not based on fiction, like Orson Welles's "War of the Worlds" scare, but are grounded in reality (with the possible exception of the anti-Illuminati movement, in which an excitable preacher took every word of one European writer as gospel).  There really were Masons at many levels of power, some of whom got carried away with themselves.  There really were Communists infiltrating the labor movement, and, later, at many levels of government.  I am surprised how little time Burt, an accomplished journalist, spent on recent revelations that McCarthy was right, in spite of himself.  He was a showman, very undiplomatic, and made lots of poorly substantiated accusations.  The fact is, however, files have been opened in recent years showing that there were Communists in the state department after all.  Maybe McCarthy wasn't so hysterical after all. . . .

Similarly, Burt focuses his post 9/11 chapter on the anti-Sharia law movement.  He's never really clear about the basis for the accusations.  It's a stretch to say that Sharia law is taking precedent over U.S. law, but is it really a stretch to object to the increasing influence of Islam in U.S. culture?  Is it unreasonable to evaluate ways in which the values of Islam might contradict the American way of life? Do the growing threat and explicit goals of ISIS not have any relevance?  Burt gives examples of overblown reactions, but I'm not ready to call it hysteria.

Burt has some good insights on the movements covered in American Hysteria.  His left-leaning views probably colored his choice of movements to cover, however.  Surely he could have found some historical examples of the left having an overblown reaction to a real state of affairs.  The example that comes to mind is one he could treat in his next book: the police War on Blacks.  After Ferguson, we are assailed with reports of white cops killing blacks.  It's a crisis, a new hysteria!  We can all watch and wait to see if reason finally reigns, if facts and hard statistics trump emotions and anecdotes.  With a press and politicians willing to fan the flames, however, I'm not counting on it.  It will be up to the next generation of journalists to look with an historical eye.

Well-written, thoroughly documented, readable and interesting, American Hysteria is worth your time.

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

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Our Kids, by Robert Putnam

Our kids.  There was a time, if you listen to certain people among your parents' and grandparents' generations, when everyone viewed all kids as our kids.  As Robert Putnam documents in Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, American kids are becoming more and more separated by class.  Whereas in the past children of white collar and blue collar workers lived in the same neighborhoods, and their families were not widely separated socially or economically, children today are less likely to live near and go to school with children of other classes.

The growing separation of classes has led to increasing divergence in a variety of educational measures, civic involvement, health measures and other areas.  Interestingly, this phenomenon was formerly tied to race, but now is a measure of class.  (Putnam chiefly uses parents' education as shorthand for class.)

Putnam does a nice job of laying out the trends.  His series of "scissors graphs" demonstrate the diverging prospects and outcomes for upper and lower class children.  His conclusions aren't terribly hopeful, and his solutions won't satisfy many.  With decreasing social mobility and shrinking equality of opportunity, Putnam calls for additional cash credits to families of young children.  He acknowledges that school quality is chiefly determined by the backgrounds of the children who attend those schools, yet calls for more money for poorer schools.

Putnam concludes with a challenge for "religious communities . . .  to become seized of the immorality of the opportunity gap" and aggressively mentor children from lower class backgrounds.  Ideally, this would be a tremendous boost for those kids.  But based on the statistics he provides about mentoring, the impact has little potential to be very strong.

The scenario Putnam outlines in Our Kids is discouraging (and a little frightening).  I was not left with much hope for turning around the trends he describes.  Residential segregation is at the core, and that's not going anywhere.  Any parents who are financially able will insure that their children go to the best schools, exacerbating school segregation.  I hate to sound pessimistic.  I guess I am.  They are all our kids.  But it takes every parent looking out for their own kids to provide the best opportunities for their kids.

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

Monday, May 11, 2015

Disability and the Gospel, by Michael Beates

Michael Beates, teacher, theologian, board member of Joni Eareckson Tada's ministry Joni and Friends, and the father of a child with a disability has given a gift to disabled individuals and their families.  His book Disability and the Gospel is a great resource for biblical, historical, and theological reflection on a Christian perspective on disability.

Some of what I liked about disability and the gospel:

A survey of disability in the Old and New Testaments.  The most important point: Jesus spent a lot of time hanging out with disabled people.

A survey of theological views on disability.  Some of these were not very complimentary.  Insightful, nevertheless.

A discussion of the meaning of "the image of God."  This was the most thought-provoking part of the book, for me.  I've always though of the image of God not as a physical image but ability to reason.  So what if an individual is born with a disability, or becomes disabled, and loses capacity for reason?  What about the severely mentally handicapped?  I have no doubt that they share the imago dei, but what is the image dei in the context of disability?  Interesting and challenging.

Most important of all is Beates's clarion call to the church to include individuals with disabilities in church life.  Martin Luther King, Jr., famously said that 11 o'clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week.  He applied that sentiment to race; it can be applied even more strongly to disability.  For the most part, Beates writes, churches are not welcoming to individuals with disabilities.  From simple matters like parking and ramps, to more challenging matters like noise and grooming, many don't know how to assist and respond to fellow worshippers with disabilities.

I hope churches are making more progress than what Beates reports.  In my experience, many churches are making strides.  Some in small but significant ways, like in my small church, where disabled children have a buddy to help out during Sunday school. Other larger churches in the area have dedicated classes for children with special needs, and host respite programs, where parents can drop off their disabled children for a night out.

However, these are focussed on children.  Adults with disabilities are embraced less readily.  Beates wants the church to understand that disabled Christians are no less gifted by God, are part of the body, and have much to offer the body as a whole.  Church leaders will be challenged by Disability and the Gospel to seek out disabled Christians in the church and community and help them exercise their spiritual gifts.  (I love to see my non-verbal daughter wheel herself up to the front of the church and lay hands on people, praying silently for them!)

Beates writes out of his personal experiences with his daughter.  His scriptural and theological treatment is accessible (pun intended!) to the layperson.  I was encouraged and challenged to foster spiritual involvement and ministry with my daughter and other disabled individuals in my church and community.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mama's Right Here, by Susan Kerner, illustrated by Estelle Corke

Just in time for Mother's Day, here's a storybook for kids whose mother is no longer around.  Mama's Right Here, by Susan Kerner, illustrated by Estelle Corke, assures children that even though their mother might not still be with them, she cares for them, is proud of them, and is watching them.

We never hear what happened to their mothers, but that's not the point.  Having lost their mothers, these children are encouraged and reassured by their fathers, grandparents, and others.  We need that kind of support when we lose a loved one, especially Mom.  Corke's watercolor illustrations are evocative and dreamlike, giving the perfect setting for Kerner's text.

I am thankful I still have my mother, but Mama's Right Here is a reminder of how much she loves me and to cherish the time we do have together.

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

Friday, May 8, 2015

By the People, by Charles Murray

Is it just me, or is Charles Murray getting angrier and more frustrated as he gets older?  Murray's new book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission reveals Murray at the end of his rope.  This stuff he's been writing about for decades--limiting government, declining societal norms, the welfare class, racial divides--is coming to a head.  In By the People, he addresses the out-of-control federal bureaucratic state, offering solutions but with reservations about success.

The U.S. federal government has grown beyond anything the founders would ever recognize.  "Under Republicans and Democrats alike, the federal government went from nearly invisible in the daily life of ordinary Americans in the 1950s to an omnipresent backdrop today."  He paints a bleak picture of the administrative state, and finds that "solutions are beyond the reach of the electoral process and legislative process."

In the first several chapters, Murray describes how we got here, a nation of rules, whose rule makers are unaccountable and who frequently impose "arbitrary or capricious" rulings.  He compares our system of rules to a Third World kleptocracy, where lobbyists have pay the bribes and legislators shake down donors.  It leads to effectual lawlessness and inevitable corruption.

Given the corruption of the legislative process, what does that leave?  The judicial process, of course.  The most substantial section of By the People has Murray calling for civil disobedience, in which people refuse to follow certain types of regulations.  He primarily has in mind businesses whose operation is constrained by those "arbitrary and capricious" rules.  In order to protect these righteous scofflaws Murray proposes legal defense funds, similar to the Institute for Justice (only on a larger scale) and industry-specific trade associations.  When a company or work site is targeted by OSHA or other government agency, they will have a means to defend themselves.  Given the number of work sites across the country and the limitations of the regulatory agencies, Murray foresees an eventual concession to a "no harm, no foul," hands-off regulatory atmosphere.  He sees these concessions as potentially changing overall attitudes toward the regulatory state.  "Once it becomes normal for liberals as well as conservatives to react to stupid regulations with 'This is ridiculous,' the way will have been opened for larger changes."

Murray can be simultaneously bleak and wildly optimistic.  On the one hand, "The federal government was created with one overriding duty: to allow us to live freely as we see fit. . . . It has betrayed that duty." Yet, he writes, over the next two centuries, "America will do a better job of leaving people free to live their lives as they see fit. . . . There will be too much money and too many technological resources to make today's leviathan government necessary."  In the meantime, I really like his proposal for the Madison Fund, the legal defense fund he outlines.  If he can get the funding and recruit some good lawyers for it, I think it can have the impact he describes.  If he gets busy on this, maybe he will have a role in reining in the bureaucratic state and relieve some of his frustration!  More power to ya, Dr. Murray!

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

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Some Churches, by Tasha Cotter

A Visit to the Modern Art Museum

I stopped by the museum to see a display of modern art.
I have no doubt that the paintings conveyed some meaning to the artist.
Pretty colors, interesting patterns, sometimes familiar shapes emerged.
Vaguely pleasing, slightly boring, only rarely conveying meaning to me.

What constitutes art?  What makes a poem a poem?
Words, put together, lovely phrases, nonsense.
Pretty words, interesting sentences, sometimes meaning emerges.
Meaning?  Sometimes.  Theme?  Must there be a theme?

Some Churches will appeal to some readers.
Poems without meter, rhyme, structure.
Pronouns without antecedents.
Stories without settings.  Settings without stories.

An abstract painting.  A room full of abstract paintings.
Spend enough time in the gallery, perhaps they will speak to you.
Something catches your eye.  You may have missed it before.
Spend enough time in Some Churches, perhaps these poems will speak as well.

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

Monday, May 4, 2015

Restoring All Things, by John Stonestreet and Warren Cole Smith

When I picked up Restoring All Things: God's Audacious Plan to Save the World Through Everyday People, I knew it would be full of culturally relevant, theologically sound, well-referenced, insightful analysis.  Warren Cole Smith, publisher of World magazine, and John Stonestreet, who carries on Chuck Colson's tradition on the BreakPoint commentaries, both have organizational pedigrees that point to evangelical Christian thinking engaged with culture.

Smith and Stonestreet met expectations and more.  On one level, Restoring All Things covers a wide variety of cultural hot buttons--race, criminal justice, sexuality and marriage, poverty and wealth, etc.--from a conservative Evangelical position.  Anyone familiar with World and BreakPoint will have a good idea what to expect on each of these issues.  They provide reasonable discussion and explanations of their position, as well as helpful addition reading and action steps.

What sets Restoring All Things apart is the stories that constitute the bulk of each chapter.  They write, "the ideas that shape a culture are rarely advanced by argument.  Rather they are advanced by the stories that shape our imaginations."  Their hope is that as we read stories of the work ordinary people are doing, "not only will we be inspired to embrace the redemptive responsibility the church has in the world, we will be inspired to join in."

For example, it's one thing to read an argument in defense of marriage, yet another to read about someone who was faithfully married for 73 years, yet retained a romantic adoration of his wife.  It's one thing to read that "The best way to eliminate poverty is by creating jobs," yet another to read about a nation-wide network of faith-based job training programs.  It's one thing to read about sex trafficking and pornography, yet another to read stories of women who have been assisted in getting out of the sex trade.

Stonestreet and Smith are writing "to inspire everyday Christians to 'run toward the plague when everyone else is running away,'" and in hopes that "the church today [will] have the strategic wisdom to be fire-bearers in ways that are restorative and life-giving, and not merely reactionary."  Restoring All Things is inspirational and practical.  Of course one Christian can't be passionate about every issue covered herein, but every Christian can be informed, and can find work where their "deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."

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

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Boogers and Farts Forever, by B. Couban

Everyone farts.  Everyone has boogers.  So, really, everyone ought to learn a little about where they come from.  B. Couban is here to help!  Boogers and Farts Forever may not win a Newberry Award or Caldecott Medal, but with simple, silly pictures and funny, yet a little bit informative, text, Couban gives the how and why of boogers and farts.

As Couban writes, "Boogers and farting are part of life's pleasures.  Always enjoy these natural treasures!"  You might not agree with these assessments, but kids will get a kick out of the book.

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

Friday, May 1, 2015

Never Say No, by Mark and Jan Foreman

When a young dad asked pastor Mark Foreman for "one nugget of parenting advice," he didn't expect this answer: "Never say no."  In Never Say No: Raising Big-Picture Kids, Mark and Jan Foreman write about their experiences as parents of two boys.  Not insignificantly, their boys Jon and Tim are the core of the successful band Switchfoot.  Given their commercial success, their musical impact, and their active ministry, the Foremans must have done something right.

"Never say no" sounds like the flippant answer of a permissive or over-indulgent parent.  But that's not at all what the Foremans convey.  They "hope to move beyond reactionary noes to proactive yeses.  Behavior often takes care of itself when we focus on having a healthy relationship."  Mark had a epiphany when he sensed God saying to him, "I enjoy you."  That realization shaped his relationship with God and with his children.  Enjoying children in play, communication, and shared experiences lays a foundation of relationship and character shaping.

As parents, our modeling behavior and reactions to our children's behavior communicate much more to our children than any spoken messages or verbal instruction and correction.  The Foremans write that children are watching; the easiest way to influence our children to live a particular lifestyle is to live that lifestyle ourselves.

The Foremans also talk about creating an environment that fosters creative thinking, independence, and interaction with culture.  With very little exposure to TV during their formative years, and lots of unstructured play, the Foreman boys explored their world.  The Foremans did not want their boys to succumb to "naturedeficit disorder," the indoor lifestyle that can lead to "increased depression, anxiety, and attention problems," not to mention obesity.

I don't remember the Foremans mentioning home schooling.  In fact, they write very little about school at all.  But much of their attitude and specific guidance reminds me of books I've read about home schooling and unschooling.  They emphasize reading books from the classics to modern literature, keeping up with and discussing current events, traveling with an aim toward learning about history, architecture, and life in other cultures, frequenting museums and cultural events, listening to and playing a variety of music, all of which fit in a homeschooling model (and are easier to do when a family isn't shackled by the rigors of a school schedule).

The Foremans' bottom line is enjoy your kids, give them an environment in which they can learn and grow, and model for them the character and values you want to see in them.  Be prepared to look for opportunities to say yes, and you will find yourself saying no less and less.  The Foremans have encouraged and inspired me as a parent.  Hopefully my kids won't be hearing "No!" from me (at least not very much!).

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